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Pulled in All Directions: The UN Secretary-General and the Evolution of UN Democracy Promotion Open Access

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The United Nations (UN) talks a lot about democratization. The Secretary-General (UNSG) declares it a priority, and the Security Council and General Assembly resolve to support new and restored democracies. However, action does not always follow. The UN has an Electoral Assistance Division, but it rarely observes elections and largely limits itself to sending an electoral expert or two. In 2009, advocates of democratization even accused the UN of withholding evidence of electoral fraud in Afghanistan. That the UN would promote democracy at all is far from obvious. The UN Charter makes no reference to democracy, the US and EU prefer to fund other democracy assistance providers, and many members guard their absolutist view of noninterference closely. Given these constraints, it is unsurprising that UN talk about democratization is not always consistent with action. This dissertation investigates the causes and consequences of disparate talk and action by the UNSG when it comes to promoting democracy. It finds that irreconcilable member conflicts cause disparate talk and action, and it identifies an overlooked source of conflict--the changing preferences of an influential member. It also finds that disparate talk and action carries significant risks. Pseudo-democrats exploit a disparity to legitimize fraudulent elections, and action without talk signals that the UNSG is not committed to supporting democratization. Consequently, the disparity itself creates pressures from UN members that value democratization to align talk and action--even if member conflicts are pulling talk and action apart. These findings show that the UNSG's democracy talk is not cheap, but a costly signal to important subsets of states. At the same time, talk is not valuable enough to be a substitute for action, and without action, talk threatens the UNSG's legitimacy.

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