17 August 2008

A Multipolar World? Too Bad!

The Albany paper today has finally gotten around to printing a column that David Brooks published earlier this month in which he mourns the apparent demise of the short-lived post-Soviet "unipolar" world with the U.S. on top. This demise is a bad thing, he claims, because while "this dispersion [of power] should, in theory, be a good thing ... in practice, mutipolarity means that more groups have effective veto power over collective action.

"In practice," Brooks emphasizes, "this new pluralistic world has given rise to globosclerosis, an inability to solve problem after problem." We may just have gotten a preview of the title of Brooks's next book.

Brooks wrote this column before the South Ossetian crisis broke out, but the Albany editors must have found it timely. That's because Brooks believes that multipolar "globosclerosis" impedes the power of the good countries to undertake humanitarian interventions. "The world has failed to effectively end genocide in Darfur. Chinese and Russian vetoes [in the U.N.] foiled efforts to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe. The world has failed to implement effective measures to deter Iran's nuclear ambitions."

Why? "In each case," Brooks answers, "the logic is the same. Groups with a strong narrow interest are able to block larger groups with a diffuse interest. The narrow Chinese interest in Sudanese oil blocks the world's general interest in preventing genocide. Iran's narrow interest in nuclear weapons trumps the world's general interest in preventing a Middle East arms race. Diplomacy goes assymetric and the small defeat the large."

You'll notice that "the world's general interest" as Brooks describes it generally mirrors the American interest. It's no surprise to see him note that the U.S. is the only country that has "tried to break through this global passivity," while admitting that "the results of that enterprise -- the Iraq war -- suggest that this approach will not be tried again anytime soon."

Brooks's diagnosis doesn't stop him from endorsing Senator McCain's hare-brained "League of Democracies" concept. "If democracies could concentrate authority in such a league," he hopes, "at least part of the world would have a mechanism for wielding authority." Where this authority would be wielded goes unmentioned, but in practice it's most likely to be exercised where others are least likely to acknowledge it. At the same time, as the Georgian situation seems to show, the suffering minority syndrome most likely to inspire a League of Democracies intervention has the opposite effect when it's a suffering minority in one of the Democracies. Then the defense of democracies requires ignoring or disparaging the minority claims.

David Brooks has as much right as anyone to offer suggestions for making the world more just and peaceful, but his readers have both the right and the responsibility to ask whether his proposal will do what he says or only further a "narrow" American agenda. My own suggestion for critical reading is to give Brooks the South Ossetia test. What is the world, or the "democracies," to do when a country goes into an internationally-protected ethnic enclave to enforce its will on an unwilling people? The answer should be the same no matter what the country or what the minority. If you plug in "South Ossetia" and get a different answer from what you'd normally expect, then Brooks's proposal is a failure.


crhymethinc said...

A "League of Democracies" would still have absolutely NO authority over non-member nations, therefore, their most likely recourse in dealing with problems involving non-member nations would be a military action. In other words, Bush's current failed policies being shoved down even more throats, globally speaking. This could only result in more "terrorism" as the rights of more sovereign nations are ignored by the "League of Democracies".

Really, what McCain is pushing has very little to with democracy in any sense of the word with which I am familiar.

Samuel Wilson said...

It certainly has nothing to do with any concept of a democracy of nations. Flawed as it is, that's how the UN was meant to work, but Americans have rarely been happy with that because, despite our veto power in the Security Council,we sometimes fail to get our way, while the "League of Democracies" seems premised on the idea that the "democracies" should always get their way, no matter how many non-democracies object.