A Study on the Relationship between Democracy and Involvement in Multilateral Institutions

As countries have mobilized, expanded and specialized in trade, and advanced in technology, the involvement in multilateral organizations has been a great way for states to cooperate with one another for a mutual benefit toward the greater good. A multilateral organization (MLO) is a group of at least three states in which they unite to work together on international issues and events that involve those states who are members of the group. (McArthur, John, and Krista Rasmussen.) There is much controversy on whether involvement and reliance on MLOs will enhance democracy or foster the creation of a democratic deficit.

A democratic deficit is when a democratic state is not operating at its full democratic potential. There are a number of circumstances that could be the cause of a democratic deficit, the foremost would be that the citizens feel indifferent and are not involved in decision-making. This can result in alienation and a weakened sense of democracy for the state. According to an article “”Democracy and Democratic Deficit in the European Union,”” a democratic deficit is about the people in the state, not the systems in place for democracy. (Sotiris, Sotiriou.)

In 2016, the UK made the decision to leave the European Union (EU). Voters chose to leave the EU because they were feeling distant from any of the benefits that came from globalization. (Sotiris, Sotiriou.) Another big part of this decision was because voters felt that there was a problem with immigration and in the eyes of the voters, it seems weak to not be able to regulate and enforce strict immigration policies. By the UK leaving the EU, they were attempting to reclaim international sovereignty from the EU, as they felt that their sovereignty was at risk by being a part of the laws and regulations with the EU. (McBride, James, and Edward Alden.)

According to Keohane, Macedo, and Moravcsik (2009), a “”constitutional democracy”” is a framework that allows the people to rule themselves over the long run. The notion of a constitution indicates that parameters for democracy be outlined for the people to follow in order to rule themselves and hold one another accountable. (Keohane, Robert, et al.) Regulations and standards should be laid out in a formal constitution to set the basis for democratic rights such as voting processes, voting eligibility, and service in office eligibility. Rules and constraints are a necessary component of a constitutional democracy in order to maintain a balance between both the majority and the interests of the minority.

Keohane argues that international institutions help to enhance democracy for states involved. In reference to the constraints in a constitutional democracy, well-designed constraints will enhance democracy because the constraints will help to balance out those with special interests and focus more on the community as a whole, protect the rights of free speech and expression for individuals and minorities, and lead to health discussion, debate, and decision making on future electoral and law-making choices. (Keohane, Robert, et al.) Keohane refutes the perception that international organizations undermine domestic democracy and insists that instead it increases democracy because states involved collaborate and gain power by entering into international contracts in which states have influence on one another’s policies.

In contrast, Gartzke and Naoi (GN) argue that multilateral organizations weaken democracy because they are highly political. The basis of their argument is that international institutions are unlikely to enhance democracy naturally- unless compensation is involved and that would be at a cost to the state. GN goes on to say that democracy is diminished because MLOs do not allow citizens to directly participate, thus weakening democracy and the voice that the people should have. (Gartzke, Erik, and Megumi Naoi.) In addition, there are two main points made about power in relation to states that are involved in international organizations. The first that involvement in MLOs weakens the majority rule and instead empowers special interest groups. (Gartzke, Erik, and Megumi Naoi.) This would weaken the democracy because more power would be given to special interest groups and less to the majority. The second is that the strong would be given more power and this would intensify any existing political injustices.

Keohane’s argument is the most convincing because in this day and age, it is most beneficial to globalize and collaborate with other states. Specializing in trade is beneficial for all parties involved and with the involvement in MLOs, states can work together to hold one another accountable and influence on another’s policies. Another positive reason to advocate for MLOs is the good that they can do for the world. The World Food Program works to provide emergency humanitarian relief and its organizations like this that can make a constructive impact on the world. Another multilateral organization has perhaps a bigger impact is the International Civil Aviation Organization and their mission is to promote protected and dependable air travel. This has benefits for any state that utilizes air travel. In Keohane’s response to Gartzke and Naoi, he claims that multilateral organizations not only interact with domestic politics, but they also interact with each other. Although the argument can be made that some MLOs have weakened democracy, there is no “”blanket”” statement that can decide about the impact that MLOs have on democracy. Keohane says that some MLO’s can counteract the effects one another and it is hard to tell the impact at a single point in time without considering the long-run cycles. Overall MLO’s do not weaken democracy and the positive influence they have on trade, human rights, and general welfare outweighs any potential negative impact to a state’s democracy.

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