LONDON – Senator John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate, has been calling for the creation of a “League of Democracies.” This new international group would possess a formidable military capacity, based partly on NATO and partly on a “new quadrilateral security partnership” in the Pacific between Australia, India, Japan, and the US. Neither Russia nor China, of course, would be invited to join: indeed, McCain wants to exclude Russia from the G8.
The League is necessary, argues McCain, because in matters vital to the US, such as fighting Islamic terrorism, humanitarian intervention, and spreading liberty, democracy, and free markets, the US and its democratic partners must be able to act without permission from the United Nations (i.e., from Russia and China). In other words, the League’s main purpose is to marginalize Russia and China in world affairs.
The most damning criticism of McCain’s plan is that it would launch a new Cold War between states labeled democracies and autocracies. This is not only dangerous, but incoherent. Russia and China do not “threaten” the “free world” with a powerful ideology and massive armed forces, as they did during the Cold War. Moreover, the world’s democracies are themselves divided on how to deal with Islamic terrorism or genocide in Darfur: it was France, after all, which led the opposition in the UN Security Council to the US invasion of Iraq.
Moreover, on issues like terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and climate change, the US needs Russian and Chinese help. Stigmatizing Russia and China as pariahs will not get them on board. (China must learn to behave “responsibly,” McCain declares with breath-taking condescension.) In fact, Russia has mostly cooperated with the US in the “war against terrorism.”