UN weighs the widest reforms in its history

Posted in UN , Other | 01-Dec-04 | Author: Warren Hoge| Source: International Herald Tribune

View of the UN General Assembly.
UNITED NATIONS, New York The United Nations proposed the most sweeping reforms in its history Tuesday, recommending the overhaul of its key decision-making organ, the Security Council, and suggesting standards of international legitimacy for countries that have not been attacked to go to war against an enemy posing an imminent threat.

The reforms were outlined in a much-awaited 101-recommendation report from a 16-member panel commissioned by Secretary General Kofi Annan a year ago in the aftermath of bitter divisions that had left the United Nations feeling ill equipped to meet modern day challenges represented by terror, failed states, nuclear proliferation, poverty and mass violence.

In its most attention-getting recommendation, a new, 24-member Security Council, the panel, headed by Anand Panyarachun, a former prime minister of Thailand, was unable to agree on one proposal and ended up suggesting two options. Both would broaden the membership of the 15-nation Security Council to reflect the world of today rather than the one that existed at the Council's beginning nearly 60 years ago.

It currently comprises five veto-bearing permanent members - Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States - and 10 members elected to two-year terms.

One alternative would add six permanent members from Asia, Africa, the Americas and Europe - the likely candidates are Brazil, Germany, India, Japan, Egypt and either Nigeria or South Africa - as well as three new two-year-term members. The other would create a tier of eight semi-permanent members chosen for renewable four-year terms and one additional two-year-term seat.

Neither plan extends the right to cast vetoes, a function coveted by the nations seeking permanent status. The new arrangement is aimed at rewarding countries that have achieved economic and regional prominence over recent decades as well as countries that make the most significant contributions to the United Nations.

Addressing the legitimacy of the use of force, a source of crippling tensions at the United Nations last year when the United States was seeking Security Council authorization to go to war in Iraq, the panel said it found no reason to amend the United Nations charter's Article 51, which restricts the use of force to countries that have been attacked.

The report said that this language did not constitute, as some have charged, a summons on nations to wait to be attacked and that many countries had exercised the right to go on the attack themselves if they felt threatened.

But it acknowledged that a new problem had arisen because of terrorism "where the threat is not imminent but still claimed to be real: for example, the acquisition, with allegedly hostile intent, of nuclear weapons-making capability."

It said that if the arguments for such "anticipatory self-defense" were good ones, they should be put to the Security Council, which would have the power to authorize military action.

In apparent anticipation of objections from Washington over this requirement, the report said, "For those impatient with such a response, the answer must be that, in a world full of perceived potential threats, the risk to the global order and the norm of nonintervention on which it continues to be based is simply too great for the legality of unilateral preventive action, as distinct from collectively endorsed action, to be accepted. Allowing one to so act is to allow all."

A senior participant on the panel who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity said that after the year's deliberations, the panel emerged with a far greater appreciation of the enormity and intrerconnectedness of six specific threats to international peace. The report listed them as "interstate conflict, civil war, economic and social threats, weapons of mass destruction, terrorism and organized international crime."

While there was no immediate reaction from Washington to the issuance of the report, the official said, "From the American perspective, this is good for U.S. security."

He explained that some of the panel members had faulted the United States for exaggerating the threat of terror and for seeking what they called "perfect security," but that they had come to a sharp new appreciation of the menace of nuclear and chemical agents and how easily they could be infiltrated into Western societies.

Though the dispute over whether to go to war in Iraq was a principal reason for the crisis at the United Nations that persuaded Annan to name the panel, the official said that members did not discuss it. In answer to repeated questions, he declined to speculate on whether the recommended reforms would have forestalled the crisis over Iraq.

Addressing a long-sought codification of terrorism that would not allow people to class it as an acceptable act of national liberation or resistance, the panel suggested defining terrorism as any action "that is intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or noncombatants, when the purpose of such act, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population or to compel a government or an international organization to do or abstain from doing any act."

In their terror deliberations, he said, they focused on the underappreciated "second death toll" in the developing world from a strike causing massive death in a developed nation - that is, the "unseen deaths" caused by a post-attack global economic dislocation that would send entire nations plunging below poverty lines.

The United Nations has been criticized for the ineffectiveness of conventions seeking to curb nuclear proliferation, and the report predicted that the "erosion of nuclear regimes could become irreversible and result in a cascade of proliferation." Noting that at least 30 nations have the capacity to build nuclear weapons, it said that a strict plan had to be made whereby the International Atomic Energy Agency could guarantee that countries were genuine "civil users" and not bomb makers.

The 16-member panel was created by Annan in a speech to the General Assembly in September 2003 in which he said that divisions over how to achieve collective global security had brought the world institution to a moment as critical as its inception after World War II.

In addition to Panyarachun, the chairman, the membership included Brent Scowcroft, U.S. national security adviser under the first President Bush; Yevgeny Primakov, former prime minister of Russia; Qian Qichen, former foreign minister of China; Gareth Evans, former foreign minister of Australia; Amre Moussa of Egypt, secretary general of the League of Arab States; Gro Harlem Brundtland, former prime minister of Norway; João Baena Soares of Brazil, former secretary general of the Organization of American States; David Hannay, former British ambassador to the United Nations; and Robert Badinter, a member of the French Senate.

One of the few upward trends the panel noted was the United Nations' ability to end civil wars through intervention, an outcome that virtually never occurred until the 1990s. The official said that if the civil wars in Rwanda and Angola had been ended the way they were in places like Guatemala, El Salvador, Mozambique and Namibia, two million to three million lives would have been saved.

The panel also agreed that the menace of the spread of infectious disease was such that only a major commitment to upgrading public health, particularly in the developing world, could turn it back.