The United Nations has released a report addressing some of the most pressing security issues facing the international community.
The U.N. report says nuclear proliferation is one of the major challenges facing the world community today. The report paints a bleak picture, saying the international community is "approaching a point at which the erosion of the non-proliferation regime could become irreversible and result in a cascade of proliferation."
The U.N. document says currently eight countries are known to have nuclear arsenals: the United States, Great Britain, Russia, France, China, India, Pakistan and Israel, although not all of them admit it. The report goes on to say almost 60 states currently operate or are constructing nuclear power or research reactors. And at least 40 possess the industrial and scientific infrastructure which would enable them, if they chose, to build nuclear weapons at relatively short notice.
One of the authors of the report is former U.S. National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft. He says the focus of nuclear non-proliferation efforts has changed since the international nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty came into effect in 1970.
"When that treaty was written, we thought that the most difficult part of making a nuclear weapon was the device itself and that was beyond the capacity of most countries. Well, you can learn how to do that on the Internet now and the controls, really, are on the production of the material that goes into the bomb - the fissile material - be it plutonium or enriched uranium. And so one has to stop proliferation by stopping the ability to enrich uranium or to reprocess spent fuel rods and obtain plutonium," he says.
Mr. Scowcroft says the U.N. report recommends that the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, guarantee the supply of fissile material for peaceful nuclear purposes. He says some states don't want to be dependent on other countries for a supply of enriched uranium, so they will want to enrich their own.
"So what we said is 'no; we'll let the IAEA guarantee the supply of uranium as long as you meet the IAEA's guidelines and the IAEA will contract with nuclear suppliers to provide that uranium, thus removing any reason for a state to say its has to enrich its own uranium,'" he says.
Nuclear non-proliferation is one of several issues addressed in a report by a 16-member panel of diplomats and former world leaders appointed by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The 99-page document also dealth with issues, such as collective security, terrorism and U.N. reform.
On the last topic, the panel proposed enlarging the U.N. Security Council from its current 15 members to 24.
Former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans, a co-author of the report, says increasing the Security Council membership is essential.
"The Security Council we have at the moment, in particular its permanent membership, the five countries that have been sitting there exercising the veto - the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China and Russia - they were the big powers of 1945; they are not the five biggest powers in the world in 2005," he says. "The world is different 60 years later and there are a lot of countries, not just Japan and Germany, but Brazil and India and others as well in Africa: South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt - all of whom are really major players in different ways on the world scene and certainly represent huge parts of the world, which are just not there as part of the entrenched structure of the Security Council at the moment. And clearly, if the Security Council is going to have credibility, if it is going to have representative legitimacy in the 21st century, that problem has to be addressed."
The panel proposes two alternatives: the first would add six new permanent members and three new two-year non-permanent members. The second proposal would create no new permament seats. Instead, there would be a new category of eight four-year term members and one new two-year member.
Mr. Evans says whatever alternative is accepted, it will make the Security Council far more relevant in addressing major international issues.
"If you don't move to broaden the base of an organization like the Security Council, you have an inevitable decline in its authority over time, a decline in the willingness of the countries around the world to accept the authority of a body that they just don't feel that they're represented on," he says. "And this is particularly important with the Security Council being the only fully empowered executive international body that we have, which does, in fact, engage in life or death decision-making or non-war decision-making, very regularly; which is a body which legislates, in a sense - it might not be supposed to, but this is what it does - very often by laying down obligations on states in relation to terrorism or other things."
The full report has been sent to all the U.N.'s member states. It is expected to be discussed next September in New York during celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the world body.