International institutions should be as equal as they claim to be, especially since many of them assert superordinate normative authority based on having egalitarian governance structures. However, when defining equality with respect to states’ real-world influence in determining substantive outcomes, it is evident that there is an equality-influence gap between the rhetoric of parity among states and the reality of international politics. This is problematic because it undermines trust in those international institutions that falsely claim to embody equality among states when empirically they do not. Focusing on the United Nations System, this paper identifies three main causes of this disproportional influence among states in global decision making: (a) external imbalances in political capital; (b) internal economic barriers; and (c) surreptitious influence through non-state actors, funding and training. Six pragmatic strategies are proposed for mitigating these inequalities: (1) building capacity for leadership in global advocacy; (2) supporting global networks owned by developing countries; (3) equalizing multi-party partnerships; (4) facilitating evidence-informed global decision making; (5) enhancing accountability and independent evaluation; and (6) encouraging further discussion on institutional reforms. Notwithstanding sovereign equality’s deep flaws, it is hoped that challenging the egalitarian presumptions of global decision making will encourage further debate on this issue among those who can act upon it.
Inequalities of influence among states should be mitigated in order to avert the moral fraud and distrust that results from international institutions' claims of superordinate normative authority based on fictional sovereign equality.
NGOs can help mitigate inequalities but they can also inadvertently deepen them by prioritizing the interests of the powerful states, wealthy elites and private industries that frequently fund them and to whom they are legally accountable.
It is both desirable and possible to achieve more equal decision making in global governance, especially throughout the United Nations System which celebrates the principle of sovereign equality and benefits from an institutional architecture that naturally supports it.
Mitigating this equality-influence gap may help foster better global decision making and a more peaceful, secure and prosperous international society.