The "Democratisation" of the United Nations: A Critique of the UN Reform Agenda
Democracy has increasingly become a touchstone for the legitimacy of all forms of political association. The charge of being “undemocratic” is no longer levelled only at nation states; the European Union and, now, the United Nations, are frequently described as suffering from a “democratic deficit”.1 According to its Secretary-General, the United Nations is facing a decisive moment in its 60-year history, and urgently requires far-reaching institutional reform. This article examines this current reform agenda, especially as it is reflected in the report of the Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, the 2005 World Summit at UN Headquarters, and the recent creation of the Human Rights Council. It argues that current reform proposals are being driven by a misguided desire to democratise the UN and are flawed in several important respects. The first section examines calls for the democratisation of the Security Council. It argues that the High-level Panel provides no normative foundation to justify an expansion of the Security Council and that, far from increasing the body’s legitimacy and effectiveness, an expansion would be counterproductive. The second section suggests that the role of the UN should always be to reflect, rather than to subvert, contemporary geopolitical realities, and that it should not take on idealistic structure which is at odds with the pre-eminence of the United States. The third section argues that, rather than proposing amendments to the UN Charter, the reform agenda should focus on correcting the flawed system by which member states are elected to the UN’s various councils and committees. This more modest reform, which would not require Charter amendment, would improve the functioning of UN organs, including the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council—without engaging in the imprecise and dangerous rhetoric of democratisation.