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14 Global Governance 199 (2008)
Myths of Membership: The Politics of Legitimation in UN Security Council Reform

handle is hein.journals/glogo14 and id is 207 raw text is: Global Governance 14 (2008), 199-217

Myths of Membership:
The Politics of Legitimation in
UN Security Council Reform
Ian Hurd
The need to expand the UN Security Council is usually justified as neces-
sary to update Council membership in light of changes in world politics.
The mismatch between the existing membership and the increasingly
diverse population of states is said to delegitimatize the Council. This
rests on an implicit hypothesis about the source of institutional legitimacy.
This article surveys reform proposals and finds five distinct claims about
the connection between membership and legitimacy, each of which is
either logically inconsistent or empirically implausible. If formal member-
ship is indeed the key to institutional legitimacy, the causal link remains at
best indeterminate, and we may have to look elsewhere for a theory of
legitimation. We must also look for explanations for why the language of
legitimation is so prevalent in the rhetoric of Council reform. KEYWORDS:
legitimacy, Security Council reform, United Nations, diversity, inequality.
mong the competing proposals for reforming the UN Security
ACouncil, one theme is a near constant: that the Council's legitimacy
is in peril unless the body can be reformed to account for recent
changes in world politics. This consensus is driven by a number of devel-
opments: geopolitical changes (in the distribution of military and economic
power), systemic changes after decolonization (which multiplied the num-
ber of UN members), and normative changes (in the value given to diver-
sity, equity, and representation). The result, summarized in the New York
Times, is that the Security Council is indisputably out of date.1 Most ar-
guments in favor of Council expansion identify the gap between Council
membership and international realities as a threat specifically to the legiti-
macy of the Council. The gap is an objective fact, but the link to legitimacy
is what gives it its political salience and has made it a controversial matter
in world politics. This article investigates this link. Conventional wisdom
holds that the Council's outdated membership causes delegitimation but the
causal mechanics behind this delegitimation are rarely explained.
The process by which institutions become legitimized or delegitimized is
a hotly contested matter among organizational sociologists, and yet in the
Council reform debates the connection between legitimacy and membership
has been treated as unproblematic, even self-evident. I set out below a number

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