Security council faces radical change after 60 years of domination by wartime victors
The architecture of global security, unchanged since the defeat of the Axis powers at the end of the Second World War, is being transformed, as a decision nears on making Germany and Japan permanent members of the UN Security Council.
In a speech that could break the logjam on the domination of the Security Council by the victorious powers, the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, called for a decision before September on the enlargement of the 15-member Security Council.
His speech was seen as an endorsement of the efforts of Germany, Japan, Brazil and India for a vote this summer on adding six new permanent members to the council, including themselves. In his report to the UN General Assembly unveiling his latest reform proposals, Mr Annan urged a swift decision by the 191-member General Assembly. He said: "Member states should agree to take a decision on this important issue before the summit in September 2005."
World leaders are to attend the summit in New York when Mr Annan hopes to obtain support for his reform package, aimed at overhauling collective security two years after the Iraq war, and streamlining UN bureaucracy. But Mr Annan's credibility has been undermined by scandals, including sex-abuse cases and the corruption of the oil-for-food humanitarian programme in Iraq which led to calls for his resignation.
In a week, the former US federal reserve board chairman, Paul Volcker, will report on the possible involvement in the oil-for-food scandal of Mr Annan's son Kojo, who worked for a company that monitored oil-for-food contracts.
Although the secretary general's report was couched in diplomatic language and did not explicitly mention the German-led campaign for a vote on Security Council enlargement in the summer, Mr Annan made clear he would support a vote if no consensus could be reached. "It would be very preferable for member states to take this vital decision by consensus, but if they are unable to reach consensus this must not become an excuse for postponing action," he said.
A senior German diplomat said four countries pressing for an early decision on adding permanent and non-permanent members to the council would meet next week "to reach out to the broader membership". There has long been a consensus that the council should be expanded to reflect modern realities. The permanent members have been unchanged since 1945 - the US, Britain, France, Russia and China - and the non-permanent members are elected to two-year terms on a regional basis.
But decade-long negotiations have failed to make headway because the five permanent members have refused any dilution of their veto power and potential regional candidates have been busy spoiling each other's chances. But there have been signs of renewed momentum, and Germany joined Japan, Brazil and India to push for permanent seats for themselves.
A panel on reform set up by Mr Annan outlined two options, with the first providing for a 24-member council with six new permanent members (without a veto) plus three new non-permanent ones. The second option, which UN diplomats say found less favour among the member states, would create a new category of eight semi-permanent seats. Mr Annan did not indicate his personal support for either option, but repeated his support for the council to be expanded to 24 seats.
Britain backs a 24-member council with Germany, Japan, Brazil, India and two African states as permanent members. But African nations have not yet agreed among themselves.
The Foreign Office minister, Bill Rammell said: "The key judgement will be whether those countries regionally, who are just behind preferred candidates, will say, 'We never want to have any enlargement and we'll wreck the process', or, 'This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to actually make it happen'."
The report aims to put the United Nations back at the heart of global security, after the bitter debate on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction led to the US and Britain invading Iraq without UN authorisation.
REFORMING THE UN
What's the problem? Fears of "loose nukes" have increased. The 35-year-old Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is in crisis after North Korea withdrew from the treaty. The UN's Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament faces a "crisis of relevance", says Kofi Annan.
What Annan wants Nuclear powers should keep their side of the "grand bargain" of the NPT, under which they were to start negotiations to eliminate their own nuclear arms. They should do more to reduce non-strategic nuclear arsenals. All states should join the chemical weapons convention.
What will happen? The NPT is up for review in May at the UN. But the nuclear powers are once again unlikely to pay more than lip service to their own commitments under the treaty while leaning on non-nuclear states to keep out of the nuclear club.
What's the problem? The millennium development goals, endorsed by UN member states, call for the halving of extreme poverty, putting all children into school and stemming spread of infectious diseases by 2015. But progress has been far from uniform across the world, particularly in Africa.
What Annan wants Each developed country should set a timetable to achieve the 0.7 per cent target of gross national income for aid no later than 2015. He says the millennium goals can be met only if all involved break with "business as usual" and take drastic action.
What will happen? The Americans are balking at the revival of the 0.7 per cent figure. The millennium goals will be part of broader agenda targeting debt and aid through such programmes as Tony Blair's Commission for Africa.
What's the problem? For years, a comprehensive convention against terrorism has been held up for lack of a definition, with some countries arguing that one nation's terrorists are another's freedom fighters.
What Annan wants All countries must accept that resisting occupation "cannot include the right to deliberately kill or maim civilians". He wants adoption of a terrorism convention by September 2006.
What will happen? Agreeing a definition of terrorism was a major breakthrough but negotiations on a treaty likely to drag on.
What's the problem? The UN has been sidelined as states have gone to war without UN approval. Half the countries emerging from violent conflict revert to war within five years, because peace agreements are not properly implemented.
What Annan wants Member states should create an intergovernmental peacebuilding commission, and a peacebuilding support office at UN HQ, so the UN can better help countries move from war to peace. Security Council should adopt resolution on principles for use of force.
What will happen? The big powers on the Security Council are unlikely to accept advice from the UN secretary general when their strategic interests are at stake. States will scrutinise the costs of setting up the proposed peacebuilding support office.
What's the problem? Increasingly seen as a talking-shop disconnected from reality and giving the UN a bad name. Mr Annan says member states are "rightly concerned" about the decline in the assembly's prestige and its diminishing contribution to UN activities.
What Annan wants The General Assembly should streamline its agenda and concentrate on "major substantive issues of the day", such as international migration and the long-debated convention on terrorism. It should engage more actively with civil society.
What will happen? Nothing. Asking member states to put their collective house in order is akin to asking turkeys to vote for Christmas.