Managing the “Republic of NGOs:” Accountability and Legitimation Problems Facing the UN Cluster Sys

This Article critically assesses the crucial but troubled system for the coordination of international humanitarian assistance—the UN “cluster approach.” Regardless of whether the cluster approach actually helps in disaster response, it exercises substantial power over affected populations by assigning competences and leadership roles. The built-in mechanisms for controlling this power are unworkable because they ultimately fail to resolve the tension between humanitarian organizations’ autonomy and the need for coordination. This Article identifies the emergence of an alternative model of accountability, based on mutual monitoring and peer review. Drawing on theories of network governance and experimentalism, this Article teases out the institutional and normative implications of such a model. In particular, this Article argues, the emerging turn toward peer review in the cluster approach would demand dramatic improvements to the system’s inclusion of affected populations. This investigation may carry broader lessons for transnational networks and the study of accountability in global governance.

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