Global Governance | Analysis and New Insights

America and International Cooperation: What Role for a League of Democracies?

Stephen J. Stedman | November 2008


Key candidates and foreign policy advisers from both US political parties have been steadily calling for a new league or concert of democracies to offset the perceived ineffectiveness of the United Nations Security Council and other institutions. The common assumption underlying this increasingly bipartisan policy prescription is that it is authoritarian regimes in particular, acting in and through the United Nations, that have repeatedly thwarted both US interests and broader global security goals on pressing global problems.

This brief argues, alternately, that the better way to frame the problem is to ask upfront where the UN excels and where it does not, and to choose the proper institution or cooperative multilateral coalition on that basis. For issues that have repeatedly foundered within the UN organs, Stedman argues that the United States can and should work to build alternative organic coalitions or institutions for solving these other problems, while arguing that these alternative venues or processes are extremely unlikely to take the form of a league or concert of democracies. Instead, Stedman recommends a G-16-type process that brings in a bevy of middle powers, emerging economies, rising powers, and major powers—both democratic and authoritarian—so that the bulk of the world’s resources and wealth can be brought directly to bear on the world’s thorniest problems.