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UN Panel Unveils Sweeping Reform Proposal

A high-level U.N. panel has issued a sweeping series of recommendations on how to reform the world body to meet the challenges of the 21st century. The recommendations deal with subjects ranging from nuclear non-proliferation to expanding the Security Council.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan named a panel of 16 eminent persons a year ago, following the deep split among Security Council members over whether to authorize military action against Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

At the time, Mr. Annan said he wanted a proposal for a comprehensive system of collective security. What he got was a 95-page report containing 101 recommendations on everything from fighting terrorism to restructuring the vast U.N. bureaucracy.

A senior official who was part of the report-writing team told reporters the document pulls no punches, and is at times biting in its criticism of the world body's performance. The official, who could not be identified under briefing rules, said that after a lengthy debate, the panel had decided there was no need to change the U.N. charter's rules governing the use of force in self-defense to deter an imminent threat.

But in an implicit criticism of the United States, the panel wrote that when the threat is latent but not imminent, states have no right to use force preventively.

The panel also recommends that the Security Council slow the spread of nuclear weapons through a threat of collective action against any state or group of states that launches a nuclear attack, or even threatens such an attack, on a non-nuclear weapons state.

The recommendations receiving the most attention, however, are those on expanding the U.N.'s most powerful body, the Security Council.

The panel was unable, after weeks of debate, to settle on any one proposal for adding new members to the Council. As a compromise, they set out two possible models as a basis for a debate among the 191-member countries.

Both models envision increasing the size of the Council to 24 members. One calls for six new permanent members, including two from Africa, two from Asia, one from Europe and one from Latin America. The second model would create no new permanent members, but add a new category of semi-permanent seat, to which a country could be re-elected every four years.

Neither proposal would extend veto powers to any new members.

U.S. Ambassador John Danforth declined to comment on the collective security provisions of the plan, saying he would have to study it. But he suggested the United States would insist that any change in the Security Council would have to improve its effectiveness.

"The position of the United States with respect to the Security Council has been very practical in the way we've looked at it, namely what would be the practical effect of any change in the Security Council? Would it tend to make the Security Council more effective or less effective than it is now," he said.

Germany's U.N. Ambassador Gunter Pleuger - one of four countries that have joined forces to lobby for permanent Security Council seats - says his government would not accept anything less than permanent membership. He said the main goal of expansion should be making the Council more representative.

"Our goal is to strengthen the multilateral system including the Security Council by making its decisions more representative and more legitimate and by giving the Council a better possibility to implement its decisions, and therefore we feel the report makes a good proposal by enlarging the Council in both categories, permanent and non-permanent members," he said.

U.N. diplomats say disagreements over issues such as Security Council expansion will make reform on many questions difficult.

The official briefing reporters Tuesday admitted expectations were low. He said he would be satisfied if, within a year, there was a new security consensus within the United Nations that includes agreement on the use of force and agreement on a definition of terrorism.

Experts say the definition of terrorism might be the panel's most significant contribution. A definition has till now eluded scholars and diplomats.

The report defines terrorism as "any action intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants, when the purpose of such an act is to compel a government or international organization to do or abstain from doing any act."