The preamble of the Organization of American States (OAS) Charter is explicit about a commitment to representative democracy as "an indispensable condition for the stability, peace and development of the region." (1) However, in the four decades after its inception in 1948, the OAS failed to develop a consistent policy regarding the promotion of democracy in the hemisphere. For instance, while the Cuban government was suspended from the OAS in 1962 for its incompatibility with inter-American "principles and objectives," the (anticommunist) authoritarian regimes that emerged in South America in the 1960s and 1970s were passively condoned. Many observers came to view the OAS as a facile extension of the Cold War security interests of its most powerful member, the United States.
With the end of the Cold War, however, the OAS has come to play an increasingly significant role in Western-hemispheric relations. (2) With the approval in June 1991 of the "Commitment to Democracy and the Renewal of the Inter-American System" and the adoption of OAS Resolution 1080, the organization renewed its pledge to protect democracy in the region and established the institutional mechanisms for doing so. In particular, Resolution 1080 pledges the OAS secretary-general to convene an immediate emergency meeting of the OAS Permanent Council following any "sudden or irregular interruption of the democratic political institutional process." (3) It is then the task of the Permanent Council to examine the situation and recommend whether or not a special meeting of the ministers of foreign affairs or of the General Assembly is warranted--all within ten days of the democratic crisis. In amending the charter through the adoption of the Washington protocol, the organization established that the General Assembly c ould, with a two-thirds vote, suspend any member state from the OAS in the event that "its democratically constituted government has been overthrown by force." (4) The OAS also created a specific organization arm, the Unit for the Promotion of Democracy (UPD), to develop programs reinforcing the hemispheric trend toward democracy. Moreover, with the recent adoption of the Inter-American Democratic Charter on 11 September 2001, the QAS broadened its conception of what constitutes a democratic crisis to include any "unconstitutional alteration of the constitutional regime." (5)
In short, the OAS now appears to spearhead a vigorous international regime for the defense of democratic rule in the hemisphere. Indeed, Heraldo Mufioz, a former chairman of the OAS Permanent Council, recently claimed that "there is now a right to democracy in the Americas in the sense that a concern for the promotion and defense of democracy in the inter-American system has evolved into a normative obligation and, most important, is being implemented through collective action." (6) This new commitment by the OAS, in turn, raises several key questions for the study of international politics. First and foremost, is OAS action in relation to the defense of democracy motivated primarily by strategic or by normative factors? Second, under what conditions would the OAS actually intercede to protect and/or restore democracy in a member state? Finally, what type of OAS action would we expect to see if the OAS were to intervene?
Two competing theories in international relations, realism and normativism, offer different explanations for the existence and behavior of international organizations (IOs). Realists view IOs as reflections of the underlying balance of power within the international system; as such, IOs are thought to have no real autonomy of their own. Normativists, in contrast, see IOs as reflections of a normative consensus shared by member states and the wider population of epistemic communities. IOs, for normativists, may develop considerable autonomy from member states. In order to assess the purported normative obligation to democracy in the Western Hemisphere, this essay examines the predictions that realist and normativist theories make regarding IOs and evaluates them against the evidence of OAS practice since the Santiago declaration. …