Influential policy experts on both sides of the U.S. political aisle are proposing a “League of Democracies” as a way for the next administration to restore the credibility of U.S. foreign policy priorities and put democracy promotion efforts back on track. However, in a policy brief, Is a League of Democracies a Good Idea?, Thomas Carothers argues that the proposal rests on a false assumption that democracies share sufficient common interests to work effectively together on a wide range of global issues.

Although the proposed “League of Democracies” reflects a useful recognition of the need to rebuild credibility through greater multilateralism, such a league could aggravate rather than alleviate global sensitivities over U.S. democracy promotion and the U.S. global security agenda. Carothers outlines steps the next U.S. president should take to bolster democracy promotion and foreign policy in general.

Recommendations for the next U.S. President:

  • Opt for more flexible, case-by-case partnerships to fit specific issues and contexts.
  • Make clear that the United States does not intend to use military force or other means to overthrow governments in the name of democracy.
  • Reverse policies that produce U.S. abuses of the rule of law and of basic civil liberties at home and abroad.
  • Push not only hostile autocrats, but autocratic allies such as Pakistan and Egypt, to take serious steps toward greater openness and political reform.
  • Commit to strengthening existing multilateral institutions that deal with democracy issues, such as the United Nations, the Organization of American States, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

“The idea for a League of Democracies reflects a valid concern with the fact that the overall state of democracy in the world is troubled and that alternative power centers with an authoritarian character are gaining in strength. The best way to respond to this new context and to rebuild the legitimacy of the United States as a global actor is not to circle the ideological wagons. Instead it is to make the United States a better global citizen on numerous fronts and get the country’s own economic and political houses in order.”

About the Author
Thomas Carothers
is vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment. A leading authority on democratization and democracy promotion, he has researched and worked on democracy-building programs around the world for 20 years with many U.S., European, and international organizations. He has written numerous books on democracy promotion including most recently Confronting the Weakest Link: Aiding Political Parties in New Democracies and Promoting the Rule of Law Abroad: In Search of Knowledge.