The world is guided by rules and regulations set by the society. In ideal situations, justice prevails in the society, but when the situation is not ideal, it is when legitimate institutions are allowed to rule. However, it is important to note that it is not allows true to argue that legitimate institutions have to rule. First, many societies differ on what justice is, which might end up undermining legitimate institutions. Secondly, it is contradictory when the society fails to support institutions because it is felt that such institutions are unjust. To progress to justice, effective institutions have to be developed, which might not be easy without denying others justice. Therefore, there is need to keenly note the difference between justice and legitimacy. However, if it turns out that an institution is highly unjust, it looses the moral principle to be supported. Hence, for international institutions to be considered legitimate, they have to constantly deliberate for global justice and look for a way of contributing to such justice.
It can thus be said that the legitimacy of international institutions comes when they are given the right to rule. However, there are various conditions that an institution has to satisfy before it is allowed to rule. In most cases, laws are generally accepted and applied if they were developed in the right process. In the same manner, institutions can be considered only if they were developed through the right process. In most cases, international institutions can become legitimate if their development was through state consent. In this case, the legitimacy of the institutions would be easily determined by looking at how the states created such institutions, i.e. if international treaties were considered. However, the problem with state consent is that many of the countries are not democratic, and at many instances, they violate human rights. In this case, it becomes difficult for the state to transfer the legitimacy to the international institutions since their own operations are illegitimate. It is still important, for all nations to have state consent in making international institutions legitimate. These acts as checks and balances against stronger nations that might want to exploit the weak nations.
State consent, no matter whether the country in question is democratic or not is not enough in legitimizing international institutions, even if all the other conditions are met. In most cases, weak nations are hardly ready to voluntarily participate in the governance of international institutions like the WTO. Such nations know that without participating in these institutions, they might be faced with a lot of costs; hence they join because the situation has forced, but not because they have volunteered. Therefore, even though it might be thought that the participation in these institutions is voluntary, looking at the necessary conditions that have to be met for the consent to take place leaves a lot to be desired.
The consent of the democratic states for the legitimacy of the international institutions can be also questioned when in the democratic space there are issues like bureaucratic discretion. In most instances, what the state agents do, or how the state agents operate is not usually what the public wants, or expects. Therefore, there is a big problem of reconciling what the public expects, and what the state is doing. This also puts to question the assertion of the consent of the democratic states on the governance of the international institutions.
However, even though the consent of the democratic state can’t be sufficient to legitimize international institutions, the consent is still necessary. The international institutions can not in anyway sanction a democratic state without its consent, as this would be violating the sovereign of the state. It thus means that not all the states can consent to the international institutions, for instance, it is only until 2002 that Switzerland joined the UN. There are also instances, in which democratic countries can engage in wars, but even if the UN pressures them to desist, they still continue. In essence, it is as if the international institutions are illegitimate, unless all the democratic countries give them the important consent. The consent can make the democratic countries more accountable, hence it is important to have their legitimacy.
The legitimacy of the international institutions basically depends on the consent of the democratic countries. However, as already mentioned, many countries are undemocratic, yet the international institutions are supposed to protect the interests of those that might be affected by the undemocratic and unjust rules. Hence, the mode in the which the UN and the WTO operates can be said to be legitimate putting in mind the process that formed them, and the consent given to them by the democratic countries, even if not all nations can give them consent. This is because it is not possible to achieve global democracy.
Reus-Smit, Christian (2004). The politics of international law; ISBN 0521546710, Cambridge University Press.
Wolfrum, Rüdiger & Röben, Volker (2008). Legitimacy in International Law; ISBN 3540777636, Springer.