Sunday, January 01, 2023

After Putin's war, the UN should introduce an Index of Democracy and Human Rights

At the start of 2023 the world is not in good shape. War in Ukraine is at the forefront of our minds, though there are many other problems: unaddressed climate change, the energy crisis, biodiversity loss, inequality, dictatorships and generalised political anger, to name a few.

The war on Ukraine shows the terrible damage that one man can do if he gets himself into a position of dictatorship. Putin chose to invade a year ago. Wars always have multiple causes, and separatism (which is an issue in the Ukraine situation) is a common factor in many current wars. Putin's apologists cite other causal factors, sometimes reaching far  back into history, but quoting in recent years the mismanagement by the West of the collapse of the Soviet Union, with the lack of an economic rescue plan, with the expansion of NATO, and with the absence of work on further reducing nuclear weapons and militarism generally. 

If Putin had genuine grievances about a threat from NATO, he could have asked for action by the UN under Articles 33-38 of its Charter. He chose not to, and in the end, the war is Putin's choice. Putin initiated the invasion because he is a dictator, and his officials and Cabinet dared not question his plans and his decisions. Putin is responsible.

Politicians must act to make the world a safer place, to make sure that there is no repeat of the Ukraine tragedy. 

There are many things that need to be done, but the UN needs to prioritise two things: 

First, to address separatism actively by sponsoring long-term negotiations wherever separatism is an issue.

Second, the UN must measure and track the position of all political leaders to see where they are on the spectrum that lies between optimal democracy on the one hand and unacceptable dictatorship on the other. We must identify leaders and countries that are tending to drift towards dictatorship and help them to reverse that trend.

It is possible to measure the performance of any state with regard to democracy by counting their actions in many areas, such as freedom of the media, the count of political prisoners, the use of torture and in the area of human rights.

The excellent Our World in Data site ranks the countries of the world in terms of the quality of their democracy here. Go to the first image, click TABLE, draw the slider from left to right, and click on  the central estimate. 

We find that the UK is 14th from the top, USA is 28 from top,  and Russia is 40th from the bottom in terms of electoral democracy. In terms of liberal democracy, a slightly different metric, UK is 18th from the top, USA is 28th from the top, and Russia is 28th from the bottom.

The UN should adopt this approach of measurement and ranking. The only real objection that I have encountered in discussing this proposal is that it would entail a bit of work in setting up and maintaining the official Index of Democracy. This expense would be repaid many times over by the beneficial effects of the Index, not least in reducing warfare.

Once in place the effects of the Index would be 

1. To raise consciousness of regular people, as non-scholars would be able to tell at a glance the relative position of any and every country. This would undermine the political ploy of politicians as they tell people to believe that one country is "democratic" and another is "the new Hitler".

2. There will be an immediate improvement in some cases. The publication of the Index of Democracy would inevitably lead to objections from some countries that their position is too low, and that their performance is not that bad. To this, the UN can respond by appointing rapporters to go to the country and re-evaluate the situation. Before they arrive, we can be pretty certain that a few political prisoners will be released in order to improve the score.

3. The Index will produce a continuous upwards pressure on Human Rights performance of politicians everywhere. In time, there will be fewer dictators and more democracies in the world, which in turn will mean less warfare and more human welfare.

Finally, let us remind ourselves and our MPs that the purpose of government is to improve the security, prosperity and happiness of the people not just in our country, but throughout the world. The Index of Democracy is one of the ways that this can be brought about.

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