Academic journal article Chicago Journal of International Law

Building Global Democracy

Academic journal article Chicago Journal of International Law

Building Global Democracy

Article excerpt

Building Global Democracy Anne-Marie Slaughter*

John Bolton cannot make up his own mind as to whether "we should take global governance seriously." On the one hand, he argues that we must. "The costs to the United States-reduced constitutional autonomy, impaired popular sovereignty, reduction of our international power, and limitations on our domestic and foreign policy solutions-are far too great, and the current understanding of these costs far too limited to be acceptable."1 On the other hand, in the discussion following the presentation of his paper at the conference hosted by the American Enterprise Institute, he repeatedly disparaged the power and effectiveness of international institutions. He claimed that the United Nations "can be an effective tool of American foreign policy from time to time,"2 but that the United Nations ("UN") Charter "has been violated so consistently, so often, by so many of its members, that [I wonder] how much of it is really left."5 Similarly, he noted that the United States had "withdrawn from the mandatory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice ("ICJ") and what role does that have to play in the world? The ICJ is a joke and our nonparticipation in it doesn't pose any material problems for us in the conduct of our affairs."

Bolton cannot have it both ways. Many contend that power politics continue to prevail in the international system, in which case great powers like the United States will use international institutions to further their own ends when they find it convenient and disregard them when they do not.5 Others argue that the system is evolving toward a genuine global rule of law, in which international law and institutions meaningfully constrain state choice.6 But to maintain both positions at once suggests that Bolton's primary aim is to polemicize and provoke, with little regard for the facts.

The debate between these two positions is as old as international law itself. It is far too broad and fundamental to engage in the space of these brief remarks. I will focus instead on one of Bolton's more specific claims: the implications of global governance for global, or at least national, democracy. Here he makes an important point, one that international lawyers cannot afford to ignore. Yet although I agree with his diagnosis of what is at least a potential problem, I disagree sharply with his prescribed solution.

Instead of disengaging from international institutions, the United States must work within them more equitably and effectively. Bolton's insistence on protecting a narrow and outdated conception of sovereignty will only undermine US power and ability to pursue its interests, including the advancement of its most fundamental values. At the same time, however, the United States should take the lead in designing a new generation of international institutions and redesigning old ones to ensure that they include multiple mechanisms for ensuring popular participation.

To date, efforts to encourage such participation have focused on ensuring access and input from non-governmental organizations ("NGOs"). But NGOs, although important and often powerful actors, do not necessarily represent the world's peoples. Governments do, particularly elected representatives sitting in national legislatures. Yet in designing the institutions of global governance, these men and women are all too often left out. Although space constraints preclude offering a detailed proposal in this regard, I conclude by offering a suggestion for how the UN could develop a mechanism for hosting networks of national legislators.


For the sake of argument in this brief commentary, I accept Bolton's dichotomy between Americanists and Globalists, although not his description of the motives and members of each camp. And I accept his proposition concerning a potential democracy deficit to the extent that Globalists, in the way that he defines them, are building a new generation of international institutions without directly engaging the representatives of the people worldwide. …

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