Prospects of Democracy:
RADICAL DEMOCRACY IN THE WORLD AND CANADA’S ROLE IN CREATING A COUNCIL OF DEMOCRACIES
The Afghan, Ukrainian, Iraqi and Palestinian elections within the last six months together represent one of the most significant turning points in global history since the end of the Second World War. Over the last few years, the Rwanda and Sierra Leone tribunals have also changed the world by renewing the Nuremberg precedents of using the international legal process to hold political leaders accountable. We now live in an age of radical democracy with both the potential to be exciting and the potential to be high-risk and destabilizing. Canadian foreign policy needs to reflect these changes and use them as an opportunity to promote Canada’s values and increase Canada’s credibility in international affairs.
The first thing Canadians need to do is to explain why this trend toward radical democracies has left so many people around the world ambivalent instead of elated. First, I suspect we simply aren’t used to change. Realpolitik and Cold War strategies were reassuringly familiar to many who are now of decision-making age. There is a strange discomfort about the celebration of democracy when it is something we are not used to. Second, there is an understandable concern about the multilateral vacuum which makes these initiatives seem arbitrary or ad hoc. Even those who are not “anti-American” worry conscientiously about future interventionist ad libs and broken-field plays like the U.S. overthrow of the Baathist regime in Iraq.
Whatever these reservations, radical democracy has taken foot, and is empowering individuals around the world to join the community of democratic nations; Canadian foreign policy needs to stake out space where we lead democratization. The global community can now address the fundamental causes of economic underperformance: corruption and lack of political institutions capable of converting wealth into productive investment capital.
The world now needs a multilateral framework to empower radical democratization. The United Nations was not designed to do this so it is unfair to criticize it for not doing it. For radical democracy to have a multilateral face, it is time to revive the idea of a Council of Democracies to complement the UN. Canada is in a position to do this. For a number of years, various out-riders in the public policy debate have been proposing a group somewhere between the G8 and the UN General Assembly that would represent democracies. Some have urged for a redefinition of NATO, some for an expansion of the role of the L-20 (formerly known as the Group of 20 nations and designed for an economic role). Whichever technique works in pragmatic terms, it is now the right time to create a framework where membership is a valued privilege. Such a framework can be used to stop free-riding on the U.S. to initiate processes of democratization when and if it feels it appropriate. For example, the answer to the question "who should intervene in Darfur?” should be: the Council of Democracies.
What can Canadian foreign policy accomplish while this process of creating effective multilateral institutions takes place? We can pick our spots, leveraging our resources to produce demonstration effects. We are an oil-producing and energy-managing economy and we are the only member of the francophonie in the western hemisphere other than Haiti. That suggests two possible strategic activities where Canada can work with smaller states to create new templates for democratic government and creating the conditions for sustainable prosperity:
(i) Equatorial Guinea: In the post-Iraq, post-Sierra Leone world, political debates will inevitably take different forms. It should be clear to everyone that the tragicomic coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea was wrong, morally and politically, ill-conceived with little interest in the idealism of radical democracy. But that does not allow observers to escape the question: what is the correct response of the international community to bring accountability to a local despot who is months away from having a petrodollar fuelled kleptocracy? There should be some kind of moratorium on oil revenues being transferred to a regime without the appropriate means of ensuring that these revenues will benefit its citizens and the regional economy. There has to be greater effort spent designing a financial regime that can convert petrodollars into efficient investment capital if we are to create the conditions for sustainable prosperity in geologically-rich economies. It is important for countries like Canada to create the political will in the international system to accomplish this new way of doing things.
(ii) Haiti: In a small country, within a realistic Canadian sphere of influence, an international police force could provide the type of physical security to allow for the institutions of civil society to develop. If we can focus on one prototype for democratic transformation and economic development, then we can aim for a demonstration effect elsewhere. Focused activity by a relatively small player like Canada can create a template for building democratic governments and civil societies. Thousands of volunteers left European cities to work on aiding Kosovo in the 1990s, for weekends or weeks. We need to mobilize Canadian resources to do the same for Haiti.
The trend toward radical democratization of the last few years has changed the language of the global political debate. We are obviously in a new era without familiar markers. Canada, the only G8 country without an imperial past, has a unique opportunity to shape the new global community to ensure that the benefits of a sustainable prosperity are shared and used to empower free citizens to sustain viable democracies. In so doing, we will find an avenue for the use of our talent in international economic affairs and advance our own goals of globalizing our perspective on economic affairs.
Last Updated ( Thursday, 23 June 2005 )
© 2008 Jim de Wilde. All Rights Reserved.