Reform of the UN would enable the international system to develop and implement meaningful solutions

UN Reform

By eliminating the veto, weighting voting share in the General Assembly, and establishing a directly elected World Parliamentary Assembly, UN reform would streamline decision-making, remove power distortions, and enhance the democratic legitimacy of the United Nations. In addition, the UN’s mandate to redress a range of global challenges must be expanded. Ultimately, reforms of the UN system must toe the line between being ambitious—and therefore meaningful—and being politically feasible.
By eliminating the veto, weighting voting share in the General Assembly, and establishing a directly elected World Parliamentary Assembly, UN reform would streamline decision-making, remove power distortions, and enhance the democratic legitimacy of the United Nations. In addition, the UN’s mandate to redress a range of global challenges must be expanded. Ultimately, reforms of the UN system must toe the line between being ambitious—and therefore meaningful—and being politically feasible.

Considering the substantial responsibilities that the UN will be tasked with under this vision of renewed global governance, the UN urgently needs a reformed source of funding. Under the current arrangement, the income of the UN is at the discretion of its contributing members, creating an inconsistent, opaque, and arbitrary distribution of funds. Members use funding as leverage to coerce the UN towards or away from specific reforms and proposals. As a result, UN funding has been vulnerable to domestic political debates, isolationist tendencies, and demagoguery.

The World Parliamentary Assembly:

The key to democratic legitimacy and global governance

In 1947 Albert Einstein, actively involved in the debates that took place around the time of the establishment of the UN, suggested in an open letter to the General Assembly that: “The method of representation at the United Nations should be considerably modified. The present method of selection by government appointment does not leave any real freedom to the appointee. Furthermore, selection by governments cannot give the peoples of the world the feeling of being fairly and proportionately represented. The moral authority of the United Nations would be considerably enhanced if the delegates were elected directly by the people. Were they responsible to an electorate, they would have much more freedom to follow their consciences. Thus we could hope for more statesmen and fewer diplomats.”

The idea of establishing a World Parliamentary Assembly dates back to the very creation of the United Nations. The motivation was to enhance the democratic legitimacy of the UN, establishing a firmer linkage between the organization and the peoples it was meant to serve. Grenville Clark in his book World Peace through World Law argued that the General Assembly should be formed under a system of weighted voting that better reflected the diversity of nation states, is respect of their populations, economic footprint and other such objective indicators. He also thought that, thus formed, one could give the General Assembly some limited legislative powers, particularly in the areas of peace and security. However, doing this would require amending the UN Charter, a big obstacle for now.

In Global Governance and the Emergence of Global Institutions for the 21st Century the authors argue that, as a transitional phase, a World Parliamentary Assembly could be set up as an advisory body to the General Assembly. A World Parliamentary Assembly would be imbued with the credibility and legitimacy that the Security Council and the General Assembly currently lack under the one-country-one-vote system and the veto power conferred to permanent SC members, by building a stronger link between the UN and the world population it seeks to serve. Because its members would be accountable to the people who elected them, they could be expected to go beyond national interests and analyze issues from a global perspective.

This could be achieved without the need to change the Charter, since Article 22 gives the General Assembly the prerogative to “establish subsidiary organizations…necessary for the performance of its functions.” There is a useful precedent worth noting: the 6 founding members of the European Union established in 1958 a European Parliamentary Assembly, initially made up of 142 parliamentarians drawn from national parliaments. Initially playing a largely advisory role the EPA moved in June of 1979 to direct elections of its members within the EU´s member countries. Today it has 705 members representing the EU´s 27 member countries and the now-called European Parliament has acquired important legislative powers in a large number of areas where it makes sense to legislate on an EU-wide basis.

As to how membership could be distributed within the WPA there are various possibilities based on population, GDP and other such measures. In Chapter 5 of Global Governance and the Emergence of Global Institutions for the 21st Century the authors present one such proposal, with country representation based on relative population size, a country´s contribution to world GDP and a membership share which is equal to all 193 members and has the effect of boosting the participation of small countries. The authors´ proposal also assumes that each UN member must have at least 1 representative on the WPA. The table below, reproduced from the book shows that 107 nations, accounting for close to 6 percent of the world´s population would have one member in the WPA, 20 nations with slightly over 23 percent of the world´s population would have somewhere between 4 and 9 members, while 3 countries (China, the United States and India, accounting for some 41 percent of people in the world) would have somewhere between 21 and 69 members.

Suggestions for further reading:

A World Parliamentary Assembly as a Catalyst for Enhanced International Cooperation,” by Augusto Lopez-Claros and Andreas Bummel.

Toward Global Parliament” by Richard Falk and Andrew Strauss, Foreign Affairs, January/February 2001.

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UN Reform Visionaries

Grenville Clark
Unsung Hero of World Peace Through World Law

Grenville Clark (1882 – 1967), a powerhouse Wall Street lawyer, was a close advisor to Presidents and cabinet members on matters of economics, national security, academic freedom, civil rights, and world peace.

Other Organizations to Look at

This book’s trenchant analysis of what ails the running of the globe should be read by policymakers everywhere, and certainly by those many citizens who concern themselves with fostering a better and more functional world. Change comes slowly, but this book is a prodding catalyst.

Robert I. Rotberg, Harvard Kennedy School, author of On Governance

Other Areas of Interest

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