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Security Council Reform Key Topic of UN Debate

The leaders of 170 nations are expected in New York for the 2005 United Nations Summit in mid-September. Reforming the U.N. Security Council -- something that has been under discussion for the last dozen years -- will be a high priority at that meeting.

Secretary General Kofi Annan says even if reform of the Council is not accomplished at the September summit, members should maintain the momentum to achieve it by the end of the year. But recent reports say the United States and China are working together against any of the proposed reform plans.

Strengthening the United Nations will top the agenda at September's U.N. Summit. Key among the ideas of how to do that is the expansion of the Security Council from 15 to at least 24 members. There are several such proposals on the table.

Established in the wake of World War II, the Security Council has five permanent members: the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia -- all of whom have veto power. Ten other members are elected by the General Assembly for two-year terms. The African, Latin American and Western European blocs select two members each. The Arab, Asian, and Eastern European blocs select one member each. The last seat alternates between Asian and African countries.

There is nearly unanimous agreement among member-states that the size and membership of the Council needs to be changed.

Steven Dimoff, Vice President of the United Nations Association of the U.S.A. explains why. "The Security Council needs to be reformed, in the eyes of many countries, because it is really a throwback to the end of the Second World War."

Joshua Muravchik, an analyst with the conservative Washington, D.C. think tank, the American Enterprise Institute, agrees. "The question is to redress this anachronism that third world countries and World War II losers were left out in the original design."

Thus there are several plans now on the table to reform the Council. But there is no consensus on which of those plans should be implemented. It will take a two-thirds majority in the U.N. General Assembly for any plan to be chosen.

Despite the fact that none of the proposals seem to have that much support, a number of countries are lobbying to hold the potential new Security Council seats -- among them: Brazil, India, Japan and Germany as well as several African nations. One of the aims is to make the Council more effective and efficient. But Joshua Muravchik does not think that will happen.

"The thing that is surprising and disturbing is that none of the reforms on the table go to the question of what would make the Security Council function better, says Mr. Muravchik. “They all go to, ‘I want my piece of the pie,’ I Germany, I Japan, I some other country. And so people are dividing up this pie, and no one's asking so how can we bake a better pie."

But Steven Dimoff says expanding the Security Council would give its actions more credibility. "I think, in the eyes of many countries, I think it will make the Council's decisions more legitimate -- that as a result of an expansion which is more reflective of the world and more inclusive of all the regions, that in fact the Council's decisions will carry more weight, they'll be more legitimate, there'll be, I think, more of a willingness to comply with decisions."

But Mr. Dimoff also says he thinks recent reports are true that the U.S. and China are now quietly working together against any of the expansion plans. One reason for that, he says, there is no consensus on reforming the council. "Both the United States and the Chinese and others are anxious to avoid a confrontation over expansion of the Security Council."

Mr. Dimoff says it is questionable whether Security Council expansion will take place any time soon -- not just because the U.S. and China are opposing current proposals, but because no one plan is able to command the two-thirds majority it would need in the General Assembly to pass.