This chapter considers the prospects for reform of the UN, as well as proposals for alternatives that would address  perceived ineffectiveness, selectivity and lack of accountability.

Ever since the creation of the UN in 1945, there have been repeated proposals for its reform, some of which have been implemented. There have also been growing demands for UN bodies, including the Security Council, to be subject to a fuller system of accountability. In addition, in response to some of the UN’s perceived weaknesses, including ineffectiveness and selectivity in the face of threats to the peace, proposals for alternative institutions, such as a ‘League of Democracies’, have been put forward by academics and policymakers in the US.

Major proposals for changing the structure of the Security Council, and for introducing formal systems of accountability as a means of controlling its actions, have not been implemented, but some informal changes to how the Council operates have been introduced. While reform is a serious issue that will not go away, progress on it has been limited – in part because many proposals for change have been based on questionable assumptions about the nature of the UN and the causes of its troubles.

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Adam Roberts is a senior research fellow in the Department of Politics and International Relations, Oxford University and Emeritus Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford. He was Montague Burton Professor of International Relations at Oxford University from 1986 to 2007. His books include United Nations, Divided World: The UN’s Roles in International Relations, 2nd ed. (Oxford University Press, 1993, editor with Benedict Kingsbury) and Documents on the Laws of War, 3rd ed. (Oxford University Press, 2000, editor with Richard Guelff).

Dominik Zaum is a lecturer in international relations at the University of Reading. He was previously a research fellow at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford. Author of The Sovereignty Paradox: The Norms and Politics of International Statebuilding (Oxford University Press, 2007), he has published articles in Review of International Studies, International Peacekeeping and other journals.

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