After the G-20, Should the U.S. Turn to an Alliance of Democracies?

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Ivan Sekretarev / AP

U.S. President Barack Obama, front row center, smiles during a group photo of G-20 leaders outside of the Konstantin Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013.

The G-20 summit drew to a close this weekend in St. Petersburg shadowed by the same dark clouds that loomed when it started on Thursday. Deep divisions over whether to punish the Syrian regime for its alleged use of chemical weapons dominated media coverage of the meeting, with U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin both remaining intransigent.

Putin maintained his skepticism that the government of his ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad, could have been responsible for an Aug. 21 strike that killed hundreds of civilians in a suburb of Damascus. “We hear one another and understand the arguments, but we don’t agree. I don’t agree with his arguments, he doesn’t agree with mine,” said the Russian President of his American counterpart. Meanwhile, Obama and the leaders of 10 other countries attending the summit issued a joint statement on Friday, demanding a “strong response” to the Assad regime’s alleged violation of international norms. “The world cannot wait for endless failed processes that can only lead to increased suffering in Syria,” read the statement.

With little resolved in St. Petersburg, the question begs: Is the G-20 one of those “failed processes”?

(MORE: International Community Hedges Bets as Senate Readies for Syria Vote)

There was a time not so long ago when the G-20 was the proverbial cool new kid on the bloc. Formed at the turn of the millennium, the geopolitical grouping offered a departure from the country clubs of the 20th century — the G-7, the G-8, NATO, the U.N. Security Council — in which global policy remained the province of a handful of former 19th century imperial powers and the victors of World War II. Here was a body that represented great developing economies from every continent (including China, India, Brazil, South Africa), which reflected the world as it was now — not as it had been in 1945.

But, as seen in the jostling over Syria, the tense polarization of the Cold War remains. “Part of the challenge the U.S. faces when working through multilateral institutions such as the G-20 is the fact that Russia and China essentially have a different worldview,” says Ash Jain, a fellow at the German Marshall Fund in Washington and a former member of the U.S. Secretary of State’s policy-planning staff under both the Bush and Obama administrations. Policymakers in the West keen to uphold an international liberal order have long been frustrated by the immovability of Russia and China, wielders of U.N. Security Council vetoes that — based on their own historic views — are more protective of the sovereignty of individual states, no matter the alleged transgressions of their governments. “We need to recognize that we’re in a world where there are competing nodes of power, and so trying to get consensus for a range of issues is going to be difficult,” says Jain.

To resolve that challenge, Jain proposed a solution under the aegis of the Council on Foreign Relations earlier this year: a new bloc, consisting of a number of “like-minded” democracies allied to the U.S. known as the D-10. Its imagined membership actually includes many of the countries that signed on to the U.S.-led joint statement on Syria at the G-20 — Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, South Korea, the U.K. — missing only Germany and an independent spot for the E.U. Had this grouping been a formalized entity, says Jain, “Obama would have had an alternative venue from which to derive more legitimacy for his preferred option” regarding Syria.

(MORE: Russian Ambassador to U.S.: Relations Are Not at Cold War Levels, Yet)

The D-10, in Jain’s formulation, would operate behind the scenes, without the ceremony and pomp of a G-20 summit. It would be a forum, says Jain, in which the U.S. could “consult with allies in both Asia and Europe — the most capable global powers who are aligned [with Washington] in terms of common values — to lay out strategies and produce plans.” In other words, it would be a 21st century springboard for American leadership in the world.

While Jain says he has received encouraging feedback from diplomats in various D-10 countries, the bloc is nowhere close to getting off the ground. Calls for this sort of ideological grouping are not wholly new and face the inevitable criticism that they may alienate important global players. In an earlier term in office, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe raised the prospect of an “arc of freedom” knitting together Asian democracies in closer cooperation — but the gesture proved limp, with countries like India and Australia reluctant to antagonize China, a pivotal trading partner. None of the democracies that are members of the BRICS — a group of budding regional powers first imagined by a Goldman Sachs economist, now including Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — signed on to the joint statement regarding Syria at the G-20. None of them, tellingly, are included in Jain’s roster of D-10 member states either.

Jain argues that the existence of the D-10 would not undermine the role of existing institutions like the G20 but, rather, would function in parallel. “It’s just unrealistic to expect those who are part of the G-20 to see these global challenges the same way that the U.S. and its closest allies see them,” says Jain. What his proposal reflects is a deep-seated frustration among Washington’s political elite that the scope for American action on the world stage has narrowed — and that the legitimacy the U.S. needs to pursue its policies overseas is proving harder to muster. On Sunday, news reports suggested U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry could still take the issue of Syria back to that venerable old institution, the U.N. Security Council, a move the Obama Administration had not long ago seemed to dismiss. In the brave new world of 21st global realpolitik, there’s still no better option than the tried and tested.

SEE ALSO:  The Big Surprise of Martin Luther King’s Speech

43 comments
Codexone
Codexone

Yeah, lets make a trillion groups of X countries that then run rampant as packs of wolves without listening to the voice of their own people. That will show the non-democratic countries. Seriously, who gives these idiots money to write such nonsense?

arvay
arvay

One of the stupidest ideas of the day.

The US imprisons large numbers of young black men on trumped-up charges, its "criminal justice" system is a racket and its national legislature is gerrymandered. Nobody can be elected to major office without either being rich or supporting the agenda of the rich. It's an oligarchy, not a "democracy."


PatraSarthak
PatraSarthak

@TIMEWorld @TIME Indeed they should.If democracy is what we fight for then yes.There should be a conclave of democracies.The true allies.

sramasamy1964
sramasamy1964

@TIMEWorld @TIME we like to help indian childerns education who is intrested to study but dont have moiney please help us to help S.RAMASAMY

Babeouf
Babeouf

Well let me say as a Brit I certainly don't want to see Britain a member of the D-10. And let me say in passing that the scheme won't work. The idea is that the US compensate for its ever declining  relative economic power  by forming a grouping of other states  which it can lead. The British tried this during the twentieth century the resulting body  was called the Commonwealth(might sound a bit to much like Socialism for US ears) . It didn't stop the continual decline in Britain's importance and the D-10 won't stop the same process in the case of the USA. And a huge impetus for other European states to stay well away has been the bizarre performance of the US Secretary of State Kerry. Comparing the Syrian crisis to the Munich crisis of the 1930's shows he  understands neither. Delighted though to see the French government as the US poodle. A great relief to most Brits to be free of that particular humiliation.

ISofiaOliveira
ISofiaOliveira

@TIME @TIMEWorld Calling Ash Jain a "splitter" is an understatement. Global forums are meant to address dissent not pretend it's not there.

ErythreanSea
ErythreanSea

@TIME @TIMEWorld Politics of domination, manipulation, deceit & deception is the AGENDA of every G20 member, doomed since inception.

amauger01
amauger01

@TIME @TIMEWorld nothing only in the word of God in the church :-) is what to know what to get right Ellen g whites writings the bible :-)

MihalaraSanna
MihalaraSanna

@TIME @TIMEWorld. Sounds like a "go ask Mom, go ask Dad issue". Solution is not a form of punishment, but a life giving, healthy motion.

A009
A009

@TIME @TIMEWorld You arguement is that it should be made G1 and the only member in G1 should be USA. Unofficially it is actually G1 !!

AlMannai_M
AlMannai_M

@TIME: Why it's impossible to get anything done at the G-20 | ti.me/16dmUrh” because they're all kids with military capabilities.

greatkode
greatkode

@TIME Because of international divergent views and interests.

guestilyguesty
guestilyguesty

@ishaantharoor @TIME "Should the U.S. Turn to an Alliance of Democracies?" to accomplish a #war#rejected by the U.S. populace? #toofunny#notfunny

guestilyguesty
guestilyguesty

@TIME "Should the U.S. Turn to an Alliance of Democracies?" for help in accomplishing a #war#rejected by the U.S. populace? #toofunny #notfunny

guestilyguesty
guestilyguesty

@TIME "Should the U.S. Turn to an Alliance of Democracies?" for help in accomplishing a #war#rejected by the U.S. populace?

theENDisNearer
theENDisNearer

Perfect! The 7 headed beast with 10 horns! Continue...

FrancisTrm
FrancisTrm

@TIME alliance condition of entry-member countries to back the u.s all the time. No need for that.

j.villain1
j.villain1

What does the US know about democracy?

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

Missile-bomb democracy in Syria will not take place.
If the U.S. wants to challenge the reliability and efficiency of the nuclear triad of the Russian Federation, may even today unilaterally close own membership in the UN.

tvikr
tvikr

If we are looking for countries to rubberstamp US military ambitions, you might also want to include Saudi Arabia. They are a democracy, right?

availableideas
availableideas

@TIME Concern about 50/50 possible 3r global war could happen? that is the question for me..If Siria gov. gets support...???

AbrahamYeshuratnam
AbrahamYeshuratnam

Wil Obama ever  launch a war to liberate caged Syrians and to make millions of innocent refugees, including school children, return home? He lost precious moments when Arab Spring was sweeping across the Middle East, toppling autocrats in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. Cameron and Sarkozy used that moment to bury the regime of Gadaffi, while Obama was dreaming. Now it is too late. Putin is now active. Iran is ready to strike. World opinion is mounting, even in the U.S. Obama has never been a foreign policy expert. It is evidenced by the murder of American ambassador in Benghazi.

AwabNavi1
AwabNavi1

The West already HAS an alliance of democracies - WHITE DEMOCRACIES that is. It's called NATO - I call it the US and the FORTY THIEVES.

dougglast
dougglast

Ufff ! An alliance of economies to rule over peace, and an alliance of democracies to rule over war....

For the economies part, it seems we sort out the 20 biggest and rule with them.

Now, for the democracies, how do we cherry-pick them ? Who's good enough and who's not ? Do we have a criteria ? Do we rely on a Carter Foundation, or a Nobel Academy, to sort happy fews ?

It's still very moving to see the very closely challenged but still first economy figuring out how it could lead when it becomes second, economically. Not sure it'll fall second democratically, though.

Yousef_AG
Yousef_AG

@AlMannai_M Couldn't have said it any better - Members of the G20 summit remind me of children in a grocery store.

andbary
andbary

@AbrahamYeshuratnamIn Egypt for military dictatorship in Libya strikes Islamist protests in Tunisia ...

The Arab Spring has exhausted itself, for it is impossible to impose democracy!

AlMannai_M
AlMannai_M

@Yousef_AG LOOL I'm imagining it now, Putin would kick Obama's ass unless he has his secret service nannies armed with automatic weapons

Yousef_AG
Yousef_AG

@AlMannai_M HAHAHA. Even better: The US is the overly attached exgirlfriend "BUT WHYY DONT YOU WANT TO DO THIS WITH MEEE? COME ONNNNN!"