Monday, June 30, 2008

How to democratize the UN

The United Nations is fundamentally flawed. It is unresponsive to the views and opinions of people around the world. The Security Council, with its permanent membership and veto powers, privileges the policies of some countries while allowing vested interests to completely block legitimate action. The General Assembly, rather than serving as a global legislature, is merely a place for appointed ambassadors to mechanically regurgitate their home government's current policies.

If the UN has any hope of being of service to humanity, it must be democratized. This obviously involves ending the permanent membership and veto powers of the Security Council, but it also means transforming the General Assembly into a World Parliament.

The first component of this transformation is variable delegation sizes based on population. As much respect as I have for the fine people of Nauru, the fact that they have the same number of votes (one) as China, a country with over 100,000 times the population, is profoundly undemocratic. Now, we have to strike a balance when choosing delegation sizes. We don't want the World Parliament to grow to monstrous proportions, of course. We can't have Nauru with one Member of the World Parliament and therefore China gets 100,000.

We might arbitrarily state that each nation gets one MWP, and any nation with more than 25 million citizens gets additional members for each 25-million person bracket they fit into. So Chile with 16 million people gets one MWP. Iraq with 29 million people gets 2 MWPs. The United States has 304 million people and gets 13 MWPs.

China, at 1.3 billion people, gets 53 MWPs. Wait, so China, a single-party authoritarian state with a sketchy human rights record gets to dominate the United Nations? Isn't the point of democratizing the General Assembly to make a fair and democratic Parliament? I propose two mechanisms to deal with this.

First, we want the members of the World Parliament to be chosen by the people. I submit that any nation that does not elect its MWPs through some democratic means (national or regional elections) gets only half votes. If China appoints 53 loyal MWPs by decree, they can only get 26.5 votes rather than 53.

Second, we want the World Parliament to be a democracy of democracies. We might assign different vote weights to the level of democratic freedom in different countries. For the purposes of illustration, if we chose to use the Freedom in the World survey, we might give full votes to all nations that qualify as Free, half votes to those who qualify as Partly Free, and quarter-votes to those that qualify as not Free. China is rated Not Free, and if it appointed its 53 MWPs, they would only get 6.625 votes in the Parliament, 0.125 votes for each MWP. In contrast, India gets 45 MWPs; it is ranked as Free and if its MWPs are chosen through elections, it gets 45 full votes.

These are just examples of ways in which the size of some countries can be counterbalanced with democratic policies. In actual practice, the World Parliament might use entirely different criteria and vote weights. However it is done, a democratic, responsive World Parliament could be a positive force to counterbalance the capitalist globalization, militarization, and imperialism of the United States and other powers.


  1. Hey, you should check out the international Campaign for a UN Parliamentary Assembly. Did not see any numbers on seats per country on their website, but it seems they're the prime movers towards a world parliament at the moment. URL is

  2. Thank you for the link. I know there are several other UN democratization campaigns around as well.

  3. I have trouble with word verification on this blog, from my home computer.

    I have doubts that the UN can be reformed. I'm for formations as a united socialist Middle East.

  4. Can't help with the word verification -- that's Google's business, I just use it!

    I also have doubts that the UN can be reformed, but then I have doubts that meaningful progress can be made on most issues of import. In any case, to paraphrase Eugene Debs, "It is better to ask for what you want and not get it than to ask for what you don't want and get it."