The debate on the reform of the Security Council can be conceptualised as the most recent episode in the evolution of World Governing Councils (WGCs), that is, the highest-level intergovernmental bodies charged with regulating the international use of violence. Building on a historical comparison of key formative and transformative moments – 1815, 1919, 1945, and post-Cold War – we argue that the modern evolution of WGCs is characterised by increasing inclusiveness. More specifically, we show that the number of participants involved in deliberations has constantly risen; that legitimating principles have gradually tilted in favour of ‘input legitimacy’; that the constitutive rules and procedures have steadily gained in transparency; and that the WGCs themselves have comprised an expanding membership with a decreasing number of veto points. At the theoretical level, these converging trends can be explained by the existence of a ‘ratchet effect’ whereby new norms and practices of inclusion accumulate over time. However concrete and long lasting, the democratic gains registered in the process must be cast in terms of historically specific politics and struggles rather than in terms of lofty ideals promoted by altruistic norm entrepreneurs.
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