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Alternative pasts: a study of weighted voting at the United Nations

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 May 2009

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Weighted voting at the UN has been suggested for various reasons: (1) to overcome the problems of the mini-states now being admitted, with one vote just as the very large states have; (2) to prevent voting in the General Assembly from swinging any further in the anti-West, anti-Israel direction; (3) to satisfy the requirements of democratic justice: i.e., “one person-one vote,” not “one nation-one vote”; and, (4) to reflect more realistically the distribution of power among nations.

Research Note
Copyright © The IO Foundation 1977

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1 (l)Flexibility: formulae tied into indicators (such as population or GNP) which vary with time are preferable to an arbitrary assignment of voting weights reflecting today's situation only; (2) Absence of extreme skewness: three or four nations should not between them have more than 50 percent of the total votes; (3) Balance: the main voting blocs (West, Soviet, Afro-Asian) should have a good chance of winning on the issues which are crucial to them, and therefore have about equal voting weights. A study of bloc balances was done previously. See Newcombe, Hanna, Wert, James, and Newcombe, Alan G., “Comparison of Weighted Voting Formulas for the United Nations,” World Politics, Vol. 23, No. 3, (04 1971): 452–89CrossRefGoogle Scholar; (4) Future representation by population: it is desirable for the formula to extrapolate to pure representation by population in a hypothetical future in which all nations will be equally rich, i.e., have the same GNP per capita. (5) Additivity: total voting weight should be unaffected by partitions or fusion among countries; (6) Simplicity of mathematical form is preferable, other things being equal; (7) Accessibility of data for the indicators, for all countries; (8) Incentives: if possible, it would be good to “reward” nations with extra votes for “good” things, such as health and education, not “bad” things, such as military expenditures, energy consumption, or population growth. However, the “good” and “bad” things often grow together, as economic development proceeds; (9) Voting success: in another view of “balance,” the main blocs should have actually won a reasonable number of votes in the past, on the assumption that a weighted voting formula had been in operation. (Hence the title “Alternative Pasts.”)

2 This assumption is not, strictly speaking, justified. Nations might very well vote differently if a particular weighted voting formulae were in effect, as preliminary negotiations produced various ad hoc coalitions. It is also probably true that different issues might come up for roll call voting in such a radically reconstituted Assembly. However, such changes are not amenable to study. The simple assumption of “no change” is the only feasible one to make if we are to study “alternative pasts” at all.

3 Clark, Grenville and Sohn, Louis B., World Peace Through World Law (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1958)Google Scholar.

4 Manno, Catherine Senf, ”Weighted Voting in the UN General Assembly: A Study of Feasibility and Methods,” (Ph.D. Dissertation, Washington: American University, 1965)Google Scholar.

5 Newfang, Oscar, “World Government,” (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1932)Google Scholar; Wilcox, F. and Marcy, C., “Proposals for Change in the UN,” (Washington: Brookings Institution, 1963)Google Scholar.

6 Sohn, Louis B., “Weighting of Votes in an International Assembly,” American Political Science Review, Vol. 38 (12 1944): 11921203CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

7 Pamphlet published by World Service Federation, P.O. Box 545, Wilmette, Illinois, 60091. (Kurt Dreifuss).

8 Betchov, Robert, “Weighting of Votes in International Assemblies,” World Order Models Project, (New York: Institute of World Order)Google Scholar.

9 Silbert, Michael and Newcombe, Hanna, “Mathematical Studies of Weighted Voting at the United Nations,” in Weighted Voting: A Needed Concept for International Security, Simoni, Arnold, ed., (private printing, Ontario: Don Mills)Google Scholar.

10 Schopen, Lynn, Newcombe, Hanna, Young, Christopher, and Wert, James, Nations on Record: UN Rollcall Votes, 1946–1973. (Oakville and Dundas, Ontario: Canadian Peace Research Institute, 1975)Google Scholar.

11 Alker, Hayward R. Jr., and Russett, Bruce M., World Politics in the General Assembly, (New Haven, Conn., Yale University Press, 1965)Google Scholar.