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Debate: Should only democracies have a vote in the UN General Assembly?

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Should voting rights in the United Nations General Assembly be restricted to countries with democratic political systems?

This article is based on a Debatabase entry written by Alex Deane. Because this document can be modified by any registered user of this site, its contents should be cited with care.


Background and Context of Debate:

The United Nations was established in 1945, by 51 nations, led by the victorious Allied Powers of the Second World War. It now has 191 member states and is an enormous organisation dedicated to seeking cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, and social equality. The General Assembly (GA) is one of the five “principal organs” of the UN, along with the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the UN Secretariat and the International Court of Justice. It is made up of all member states. Voting in the General Assembly on important questions (e.g. security recommendations, the election of members to other organs, the admission, suspension, or expulsion of members, budgetary matters) is by a two-thirds majority of those present and voting. Other questions are decided by simple majority vote. Each member country has one vote. Apart from approval of budgetary matters, including adoption of a scale of assessment, Assembly resolutions are not binding on member states. The Assembly may make recommendations on any issues within the scope of the UN, except peace and security issues currently under Security Council consideration.

Argument #1


The United Nations should act as a force for global good. Democracies clearly grant their citizens most freedom and quality of life. There are few instruments available to us to display that attitude as a global community to those that don’t grant their people a democratic voice. Democracy may be imperfect but it’s the best we’ve got and we should actively encourage all nations in the world to follow it. Many citizens suffering under repressive or authoritarian regimes will benefit if we do. This plan won’t do it alone, that’s for sure: but at least it shows where we stand.


What makes democracy a more legitimate method of producing government? Democratic Italy in the post war era had revolving-door governments often lasting less than a year, presiding over a disastrous economy. It took plentiful resources and squandered them. Meanwhile, Singapore’s authoritarian regime was producing an extremely high standard of living for its citizens. It took few resources and made extraordinarily productive use of them, for the betterment of its people. Isn’t that what’s important? Is the mere fact of “voting” so vital – when nations like Iran, which allow voting, can produce hardline regimes, and nations which do not, like Jordan, have more reasonable leadership?

Argument #2


Those with no respect for democracy don’t deserve to speak in a democratic forum. It is perverse to allow their vote to affect a decision of the global community, when they deny their own citizens the vote.


This glib assumption is just one aspect of the Western imposition of one way of life over everyone, no matter how unwelcome. Nations vote in the GA because they speak for their people. Many around the world don’t want democracy, preferring strong, stable rule.

Argument #3


The GA is largely a symbolic forum. The real work of the UN is done by committees and the Security Council. Everyone knows that it’s just a talking shop designed to make people feel good. That’s all it does. When regimes silence their citizens, they don’t have a right to feel good. So let’s use the one thing the GA does – talk – to show that. And if the GA really is important as the opposition claims, then this policy will work all the better as nations will care a great deal about being silenced in it. Certainly, this policy creates different classes of nations: that’s what it’s supposed to do. It clearly shows the those nations who on this fundamental question treat their citizens properly and therefore gain admission to the group of democratic nations respected by the international community, and those who do not, and have “must do better” stamped on their cards by their peers.


The GA does much quite important work. But in any case, this plan is wrong on a symbolic level, too. The very point of the GA is that it’s a place where all nations are equal. By adopting this policy, the proposition would carve up the members of the UN into different classes, different categories. They would no longer be united: rather, they would be split up into “nations we like” and “nations we don’t like.”

Argument #4


Democracy can easily be defined: it’s obvious that the UK, for example, is a Parliamentary democracy although it has a monarchy. To say otherwise is to play with silly theories rather than engage in the real debate.


How do you define “democracy”? What about countries with theoretically powerful monarchies..? The proposition claims that this is mere nitpicking: but as long as a country’s monarchy has the power in theory to dismiss Prime Ministers and dissolve Parliament, how can you ever be sure that it won’t actually be used?

Argument #5


If those nations which deny their citizens votes wish to leave the UN over this, so be it. They will be denying themselves the many great benefits of involvement in the organisation as a whole. They will be welcome back when they behave properly. It’s hardly the case that this policy is provoking a new world conflict: almost all global and regional powers are democratic, and China (the obvious exception) is moving that way as it becomes increasingly socially and economically integrated into the world community. There’s not going to be enough strength in the outcasts to cause problems for the rest of the world: they’ll simply be nations that must treat their citizen better if they want to participate in global affairs, and that’s no bad thing.


What if the nations gravely insulted by this policy simply withdraw their participation from the UN? Set up their own, rival organisation, perhaps? Then the very purpose of the UN – to ensure that people all came together, and did not split up into rival camps - would be wrecked. The proposition hasn’t considered the enormity of the potential consequences of this policy. China wouldn’t conform to anyone’s idea of a democracy right now. Were the emerging global powerhouse to turn its back on the world’s uniting organisation and strike out on its own, or form its own bloc of like-minded nations, the dangers would be obvious. This is more likely with China than it might be with others, given that nation’s well known sensitivity to perceived diplomatic insult – and this really would be very insulting indeed. Right now, as the proposition says, China is moving in the right direction. Enact a policy like this, and that might change.

Argument #6


We’ve tried communicating with despotic regimes since the UN began – they listen only when it suits them. It can do no harm to remove votes from countries that don’t deserve them, since having them for fifty years has changed nothing. Perhaps a symbolic disciplining from the world community will do something to make these regimes realise that they can’t deny their citizens fundamental rights anymore. Having the most important international organisation offering support in this highly visible way will encourage protest and dissidents in these countries, and open the eyes of ordinary people there to what their true rights are.


Even if the proposition is right, and nations like China wouldn’t leave the UN, it’s still not a good idea. The nations this change would affect, like the Sudan or North Korea, are the same nations we need to communicate with most. Further alienation would serve only to increase resentment of western powers and to make worse the isolationist positions of the nations we shut out. What that would lead to is increasing radicalism and fundamentalism in those regimes, support for terrorism, and hatred of the nations at the head of the current global order, particularly America. The point of the GA and the UN as a whole is to provide a forum for nations that disagree to peaceably seek resolutions to their disputes. Taking this policy and, in effect, silencing those with whom you disagree is exactly the opposite thing to that which the currently powerful nations in the UN should do. Dialogue is the only way that stability and peace can be advanced. Seeking to promote domestic unrest is a recipe for disaster, too: it leads to crackdowns, not change.

Argument #7


When the despots are gone, perhaps the GA will become somewhere where reasonable nations can actually get something done, without their spoiler tactics interfering. If not, what’s been lost? The GA never has been very important, so even if this move does diminishing its significance, it can’t matter much. It’s not as if undemocratic regimes are contributing positively at the moment.


This undermines the GA. Shut voices out and it will become less and less important, as more and more deals get done via other, less transparent routes. The point of the GA is that it’s open and accountable. Squeeze out whole nations from participating and they’ll just find other, less scrupulous ways to get their point across.

Argument #8


It can hardly be suggested that this is a self-serving policy, since it will worsen relations with nations the Western nations have traditionally valued as important allies, such as Saudi Arabia. It shows that we are willing to tell our friends when they behave badly, as well as our enemies.


This is a transparent attempt by certain powers to increase their control of the United Nations. America and co don’t like the way votes go at present, so they try to take away the votes of those who speak out against them. The Western powers have to try to seize the GA, because the other important decision-making organ, the Security Council so often stops what they want to do, because China and Russia are permanent members and have vetoes there.

Argument #9


Article 19 of the U.N. Charter strips a country of its vote in the General Assembly when its debt outstrips the amount past due for the preceding two years. It’s not just a theoretical power, either; in 2000, 45 nations lost their voting rights at once because of unpaid dues! Currently, 18 nations lack GA voting rights because of this rule, including Burundi, the Congo, the Dominican Republic, Guinea-Bissau, Iraq, Liberia, Somalia, Togo and Vanuatu. Obviously, therefore, there is nothing “fundamental” about the right to vote at all. The removal of voting rights can be used as a tool for the UN’s internal administrative purposes; surely the promotion of democracy is more important than that?


Article 19 ensures that the UN can still function. Though you may dislike the regimes in certain countries, their existence doesn’t stop the UN from working. The absence of funding does. From the organisation’s perspective, therefore, Article 19 purposes are indeed more important than the nature of governmental regimes. The fact that Article 19 is used for the UN’s administration isn’t an argument for this policy, it’s an argument against it; it shows that its exercise isn’t a grand gesture in global politics; it’s the act of an organisation using the only tools it has to ensure that it can continue to perform its role.



  • This House would limit voting rights in the United Nations General Assembly to democratic nations
  • This House would remove UN votes from nations that don’t let their citizens vote
  • That the United Nations should deny a General Assembly vote to states which are not democracies

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