NEW YORK — After the split in the United Nations over the U.S.-led war on Iraq, proposals for reforming the world body are emerging in an effort to salvage its relevance. Most center on expanding the 15-member Security Council to better reflect world opinion.
Britain, for example, would like to see the council expanded to 24 members, including five more permanent members, including India, Japan and Germany. Canada, Australia and Russia, among others, have called for U.N. reforms.
Critics say global political and economic realities have changed since the United Nations was founded in 1945 and that a voice must be given to increasingly vital but underrepresented countries.
Africa, Latin America and the Islamic world, for example, have no permanent representation on the council, which is dominated by the five veto-wielding permanent members: the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China, who were the victors of World War II.
The Security Council also includes 10 nonpermanent members that are elected by the 191-member General Assembly for two-year terms.
With greater regional representation, some advocates of U.N. reform say, troubled nations may be more likely than Iraq was to pay heed to Security Council demands. Iraq under Saddam Hussein ignored for more than a decade U.N. resolutions to disarm.
But others worry that expansion might only make debates more contentious. Because of the veto power that accompanies the permanent-member status on the council, the issue of Iraq might not have been handled any differently under a reformed United Nations.
“Because of the veto, the United Nations can be paralyzed by any disagreement among the big five,” said Rodger Payne, a political science professor at the University of Louisville in Kentucky.
In the weeks prior to the U.S.-led war against Iraq, the council failed to reach a consensus on the use of force. The threat of a veto, especially from France, stopped the United States from obtaining U.N. authorization for war.
But Mr. Payne said that “permanent additions would make the Security Council reflect current power realities and assure ongoing representation for unrepresented regions.”
Even in an expanded Security Council, none of the permanent members is likely to dilute its power by giving up the veto, meaning that there will remain the possibility that the body can be paralyzed by a single vote.
Still, appeals for reform are growing.
“This is an incredibly difficult and contentious issue, and in the past the United States hasn’t had much energy for this sort of thing,” said Susan E. Rice, a former assistant secretary of state who is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
One reason is politics. For example, if India were given a permanent seat, archrival Pakistan surely would balk.
“Just look at all the horse-trading involved over Iraq, and then imagine how much more complex the issue would have been if there were nine more countries to consider,” Mrs. Rice said.
During the Clinton administration, the United States indicated that it would consider an expansion of seats on the council while opposing efforts to limit or eliminate the veto.
But the Bush administration has not taken a position, and its disregard for world opinion on Iraq suggests that it will pursue its foreign policy objectives regardless of U.N. reforms. “We’re still reviewing the issue,” said a U.S. official concerning the British proposal.
Some U.N. observers say that as time goes on, the United States may decide it needs to draw on the expertise of a stronger and more credible U.N. body as it confronts crises in North Korea and elsewhere.
Some kind of reform is inevitable, said David Malone, president of the International Peace Academy, a New York-based policy group.
He points out that Africa and South America enjoy no representation among the permanent members, despite holding large portions of the world’s population. Japan also doesn’t hold a seat, even though it is a leading contributor to U.N. coffers.
Germany’s lack of a permanent seat has prompted support from Europe for U.N. reforms. Because of frequent disagreements between Britain and France, the pair’s ability to speak for Europe is often undermined.
“Players like Germany are increasingly significant. The European situation is out of balance,” Mr. Malone said.
The United Nations was founded in 1945 after World War II as the successor to the League of Nations. Its mission was to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war by preserving international peace. During the Cold War, for example, the United States and the Soviet Union consistently hampered action by vetoing each other’s proposals.
Some U.N. reformers have called for an end to the veto system. Others have suggested requiring at least two vetoes to stop a proposal. Still others have proposed giving a majority in the General Assembly the ability to override a veto.
Britain has led the call for change, with its proposal to expand the council. It is expected to introduce the measure in the fall.
“It probably has a lot to do with [Prime Minister] Tony Blair wanting to show he is willing to work with the United Nations and to push away from U.S. control,” said Elizabeth Latham, a research associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, noting that the United Nations is perceived in many places as an instrument of U.S. foreign policy.
Miss Latham is vice president for programs at the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area, a foreign policy group that plans to form a task force to make recommendations for U.N. reform.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual state-of-the-nation address, called for change at the United Nations, saying that Moscow is open to discussing the world body’s modernization.
Canadian Deputy Prime Minister John Manley called for sweeping reforms with the goal of stopping the five permanent members from monopolizing the body.
“The council was in the media for so long and its problems were highlighted,” said Celine Nahory of the Global Policy Forum, a U.N. watchdog group. “Now is the time to look at a variety of reforms and to really do something.”