The process to elect the next President of the United States has reached the stage where Senators McCain and Obama have been identified as the contenders for the Republican and Democratic Parties, respectively. Their respective positions relating to internal and external issues of US national interest would impact seriously on the lives of millions, both in the US and throughout the world, depending on who would finally be elected President.
Even though their positions on most issues are bound to be different it is reported that advisors to both contenders are in agreement regarding one Foreign Policy issue, that being the need to institutionalise an arrangement wherein a coalition of democracies commit themselves to meet global challenges when necessary, but outside the jurisdiction of International Institutions such as the United Nations. The McCain camp describes such an arrangement as a "League of Democracies" and the Obama camp describes it as a "Concert of Democracies".
The concept of a "Concert of Democracies" emerged from the Princeton Project on National Security. This project was undertaken by a group of eminent persons to study how the US could orient itself to deal with security concerns of the 21st century (FORGING A WORLD OF LIBERTY UNDER LAW - U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY IN THE 21st CENTURY, September 27, 2006). The first challenge encountered in the 21st century was when the US failed to secure Security Council approval to invade Iraq over the objections of Russia and China. This led the US to create a "coalition of the willing" outside the international order of the United Nations and in clear violation of accepted International Laws and, furthermore, over the objections of democracies such as Germany and France to support the invasion of Iraq.
This experience caused the liberal democracies to explore arrangements to meet challenges to their interests, without the constraints of Russia and China. In the meantime, international bodies such as the United Nations afflicted with the guilt of non-intervention to prevent human rights catastrophes in former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda, also explored arrangements that could be deployed in instances of humanitarian crisis. The outcome was initially, the concept of Responsibility to Protect or R2P. This has been followed by the "Concert of Democracies". Both concepts accept the imperative to function within internationally accepted norms. This means having to deal with both Russia and China in any international body. It is considered that one way to exclude them would be to create a coalition of democracies that could justifiably exclude both Russia and China on grounds that they are not liberal democracies.
Responsibility to intervene
The international arrangements these liberal democracies hope to create would give them opportunities to act in the pursuit of their national interests under cover of global security and humanitarian causes. The three ongoing crises these democracies are overtly focused on are Darfur/Sudan, Myanmar, and Zimbabwe. The problems faced by these countries have their roots in their colonial past left by some of these selfsame liberal democracies. Having created the problems, they now consider it their responsibility to intervene whenever a crisis occurs in the former colonies in Africa and Asia. The fact that all the countries they wish to intervene in have resources, oil being one of them, is apparently by the way.
When one considers Africa, practically every one of today's sovereign states have been created by these very same liberal democracies by drawing boundaries, dividing ethnic and tribal groups that had lived together for centuries into political entities that in a brief span of 50 to 60 years are expected to live by democratic norms and the rule of law, as in countries that had taken centuries to evolve. The legacies left behind by today's liberal democracies during the era of Western colonialism in the pursuit of their national interests, denies them the moral right to intervene today, even on humanitarian grounds. These liberal democracies have to take responsibility for creating the problems that these political entities face today. The price for having created the problem must be a denial of the right to intervene, whatever the reasons and whatever the circumstances.
The conditions created within political units during colonial times by the colonial powers that today form the liberal democracies are fertile grounds for ethnic/tribal or religious groups within these states to compete for political power, because political power translates itself into economic rewards for the particular groups in political power. Consequently, the outcome of elections becomes all important, and is the reason for ongoing tensions in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Kenya, the crises in Darfur in Sudan and Zimbabwe to name a few. These tensions have exploded into violence causing death and destruction to several thousands. A "Concert of Democracies" is not only ill equipped to resolve these tensions with their ensuing consequences, but also should be denied involvement on moral grounds. They need to be resolved by the countries concerned themselves, with the assistance of perhaps regional bodies, and not by international agencies or by a self appointed "Concert of Democracies".
Regional bodies such as the African Union and similar bodies in Asia such as SAARC should take upon themselves the task of dealing with humanitarian catastrophes in their respective regions of influence. This concept should be actively pursued by emerging democracies because liberal democracies have forfeited the right to intervene. Permitting liberal democracies the right to intervene however serious the circumstances would result in giving the perpetrators of today's problems opportunities to compound matters even further.
This was amply demonstrated in Iraq. Having carved out the state of Iraq, not to mention the rest of the Middle East, Iraq was invaded by the US and Britain on the pretext of regime change to liberate the peoples of Iraq from the tyranny of a despot and democratise it. Britain, one of the members of the "coalition of the willing", is now preparing to abandon Southern Iraq (Basra), leaving a total mess behind. According to an Iraqi Army official "The British legacy in Basra is criminal gangs, a corrupt and infiltrated police force, and borders open to all". In the meantime, the US is seeking arrangements to station 60 military bases in Iraq indefinitely, which the Iraqis claim amounts to "the colonisation of Iraq"(The Washington Post, June 11, 2008).
Lessons for Sri Lanka
As with other former colonies experiencing conflict, the core issue of Sri Lanka's conflict is political. The colonial legacy inherited by independent Sri Lanka was for a favoured minority, the Sri Lankan Tamils, to share political power with the largely marginalized majority, the Sinhalese. The inability to formulate a reasoned political arrangement on the basis of proportionality is the cause for the current conflict. The distortion given as to what constitutes "proportional" has taken the form of an armed terrorist movement aimed at creating a separate state for the Sri Lankan Tamils.
Over the course of two decades a dynamic of its own has emerged. That the concept of a separate state is an unrealistic goal is accepted by Sri Lankans and well as by the International Community. However, the armed terrorist movement, the LTTE, is unwavering in its commitment to the creation of a separate state. Consequently, while the possibility exists for a political solution to be forged with the Tamil community, such a possibility does not exist with the LTTE. The current government's strategy to militarily weaken the LTTE to a point where the Tamil community would be in a position to evolve a negotiated political arrangement independent of the LTTE is not appreciated by the liberal democracies, and therefore not supported by the International Community.
The inability for liberal democracies to appreciate this dynamic has caused them to impose restrictions, deny preferential concessions, and from time to time to issue warnings of possible intervention in an effort to contain what they perceive as the obduracy of the Government. They fail to recognise that the resolution of the conflict requires working out an equitable political arrangement that permits the Tamil community to enjoy their due share of national benefits, and not a disproportionate share. That this cannot be accomplished as long as the LTTE is around must be accepted. Successive Sri Lankan Governments have failed to convince the liberal democracies of the need to transform their perspective if there is to be closure to the conflict.
Most of the regions of unrest and instability are in countries that were colonised by the West. The next US president, whether it is Sen. Obama or Sen. McCain, appears to have embraced the notion that a coalition of liberal democracies is needed to deal with crisis situations in the world. Since the causes of these conflicts have their roots in a colonial past and the perpetrators of this past are themselves today's liberal democracies, intervention by them in whatever form, whether labelled a "Concert of Democracies" or a "League of Democracies", would be met with suspicion and mistrust because of the disingenuousness and double standards notoriously displayed by them, the latest being in Iraq and in Afghanistan.
What litmus test would qualify a country to participate in such a coalition? Judging from the "robust questioning" conducted over 3 hours by 38 countries during the Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review in which the UK was questioned "…about a wide range of issues, including racial discrimination, corporal punishment against children, abuses committed by UK armed forces abroad, and failure to ratify particular conventions and their protocols" (Sunderland of HRW, April 23, 2008) would the UK qualify to join a coalition of democracies? What about countries such as Australia and Canada who recently apologised for the atrocities inflicted on indigenous people in their respective countries as part of government policy? Would they qualify? At the end of the day, who would qualify to be more responsible than the Government of Sri Lanka to protect its citizens during an ongoing armed conflict that uses terrorism as a tactic?
The only acceptable form of help that would be welcome would be by regional organizations as happened in the case of the Kenyan crisis, and not in the form of intervention in Sri Lanka by India in 1987. What the world expects from the next US President is "real change" and not more of the same. Change would require liberal democracies to stay out of conflicts, particularly in former colonies, because these democracies have forfeited the right to intervene. Instead, they should render any assistance needed for the sake of global security through regional organizations comprised of sovereign states.
The hope for former colonies lies in forging arrangements that recognise cultural identities supported by the commitment to a common political identity in each of their countries. Fostering concepts such as these would prevent crises and contribute more to global stability and hence greater security for all than by intentions envisioned in concepts such as "Concert of Democracies" or "League of Democracies".