When the Berlin Wall and Soviet Union collapsed in the span of 25 months, it seemed the conquest of tyranny itself was within reach. Political scientist Francis Fukuyama famously declared “the end of history” and predicted “the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.” For a fleeting moment, that prediction seemed accurate: In 1988, there were 104 autocracies and 51 democracies in the world. By 2009, there were 100 democracies and 78 autocracies. But today, the freedom wave is receding and the autocracies are surging—“shifting the international balance in favor of tyranny,” as Freedom House grimly concludes. “Acceptance of democracy as the world’s dominant form of government—and of an international system built on democratic ideals—is under greater threat than at any point in the last 25 years,” Freedom House adds, warning that “In every region of the world, democracy is under attack.”

That’s bad news for the Free World and the cause of freedom. The good news is that the Free World is finally responding to the challenge and laying the groundwork for a truly global alliance of democracies.

Importantly, the United Nations is not suited to play this role. After all, the UN is a come-one-come-all open house—an organization where there’s no distinction between democracies and dictatorships, where the lawless are expected to respect the rule of law, where autocratic Russia, totalitarian China, Stalinist North Korea and jihadist Iran are accorded the same position as the liberal democracies of America, Britain, France, South Korea, Japan and Germany.

Moreover, when it comes to taking action to defend freedom, protect innocents or punish aggression, the UN always succumbs to lowest-common-denominator inertia. Just consider the UN’s response to Putin’s assault on democratic Georgia and occupation of democratic Ukraine; Assad’s use of chemical weapons and mass-murder of democracy activists; Hussein’s WMD program and battering of the Kurds; the Chavez-Maduro strangulation of free government in Venezuela; Milosevic’s rampage through Bosnia and Kosovo; Kim’s nuclear tests and artillery attacks against democratic South Korea; Khamenei’s smothering of free elections and his proxy wars targeting Americans, Iraqis, Yemenis and Israelis; Xi’s brutalization of Uighur Muslims, absorption of once-free Hong Kong, unleashing of COVID and attempted annexation of the South China Sea, to name just a few.

As President Reagan observed, the UN and its alphabet soup of subagencies are “nothing more than debating societies” that “blame the U.S. for the world’s ills.”

Not much has changed since President Reagan dared to speak that truth some 30 years ago, which explains why policymakers throughout the Free World are calling for a new partnership of democratic nations.

“We have to have democracies working together,” President Biden recently said, adding that he plans “to invite an alliance of democracies to come here to discuss the future.” President Biden plans a “Summit of Democracy” to “rally the nations of the world to defend democracy globally” and “push back authoritarianism’s advance.”

The president is not alone, and this is not new idea—though it is an idea whose time has come.

“The world’s democracies should unite in an Alliance for Democracy to strengthen the forces of liberty against the forces of oppression,” argues former NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen. He envisions “an unshakeable and undefeatable alliance for peace, prosperity and the advancement of democracy.”

The late Senator John McCain championed “a worldwide League of Democracies” to “advance our values and defend our shared interests.” Similarly, Ivo Daalder (U.S. emissary to NATO under President Obama) has sketched the outlines of a formalized democratic partnership, labeling his idea a “Concert of Democracies.”

Even President Trump—no fan of international institutions—advocated “a coalition of strong and independent nations…to promote security, prosperity, and peace for themselves and for the world.”

The historical roots of such an alliance stretch back more than a century. Although he is often criticized for being overly idealistic, President Wilson openly argued that “A steadfast concert for peace can never be maintained except by a partnership of democratic nations. No autocratic government could be trusted to keep faith within it or observe its covenants.”

A generation later, Winston Churchill concluded that “Civilization will not last, freedom will not survive, peace will not be kept, unless a very large majority of mankind unite together to defend them and show themselves possessed of a constabulary power before which barbaric and atavistic forces will stand in awe.”

And in 1992, President Reagan called for “an army of conscience” to confront the forces of brutality and tyranny. “Just as the world’s democracies banded together to advance the cause of freedom in the face of totalitarianism,” he asked, “might we not now unite to impose civilized standards of behavior on those who flout every measure of human decency?”

Ad Hoc Allies
The Free World has been doing that since the fall of the Wall, albeit in an ad hoc way.

For instance, international intervention in Kosovo, which ended Milosevic’s final ethnic-cleansing campaign, was conducted by a community of democratic states known as NATO. Likewise, the protection of Libya’s civilian population from Qadhafi’s atrocities was carried out by NATO. The Iraq war, which ended Hussein’s repeat-offender regime, was prosecuted by a coalition of 38 nations—almost all of them democracies—that acted without the UN’s explicit blessing.

America, Australia, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France and the Netherlands—democracies all—formed the backbone and muscle of anti-ISIS operations.

The 2018 airstrikes punishing Assad for his use of chemical weapons were conducted by the U.S., Britain and France, with no help or cover from the UN Security Council.

Ad hoc coalitions of democratic partners are policing the Strait of Malacca (India, Japan, the U.S.), northwest Africa (France and the U.S.), Persian Gulf (Australia, Britain, France, Italy and the U.S.), South China Sea (Australia, Britain, France, Japan and the U.S.), and increasingly the heavens (the U.S., Britain, Japan, Spain, France, Italy, Australia, Canada and New Zealand are collaborating to deter hostile activity in space).

Stung into action by Moscow’s lunges at Georgia, Ukraine and the Arctic, the NATO democracies are pouring fresh resources into deterrence, expanding troop strength, rebuilding Ukraine’s army, and strengthening their defenses to the east and north. To deter Russia, NATO’s European and Canadian members have added 131,000 troops to their ranks and $130 billion in fresh defense spending since 2016.

Spurred by Beijing’s military buildup and unconscionable actions surrounding COVID-19, the U.S., India, Japan and Australia have breathed new life into the Quad security partnership. Quad democracies are conducting naval maneuvers, deepening cooperation on military basing, intelligence-sharing and supply-chain resilience, delivering a billion COVID-19 vaccines globally, and forming the core of a coalition of “techno-democracies” to outcompete the “techno-autocracies” (Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s terms). Likewise, Britain is rallying the D10—the Group of Seven industrialized democracies plus Australia, South Korea and India—to pool their technological resources and build an uncompromised 5G network.

Add it all up, and we see a natural coalescence of democracies driven by shared values and shared interests—and common enemies. We will discuss those enemies in the next issue.