TCS Daily

A New Democratic Covenant

By Sylvain Charat - October 29, 2004 12:00 AM

Spreading democracy is a fundamental duty of all those who want to build of free and open societies.To this end, our forefathers fought valiantly. They led revolutions, during the 18th and 19th centuries, beginning with the American Revolution and the establishment of the first free republic. In Europe, the struggle has been much harder; in countries such as the United Kingdom the transition towards democracy was smooth, but it was different on the continent. In France, for instance, 100 years were necessary to establish definitively the Republic. From 1789 to 1880, it took four revolutions, two collapses of empires, and ten different political regimes to establish a democratic regime in France. A century of extreme instability. But the relentlessness of those Frenchmen who held the belief that democracy was worth fighting for finally succeeded in founding a democratic Republic.

Actually, after the enlightenment of the 18th century revolutions, the hopes brought by the 19th century struggles, the real spreading of democracy happened during the 20th century. World War I put an end to absolute monarchies, spreading democracy wider. But this was partly a failure since new dictatorships arose from the ashes of monarchies. Again war was inevitable. Successively our forefathers defeated national socialism - i.e. Nazism and fascism - during World War II, and then international socialism - i.e. communism - during the Cold War. It has only been since 1991 that the whole European continent has enjoyed democracy; it took two centuries.

Two centuries, so that all of Europe and America could be united and bound by democratic freedom. Yet the dawn of the 21th century uncovered two new threats. The obvious one is this new enemy embodied by Islamism, which distorts the real light of Islam. The hidden one is the division amongst democracies so that a global strategy to respond to the threat cannot be established.

Indeed, up to now we have witnessed an odd conflict between Americans and Europeans in general, between the United States and France in particular, concerning terrorism, and especially Iraq. Friends or foes? Bitterness is the only word that comes to mind on seeing such rivalry in a time where strong bonds should unite Western democracies. Division is the first and clear result of terrorism. This is lethal for our world.

Misunderstanding is a source of evil. All Western democracies are facing terrorist threats, but their answers to them are fundamentally different, due to their own national histories and their present strengths.

On the one hand, European democracies will more likely get into negotiations and peace talks to work the problem out and avoid any armed conflicts. This is not weakness. It is the result of several centuries of wars, especially during the 20th century when Europe was ruined and destroyed by two World Wars in only 30 years. Europeans were exhausted by meaningless fights among themselves, and realized that it was better talking to each other than fighting: the survival of Europe was at stake. That is why the European Community was created: talking to survive and preserve peace. It explains why today's European diplomacy is mainly rooted into negotiations.

Yet, European diplomacy is stained by what can be called the "Munich Syndrome", referring to the Munich Treaty signed in 1938 between European democracies - Great Britain and France - and Nazi Germany in order to preserve peace, which it actually did not. This "Munich Syndrome" is the lack of understanding about when negotiations with dictators must end and military forces must be used; it is the belief that dictatorial countries can be trusted to reach some sort of "honorable" compromises. Bad habits, indeed, which were worsened during the Cold War: European and American democracies were very accommodating with authoritarian regimes in order to prevent them from joining the Communist block.

On the other hand, America is a "conquering democracy", used to fighting to survive as a nation. Right from the beginning, the United States did not hesitate to wage war to be independent, then to fulfill its "Manifest Destiny", thus dominating its continent, defeating Mexico and showing its strength to the English power in Canada. Such presidents as Monroe, Jackson, Theodore Roosevelt and even Lincoln left a legacy of domination and power. American democracy knows it has to be strong to survive and its military made it a world power -- so much that the United States has now the leadership in promoting free and open societies worldwide.

Both diplomacies are right in their own context. But they were set up in a time when states used to deal with states. Assymetrical warfare has changed the international context, the relationship between states and, above all, the usual data for negotiations. This new warfare needs a new diplomacy.

"Speak softly and carry a big stick, and you will go far." Surprisingly, this old Chinese proverb Theodore Roosevelt used to define his foreign policy could very well be a source of inspiration for Western democracies to build a new alliance. Indeed, to make it clear, "speaking softly" is what European democracies can do; "carrying a big stick" is what the United States can do. It is as much a strength knowing how to negotiate as knowing how to strike.

The two diplomacies complete each other, and American and European political leaders ought to understand it. Yet today it is only a hope, due to the gap created by the distrust between America and some leading European countries. It is also the result of divisions inside of Europe itself between "Atlantacist" countries and countries joining the Franco-German axis opposed to the United States.

Western democracies' divisions are in the interest of terrorists. Some European countries, as France, do not accept US domination. It is understandable since it means a clear lose of power and influence worldwide, and it is never a pleasant fact to admit. But political and diplomatic oppositions are not the way to recover lost international influence.

If American unilateralism is not accepted, then a democratic multilateralism must be built, uniting in a new covenant and a privileged relationship the United States and the European Union, putting aside the old United Nations and rebuilding international law. This democratic multilateralism should be able to set up a global strategy to fight terror, a strategy based on three main points: insure security, bring prosperity, build democracy.

It has to become reality if we, the Western democracies, want to stand against the 21st century terrorist global threat and spread democracy. It is time for a new generation of statesmen, putting aside old oppositions and resentments, to arise on both sides of the Atlantic to build this new democratic covenant.

Sylvain Charat is Director of Policy Studies in the French think tank Eurolibnetwork.


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