THE DEMOCRATIC REFORM OF THE UN
by Lucio Levi
The Federalist Debate VII N.2, 1994
1. World problems and national democracies
The sharpest contradiction of our age lies in the fact that the problems on which the destiny of peoples depends, such as those of security, control of the economy or protection of the environment, have assumed international proportions, where democratic institutions do not exist, while democracy still stops at state borders. In consequence, democratic institutions, having lost control of strategic decisions, confine themselves to governing secondary aspects of political life. Thus the peoples are excluded from control of the questions which determine their future. In substance, we must face problems of global dimensions, on which our destiny depends, while the world is still divided into independent sovereign States. The consequence of this situation is that the government of the world belongs to the big powers. And in fact, the centres of global decision (the UN Security Council, the International Monetary Fund, the G-7 and so on) express the supremacy of the big powers.
2. Democratising the UN.
The structure of the UN departs considerably from democratic principles. In effect, the General Assembly is based on the principle "one State, one vote", with the absurd consequence of considering China and San Marino equals, while the structure of the Security Council reserves particular consideration for the status of the major powers, assigning a permanent seat and the right of veto to the five who won the Second World War. On the one hand, therefore, a number of States which represent less than 10% of the world population is capable of forming a majority within the General Assembly. On the other, the substance of decision-making power of the UN is concentrated in the hands of only five States (the permanent members of the Security Council) out of 184. The most revolutionary objective of our age is the democratisation of the UN, which would allow the government of the world to be removed from the control of the big powers and put it in the hands of all the peoples of the earth. More specifically, it means
creating a world bicameral parliamentary system (formed of a Chamber of Peoples and a Chamber of States) and a government responsible to the Parliament. A process of this type has already been started in Europe, where the European Parliament is the most advanced expression of the tendency to assert new forms of statehood, which have taken the name of international democracy. In other words, this is the tendency to associate peoples to control that sphere of political life (international relations) which still is in the "state of nature" and is therefore the terrain of diplomatic and military inter-State encounters. It is a long term process, which is destined to assert itself in continents where the State has not yet assumed regional dimensions and to culminate on the world level with the democratic reform of the UN. The first difficulty lies in the fact that many States do not yet have a democratic regime and that therefore, in these countries, it is not possible to organise free elections to choose repres
entatives for the World Parliament. It is evident that the same difficulty would be met with in the designation of an assembly composed of representatives of the national parliaments, which would thus indirectly represent the peoples of the United Nations.
3. Towards a World Parliament.
The creation of a world parliament, i.e. an assembly which should express the unity and diversity of all the peoples of the earth, is an objective possessed of a great mobilising force. Clearly the democratic States, and primarily the European Union, which represents the first example of unification between democratic nation-states, will lead the process of forming this assembly. The reform of the UN, inspired by the principles of international democracy, no longer appears a distant ultimate goal after the immense advance of democracy in Latin America, in Eastern Europe and in the ex-Soviet Union. After the fall of the fascist and communist regimes, democracy has no more alternatives. It has achieved strategic victory, even if many years must still pass before all States have a parliament based on free elections. But it would be an intolerable example of democracies giving in to dictatorships if they renounced the commitment to institute a World Parliament while waiting for the process of democratisation to
be established everywhere. On the contrary, the creation of this Parliament would help to undermine the legitimacy of dictatorships and would promote the spread of democracy. We must now try to identify in the logic of the UN institutions, as they are today, the mechanism of transition towards the final objective of a democratic world government.
4. The model of the European parliament.
The process of democratising the European Community can serve as a model to identify the necessary stages for the institution of a World Parliament. In the first place, we must create a Parliamentary Assembly, composed of delegates from the parliaments of UN member- states and provided with consultative powers. As is well-known, article 22 of the UN Statute provides for the possibility that the General Assembly should institute "subsidiary bodies which it holds necessary for the fufilling of its functions". The Parliamentary Assembly could be seen as one of these subsidiary bodies, thus avoiding the dust and ashes of the amendment procedure, which demands the approval of modifications to the UN Statute by all permanent members of the Security Council and by a two-thirds majority of member-states. It should be borne in mind that the European Parliament was created in the context of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1952, which was composed of representatives of the national parliaments and only
had consultative powers. Only in 1979 did it arrive at election by universal suffrage. Direct election thus represents a possible second stage in the process of forming a World Parliament, but not the final one. Democratic investiture in fact opens the way to transfer to this parliament real powers of decision in two distinct areas, as is shown once more by the example of the European Parliament. First of all the World Parliament, by virtue of being elected, could claim its proper constituent role, i.e. the power, in collaboration with the other constituted powers, to determine the lines of the reform of the UN Statute. The concept of constituent co-decision establishes the requirement that the UN institutions should be reformed by agreement between the various expressions of popular sovereignty, so that the World Parliament should have a say in drawing up the new UN Statute. More specifically, the content of the democratic reform of the UN - and this is the second objective which the World Parliament could
pursue after direct elections - is to endow this assembly with legislative powers (to be exercised in collaboration with a World Senate) and control over a world government. It is important to recall, finally, that the majority vote in the World Parliament will overcome one of the most serious distorsions present in the decision-making system of the General Assembly: the fictitious equality between small and large States.
5. The democratisation of the Security Council.
The project to democratise the UN cannot confine itself to the proposal to create a World Parliament. In every federal system the representative bodies are bicameral. Alongside the Chamber of Peoples, the body which expresses the political orientations of the majority of the population, there is the Chamber of States, which has the function of defending the rights and interests of the member-States against possible abuses by the majority.
It is a function whose reproduction at world level is indispensable to tackle problems like the overcoming of territorial imbalances, the promotion of flows of investment towards more backward regions, the realisation of effective programmes for the protection of the environment and of natural resources and so on. In fact it is a question of putting alongside the deliberative organ, elected on a proportional basis (the World Parliament), a second body (the Senate), composed of equal representation from the regional groupings of States. This mechanism, giving to the poor regions a political weight equal to that of the rich ones, would allow the former to bring their weight to bear for their own autonomous interests in defining the trends of world politics and would thus function effectively to restore balance. The creation of a continental level of government is the indispensable vehicle to simplify and rationalise the working of world institutions, in that it overcomes inequality between States of the most v
arious sizes and bases the UN on regional groupings of states of equivalent size and power. More specifically, the formation of regional organisations in Africa, in the Arab world, in South-East Asia and in Latin-America will allow the poor and exploited peoples of these areas to eliminate the super-powers' domination on a world scale and to acquire the necessary dimensions for development of modern productive forces and for political independence. This is the principal way to reach a more just distribution of power and wealth in the world. This is a process going on in various continents at varying degrees of development. The most advanced point is represented by the European Union, which, with the direct election of the European Parliament, has started its democratic transformation and, with the decision to create the European currency, has started the first transfer of sovereignty from the nation-states to European institutions.
The European institutions are therefore a model for other continents which aspire to unity, and for the reform of the UN. Having illustrated the reasons in favour of a World Senate, it is necessary to identify which body can fulfil this function from among the UN institutions. This body would appear to be the Security Council, which therefore would become the representative of regional groupings of States within the UN.
This is the second aspect of the democratisation of the UN. In fact, in this way, all the peoples (and not only the strongest, as now happens in the Security Council) will be represented at the world level through their regional grouping. This means that, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, the nations must be represented at continental level and the continents at the world level.
But if only the continents are represented at the world level, the result will be the disappearance of every difference in the composition of the Security Council and the General Assembly. It might be hypothesised that the General Assembly will be able to maintain a residual raison d'ętre as Chamber of Nations, expressing cultural, economic and geographic diversities at the world level, but endowed with consultative powers, while the World Parliament and the Council of Security will instead have deliberative powers.
Finally, with the regionalisation of the Security Council and the consequent possibility for all peoples of being represented at the UN through their respective regional groupings, the unjust discrimination between permanent members and non-permanent members will lose its fundamental motivation. Thus the majority vote will substitute the right of veto of the most powerful States.
It should be emphasised that this prospect represents an alternative to admitting Germany onto the Security Council. This would mean an incentive for the Germans to develop a foreign policy independent of that of the European Union and, in short, a stimulus to the rebirth of German nationalism; at the same time it would impede the tendency towards reorganising the UN on the basis of regional groups of States.
6. The World Government.
In conclusion, the architecture of the democratically reformed UN will thus allow a bicameral legislative system to emerge. As regards the functions of government, these will be fulfilled by the Secretary General. Until now this body has been subordinated to the decisions of the five permanent members of the Security Council. The process of democratisation of the UN, with the emergence of two legislative assemblies, will instead allow these latter to give the investiture to the Secretary General, according to the principles which govern parliamentary regimes.
More precisely, the Secretary General will perform the role of prime minister, while the various specialised UN organisations will exercise the functions of ministries: for example, GATT (which will be transformed into WTO) will be the ministry of international commerce, UNESCO the ministry of education and culture, FAO the ministry of agriculture, WHO the ministry of health, ILO the ministry of labour, ITU the ministry of communications, while the IMF will become the central bank.
At this point it is opportune to take into consideration one of the most frequent objections to the proposal of creating a world government: its presumed incompatibility with democracy, its tendency to degenerate into a universal empire. The most profound lesson which can be drawn from federalist thought is that peace is not simply a negative situation (the absence of war), but is rather the organisation of an institution (the State), which allows the solution of conflict by constitutional means. It is therefore not sufficient, according to this perspective, to assign to world government the monopoly of coercive power to have peace. It is necessary that this government is endowed with specific consititutional requisites. It must be first of all a limited government. It must be understood, that is, as the summit of a pyramid, under which there are many other levels of government, each of which is jealous of its power and of its jurisdiction, and tends to oppose every attempt at encrochment by the world govern
But it must also be a system of democratic governments, organised on a plurality of levels, from the smallest (the village, or the district of a large city) to the largest (world government), each with its jurisdiction and subject to democratic control. The organisation of democratic participation on a plurality of levels impedes the possibility of the same majority being able to control at the same time all the centres of power and constitutes thus the most effective barrier against arbitrary acts and encrochments.
7. Judiciary power.
The progressive affirmation of the compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice constitutes another chapter in the development programme of the UN institutions, aimed at reinforcing international law and the instruments for the peaceful solution of controversies between States. On the other hand, the creation of the Criminal Court to punish crimes against humanity committed in the former Yugoslavia and the proposal to institute a permanent one, like the proposal regarding the creation of a World Court of Human Rights, represent significant steps towards extending the principles of the rule of law to the world level.
The institutional formulae proposed here correspond to a long-term line to follow (the affirmation of international democracy) and constitute the attempt to respond to the need to democratise the UN. At this point two clarifications should be made. The first is that the characteristics of the model proposed here have the function of general orientation for the constitutional choices which will be set by the evolution of history. After all, it would be arbitrary at the beginning of a process (today the democratisation of the UN is still at the project stage) to propose a complete and articulated model, putting oneself in history's place in the definition of the concrete forms which the institutions of world government will take on.
The second is that this model cannot but be realised by degrees and by successive approximations. The precedent of the Convention of Philadelphia, which in four months resolved the problem of settling the federal constitution and creating a new State, is not valid for world unification.
The long process of European unification, which is far from being concluded, shows that nations consolidated by centuries of independent state life cannot be overtaken with a qualitative leap, but through a gradual institutional evolution. Just as the world wars produced the crisis in the political formula of the nation-state, the Cold War has put the superpowers in crisis. This determined the changeover from military confrontation to cooperation, first between France and Germany, then between the United States and the Soviet Union, which recognised the existence of common interests and drew the conclusion that the reasons for cooperation were stronger than those for antagonism. The crisis of the sovereign state is a long-term historical process which opens the way to political unification and thus to the gradual development of new forms of statehood on international level. Consequently, the transition to the World Federation cannot but be a long-term process, comparable to the formation of the modern State,
which was, as everybody know, the result of successive stratifications. Having made these points, it should be stressed that we are now at the beginning of this transition. The sovereign State has been overtaken by the economic and technological process, while the institutions of the UN, as they are currently organised, impede mankind from democraticaly controlling its own resources and destiny. In consequence, the project to democratise the UN has taken on the character of an alternative to the oligarchic structure of world power. It is a choice which is being discussed in the world political debate which has developed on the reform of the UN and which has to take shape in precise political proposals in 1995 (the 50th anniversary of the founding of the UN). It is a debate which has involved governments, parliaments, parties and non-governmental organisations. Here I confine myself to pointing out two documents which seem to me particularly significant. The Canadian Parliament, on 26th February 1993, recomm
ended that a world conference should be convoked in Ottawa in 1995 to refocus the project for a Parliamentary Assembly for the United Nations. The European Parliament, in the session of 8th February 1994, approved a resolution looking forward to the institution of a UN Parliamentary Assembly and the granting of a permanent seat for the European Union on the Security Council. These acts seem to me to show that there is room to launch a world campaign for the democratisation of the UN. This would allow an inventory to be made of all the forces available to sustain this objective; and a growing consensus could be gathered around it, linking together the scattered initiatives which have been promoted in various countries and by different organisations. The importance of this campaign lies in the fact that it shows governments that world public opinion is favourable to the democratic transformation of the UN. This is the most effective means to bring about a change in international political life.