The U.N. Report

Article excerpt


Nearly all the potent players on the U.N. Security Council have accepted the inevitability of expanding their elite membership, but even the most optimistic observers doubt there will soon be more than 15 chairs at its horseshoe table.

How many new seats will adequately represent the world's geographic regions and power centers? Will they be rotated within groups or permanently filled? And, perhaps most important: How many extra voices can be added before conversation becomes cacophony?

The Security Council deals with international peace and security, and it already moves slowly when events are fast-paced. The United States has long held that 21 seats is the absolute limit, including permanent membership for Germany and Japan.

Last week, U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke told the U.N. working group studying council reform that the United States would agree to "a slightly larger number of seats than 21." He did not say how many rotating seats would be acceptable, but developing nations have advocated as many 26 or 28.

Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States are now the permanent, veto-wielding, members of the Security Council. The other 10 seats rotate among regional groups in two-year terms. It is the only U.N. body whose decisions - on everything from sanctions to peacekeeping missions - are binding.

If permanent members do agree on one thing, it is that no new members will have the veto. Most U.N. member states are adamant about limiting or even abolishing the veto, with which any one of the permanent five council members can block a resolution.

U.N. membership has tripled since the body was founded after World War II, and there is great pressure to increase the representation of Latin America, Africa and Asia.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan said a week ago he hopes the Millennium Assembly will make progress on the question.

"The council must work effectively, but it must also enjoy unquestioned legitimacy," he said.

China, meanwhile, has reaffirmed its opposition to permanent membership for Japan and Germany. "Any proposal that excludes developing countries will not win sufficient support," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi. …