Is it time to transform the U.N.?

In a clear rebuff to Bush's doctrine of preemptive action, a panel recommends sweeping changes to respond to terrorism and rifts over Iraq.

Published December 1, 2004 2:32PM (EST)

A United Nations panel has called for the U.N.'s main decision-making body, the Security Council, to be expanded from 15 to 24 members, giving broader representation to developing countries. The proposal is part of a package of 101 recommendations aimed at transforming the U.N. in an age of terrorism and in the wake of the international rifts over the Iraq invasion and occupation.

In its report, the 16-member panel, made up of former world statesmen and politicians, proposes stringent conditions for the legal use of force by one state against another, in a clear rebuff to the Bush administration's doctrine of preemptive action against foreign threats. The panel proposes that any military strike aimed at preempting a threat or preventing genocide would have to be authorized by the Security Council.

The 95-page report denounces terrorism under all circumstances, and refers to the insurgency in Iraq by saying: "There is nothing in the fact of occupation that justifies the targeting and killing of civilians." The High Level Panel on Threats, Challenge and Change was chaired by a former Thai prime minister, Anand Panyarachun. In an accompanying letter he wrote: "The report puts forward a new vision of collective security, one that addresses all of the major threats to international peace and security felt around the world."

He said the panel could not agree on ways to expand the Security Council and so suggested two alternatives. Under one scheme, six new permanent members would be added to the existing five, as well three nonpermanent members elected for two terms each. Two of the new permanent members would come from Asia, two from Africa, one from the Americas and one from Europe.

Under the alternative plan, a second tier of eight semipermanent members -- two each from Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas -- would be chosen for four-year terms, and one more nonpermanent seat would be added.

Among the nations lobbying to fill the new permanent seats are Brazil, Germany, India, Japan, South Africa, Nigeria and Egypt. However, the filling of new seats is likely to be the subject of bitter disputes.

A senior U.N. official said Tuesday that the five permanent Security Council members -- the U.S., Britain, France, Russia and China -- would fight against sharing their veto rights with newcomers. Additional permanent members are therefore unlikely to be given a veto over council decisions. The panel's report will be presented to the U.N. General Assembly Wednesday, with an approving cover letter from the global body's secretary general, Kofi Annan.

Annan is expected to promote it energetically, with the aim of having the proposals adopted at a General Assembly vote next September. "You're going to see the secretary general acting as a manager," the senior U.N. official said. "He has met with the panel at least three times indicating he wanted bold recommendations, and I think he's happy with the results." He added: "He will be talking to assembly members in regional groups. You'll see him working the floor of the assembly."

By Julian Borger

Julian Borger is a correspondent for the Guardian.

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