Making the UN Fit for Democracy

The war in Iraq raised starkly the question of the international order, in particular about the role of the UN. Many regard the UN's role as the guarantor of international law and legitimacy as self-evident, and now argue that its stature, undermined by the US-led invasion, must be quickly restored if the rule of law is to prevail internationally.

But to be a genuine locus of international legitimacy, the UN must become a different organization--one secure in its own legitimacy and able to function without the endless delays, vetoes, indecisiveness, and unwillingness to ensure respect for its decisions.

The UN was born as a community of nations committed to safeguard and promote the values at the heart of the fight against Nazism and Fascism. At its origin--with only 50 signatories of its Charter--the UN was a rather exclusive club of countries. Indeed, Article 53 of the Charter defined the formerly fascist Axis countries as "enemy states" of the UN, so that Italy had to wait until 1955 to become a member. Japan joined only in 1956 and Germany in 1973.

The UN Charter was, above all, a manifesto of nations committed to freedom and justice. It also contained a series of specific political objectives: decolonization and self-determination of peoples, social progress, and the promotion of fundamental human rights. But with the onset of the Cold War and the emergence of the non-aligned movement, the intentions of the UN's founding fathers were progressively thwarted. Indeed, we are so far today from the original spirit of the UN Charter that it seems normal for dictatorships to sit in judgment of democracies and for Libya to chair the Commission for Human Rights.