Abstract Why is it so complicated to achieve collective action in global governance? This article focuses on one explanatory factor, according to which the global stage is pervaded by normative divisions. Our article helps advance this argument in three ways, by specifying the nature, scope, and mechanics of the global value struggle. First, we show that the distinct visions that clash in the conduct of global governance are formulated in a peculiar idiom of universal values based on contending and polysemous conceptions of the common good. Second, we highlight the ubiquity of universal value claims in global governance debates; regardless of their specific nature or standing, actors of all stripes defend their positions by referring to a certain understanding of the general interest. Third and finally, we specify the mechanics of the global value struggle as actors use the idiom of universal values to communicate and justify their viewpoints publicly. We illustrate our framework by looking into the debates that have structured two prominent cases of global policymaking at the United Nations: the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals and the negotiations over the reform of the Security Council. Overall, the article helps make sense of a counterintuitive dynamic in contemporary world politics: as it attempts to depoliticize global governance, the idiom of universal values actually ends up bringing politics back to the fore. global governance, normative theory, discourse Why is global governance so “poorly done,” as Craig Murphy (2000) once put it? In other words, what makes it so complicated to achieve collective action on the global stage? And how can we explain the many “gaps” (Weiss and Wilkinson 2014) in today’s global governance? Conventional wisdom in international relations (IR) suggests at least three broad answers to these interrogations. First, due to anarchy, the global stage is pervaded with a lack of political will, especially on the part of sovereign states, that impedes decisive and timely action. Second, a key category of global actors in contemporary global governance, international organizations (IOs), are plagued with bureaucratic pathologies that render them partly inefficient. Third, the very nature of global issues, most of which cut across borders and fall prey to thorny collaboration problems, raises the level of complexity for the provision of public goods to unprecedented levels. Without a doubt, these three lines of argument help make sense of the many difficulties that the human collective is experiencing in addressing world challenges. In this article, we explore a fourth and complementary explanation, centered on the political cleavages owing to the “plurality of values” in global governance (Hurrell 2007, 10). According to this view, the normative divisions that pervade the global stage go a long way in accounting for the difficulty of collective action. Building on this starting point, our analysis seeks to make three contributions to the literature. First, we show that the distinct visions that clash in the conduct of global governance are formulated in a peculiar idiom of universal values. The distinctive trait of this form of rhetoric, we observe, is that it refers to the general interest (rather than to particular values) in order to legitimize global policies. Second, we highlight the ubiquity of universal value claims in contemporary global governance debates. Contending notions of the common good are upheld not only by moral agents such as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and IOs, but also by states, which are typically considered the harbingers of national (and particular) interests. What is more, the idiom of universal values serves not only to legitimize domination, as may be expected, but also to challenge existing policies. Third and finally, we specify the mechanics of the global value struggle. In so doing, we throw light on the requirement for global actors to use the idiom of universal values to communicate and justify their viewpoints publicly. In developing these arguments, the article helps make sense of a counterintuitive dynamic in the contemporary politics of global governance. As it attempts to depoliticize global governance, we argue, the idiom of universal values actually ends up bringing politics back to the fore. This is because, to paraphrase Cox (1986), universal values are always for someone and for some purpose. Take, for instance, the way in which the United Nations (UN) operates. The UN Secretariat has long prided itself with espousing the common good for humanity at large. In its public statements, the UN portrays the promotion of human rights, collective security, good governance, and development as objectives whose formulation and implementation should take place above politics, in line with the universal principles of the UN Charter (e.g., UN 2003). Despite this affirmation, however, the policies promoted by the world organization have consistently sparked political struggles at and around the UN that have been fought in the name of the general interest. Discussions on human development, human security, the responsibility to protect, and peacebuilding, to take but a few examples, seem to be systematically structured around competing visions of the common good. While the literature on global governance has often referred to the normativity of the process (e.g., Ba and Hoffmann 2005; Hofferberth 2015; Weiss and Thakur 2010; Weiss and Wilkinson 2014), scholars have yet to specify the nature, scope, and mechanics of the value struggle upon which it rests. The article is structured in two sections. The first part lays out our theoretical approach and explains in greater detail the three contributions that the article seeks to make to the study of global governance. In the second part of the article, we illustrate our argument with two case studies. We show how the idiom of universal values structures debates at the UN by looking at the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the negotiations over the reform of the Security Council. The Value Divide in Global Governance The scholarly literature has drawn attention to four important factors to explain “why global governance is failing” (Goldin 2013). The first factor that is often identified is the lack of political will and leadership at the international level. In 1995, for example, the Commission on Global Governance (1995, 353) deplored “the lack of leadership over a wide spectrum of human affairs.” For his part, Weiss (2016, 221) recently argued that the UN's “main illness” came from “the lack of political will and myopia” of the world body’s member states. At the same time, Weiss provided some reasons for optimism when he also pointed out that progress in global governance was possible “when there is sufficient political will and perceived common interests” (ibid., 154; see also Goldin 2013). A second line of explanation for global governance failures has to do with IOs’ malpractices. Recalling that “every bureaucracy has the potential for pathology,” Barnett and Finnemore (2004, 35, 41) have eloquently explained that “international organizations, too, are prone to dysfunctional behaviors.” The irrationality of rationalization, universalism, normalization of deviance, organizational insulation, and cultural contestation figure among the main problems identified by Barnett and Finnemore (2004, 39) in the regular work of IOs. Other significant contributions to this stream of scholarship have shed analytical light on several “egregious ethical and management glitches” at the UN (Baumann 2016), including, for example, the pathologies of “organized hypocrisy” in peacekeeping operations (Lipson 2007). A third way to account for the imperfections of global governance is to refer to the sheer complexity of the process and issues to be tackled. One strand of literature argues that the growing number of players as well as the fragmentation of the institutional infrastructure of global governance has gradually created a “gridlock” that has now turned into “a general condition of the multilateral system” (Hale, Held, and Young 2013, 3). Other analysts have stressed the highly technical nature of transsovereign issues such as climate change, which require advanced scientific knowledge and expertise in order to overcome collaboration problems. In this line of argument, the combination of a cumbersome institutional architecture with a set of increasingly intricate matters produces an endemic undersupply of “global public goods” (Kaul, Grunberg, and Stern 1999). Fourth and finally, a number of scholars argue that the main obstacles to global governance have to do with the normative divide that underpins it. A rich tradition stemming from both political theory (e.g., Beitz 1979; Held 1995) and IR theory (e.g., Hurrell 2007; Reus-Smit 1999) has shown how bringing normative conflicts to the fore throws light on the political dynamics of global governance. This kind of approach appears all the more relevant that the globalization of ideologies of recent decades has intensified the global competition of values (Noël and Thérien 2008; Steger 2009). Fundamentally, not everyone on the world stage aspires to the same thing. Moreover, it is important to note that values at the global level are not simply plural or diverse. They are also inherently conflictual, often leading to intense debates and political clashes. Building on these insights, we argue that the definition of global problems, the establishment of collective goals, and the evaluation of joint solutions generate conflict because all of these processes involve making choices, not only among possible actions to be taken, but also between distinct values. As such, global governance is always the product of competing normative systems. While several analysts have taken note of the normative nature of global governance, few so far have specified (1) the nature, (2) the scope, and (3) the mechanics of its value struggles. This article intends to fill these gaps by investigating how claims to universality shape the making of global governance. We argue that references to the general interest or the common good form a basic discursive structure in today’s world politics. In an important book on the matter, Bartelson (2009, 8) suggests that “a real and genuinely inclusive world community is a dream incapable of realization, since every attempt to transcend the existing plurality in the name of some set of universal values is likely to create conflict rather than harmony.” As philosophically accurate as Bartleson’s assertion may be, we maintain that, at the empirical level, references to universal values constitute an intrinsic component of global governance. Political actors constantly clash over the worth of different universal principles, in terms of both their alternatives as well as their precise meaning and implications. By unpacking the dynamics of these ideological battles, we seek to better explain why it is so complicated to reach deals across a variety of constituencies on the global stage. The Idiom of Universal Values The notion of legitimacy offers a good starting point to highlight the importance of universal values in global governance. Indeed, at the global level, competing discourses of legitimacy generally share one common trait: an appeal to allegedly universal ideals. On the face of it, there is nothing particularly surprising in the fact that political actors would appeal to the common good to publicly justify their positions and policies. What is missing from existing accounts is an understanding of the implications of the prevalence of the idiom of universal values. We argue that attempts to depoliticize global debates by appealing to the general interest actually reintroduce politics in a new guise. Consider the scholarly literature on the subject. Cosmopolitan theorists, for example, argue that democratic norms—such as participation, fairness, and transparency—are the key sources of global legitimacy (Held 1995; Woods 1999). In the words of Scholte (2011, 2), “to be effective and legitimate, governance needs to be accountable … [S]hortfalls in accountability substantially hamper planet-spanning regulatory institutions in delivering on their respective goals and mandates.” In a similar vein, Beitz (1979, 2009) defends individual autonomy and human rights as the bases for normative judgment in world politics. Alternatively, the legitimacy of global governance is sometimes grounded in moral universal principles of justice and social ethics. Hurrell (2007, 287, 315), for instance, claims that humanity forms a “global moral community” whose main challenge is “to create a morally more satisfactory form of international society.” Whichever overarching value they promote, these pieces of scholarship rest on universalizing aspirations. References to universal values as sources of global legitimacy are not exclusive to overtly normative literatures. They are also notably observable in other approaches for which the legitimacy of IOs is rooted in rational-legal authority. As Steffek (2003, 260–261) defines it, “Rational-legal rule is the rule of abstract laws that generally do not make any difference between their subjects.” Importantly, rational-legal authority is often presented as impartial and value-neutral because it is founded on expertise. According to Barnett and Finnemore (2004, 21): “The authority of IOs … lies in their ability to present themselves as impersonal and neutral—as not exercising power but instead serving others” (see also Seabrooke 2006; Avant, Finnemore, and Sell 2010; Best 2014; Sending 2015). Impartiality is thus conceived as a universal value claim that confers global legitimacy. As substantively distinct as they may be, there is a common feature among these competing views that needs to be underlined. Explicitly or not, the arguments advanced about the sources of global legitimacy often come with a universalizing tone that seeks to detach them from any particular point of view, moment in time, or place of origin. In other words, in global governance, legitimacy is generally sought after through a rhetoric of universal aspirations. Everything takes place as though the social acceptability of a given position flows not simply from its substance (alleviating poverty, governing through fair rules, etc.) but primarily from its form—that is to say, from the language in which claims are couched, as well as their purportedly generic scope. Building on this observation, our objective is to push the analysis further to understand how the language of universal values, which intends to be all-inclusive and stand above politics, actually comes with a diversity of political priorities that often clash with one another. Take, for instance, the popular line of reasoning that associates the legitimacy of global actors with their efficiency in resolving pressing problems. Preoccupied with the provision of global public goods, many scholars emphasize that an important condition for global legitimacy is the capacity of an institution “to respond forthrightly and decisively to present and potential threats to security and welfare” (Keohane 2006, 67). From this public goods perspective, which is borrowed from economics, the resolution of global problems primarily has to do with the production of nonrival, nonexcludable goods such as financial stability, a healthy environment, or human security (Kaul, Grunberg, and Stern 1999). Public goods theory typically focuses on overcoming the collaboration problems that impede so-called “multistakeholders partnerships” in delivering efficient solutions to technical problems at the global level (Barrett 2007). Highly influential in policy as well as in scholarly circles today (e.g., Ruggie 2004, 500; Weiss 2013), this managerial understanding of global governance has been criticized for taking away the normative dimension of politics (Best and Gheciu 2014; Long and Woolley 2009). Indeed, by emphasizing the technical side of problems and the need for efficient solutions, the public goods approach tends to neglect the value debates that characterize decision-making processes (Barnett and Finnemore 2004; Bernstein 2011; Buchanan and Keohane 2006; Hurd 1999; Steffek 2003; Zürn 2004). For example, efficiency for some may be a lack of transparency or justice for others. Building on this critique, we propose that global governance always consists in making choices and justifying these choices in terms of collective ideals. Indeed, the idiom of universal values reaches far beyond academia into the halls of policymaking and practice. In our view, there is no better way to flesh out the normativity and politics of global governance than by examining the struggles over universal values that bring global actors together—and simultaneously pit them against each other. The Ubiquity of Universal Values The idiom of universal values has become all but ubiquitous in contemporary global governance. As our two case studies below will demonstrate, references to the general interest or the common good loom large in contemporary multilateral diplomacy, to the point of displacing other forms of legitimacy in political debates. This observation is important because universal values are often thought to be the preserve of moral actors (e.g., humanitarians), experts (e.g., scientists), or dominant countries (often draped in the guise of the “international community”). To begin with, NGOs are well-known for grounding their action in universal ethics such as human rights. In his analysis of Amnesty International, for instance, Hopgood (2006, 5, 16) shows that moral authority, which rests on a “detached vantage point” and “altruism,” is at the root of the organization’s influence on the global stage. When it comes to IOs, Barnett and Finnemore (2004, 23) argue that they “frequently claim to be the representative of the community’s interests or the defender of the values of the international community. . . In no small measure, the moral authority of IOs is dependent on a contrary discourse of states protecting their own national and particularistic interests.” From this perspective, IOs seek to hold the moral high ground against their member states, which are believed to invoke inward-looking, parochial preferences. Against this view, we contend that even states—those self-regarding, egoistic units, according to IR textbooks—also tend to couch their positions in terms of the greater good. As our case studies will make clear, when countries struggle to legitimize their positions on the global stage, they generally adopt the idiom of universal values in a way that is reminiscent of what NGOs and experts do. It should be stressed that references to universal values come in a variety of flavors as part of competing legitimacy discourses. At times, appeals to universal values remain rather inconspicuous, as in the technical language of expertise that is usually coated with the veneer of science and impartiality. And at other times, the universality claims of global governors are openly normative and axiological in nature. Our approach seeks to draw a connection between these distinct, yet germane ways of framing legitimacy arguments in the global arena. As such, it helps better understand what Avant, Finnemore, and Sell (2010, 13) call “principled authority,” which is “legitimated by service to some widely accepted set of principles, morals, or values.” Extending this insight, we argue that the idiom of universal values upon which principled authority rests are articulated in a variety of ways—moral, technical, impartial, etc.—whose common trait is an appeal to “noncontingent principles” (Sending 2015, 131). Further, we contend that the idiom of universal values is not simply a cloak for the dominant to legitimize their superior position, as realists and some critical scholars might expect. As the second part of the article will empirically document, weaker parties also base their positions on particular visions of the common good as they seek to contest and shake the established order. Put differently, the idiom of universal values is used to oppose, just as much as to legitimize, existing power structures. Even though it is sometimes rejected by some players, this language has come to form the normative infrastructure of contemporary global governance. Today, global actors of all stripes tend to defend their positions by referring to universal values, regardless of their specific nature, origins, or ambitions. To be sure, the discourse of universal values is not exclusive to the international realm. Yet this type of argumentative strategy seems to be more prevalent in global governance than in other spheres of political life (Bartelson 2009). This is because, as Sending (2015, 131) explains, “authority beyond the state rest[s] on claims to noncontingent values or principles.” Dag Hammarsjöld, for instance, managed to expand the procedural basis of his authority as UN secretary-general by “claiming to represent the international” (ibid., 49). Three decades ago, Soroos (1986, 115) already noted that in global policymaking, “[v]alues are often expressed in such terms as peace, economic development, social justice and sovereignty that are so widely embraced as to have become mere platitudes that are politically awkward to argue against.” Trite as they may be, though, these terms keep getting bandied about, with critical implications for the politics of global governance. As they clash over global policies, the various actors involved—state and nonstate, weak or strong—speak a similarly universalizing idiom that seeks to stand above politics by appealing to collective ideals that are portrayed as preceding national interests and sociocultural differences. In so doing, particular interests get clothed in the mantle of the public good. The Mechanics of the Global Value Struggle How does the value struggle work in global governance? To answer this question, it seems useful to begin by defining what values are. We conceive of values as the publicly debated political ideals of a given collective. By contrast with the standard view in political science and sociology, which considers values as private beliefs motivating individual action, our perspective looks at values as public objects in social debates. We use the concept of values, as opposed to its cousin norms, for two main reasons. First, at the level of practice, norms often refer to the legal realm in global governance discourse. Human rights norms, for instance, belong to a developing body of more or less codified international law. Norms, in other words, are usually associated with procedures and customs. Second, at the level of analysis, the concept of value better emphasizes the role of moral aspirations than the notion of norm does. In constructivism especially, norms define “the normal,” which refers to social acceptability (Towns 2012). By contrast, as guiding moral principles, values have an aspirational character that enables and constrains political debates. The public nature of values is of critical importance. This is because, as Elster (1998, 111) notes, “the effect of an audience is to replace the language of interest by the language of reason … Publicity does not eliminate base motives, but forces or induces speakers to hide them.” In global governance, which takes place in (semi)public settings such as multilateral organizations, global conferences, and other deliberative fora, actors are required to justify their stance in front of the others—a process of reason giving that has constitutive effects (Mitzen 2013). This is not to say that values trump interests, as in the debate between the logic of consequences and the logic of appropriateness (March and Olsen 1998). Instead, we argue with others that the pursuit of interest is framed by the language in which it is expressed. Elster (1998, 104) writes of a “consistency constraint” that owes to “the civilizing force of hypocrisy”: when they partake in deliberations, actors come to frame their interests—as self-regarding as they may be—in terms that resonate with the audience. In IR, constructivists similarly argue that public speech leads to rhetorical entrapment (Schimmelfennig 2001) and tongue twisting (Krebs and Jackson 2007). Alternatively, for rationalists “arguing publicly [may] reshape one’s private desires” (Fearon 1998, 54; see also Voeten 2011). Under both scenarios, deliberation transforms the pursuit of individual interest into something qualitatively different. A good example of how this publicity works at the global level may be found in Johnstone’s analysis of Security Council deliberations. As he observes, within this body an argument “is more likely to succeed if pure self-interest is diluted” (Johnstone 2003, 454). At the Security Council, he continues, “[h]aving to pay lip service to the collective interest and shared principles does not turn states into paragons of virtue, but it does force them to moderate the rhetorical positions they take” (ibid.). We are agnostic as to whether or not people “really” adhere to proclaimed values or simply use them as part of a window-dressing strategy. Both phenomena probably take place; proclaimed values may be authentically held at times and brandished without conviction at others. In any event, as soon as they enter public debate, values produce effects that do not strictly depend on authenticity. As such, our argument does not seek to invalidate but to complement interest-based approaches, which explain global governance bargains in terms of the distribution of preferences. Without a doubt, actors are subject to a variety of material and symbolic incentives, often making multilateral negotiations difficult. But as they pursue their interests, states, IOs, and civil society organizations are faced not only with contending preferences, but also with the need to communicate their position in a way that resonates with their counterparts. In so doing, they resort to a peculiar kind of discourse in which universalizing aspirations serve as a shared framework. Far from a mere façade, the idiom of universal values has constitutive effects over the politics of global governance; its normative structure frames exchanges by making certain viewpoints legitimate and evacuating others. In short, distinct repertoires of universal values feed into alternative ideologies of global governance. Through this conflict of worldviews, global legitimacy is produced, reproduced, and contested. In everyday global governance, two main axes of debate over universal values need to be distinguished. First, actors face off to impose a given value over its alternatives. The opposition between input- and output-oriented legitimacy is a well-known example here (Scharpf 1999): depending on whether one prioritizes procedure (e.g., democracy) or outcome (e.g., efficiency) as the dominant source of legitimacy in a policymaking process, one is likely to invoke competing ideals. Second, in global governance debates, actors often struggle over the specific meaning of a given value. The moral principle of responsibility, for instance, has widely different implications depending on where actors locate it: at the individual level (personal duty) or at the collective one (solidarity). In sum, by conceiving of collective ideals as public objects of struggle, we inquire into, first, their relationships with alternatives, and second, their polysemy or inherent ambiguity. Both aspects present opportunities and constraints in the making and remaking of global governance. On the one hand, the global struggle over universal values allows for the possibility of change by opening room for debate and contestation. On the other hand, it also makes it difficult to obtain the level of agreement that is necessary for global governance to achieve substantive results. To be sure, our approach does not deny the possibility of compromises in global affairs. But it does suggest that such compromises are seldom based on truly shared understandings. The common good is always a political construct over which global governance agents compete. In that sense, the very existence of universal values remains a matter open for debate. For some, universal values that transcend culture are indeed possible; for others, such a position is nothing but a reflection of “ideologies of empire” (Bartelson 2009, 2). For our purpose, it will suffice to observe that, by serving as focal points in global debates, notions of the common good tend to create an intriguing paradox; as it attempts to depoliticize global governance, the idiom of universal values actually ends up bringing politics back to the fore. We now turn to empirical illustrations of this fascinating phenomenon. The Structure of Value Debates at the UN To empirically explore how the idiom of universal values plays out in global governance, we focus on global public policies as units of analysis. Global public policies can be defined as world-spanning courses of action over issues of common concern. Following the pioneering analysis of Soroos (1986), the global policy framework has gradually gained in popularity and sophistication. Most importantly, Reinicke (1998) drew attention to the existence of “global policy networks” (see also Slaughter 2001), while Stone (2008) wrote of a “global agora” in which a variety of actors cooperate and compete in the formulation and implementation of public policies. Building on Stone and Ladi (2015, 841), who point out that global public policy should be viewed as “an important but under-developed tributary of thinking for the wider interdisciplinary field of global governance,” we argue that, in the same way that state governance takes shape through national public policies, global governance gets instantiated through global public policymaking. The UN provides a particularly suitable site to examine the politics of universal values in global policymaking (Thakur and Weiss 2009; Coleman 2012; Thérien 2015). First, the UN is primus inter pares in the sense that it is the sole international organization with a universal membership and a global mandate. Second, the UN Charter is the closest approximation that there is of a global constitution (Doyle 2012). Third, the UN constitutes the most important political locus on the world stage toward which actors—states, international civil servants, and civil society—converge in order to speak and act. In short, the UN opens a unique window onto the “big picture” of global governance. Our analysis focuses on two prominent cases of UN policymaking: the adoption of the MDGs and the reform of the Security Council. Both of these public policies figure among the most important items on the UN agenda of the post–Cold War era. The contrast between the two cases is fruitful for several reasons. First, as our examples are drawn from the fields of development and governance, they cover two very different policy areas. Second, while the MDGs form an agreed-upon and implemented public policy, Security Council reform remains a matter of fierce debate. Third, discussions over Security Council reform have been largely dominated by states whereas the MDG process had a major input from the UN staff and nonstate actors. Fourth and perhaps most importantly, our two cases show how the value discourses that pertain to different issues can be very distinctive, on the one hand, while also sharing important similarities, on the other. Adopting the MDGs Described as “the world's biggest promise” (Hulme 2009), the MDGs were the most ambitious development policy ever sponsored by the UN until they gave way to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015. Emerging out of the Millennium Summit organized by the UN in 2000, the MDGs revolved around the “super-norm” of poverty eradication (Hulme and Fukuda-Parr 2009, 5). Based on twenty-one targets and sixty indicators, the eight UN goals were as follows: (1) eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; (2) achieve universal primary education; (3) promote gender equality and empower women; (4) reduce child mortality; (5) improve maternal health; (6) combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases; (7) ensure environmental sustainability; and (8) develop a global partnership for development (UNGA 2001c). While the last objective remained rather vague, the other MDGs put forward a comprehensive and detailed action plan to be implemented by 2015. The various steps that led to the formulation of the MDGs were “complex, incremental and fuzzy” (Al Raee et al. 2014, 2). The whole policy originated in a series of UN conferences that were held in the 1990s. A watershed occurred in 1996, when the OECD Development Assistance Committee translated its own reading of the outcome of the UN thematic conferences into an integrated action plan based on “a few specific [development] goals” (OECD 1996, 9). The similarities between the six International Development Goals (IDGs) advanced by the OECD and the MDGs later enunciated by the UN are striking, hinting to the catalyzing effect that this early initiative had on the creation of the MDGs. The UN jumped on the development goals bandwagon in 2000, when Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the heads of the OECD, the IMF, and the World Bank cosigned A Better World for All, a document proposing a revised version of the OECD development program then containing seven IDGs (IMF, OECD, UN, and World Bank 2000). Thereafter, the UN assumed political leadership in carrying out the project, remodeling it through three successive iterations: We the Peoples (Annan 2000), the Millennium Declaration (UNGA 2000b), and the Road Map Towards the Implementation of the Millennium Declaration (UNGA 2001c). The MDGs became a full-fledged global public policy at the Monterrey Summit on Financing for Development in 2002. Along the winding road that led to the MDGs, the international civil service played a most important part as a norm entrepreneur. Quite clearly, the UN Secretariat’s key role was enabled by the strong support given to the MDG process by the Bretton Woods institutions and the OECD. Because of this singular alignment of political forces, the adoption of the MDGs proved to be an unusual illustration of international compromise. At the same time, the MDGs have raised intense political controversies from the design stage up to this day. Revealingly, some analysts have posited the MDGs as “the single most important focus of international efforts to promote human development” (Alston 2005, 755) while others have situated that policy “in the grand neoliberal strategic agenda” (Saith 2006, 1197). It is remarkable that such disagreements about the MDGs have generally been expressed in the same idiom of universal values. The main value conflict in the MDG debate revolved around the question of who should be responsible for development policymaking. In other words, burden sharing clearly was the most polarizing issue. The conflict opposed the advocates of global solidarity on one hand and the proponents of the principle of national duty on the other. Significantly, both camps framed their political preferences in universalizing terms. The former maintained that the rich have a moral responsibility toward the poor, and sought to link the MDGs with human rights obligations. While conceding that international support for development can sometimes be justified, the latter basically argued that the responsibility of development rests primarily with each individual state. Several UN officials, governments from the South, and civil society organizations associated the MDGs with the promotion of transnational solidarity and a more equitable global order. The UN's starting point was that “[e]xtreme poverty is an affront to our common humanity” (Annan 2000, 19), and that “[t]hose who suffer, or who benefit least, are entitled to help from those who benefit most” (ibid., 77). As a corollary, the world body also declared that “[t]he rich countries have an indispensable role to play by further opening their markets, by providing deeper and faster debt relief, and by giving more and better-focused development assistance” (ibid., 35). In the same vein, several developing countries and NGOs focused on the idea that achieving the MDGs would require stronger political leadership on the part of governments from the North. India, for example, raised “the special obligation on more fortunate countries,” while Senegal called for “an exceptional mobilization of additional resources to finance development” (UNGA 2001a, 3, 7). Bangladesh decried that the secretary general’s roadmap did “not take adequate note of the fact that poverty reduction is already an overarching priority for many developing countries” and that “these countries face significant challenges in the implementation of the poverty reduction programmes due to lack of resources and supply constraints” (UNGA 2001b, 18). More bluntly, the director of the Third World Network, Martin Khor (2000, 1), claimed that “the rich have to bear the brunt of the burden and cost of adjustment and the duty to assist the poor,” and that “the poor have the right to be treated specially and differentially.” The moral stand in favor of global solidarity was confronted by arguments that emphasized the national responsibility of states with respect to development. Interestingly, such arguments were sometimes formulated by the same actors who pleaded in favor of increased global justice. UN officials, for example, considered that “[t]he management of risks and threats that affect all the world’s peoples should be considered multilaterally” (Annan 2000, 77) and consistently sought to strike a balance between the international obligations of the North and the domestic ones of the South. While encouraging the rich countries to be more altruistic and generous, the UN also recognized that “[e]ach country must still take primary responsibility for its own programmes of economic growth and poverty reduction” (ibid., 40) and urged the developing nations to adopt “sound, well-balanced and sustainable” economic policies (IMF, OECD, UN, and World Bank 2000, 22). Unsurprisingly, developed countries were the most vocal in defending the view that development is first and foremost a national duty. As a case in point, Japan argued that the fate of the MDGs would “depend to a large extent upon the efforts of each Member State” (UNGA 2001b, 12). But the single-most decisive input in the debate about the international division of labor in development policies came from the United States, which made clear from the outset that the responsibility of development “begins at home because the international community cannot help any nation that is not striving to help itself” (UNGA 2000a, 7). In parallel to the cleavage about the burden sharing of development, the MDG negotiations also gave rise to ongoing disagreements over the value of poverty reduction. For sure, the vast majority of participants in the MDG process shared the view that fighting global poverty would help make the world “better, and safer, for its 6 billion people and for the projected 7 billion people in 2015” (IMF, OECD, UN, and World Bank 2000, 2). And in accordance with this common belief, state and nonstate actors systematically sought to present their respective positions as conducive to improving the lives of the poorest. Yet the way poverty reduction was conceived varied significantly. Sometimes, it was defined as a technical and “economistic” challenge, and sometimes, it was envisaged as an openly political issue (Vandemoortele 2011, 1). It can thus be argued that, throughout the MDG debate, poverty reduction was a universal value with a polysemic content. As suggested by the first target of the MDGs—half, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than one dollar a day—the spirit of the MDG process was driven by an economic vision of poverty. In line with this approach, support for the MDGs was often expressed in the language of expertise. As such, the credibility of the goals was said to rely on time-bound measures and benchmarking; “[t]he goals have been set in quantitative terms, so part of the story is told in words and pictures, but most of it is in numbers and charts” (IMF, OECD, UN, and World Bank 2000, 4). UN Development Programme Chief Mark Malloch Brown was particularly explicit on the added value of the MDGs when he suggested that they should be seen as “a Standard and Poor’s or Moody’s … of poverty rating” (Miller Reporting Company 2001, 34). The technical nature of the MDGs was also highlighted by Kofi Annan, who, in the following statement, insisted on the availability of the practical means to achieve them: “we are truly the first generation with the tools, the knowledge and the resources to meet the commitment, given by all States in the Millennium Declaration … to freeing the entire human race from want” (UNGA 2005a, 8). As sponsors of the first version of the development goals, the OECD countries were the strongest advocates of the view that poverty reduction required an economic and managerial approach. In addition to emphasizing the idea that “the best way to reduce poverty is through strong, sustainable economic growth,” they often claimed that the success of the MDGs hinged on “common markers,” “integrated monitoring,” and other best practices (UNGA 2001b, 8; UNGA 2001a, 14). In opposition to this dominant, technical view of poverty reduction, various arguments put forward a much more political understanding of the issue. Senegal's call for “the humanization of globalization” (ibid., 7) echoed developing countries’ concerns about social inclusion and the human toll of poverty. Several NGOs made a connection between the MDGs and international human rights law and argued that “[t]he increasing economic gaps and the unprecedented increase in poverty that are the result of the existing world economic order constitute the greatest and most unjust violations of human rights: the misery and death of millions of innocent people every year” (Millennium Forum 2000, 9). For its part, the UN insisted on the need for political will. It noted that “[m]ost of the targets set by the Millennium Declaration were not new,” and stressed that “[w]hat is needed, therefore, is not more technical or feasibility studies. Rather, States need to demonstrate the political will to carry out commitments already given and to implement strategies already worked out” (UNGA 2001c, 7). In the end, however, these various efforts to embed poverty reduction in a more political framework had no more than a limited impact on the MDG debate. Regardless of whether or not one adheres to the official view, according to which the Millennium Development Goals have produced “the most successful anti-poverty movement in history” (UN 2015a, 3), the MDGs represent a turning point for development policymaking and global governance. Hulme (2010) argues that the MDGs resulted from an unprecedented convergence of the human development and results-based management approaches. In a similar fashion, our analysis shows that the MDGs were the product of a struggle between two main narratives structured around distinct versions of universal values. Largely defined by North-South dynamics, this struggle proved so significant that it later became a key feature of the SDGs negotiation. One can thus expect that it will remain a driving force of global governance in the coming decades. Reforming the Security Council As a global public policy, the reform of the UN Security Council (UNSC) has long been in the making. Started in 1992, the debate has since taken many twists and turns, short of any tangible result so far. The main issue at stake is how to legitimize (and delegitimize) the different proposals put forth, whose options range from new permanent members to renewable elected terms through veto abolition.1 Universal values have proven a very useful rhetorical device in advancing and undermining positions on the matter. While the main normative cleavage opposes output-oriented versus input-oriented forms of legitimacy, most of the contemporary debate actually focuses on subtle variations in the meaning of the central value of representativeness. For advocates of output-oriented forms of legitimacy, the rallying cry is the value of efficiency and the need for the council to deliver the goods in terms of maintaining international peace and security. In 2004, a high-level panel report observed that the council “was created to be not just a representative but a responsible body, one that had the capacity for decisive action” (UN 2004, par. 244). In order to “combine power with principle” (ibid., par. 77), the report suggested “to increase the involvement in decision-making of those who contribute most to the United Nations financially, militarily and diplomatically” (ibid., par. 249). This recommendation was later upheld by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, almost word for word, in his follow-up document In Larger Freedom (UNGA 2005a). Annan’s successor, Ban Ki-moon, similarly called for a “more efficient and effective” council (UN 2015b). Among states, the main advocates of efficiency include Western countries as well as current permanent members of the council. In the early 1990s, this was actually the dominant view in intergovernmental debates. To use Australia’s words, “[t]he principal concern in any review should be to maintain and, where possible, enhance the effectiveness of the Security Council” (UNGA 1993, 8). Insisting that those who have the means to deliver the goods should be included, Japan’s representative added that “we do not want to be just good taxpayers, but to have a word to say on the important decisions that are taken in the United Nations” (quoted in Bourantonis 2005, 47). In more recent years, the value of efficiency has receded from Security Council debates, as the normative framework shifted sensibly toward input-oriented notions of legitimacy. Indeed, ever since the failure of the 2005 summit, conflicts over different shades of representativeness have dominated policy debates. Arguably, the concept of representativeness has a particularly broad and malleable meaning: representative of what or whom? As a focal point in reform debates, representativeness actually gives way to a range of competing interpretations that spans from credibility to diversity, inclusiveness, equality, and accountability. One of the most dominant values in the debate is credibility. In order to remain a central actor in the global governance of international security, the council must reflect the new realities of our era, which are generally contrasted to what the world was looking like in 1945. So-called rising powers are among the loudest voices here. Brazil, for example, wants new permanent members to render the UNSC better able “to reflect today’s geopolitical realities.”2 India uses a similar language. For its part, African heavyweight Nigeria notices “the emergence of several actors in the international political scene capable of contributing to the maintenance of International Peace and Security.”3 Without these new powerhouses on the council, the body risks irrelevance when appraised from the normative perspective of credibility. This realpolitik position is often echoed by the UN of the civil service. According to Ban Ki-moon, the council would boost its credibility, as the pinnacle of global security governance, by “reflect[ing] today’s political and economic realities, not those of more than half a century ago” (UN 2009). Other interpretations of representativeness depart more significantly from output-oriented legitimacy. For instance, a group of states named Uniting for Consensus (UfC) calls for a council that better reflects the world’s “diversity and pluralism,”4 a value that means different things to different people. Some emphasize the current underrepresentation of the Global South. For the secretary general, new permanent members of the council should not only include those who contribute the most (see above), but also those “more representative of the broader membership, especially of the developing world” (UNGA 2004, 66–67). Similarly, the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) made clear that council reform should be targeted “at augmenting the power of the countries of the South” (quoted in Bourantonis 2005, 55), while the Group of Four (G4) calls for more “developing countries” on the council (UNGA 2005b). Other actors interpret representativeness in terms of geographical diversity. Among member states, many believe that Article 23 of the Charter, which provides for “equitable geographic distribution” of (elected) council members, is the best expression of representativeness. Rebutting the view that contributions to peace and security should come first, Pakistan argues that “a country’s real or potential contribution is difficult to quantify, and is not necessarily linked to its size and resources. On the other hand, equitable geographical distribution can be quantified.”5 Harping around the polysemy of representativeness, still other member states argue in favor of “inclusiveness”6 as a key value in reform debates. From this perspective, the Security Council should include members from more marginalized categories of states. Denmark advocates more voice for small states because they “form the majority of the membership of the United Nations.”7 For its part, Nigeria laments the underrepresentation of Africa on the council, a “historical injustice meted to the African continent.”8 Alternatively, some member states emphasize cultural diversity as the basis for representativeness. For instance, France would welcome an Arab candidacy for permanent membership.9 In the same vein, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) calls for “the representation of the main forms of civilization in the Security Council,”10 mentioning specifically the “Islamic Ummah.” The Arab League also aspires “to make the Council a more democratic and just Organ,” which reflects “the interests and aspirations of all the countries and peoples of the world, including those of over 300 million Arabs.”11 The value of equality as the source of representativeness is championed by many poorer and smaller countries, but also by larger ones. India, for instance, invokes demographic equality, arguing that “population … represents both an expression of the principle of democracy and an element of power” (UNGA 1993, 47). Nigeria—another possible candidate for a new permanent seat—concurs: “For the Security Council to be representative it must sufficiently reflect the population distribution of the world” (ibid., 72). The value of equality plays a particularly important role when it comes to permanent seats, though in conflicting ways. For Pakistan, council reform “should avoid perpetuating the current inequities by creating new centres of privilege” (ibid., 74). Permanent membership as well as the veto are perceived to infringe on the value of equality; augmenting this elite circle would merely reproduce “a small directorate of big countries, making critical decisions on questions that affect us all, but on which we have no say” (ibid., 65). Generally speaking, the veto is often considered “inequitable” and “undemocratic,” to use Iceland’s language.12 For Malaysia, the objective of council reform should be to increase equality: “Malaysia sides with the Non-Aligned Movement that the goal of the exercise is the abolition of veto power, and the creation of a more leveled playing field.”13 Among aspiring permanent members, equality rather involves obtaining the same privileges as current veto wielders. The G4’s 2005 draft resolution, for instance, states that “[n]ew permanent members should have the same responsibilities and obligations as the current [P5]” (UNGA 2000b). In a similar spirit, the African Group invokes values of justice and fairness: “Africa strongly believes that the veto should be abolished but so long as it exists, it should be extended to all members of the permanent category of the Security Council, who must in this regard enjoy all the prerogatives and privileges of permanent membership … including the right of the veto as a matter of common justice.”14 By contrast, for the Global Policy Forum (which defines itself as an NGO committed to the promotion of social justice), granting the veto to new permanent members would simply “enlarg[e] the oligarchy by adding five or six powerful governments” (Paul and Nahory 2005). For the NGO, such “special privileges” create a “self-appointed oligarchy,” going as far as renaming the P5 as “H-5” or “Hereditary Five.” The veto is an “anachronism … in a world that aspires to democracy” as well as a direct challenge to the value of equality. For the World Federalist Movement (WFM), meanwhile, “the larger number of elected members vis-à-vis the permanent members must be the best guarantee of greater equity in the Council’s decisions” (Schumacher undated, 3). The importance of the electoral mechanism as a source of legitimacy also relates to the value of accountability, which is upheld by countries that oppose new permanent seats (essentially, UfC members and supporters); for example, “for UfC the principle of standing for election, periodically, in front of the General Assembly must be included in any proposal to enlarge the Security Council.”15 In refusing new permanent seats, UfC-aligned countries frame council membership as a “privileged responsibility” instead of a “permanent right.”16 In a similar logic, the WFM opposes new permanent seats, which it portrays as “a retrograde step that would condemn the Council to greater inefficiency and less accountability. Per definition, permanent members risk no democratic elective repercussions for failure or misconduct” (ibid., 2). By contrast, it continues, “[a]n enhanced system of elected membership … is the most efficient method to improve accountability.” In a different understanding of accountability, the Global Policy Forum claims that a truly representative decision-making body should include the constituents who are directly affected by global governance schemes: “[t]oo often [the Council] seems the captive of great power politics with little connection to the needs of the world’s peoples” (Paul and Nahory 2005). Overall, it seems fair to say that reform debates have primarily opposed the proponents of two distinct sets of universal values: those who want a more efficient Council and those who favor its democratization. As a value discourse, however, the output-oriented notion of legitimacy has become contested, giving way to much discussion about what representativeness actually means. Put differently, how to resolve the “democracy deficit” (Dugal 2005) at the pinnacle of the UN system has gradually become the main normative conflict in discussions over the modernization of the Security Council. What should a reformed council be representative of: the new playing field of power or the populations affected by insecurity? Needless to say, these distinct positions—which refer to fairly different views of the general interest— would obviously lead to contrasting reform projects. Ultimately, should the reform of the Security Council achieve an outcome, it will steer the global governance architecture in one normative direction over its alternatives. Conclusion By focusing on the use of universal values in world affairs, this article helps better understand the normative dimension of global governance. Beyond the bargaining over policy outcomes that forms the main focus of study in existing literatures, global governance consistently involves the promotion of ideals which, as universal as they may aspire to be, often turn out to be hotly contested symbolic representations. Because it is widely employed, explicitly or implicitly, the idiom of universal values provides a fruitful analytical key to explain the politics of global governance. As vividly illustrated by the adoption of the MDGs and the negotiations over the reform of the Security Council, global actors struggle over not only which course of action should be favored, but also which intersubjective infrastructure is more compelling. In addition, they compete over the meaning(s) of the specific values trumpeted in different corners. For example, there frequently opens a gap between the UN's understanding of the universal values it promotes and those of its constituents, in particular the member states. To take a contemporary case, the responsibility to protect has been variously interpreted as a new norm of sovereignty, a justification for multilateral military intervention, a “responsibility while protecting,” a “right to intervene,” etc. Similarly, the imperative of democratization, both at the domestic and multilateral levels, is construed by some as a liberal and cosmopolitan ideal, as a form of neo-colonialism, as historical progress, or as an effect of Western-led globalization. In sum, anytime the UN has presented itself as a promoter of the common good, there has been no small amount of controversy on the meaning and the implementation of its discourse. To conclude, conceiving of global governance as a struggle over universal values helps understand not only its dynamics, but also its historical transformations. Publicly debated collective aspirations set the terms of political interactions in the global agora. And contrary to the public policies that they inform, which often are contingent and patchwork, value systems tend to embody broader patterns in the evolution of world affairs. Their invocations are as many signals of where the political wind is blowing at the global level. Put differently, ideological conflicts generally indicate the direction of historical change. As we brace ourselves to grapple with the normative consequences to come from contemporary “power shifts” and the rise of new actors on the world stage, the lens offered in this article throws new light on possible futures for global governance. Footnotes 1Our analysis excludes the issue of working methods because it is discussed, for the most part, in a different framework (open sessions of the Security Council as opposed to informal plenaries of the General Assembly). 2Unpublished statement by Brazilian representative, December 8, 2009, New York. 3Unpublished statement by Nigerian representative, January 19, 2010, New York. 4Conference room article submitted on behalf of Colombia and Italy, January 21, 2010, New York. 5Unpublished statement by Pakistani representative, April 7, 2009, New York. 6Unpublished statement by South Korean representative, January 19, 2010, New York. 7Unpublished statement by Danish representative, June 11, 2009, New York. 8Unpublished statement by Nigerian representative, January 19, 2010, New York. 9Unpublished statement by French representative, March 24, 2009, New York. 10Unpublished statement by Syrian representative, undated (presumably January 2010), New York. 11Unpublished statement by Oman representative, New York, 12 January 2010, 2. 12Unpublished statement by Icelandic representative, New York. 12 June 2009. 13Unpublished statement by Malaysian representative, New York, 18 January 2010, p. 2. 14Unpublished statement by Sierra Leone representative, New York, 23 December 2009. 15Unpublished statement by Italian representative, New York, 31 March 2009. 16Conference room article submitted on behalf of Colombia and Italy, New York, 21January 2010, p. 1, pt. 3. 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International Studies Review – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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