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Understanding United Nations reform. Ten theoretical clues: (5) Development and democracy

Published on 24 February 2015
Updated on 05 April 2024


While the United Nations (UN) is built to function on the basis of the principle of sovereignty, it has a hard time steering the member states towards changes which are stirred precisely by a theory of the decline of the nation-state. Consequently, its reform requires a thorough clarification of its potential, in relation to which realistic goals, adequate resources, and rigorous criteria of evaluation can be set up. Such effort should also clarify the areas in which, in this era of globalisation, the job description of the word organisation is unchallenged and its action is the best available option.

Earlier in this series, we concluded that the impact of the organisation is proportional to the amount of will and political energy invested in it. Among member states, some expect more benefits, other are expected to offer more resources. Those who give more and those who take more should be equally satisfied. For example, in the area of development, despite failures and shortcomings, the most critical impediment in the implementation of policies does not come from a defective institutional configuration of the UN, but from the conflicting representations of member states of what reform means.

There are at least two political options on whose assumptions reformative scenarios can be built simultaneously. The classic one is to strengthen the means available to the UN to stimulate a global effective cooperation conducive to a situation in which decent basic needs, both economic and social, of the vast majority of the world population are met to a greater extent. The values underlying such scenario are the solidarity and the consciousness of a common destiny.

A bolder scenario is to give to the organisation tools to promote, tacitly, Western democratic values, those which led to a well-being enjoyed by most social categories, and to political and social stability. Values that also contributed to integration based on democracy, respect for human rights, and the rule of law.

Promoting democratic governance in member states is a realistic and permanent mandate of the UN. There is already a clear support of the majority of big contributors to the budget in this respect. Of course, this should be done by non-violent, peaceful, and diplomatic means. The UN has indeed the legitimacy and the competence to contribute to democratic processes globally.

Indeed, democracy is not an objective explicitly stipulated in the Charter. However, a progressive codification of a normative framework for democratic conduct, as well as support for democratisation processes, may galvanise a direction of the reform which can be the key to other profound transformations.

Yet such an exercise will be superficial and unconvincing if it is limited to the level of empty forms of democratic institutions and merely nominal civil and political rights. Democratisation should be accompanied by extensive support given to the under-developed South in order to reach a condition of human dignity, based on equality of chance and access to economic resources and to knowledge.

Petru Dumitriu

[Editor’s note: To learn more on the United Nations and multilateral diplomacy, join our Multilateral diplomacy course.]



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