For a country that supposedly treats the Eurovision as a joke, isn’t it amazing how much the Brits can whinge about not winning? Actually, in the past week or so there have been a number of suggestions from the punters as to how we can get back to the glory days when Eurovision was a cosy little West European club, before all those little Ruritanian countries joined with their crazy ideas that they had as much right to win as anybody, and when Britain could enter any old crap and be assured of a top-ten finish. One is that the rich West European countries should secede, have their own song contest, and leave the East to its own devices. (This ignores the fact that the West Europeans didn’t vote for Andy either.) Another is to bring in weighted voting, so Mickey Mouse countries like Slovakia or Albania have fewer votes than (say) Spain or Holland. Neither of these bright ideas seems likely to fly.
Which brings me to our old friend Professor Geras. I must confess, I like Norm. And this isn’t just a residual affection based on how brilliant he was when he was a Marxist – I don’t, for instance, afford the same indulgence to Branka. But Norm has some personal qualities that go a long way to making him the human face of the Decent Left. He’s about the only Decent I can read for pleasure (as opposed to comedy value). He can usually be relied on to be sensible and insightful. He has the endearing habit of pouring cold water on the crazier schemata of his more enthusiastic chums. He also, in practice and not just in rhetoric, allows that you can fundamentally disagree with him without that making you some kind of deviated Nazi. That earns him brownie points in my book. Norm may be a ju-ju man, but he’s a ju-ju man with class.
Of late, Norm has been ruminating at great length on the question of a “league of democracies”, a sort of permanent coalition of the willing, which would act as either an alternative or a supplement to the United Nations. Like a lot of Decent discourse, this is recycled from something the US neocons have been discussing for a while. And like a lot of neocon discourse, it derives from Cold War geopolitics. You see, the point about the UN is its very universality. But that leads to a problem, at least since the great 1960s wave of decolonisation, which is sort of analogous to Britain’s Eurovision problem. That is, the UN is full of uppity Third World countries who believe they have a right to be heard and who have a distressing tendency to go off message and say the most extraordinary things. Take Evo Morales, who holds the eccentric view that the Bolivian government should put the interests of Bolivian peasants ahead of those of Yanqui corporations. Honestly, having someone like that walking around the corridors of world diplomacy is like having your dinner at White’s disrupted by a crowd of lager louts.
So the neocons, and evidently the Decents, feel the need for a club with some sort of door policy to keep the riff-raff out. The big difference is between those who actually counterpose the LoD to the UN, and those (like Norm) who feel that the two can peacefully coexist, possibly with the LoD operating as a kind of differential franchise – the “democracies” could be sorta like America, and the rest of the world like Puerto Rico or Guam.
I can foresee a big snag with this grandiose plan, and the snag is this – who’s going to get into the club? Since there are few countries in the world that don’t have contested elections and the other paraphernalia of liberal democracy, are we really talking about the UN minus China and North Korea? No, the aim is something much more exclusive than that. Really, the criteria should be “countries currently in agreement with US foreign policy” or possibly “countries Norman Geras and Paul Berman currently approve of”. One assumes the core of this league will be the US, Britain, the White Commonwealth and probably Israel, with additional countries being added on ad hoc. In that case, the optics aren’t great.
I tell you what, a lot of countries are going to get severely fucked off if they aren’t allowed into the club. Moreover, the Empire has always relied on some dodgy allies. We could, just to pluck an example out of the air, see the government of Pakistan (Mr 10% prop.) be invited, since it’s such an important player in the War on Terror. Presumably the point of the exercise is to avoid that sort of thing, since the Decents’ avowed aim is to destroy realist foreign policy and replace it with “idealism” (or magic realism), but the realist practice of actually existing imperialism does confound their hopes.
There are all sorts of delicious possibilities inherent here. Presumably Iran would be excluded from the LoD, but the puppet government of Iraq would be included. To do otherwise would make an open nonsense of the “new democratic Iraq”. And yet, the Iraqi government is a coalition of pro-Iranian Shia theocrats together with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, itself having an extremely close, decades-long relationship with Tehran. Reasons of Imperial face might also require the warlord state of Afghanistan and the mafia state of Kosovo to be counted among the “democracies”. On the other hand, countries like France or Greece might be counted out according to how far they deviate from the Washington line.
So, would the league of democracies be a sort of diplomatic Premier League, with promotion and relegation? And anyway, who gets to decide what the criteria are and who meets them? Are we talking about an extension of the Council of Europe principles worldwide? Is this meant to help enforce compliance with civilised norms, or at least with Civilised Norm?
I don’t really take this very seriously – it’s the kind of thing IR theorists debate down the pub when there’s nothing very interesting going on. But I imagine the debate will run and run – God knows, if you’re not expecting anything to happen, you can argue forever about hypotheticals. Perhaps a symposium in the next Democratiya?