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April 13, 2005

UN Security Council Expansion Thrown into Disarray – Again

by Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS – The proposed expansion of the 15-member UN Security Council has been thrown into disarray once again – this time by a spirited political campaign to block the permanent membership of Japan, Germany, India, and Brazil.

The campaign is being led by a group of about 40 "like-minded" countries – headed by Italy, South Korea, Pakistan, Argentina, and Mexico.

All five countries publicly oppose any increase in permanent members and instead back an alternative proposal to increase the number of non-permanent members in the Security Council.

At present, the Council has five veto-wielding permanent members – the United States, Britain, France, China, and Russia – and 10 non-permanent members elected every two years on the principle of rotating geographical representation.

Italy is livid that it is being shut out of the Security Council despite the fact that it has an equal, or even a better, claim for permanent membership than Germany.

As a result, Italy has expressed strong reservations about Germany's candidacy and is determined to scuttle Berlin's chances of joining the Security Council permanently.

On Monday, Italian Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini was quoted as saying: "We don't think it would be useful to admit new permanent members unless it could be done with the widest possible consensus, which doesn't exist right now."

Argentina and Mexico are peeved that their claims to represent Latin America have been overtaken by Brazil, the front-runner from that region.

Pakistan, a longtime rival of neighboring India, does not want see New Delhi elevated to the ranks of a permanent member. Although it is not publicly opposing India, Pakistan is against the expansion of permanent membership.

South Korea is critical of Japan's wartime past, and is currently in a dispute with Tokyo over a historically symbolic island midway between the two nations.

"A country that does not repent for its historical wrongdoings and that does not have the trust of its neighbors cannot play a leadership role in international society," South Korea's ambassador to the United Nations Kim Sam-hoon said last month.

All these countries, vehemently opposed to permanent membership, have formed a group called Uniting for Consensus, which held a meeting in New York Monday.

Jim Paul, executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum, told IPS that the grouping of countries opposing permanent membership is reminiscent of the "Coffee Club" led by Italy at the United Nations in the early 1990s.

"It's quite a powerful lobby," said Paul, who has been monitoring developments relating to the Security Council since 1994.

Equally important but less noted is the very determined opposition of the existing five permanent members (P-5) to expansion of any permanent membership, he added.

"We have seen this, particularly with respect to China. The anti-Japanese riots in China last week was a bigger statement."

Paul also said there was a "write-in campaign" in China where millions of signatures were gathered against Japan. In other words, the Chinese are able to say: "Look, our people just don't want this," he added.

In China, this sort of campaign doesn't easily occur without the blessings of the government. "So that's important," he noted.

Last month, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan released a landmark 62-page report, "In Larger Freedom," described as a blueprint for restructuring the world body. The report backs a proposal made by a high-level panel on UN reform, which early this year called for two alternative models for a revamped Security Council.

Model A provides for six new permanent seats, none with veto powers, and three new two-year term non-permanent seats, divided among Africa, Asia and Pacific, Europe, and the Americas.

Model B provides for no new permanent seats but creates a new category of eight four-year renewable-term seats and one new two-year non-permanent (and nonrenewable) seat, divided among the four regional groups.

But last week, both the United States and China were critical of Annan's proposals. The secretary-general also decided to force the issue by setting a September deadline – to coincide with a summit meeting of world leaders in New York – for a radical transformation of the United Nations, and more specifically the Security Council.

But both the United States and China have opposed any "artificial deadlines," thereby undermining plans to revamp the Security Council.

The reservations were a disappointment to Japan, Germany, Brazil, and India, which had hopes of finding a permanent seat on the Council table at least by the end of this year.

China also rejected a proposal to force through any proposals that lacked "consensus."

Paul said "consensus" is a code word which means: "Unless everyone agrees, we don't do it." This, he said, has "infuriated" both the Germans and the Japanese, who were apparently confident of getting support from two-thirds of the 191 member states.

He said the two countries may have lined up a two-thirds majority for a "framework resolution" calling for the expansion of the Security Council.

"But there was no way in hell they would have got a two-thirds majority once they get down to specific names as permanent members," Paul added.

This has always been the stumbling block – and will remain a stumbling block, he added.

Paul said his own observation was that there may be strong support for "a slight increase in non permanent members," as was done in 1965 when three new non-permanent members were added to the Council – a sort of Model C, far different from Model B, he said.

This may be the lowest common denominator that everyone could eventually agree on, Paul added. "It would be noncontroversial, and it would not weaken the domination of the P-5."

(Inter Press Service)

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    Thalif Deen has been Inter Press Service's U.N. Bureau Chief since 1992. A
    former Information Officer at the U.N. Secretariat and a one-time member of
    the Sri Lanka delegation to the General Assembly sessions, he is currently
    editor of the Journal of the Group of 77, published in collaboration with
    IPS. A Fulbright-Hayes scholar, he holds a Master's degree in Journalism
    from Columbia University in New York.

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