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  • Guaranteeing Democracy: A review of the record
  • Morton H. Halperin (bio) and Kristen Lomasney (bio)

In these pages in 1993, we noted a growing tendency on the part of the international community to take actions aimed at restoring democratically elected governments that had been overthrown or suspended. 1 Since then, countries have continued to intervene—through economic sanctions, suspension of aid, and even military action—when a democratically elected official has been either prevented from taking office or removed from office by force. Although the international response has been inadequate in many cases, there has been enough of a pattern since the end of the Cold War to conclude that the international community has indeed established a willingness to respond to threats to democracy.

In the post-Cold War era, ever more states have come to recognize that all people have the right to constitutional democracy. 2 During the last several years, this recognition has led states to intervene—both multilaterally and unilaterally—when the democratic governments of other countries have been threatened or overthrown. Such a pattern of intervention in what was formerly considered an “internal matter” of nations has lent legitimacy to the theory of a global “guarantee clause” that parallels at the international level what the U.S. Constitution guarantees U.S. citizens at the national level.

Article IV, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution states: “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government,” and further requires the United States to [End Page 134] protect each state against “Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or the executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened) against domestic Violence.” In other words, the Constitution guarantees each citizen the right of democratic governance and obliges the federal government to suppress state insurrections and to forestall relapses to nonrepublican forms of government. Applied globally, this principle supposes that the international community recognizes the right of all individuals to a democratic form of government, assuming that this form of government is popularly chosen and recognized by the rest of the world. It also dictates that when a coup threatens to overthrow the democratic government of another country, states may intervene to restore the legitimate regime. This presumes that in the eyes of the international community the rationale for formal recognition of a government is not its effective control over a country’s territory but the legitimacy of that control—and a regime that assumes power by preventing an elected government from taking office or by forcing it to step down cannot be considered legitimate.

Recent events show that there is indeed a basis for an international guarantee clause. In discussing the role of the world community in this regard, however, a distinction must be made between imposing a democratic government (which we do not advocate) and protecting an already existing one. Numerous regional and international treaties and resolutions, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, have already been adopted to bring nations into compliance with certain standards of consti-tutional democracy. In its Universal Declaration on Democracy, signed in September 1997, the Inter-Parliamentary Union (comprising 137 national parliaments) reaffirmed its commitment to promoting democracy and establishing pluralistic systems of repre-sentative government around the world, and expressed its wish to “strengthen its sustained and multiform action in this field.” 3 Other international agreements go further: Resolution 1080, adopted by the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS), recognizes that the solidarity of American states requires that each member be a “representative democracy” and that the OAS be proactive in its efforts to preserve democracy among its members.

In addition, many enforcement mechanisms ensure the protection of democracy. The European Convention on Human Rights, signed under the auspices of the Council of Europe, provides for the collective enforcement of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights through a court and commission on human rights. At the request of member states, the UN has established procedures for [End Page 135] monitoring and certifying elections, which suggests that it has some responsibility toward governments thus brought to power. Indeed, the familiar presence of international observers...

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