The time to begin crafting a new transatlantic agenda is now
The time to begin crafting a new transatlantic agenda is now, before the inevitable transition memos are drafted by both Republicans and Democrats in the fall to guide the new American president in 2009. It is time for Europeans and Americans from all political camps to come together and focus on what issues the U.S. and the EU can collaborate on in the wider world.
When the EU and the US do align, their combined power represents 850 million people, GDP of over $ 30 trillion, the military power of NATO (excepting Canada), and significant minorities of peoples virtually unbeatable -- on trade, climate change, nuclear proliferation, counter-terrorism, poverty reduction, and developing regional institutions where they are badly needed, such as the Middle East. We should pick a couple of these issues that are most pressing and most amenable to getting something done and identify them as transatlantic priorities for the next American administration, the EU, and individual European countries in 2009.
Longer term, it would be useful to open a transatlantic dialogue about the possibility of creating a concert of democracies (COD). A respected friend and experienced politician recently wrote me:
While the ‘concert’ concept is advanced in the context of new administration initiatives and hence American politics, it implies the involvement of parties beyond America. To be meaningful and successful it must thus be attuned to the concerns of others. The world is cynical about another organization, especially one that seems designed to advance an American ideological agenda, but what it is crying out for is to be listened to and respected. It wants the U.S. to be less single-minded and more internationally democratic in thought.
With this thought in mind, a COD could be established to do three things: 1) provide a forum for concerting action among mature democracies; 2) strengthen weak democracies, and 3) engage non-democracies. In David Miliband’s recent speech on The Democratic Imperative, he referred to Paul Collier’s argument in The Bottom Billion that new and fragile governments should be given security guarantees conditional on their adherence to democratic conditions. A COD could figure out which of its members should offer security guarantees – or perhaps all – to which countries. A COD could also work to demonstrate the links between well-functioning democracy and economic growth; democracies have a stake in challenging authoritarian capitalist claims (See Mike McFaul and Kathryn Stoner-Weiss on Russia, The Myth of the Authoritarian Model.)
Finally, a principal function of a COD could be to conduct “democracy dialogues,” to engage countries around the world on how democracy should be defined and best achieved. As John Thornton’s recent FA article Long Time Coming makes clear, the Chinese are actively grappling with increased popular participation in government. They also argue raise the old Soviet argument that safeguarding economic and social rights is a critical part of what a democracy is supposed to do, but the Chinese have a far better track record of actually providing their citizens with a better economic and social life.
Yet another argument is that democracy means “being able to throw the bums out”; the Chinese and many other governments are not willing to go that far. Still, some of those governments seek to make their hiring and firing of public officials more responsive to public assessments of performance. Still others, like Robin Wright in a recent Washington Post piece, argue that democracy is “about differences, which are bound to explode once disparate sides of society are free to speak and make demands. Opening new space also does not guarantee who or what will fill it.” That view makes many governments genuinely afraid of moving toward democracy too far and too fast.
These ideas spring from the American experience with democracy; Europeans have many additional perspectives, as do democracies from the developing world. It is thus a very valuable transatlantic conversation to have. The common goals should be a COD that would serve together to strengthen democracy both within nations and among them -- not by drawing lines, but by crossing them.
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