The world has entered a new Cold War. China and Russia have agreed to a new “no limits” alliance. The West is uniting around an expanded NATO, the Five Eyes alliance, and the U.S.-centered military and economic alliances with Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, India, and Australia.
What do these profound changes mean for the United Nations? When it was founded in 1945, the United Nations was a boldly idealistic experiment. In recent decades, the UN has deteriorated into an antiquated, inefficient, and corrupt institution that is bullied by its larger autocratic members.
One glaring example of the UN’s dysfunctional behavior is its Human Rights Council (HRC). The HRC is packed with nations such as Cuba, China, Pakistan, Venezuela, Libya, and Sudan, all of which have contempt for basic human rights and are virulently anti-Israel. Earlier this year, we also had a particularly absurd event when Russia vetoed a UN Security Council resolution condemning itself for invading Ukraine.
While serving as a marginally effective debating forum, the UN has lost its ability to help solve the critical issues of peace, health, education, corruption, and economic development.
The UN should therefore be replaced gradually by a new body, the Democratic Nations (DN) that is honest, effective, and committed to democracy and free-market institutions.
How might this new Democratic Nations (DN) come into existence, and what would it look like?
The Organizing Committee
New organizations appear when some imaginative and forceful leaders decide that the status quo is unsupportable and that they must create a different organization to deal with a changing reality.
The Democratic Nations (DN) could be created in two different ways.
First, an international group of path-breaking individuals and private organizations, along with some national government representatives, could create a founding committee. This founding committee would invite interested parties to send delegates to a particular city to discuss how they might give birth to a new international organization.
An alternative would involve a more top-down approach in which a handful of nations would lead with minor assistance from private organizations. As with the first alternative, this group would meet, debate, and, hopefully, agree on the need to create a new organization.
In either case, this founding conference of delegates could formulate a general framework of how the DN might be organized and function. This seminal group would then call for a larger gathering at which representatives from interested democracies would draw up a constitution and approve the creation of the DN.
Drawing up a list of potential members for the DN will not be without controversy. One could, for example, use the list of 65 so-called full and flawed democracies prepared by The Economist. Or one could use the more expansive list published by Freedom House, which lists 85 free nations. Other lists with alternative rankings appear in the World Population Review, Wikipedia, Statista, and the Heritage Foundation Index of Economic Freedom. By far the largest number of democracies are in Europe and the Americas, with key, but smaller, additions in Asia and Africa.
Inviting specific "anchor" democracies with large populations or economies or a critical regional presence such as India, Nigeria, South Africa, Brazil, Mexico, Japan, Australia, the United States, Germany, and Poland would be essential. Not all of these nations operate in a fully democratic manner, but they would be important founding and legitimizing members of this new organization. These large and medium-sized countries representing specific geographic regions would signal the centrality of these regions to the new DN organization and the expectation that they would play a leading role. Since Britain and France still maintain strong cultural and economic ties with dozens of their former colonies, they should also be anchor members.
Accepting New Members
Something like the EU's "Copenhagen Criteria for EU Membership" might be used to set admission standards for new members to join the DN.
Sponsors and Costs
The initial organizing effort could be driven by some well-recognized private organizations and individuals, or governments, or a combination of the two. Some individuals or entities will have to step forward and provide an initial organizing impetus. This impetus would involve an announcement proposing the establishment of the DN, publicizing the tentative goals, and sponsoring an initial planning session for interested parties. The organizing and hosting of a multi-week session at some relatively neutral location, such as Switzerland, would run into the low millions. Most governments and NGOs would be expected to pay their own way.
DN Legislative Organization
One legislative model for some modern democracies is two chambers. Most democracies, however, have unicameral legislatures at either the national or regional level. The DN might adopt either organizational model, although the large number of nations with tiny populations might make the unicameral model an impractical alternative. For the purposes of argument, let us assume that the DN adopts the current UN's bicameral model.
Membership and Voting in the Upper Chamber
The Democratic Nations (DN) would sponsor deliberation, discussion, and voting on all relevant issues in an Upper or Senior Chamber. Each of the twelve "Anchor" Members would have a permanent seat in the Upper Chamber, which could also include a rotating number of members from the Lower Chamber. Voting might mirror the procedure of the UN, with each "Anchor" member having a veto. However, an alternative and perhaps more practical model could require decisions to pass by a simple or larger majority.
Membership and Voting in the Lower Chamber
As with the Upper Chamber, a lower chamber of the DN would sponsor deliberation, discussion, and voting on relevant issues. Because of the extraordinary difference in population among potential member-countries, those with extremely low populations, under 400,000, might have no vote or a small fractional vote in the Lower Chamber.
However, to support member engagement from these very-low-population countries, the DN might consider allowing all countries to vote in DN committee activities regardless of population.
The DN Executive
There are many ways to organize a DN Executive Office. There could, for example, be a figurehead President like an accomplished retired prime minister or a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, as well as an operational CEO who would oversee the day-to-day functions of the organization. To ensure energy, fresh blood, and new ideas, term and age limits for the President and CEO would be desirable.
Selecting the President and the CEO might be managed by the Anchor states acting through their representatives in the Upper Chamber. But the founders of the DN should pay special attention to how they select the Executive branch employees of the DN, lest they create a bureaucratic patronage organization staffed with third-rate individuals.
The DN Judiciary
The DN might create a new group of international courts for civil and criminal matters or incorporate existing courts such as the United Nations International Court of Justice (World Court) and the International Criminal Court. Since these two bodies are subunits of the UN and do not operate in the most efficient manner, it might be desirable to set up new and equivalent bodies that would be subject to democratic oversight by the DN. In addition, to promote efficiency and speed in resolving cross-border disputes, the DN might consider creating a group of special arbitration tribunals for deciding a broad range of lesser issues.
Experts on history, government, and organizational behavior should be consulted to elicit creative and practical ideas for the organization and operational details of the new legislative, executive, and judicial bodies.
Maintaining High Membership Standards
Any organization must deal with laggard members who refuse to pay their dues or whose institutions or behavior seriously deviates from the required minimum standards. The DN would need to set up an internal disciplinary group that could recommend probation or expulsion for member states in which, for example, a coup has taken place or in which property rights or freedom of the press or religion have been seriously compromised.
What would be the initial functions of the DN? After setting up a democratic free trade zone, the DN would focus on nation-strengthening efforts such as security, education, health care, societal stabilization, and the mitigation of corruption.
In addition to supporting democratic and free-market values, the DN must create an organization held together by strong economic bonds. Therefore, the DN would have to rewrite existing international trade agreements to focus on cooperation by the world's democracies and fledgling democracies. A new organization, the Democratic Trade and Investment Partnership, would complement the World Trade Organization and guide economic coordination among democratic nations. Existing trade blocks such as the European Union, all of whose members would likely qualify for membership in the DN, would continue to cooperate with one another under existing regulations. In all likelihood, the World Trade Organization (WTO), the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) would gradually be folded into a cooperative arrangement with the DN. The point of this economic integration would be to offer existing and potential members of the DN a compelling reason to join and stay in good standing with the DN.
Every nation has a fundamental need to secure its borders and maintain internal order. The DN could assist its members and candidate members in developing well-trained democratic military and police forces. Over the years, some of these groups might be employed in a modest peace-keeping capacity.
In parallel with the current efforts by the North Atlantic governments to increase spending on security, the DN should aim to promote common military standards across the member states and ensure that its technologically advanced armies are able to cooperate if the need arises.
Many nations have poorly functioning educational systems. The DN could help ameliorate those deficiencies. Reforms should take place at all levels of education. The DN could provide a range of high-quality K-12 classroom materials and instructional methods tailored for local use.
The Covid epidemic has given many countries significant experience developing and using online instruction. Following this example, the DN could set up model online courses for both K-12 and college-level instruction. It might also sponsor retired and volunteer teachers to teach online classes to children throughout the world who have minimal local access to quality education.
The DN might help create one or more world-class research universities in each developing region of the world to promote cutting-edge higher education. Interregional DN scholarships and enrollment, available to students in the EU, might also furnish a valuable model for the DN.
In health care and all other policy areas, the DN should consider using the Copenhagen Consensus criteria to evaluate which areas they should focus on. The Copenhagen Consensus uses cost-benefit standards to rank policy areas and help decide how to use resources efficiently.
The Covid epidemic demonstrated the fractured nature of global drug discovery and approval. The DN might become a useful international platform for its members to collaborate on drug research, development, and approval.
Societies can be destabilized in many ways. Crime, poverty, disease, corruption, and family and community life disruptions can all rend the bonds that hold a social order together. Therefore, the DN should consider forming a Societal Stabilization Office that focuses on building nuclear families and integrating tribal, ethnic, regional, class, and religious groups into the nation. Such an office could also help develop a sense of nationhood and support civic virtue.
Corruption eats away at society, undermining its economy and institutions and demoralizing its people. Therefore, the DN should develop a high-end corruption mitigation capacity and assist any of its members or potential members who request assistance. Because corruption is often culture-based, such mitigation efforts must be bottom-up endeavors. As with many other policy priorities, this will be a decades-long endeavor.
Where should the DN be located? Because the concept of democracy originated in Europe and the largest number of democratic nations are located there, Europe should probably be the initial home of the DN. Satellite offices could be located in South America, Asia, and Africa.
Non-government Organizations (NGOs)
The DN should welcome the cooperation of NGOs and integrate them, whenever possible, into its deliberations and activities. In the beginning, and perhaps for extended periods after that, NGOs or groups of NGOs might be deputized by the DN to handle various functions such as health care, internal security, and the development of a market economy.
Continuing Dialogue with the Rest of the World
The DN, once established, should not ignore the rest of the world. Democratic nations should continue their membership and influence within the United Nations. The DN should work with the autocratic and dictatorial states to promote peace and encourage these politically underdeveloped nations to reform and gradually join the DN.
Due to aggressive behavior deemed unacceptable to most democratic nations, Russia and China, and lesser despotic regimes, are currently being excluded from normal trade channels with the democratic world. The creation of the DN will accentuate that exclusion, but provide an avenue for rehabilitation.
The DN should fully engage with established organizations already linking democratic states, such as the European Union. The DN could strengthen cooperation with EU member states, promote partnerships, and exchange expertise on upholding high democratic standards among all sovereign democracies.
In the current state of affairs, the establishment of the Democratic Nations will not be an easy task. Some may argue that the DN would be a redundant organization adding little to the world order. It is up to the DN founders to convince significant stakeholders that the world needs a new international organization to lead its people and nations into the future.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the tightening Russian-Chinese-Iran Axis confirm that the post-WWII Pax-Americana world has ended. Before our eyes, the world is dividing into two camps: dictatorships and democracies.
The democracies of the world must take a leadership position. They must move beyond the UN and the post-WWII reality that led to the creation of that organization. The democracies of the world must create a new international order focused on democratic, open societies and free-market values.
James S. Fay is a California attorney, political scientist, and retired college administrator. A graduate of Georgetown, he has a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan and a J.D. from the University of California. His articles have appeared in social science and law journals and the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, and Real Clear Education. In addition, he has published articles on the Helsinki Accords, presidential emergency powers, and NATO funding. Veronica S. Fay is a Master's graduate in International Relations at the University of Utrecht. She is a consultant and lives in Brussels. The views expressed are the authors' own.