In the winds of change and the faces of freedom, an ordinary late work night suddenly turned extraordinary. As the youngest member of the Danish cabinet, I was buried in files in my office at the Ministry of Taxation, when I lost focus and turned on the TV. It was November 9, 1989. On all channels, incredible scenes of joy and liberation almost exploded through the screen. The Berlin Wall was no more. And it was impossible for me to continue work, as the historic moment overwhelmed me with emotions.
In the days that followed, we all dared to dream big. Dream of a world where all nations would rally behind the principles of individual freedom and rule of law. A world where people from all corners of the planet would be able to think, speak, and trade freely, unchained and safe. Sadly, the brief period of hope that I and millions of others felt at the end of the Cold War didn’t last. Instead, we have learned the hard way that a universal agreement on the unparalleled strength of liberal capitalism and democracy does not exist.
From the streets of Aleppo to the Russian-annexed areas of Ukraine, we are seeing a decline in political rights and civil liberties. In 2016, for the tenth consecutive year, Freedom House’s annual report showed an overall global decline in civil liberties. Crooked autocrats have taken advantage of our restraint and inability to defend and promote the core principles we are founded upon.
Take the United Nations as an example. The U.N. began as a noble guardian of civil liberties but now, unfortunately, all too often refuses to distinguish between good and evil — preventing decisive action and holistic political vision when they are most needed. As secretary general of NATO, I witnessed firsthand how the aftermath of one of the most effective campaigns in military history was turned into a catastrophe by the incomprehensibly passive U.N. follow-up. The result: Libya has now descended into the abyss.
As a consequence, I believe we have reached a point in time where there is a need to create an overwhelming, credible, and strong liberal democratic supremacy, to counterbalance the rising and assertive autocracies. The next American president should therefore use his or her convening power to bring together the world’s democracies in a strong Alliance for Democracy. Such an alliance would bring together nations from around the world whose common characteristic would be that they are democracies. An Alliance for Democracy would create a community of the world’s free societies; it would be a community based not on size, regional location, or stage of economic development, but on shared values: individual liberty, economic freedom, democracy, and the rule of law.
The objective of the Alliance would be to create a forum where the world’s democracies could meet on a regular basis to discuss global issues, coordinate their policies, and possibly take joint action to reinforce liberal democratic values around the world.
The Alliance would be a forum where the world’s democracies could meet on a regular basis to discuss global issues, coordinate their policies, and possibly take joint action to reinforce liberal democratic values.
In more concrete terms, the Alliance for Democracy could conceivably have five tasks. First, it could help confront common security challenges, including terrorism. Second, it should work to make the liberal capitalist democracies more prosperous, competitive, and attractive by promoting commerce, economic growth, and job creation. Third, the Alliance for Democracy could help promote democracy directly, through advice, support, and assistance. Fourth, the Alliance could be a forum for the coordination of policies in other international organizations. The Alliance should not replace or dilute existing international organizations, but it is important for the world’s democracies to have a forum where they can coordinate their policies in the U.N. and other international organizations — not least, so that they that could push for reforms to make the U.N. more effective. Fifth, the Alliance for Democracy could be used for joint action, particularly humanitarian interventions, and to use its muscle to push and persuade members of the Security Council, including Russia and China.
The Alliance for Democracy would not only bolster the identity and potency of democracy in the world, it would also allow the free world to negotiate from a much-needed position of unity and strength.
At a time when forces of oppression are trying to regain ground, the free world, led by the United States, has to rally behind its guiding principles for the sake of its own citizens and the millions of people caught in unfree and autocratic regimes. The next president must make us all dream big again and fulfill the hope of a freedom-based world order.