Advocating a Liberal World Order?


the council on foreign relations 1

In a recent thought-provoking debate organized by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), Ash Jain, Nonresident Fellow at the German Marshall Fund, presented his working paper entitled "Like-Minded and Capable Democracies: A New Framework for Advancing a Liberal World Order", in which he advocates the creation of the 'D10', a group of 9 large democracies (US, Canada, Germany, UK, France, Italy, Australia, Japan and South Korea) plus the European Union (EU). According to the author, the D10 could serve as an ideal political consultation group, that could help create more leverage by coordinating their positions on matters such as democracy promotion and humanitarian intervention - the big issues of global liberal order.

Jain believes that the G-20 is unable to deal with such issues (too diverse), neither can the G-8 (overly focused on economics) or NATO (overly focused on security). Also, he diverges from other liberals who propose to team up with so-called 'emerging democracies' such as Brazil, India, Turkey and South Africa, because they do not, according to the author, share the same worldviews. In another recent paper (reviewed here), John Ikenberry and Daniel Deudney argued that the United States should align with all democratic regimes to renew the push for a global liberal order.

Two of Jain's claims are highly problematic. The first is about emerging democracies such as Brazil, South Africa and India. Explaining why he did not include them into his D10 grouping, the author argues that

[Brazil, India and South Africa] have struggled on the issue of protecting civilians against violent atrocities. For example, they criticized NATO's actions to bring down Gadhafi and have maintained their strident opposition to intervention in Syria. And on Iran, they have been hesitant to support economic isolation and are firmly against any kind of military intervention to deal with its nuclear program.

This is a dangerous "with us or against us" logic that is unlikely to win the West many friends in the long term: Brazil, India and South Africa did not oppose intervention in Libya (Brazil and India abstained from Resolution 1973, South Africa voted in favor) - rather, they had concerns about the way the intervention was being conducted. Among other aspects, they criticized that France had violated an arms embargo by sending weapons to the rebels in Libya. These concerns are legitimate and in no way proof that policy makers in Brasília and Delhi do not share the West's values. The same logic applies to Iran, where some emerging powers question the usefulness of sanctions - yet this does not mean they are less concerned about a nuclear-armed Iran.

Such arguments are bad news because they show that those who agree on the overarching goal - the promotion of freedom, democracy and the protection of human rights - but disagree on tactics (sanctions, military intervention, etc.) "cannot be relied on for such big international issues". Yet such a view - and this is the second problem in Jain's argument - does not consider the irreversible shift of power that is taking place away from Europe and the United States to emerging powers such as China, India and Brazil. The author's aspiration - according to the title - is to create not "regional liberal order", but a "global liberal order" - so excluding those democracies that will dominate in the long-term to promote democracy and human rights globally seems rather short-sighted.

Many academics will belittle Jain's proposal as overly simplistic, naive or simply ill-conceived. Yet coming up with new ideas is far more difficult then criticizing them. Working papers like these should therefore be welcomed, particularly by scholars from emerging democracies. Liberal US scholars have done too little to listen to analysts and policy makers from Jakarta, Ankara, Brasília, Pretoria and New Delhi about how liberal scholars in the Global South hope to promote liberal values across the globe - perhaps for fear that they won't like what they'd hear.

Read also:

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Book review: “No One’s World” by Charles A. Kupchan

Responding to global development challenges: Views from Brazil and India