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Democracy Promotion: Unilateralism vs. Multilateralism Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: May 20th, 2020

Executive Summary

Democracy refers to a type of leadership in which members of society represented in the drafting of the policies that affect their lives. Democracy permits qualified citizens to take part in the making of decisions equally. This participation could be direct or indirect, through voted legislative body whose main role is to recommend, develop, and generate laws. Democracy entails the facilitation of social, financial, and intellectual environment that allows free and equal practice of political autonomy. Whereas no agreement subsists on how to describe democracy, equal opportunity and self-determination have both been acknowledged as significant attributes of a democratic system since prehistoric times.

These main beliefs are reflected in all qualified citizens being identical before the law and have equivalent access to lawmaking processes. In a representative democratic system for instance, each ballot has equivalent influence. No limitations can be applied on someone in search of a representative post. The free will of qualified citizens is protected by legitimized rights and freedom, which are normally confined in a constitution. One assumption of democracy is that three basic values must be appreciated. One of them is upward control, which means that power should exist in the lowest echelon of authority. Another principle is political egalitarianism while the third principle pertains to social standards by which people and organizations only reflect on suitable acts that replicate the first two values of upward control and political egalitarianism.


In the current international system, a controversy has always ensued as regards to how to promote democracy. However, actors underscore the fact that democracy has to be maintained in all parts of the world if development is to be achieved. The US has always advocated for unilateralism whereby actions are taken without involving other actors. The United Nations on the other hand has been employing a different approach, which is mainly related to multilateralism whereby other actors are consulted before taking action (Weiss, Forsythei & Coate, 1994). In some instances, unilateralism has been complemented with multilateralism to realize better results. This paper compares unilateralism, which is upheld by the US, and multilateralism, which is supported by the United Nations. The two approaches are incompatible in practice, but they have employed simultaneously in many cases. The paper gives some of the justifications proposed by both the United Nations and the United States as to why their model is the best as far as promotion of democracy is concerned.

Differences between Unilateralism and Multilateralism

The official stand of the United Nations is that multilateralism promotes democratic process. Unilateralism is the worst system of instituting democratic ideals because the populace is not usually involved. A society that does not subscribe to the ideals of democracy is definitely unjust and oppressive to certain members. Democracy entails participation of the locals in making major policies that affect (Diamond, 2008). The use of multilateral policies ensures that all stakeholders are consulted before policies are made. Unilateralism encourages the emergence of tyrannical leaders whose main aim is to fulfill the interests of the few in society. The US influences other states to adopt democratic ideals that are favorable to its national interests. For instance, the national interests, but not promotion of democracy inspired the military intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq. The US felt that the existence of terrorists in the region was a threat to its national interests.

The intervention was meant to resolve the issue of terrorism, but not to liberate women in the region, as was claimed by the first lady. The US was of the view that democratic government would help in keeping off the activities of terrorists. The Saddam administration was perceived to support terrorism. In this regard, the US had to do something to end his rule without even consulting the other actors, including the United Nations. Under such circumstances, it is normally perceived that consulting other actors would delay the process of democratization because the US perceived democracy in terms of liberation from terrorists. For the United Nations, democracy means the respect of human rights whereby the government provides the basic needs to its people, including education, equal opportunities in the labor market, and the rule of law. These ideals can only be achieved through extensive consultations, which entail multilateralism.

The United Nations suggests that democratic ideals should actually respond to concrete realities and the state of affairs in any country. In this regard, the people of a certain country ought to appropriate these ideals, but not the foreign state. Imposing democracy to a country is equivalent to dictatorship. The US would go ahead to impose democracy because of its own national interests. It would make sure that those in power comply with their demands. Leaders who seem to contradict the interests of the US are usually perceived as non-democratic. In this case, the United Nations recommends that multilateralism aim at ensuring consensus (Coate, 1994). Consensus means reaching at a certain agreement that makes each player comfortable. In this case, multilateralism respects plurality and diversity because culture is never the same and no culture is superior to the other.

The reasoning of the US is that its culture is superior to any other in the world. For this case, other countries should learn its culture. Being hegemony, other countries have always viewed it negatively because it looks down upon other cultures. Other cultures should drop their values and adopt the American democratic ideals, which include giving women freedom and giving equal opportunities in society. The United Nations employs a different strategy since it appreciates the existence of other cultures in the world. When promoting democracy, the United Nations appreciates this diversity and pluralism, something the US has always failed to recognize.

For the United States, consensus is a passive attitude that should not be considered when restoring democracy in other parts of the world. For the United Nations, consensus is an active engagement that does not generate stagnation, but self-motivated relations for the sake of tranquility and security. From a United Nations standpoint, multilateralism promotes peace and justice, which are the prerequisites of democracy. Justice and democracy are inseparable while peace and justice can never exist in isolation. For there to be peace in any country, there must be just policies. Any attempt to separate peace from justice is an exercise in futility. The US has always intervened militarily to restore democracy in various parts of the world. In this case, they unleash terror to innocent people, such as the old, children, and women. Peace does not imply an absence of war, but instead it means doing everything possible to guarantee security, freedom, and better life. The attempts of the US to restore peace through unjust means are considered undemocratic because peace cannot be achieved without considering justice. Multilateral action guarantees peace and justice because people are taken through the democratic process procedurally, unlike the case with unilateralism, which does not consider justice.

How the Two Compliment

Multilateralism and unilateralism have been applied simultaneously in many occasions. Multilateralism is said to enhance the power of the populace since it opposes the state power, which denies the common the chance to fulfill their potentials. While the United Nations advocates for good leadership and promotion of human rights, the US prefers the use of sanctions and handouts to entice the leadership to adopt democracy. The case of Kenya serves as an example. The US urged the Kenyan government to embrace democracy in early 1990s without incorporating other actors. It went ahead to slap sanctions, through its organizations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (Collier, 2007). The US, through the IMF and World Bank, came up with structural adjustment programs that would force the Kenyan government to accept pluralism.

The government of Kenya was urged to slim the civil service by lying off the old and uneducated individuals while paving way for the young generation, with ability. Democracy states that each person should be allowed to participate in elections and decision making in government. In 1992, the Kenya African National Union (KANU) was forced to change its constitution to allow other parties to exist. Consequently, the constitution was altered to allow multiparty democracy. This was a unilateral decision made by the US government. At the same time, the United Nations funded programs that supported multiparty democracy in the country. The UN agencies lobbied the government to pass laws that would allow competitive politics. The two worked separately to bring about democracy in Kenya.

The United Nations and the US have always worked hand in hand to bring about mechanisms for conflict resolution. However, the two apply different policies because the US prefers unilateralism while the United Nations employs multilateralism. The US relies on force, even though the mechanism does not allow full conflict resolution (Burnell, & Ware, 2007). In regions such as the Middle East, the US has generated more conflicts through the application of unilateral decisions, but the United Nations has always formulated multilateral decisions to cool the tempers. In Afghanistan and Iraq, the US decided to invoke its military power to crack down the outlawed terrorist organizations such as the Al Qaeda. This was received negatively by other states, including some states in Europe.

The United Nations came up with alternative policies that resolved the conflicts generated by the US. However, both policies played a critical role in ensuring democracy is restored in the region. In Libya, the US came up with a unilateral decision to offer technical support to the opponents of the tyrannical regime. The US supported an organization that utilized force to restore democracy. This is against the ideals of the United Nations since its major role is to promote peace and security. The efforts of the pressure groups could not have succeeded were it not for the decision of the United Nations to slap sanctions on the government. The United Nations came up with a resolution to impose a no fly zone rule in Libya. The sanction played a role since the government could not use the military to attack the demonstrators.


Burnell, P. J., & Ware, A. (2007). Funding democratization. New Brunswick: Transaction.

Coate, R 1994, The Future of the United Nations, US Policy and the Future of the UN, The Twentieth Century Fund Press, New York.

Collier, P. (2007). The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Diamond, L. J. (2008). The spirit of democracy: The struggle to build free societies throughout the world. New York: Times Books/Henry Holt and Co.

Weiss, G, Forsythei, D, & Coate, F 1994, The United Nations and Changing World Politics, Westview Press, Colorado.

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"Democracy Promotion: Unilateralism vs. Multilateralism." IvyPanda, 20 May 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/democracy-promotion-unilateralism-vs-multilateralism/.

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IvyPanda. "Democracy Promotion: Unilateralism vs. Multilateralism." May 20, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/democracy-promotion-unilateralism-vs-multilateralism/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "Democracy Promotion: Unilateralism vs. Multilateralism." May 20, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/democracy-promotion-unilateralism-vs-multilateralism/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Democracy Promotion: Unilateralism vs. Multilateralism'. 20 May.

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