The Quest for Legitimacy in the United Nations: A Role for NGOs?
Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer
April 8, 2012
UCLA Journal of International Law and Foreign Affairs, Vol. 16, 2011
The involvement of non-state actors in global governance is not a new phenomenon. Nonetheless, there has been a notable proliferation of such actors in global governance in the recent past. Globalization is both a cause and a product of the increased interaction among and between both state and non-state actors across borders, and this mutually supportive cycle is unlikely to slow any time soon. In international affairs, state and non-state actors interact in various ways — in conducting and promoting commerce and trade, in regulating common environmental concerns, in protecting human rights, in addressing the plight of those in poverty, and in reconciling differences between warring parties. These matters affect both state and non-state actors, and indeed, state actors are simply a vehicle through which their constituent parts are represented. That is the theory in any case. Yet, it is plainly insufficient to have states engage in global governance independently of non-state actors. Non-state actors cannot be relegated to having a separate, parallel governance discourse in the international sphere, but must also be able to contribute to the discussion among those empowered to govern, namely, states.
The predominant forum for the discourse on global matters is the United Nations (UN). Though there has been a proliferation of international institutions in the recent past, the UN continues to be a central forum where the world meets to address the most important issues facing the planet — from matters related to sustainable development, to the use of force in humanitarian crises. Even the United States agrees that the UN is the “single most important global institution.” Yet, the role and relevance of this “single most important global institution” is constantly questioned. It is in this context that the UN feels the need to justify its legitimacy at every opportunity. Critics of the UN question its legitimacy when it fails to act to prevent a humanitarian crisis, because the Security Council’s structure fails to reflect the realities of today’s world, or because there is a perceived bias for or against one state or another.
It is in this context that the question arises as to whether further engagement of non-state actors, specifically non-governmental organizations (NGOs), can add to the legitimacy of the UN. This question arises not necessarily because NGOs somehow represent the world’s public, though this claim has certainly been made, but for other reasons. This article seeks to answer this question, and argues that further involvement of NGOs in the UN, especially in the decision-making processes of the General Assembly and the Security Council, will enhance the UN’s legitimacy.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 47
Keywords: United Nations, Legitimacy, NGO, International Organization, Global Governance, Decision Making, UN Reform, General Assembly, Security CouncilAccepted Paper Series
Date posted: April 9, 2012
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