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  • International Organizations & Democracy
  • Marc F. Plattner and Larry Jay Diamond

World politics has entered a new era. The outlines of the emerging post-Cold War international order may still be fuzzy, but at least two of its distinguishing features are clear—the ascendancy of democratic ideas and regimes, and an increasing trend toward multilateral organization and action. There manifestly seems to be a connection between these two developments, but its precise nature is not easy to specify. The series of articles that follows is devoted to exploring the complex relationship between democracy and multilateralism.

In part, these essays are meant to convey some sense of the growing attention that is being devoted to democracy today by the world's leading international organizations. Carl Gershman writes on the United Nations; Neil Kritz discusses the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), along with the Council of Europe; Heraldo Muñoz and Peter Hakim provide a pair of complementary studies on the Organization of American States (OAS); and Clement Nwankwo and Larry Garber offer short essays on the newest and most hesitant entrant in this field, the Organization of African Unity (OAU). Thus this series covers both the premier worldwide organization and the major continent-spanning regional organizations. Also mentioned at least in passing are a number of other multilateral bodies—ranging from the European Community to UNESCO to the international financial institutions—that would merit greater scrutiny in a truly comprehensive study of this subject.

The heightened multilateral concern with democracy is apparent in a series of key resolutions and agreements that are discussed in these essays: the Santiago documents of the OAS; the CSCE's Copenhagen and Moscow documents and Charter of Paris; and the UN resolution on free elections. But it is also reflected in the creation of new institutional structures within these bodies. In the past few years the OAS has established a Democracy Unit, the CSCE an Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, and the UN a Unit on Free Elections.

It is perhaps not surprising that active support for democracy is most advanced in the OAS and the CSCE, the two regional bodies that are largely composed of democratic governments, or that the OAU, which is still dominated by authoritarian governments, lags significantly behind in this regard. But this simple and obvious correlation has some important implications.

In Perpetual Peace, his classic 1795 work envisioning the creation of a league of nations, Immanuel Kant proposed as the "First Definitive Article" of such an association that "The Civil Constitution of Every [End Page 3] State Should Be Republican." Only representative (as opposed to arbitrary or despotic) government, according to Kant, is based upon the rule of law; moreover, republican governments are much less likely to start wars, precisely because they must have the consent of their citizens in order to do so. Kant argues that an international league dedicated to peace and the law of nations can form around a powerful republic and gradually be extended to encompass more and more states.

In the article that concludes our series, Morton Halperin and Kristen Lomasney, citing the model of the U.S. Constitution and echoing Kant's emphasis on the centrality of republican government, propose that the "international community" guarantee constitutional democratic government to people around the world. They adduce an impressive body of evidence to show how far international law has recently moved toward affirming a "democratic entitlement." Yet skeptics may well wonder if a world community that is still, roughly speaking, only half democratic is capable of endorsing, much less enforcing, such a guarantee. The prospects of success are clearly much greater in organizations (like the OAS) whose members are overwhelmingly democratic, and where the self-interest of freely elected governments impels them to oppose the forceful overthrow of constitutional democratic regimes.

A crucial factor, then, in assessing the likely impact of multilateralism on democracy is the nature of the regimes that prevail in member states. If during the Cold War international organizations were indifferent or sometimes even hostile to the cause of democracy, this was due less to the many other complications caused by the East-West rivalry than to the preponderance in...


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