- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 28, 2005

Calls for overhauling the U.N. Security Council to adjust the outdated structures of 1945 to current realities are nothing new. Yet the fact the council’s permanent membership — the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France — does not represent the emerging global and regional players, above all the nonnuclear industrial and developing countries, has done little to forge long overdue reforms to change the status quo.

In a surprise move, four outsiders — Brazil, Germany, India and Japan — initiated a draft resolution to endow the Security Council with a contemporary profile by a General Assembly vote. They proposed expanding the council’s from 15 to 25 members, its permanent membership from five to 11 and nonpermanent members from 10 to 14.

Among the six new members would be the Group of Four and two African states. Anticipating that the veto power exercised by the original permanent five could present a stumbling block, new permanent members would be held to focus on carrying the “same responsibilities and obligations.”

This novel reform approach, however, is just as much a numbers game as a wide-ranging debate about the transparency, inclusiveness and openness of the severely troubled institution. Still, to some of the status quo proponents, the acknowledgement that “security and development are intertwined and mutually reinforcing” will be just as exotic as “participation of noncouncil members in the work of the Security Council” or recognition of a need for closer cooperation between the council and the General Assembly.

The election of the new regional representatives requires a two-thirds majority vote of the General Assembly, which has been swollen to 191 member states since its birth in 1945 and often is dismissed as a rubber-stamp body. The Draft Framework Resolution refers to the General Assembly’s quasi-decisionmaking power. Though nonbinding, assembly approval would certainly have a positive effect on reluctant Security Council members.

Lobbying for their reform program, the four aspiring members, (meanwhile supported by Poland) propose a three-step approach to be completed before the U.N.’s September summit. Starting with debate and adoption of the Framework Resolution in June, election of new permanent members would follow in mid-July and close with a technical U.N. Charter amending resolution. Each round requires at least 128 votes out of 191.

While stressing the benefits for the underrepresented Southern hemisphere, a confident Volker Ruehe, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of the German Parliament, insists no votes are being counted. But insiders confide 120 countries, among them a number of smaller developing nations, have signaled support. In speaking with me, Mr. Ruehe seemed unfazed by reports Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice denied support for Germany’s Security Council permanent membership at a meeting of the congressional Task Force on the United Nations. He calmly noted that, except for Japan, the Bush administration has not taken an official position on prospective Security Council members. Like other German officials, Mr. Ruehe firmly rejected accusations that Germany, a staunch opponent of the Iraq war, used its recent position as a rotating nonpermanent Security Council member to further its own national political goals.

Further, he expressed the view a General Assembly vote, unhampered by petty rivalries and blockages, would be the best way to speedily advance reforms made inevitable by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, that forever changed the world security dimension. He made a convincing case for an assembly vote by referring as stalemates to progress the threats of Italy to block Germany’s permanent membership, of China to block Japan’s, of Argentina to block Brazil’s and of Pakistan to block India’s. Along with Wolfgang Ischinger, Germany’s ambassador to the United States, he also offered that Germany’s membership would not increase Europe’s representation in an enlarged Security Council but actually would involve a drop from 40 percent (not counting Russia) to a mere 20 percent, leaving Europe underrepresented.

Though seldom publicly mentioned by German officials, references have become more frequent to U.N. Art. 24, allowing consideration of contributions and regional aspects to play a part in Security Council makeup. With 8.6 percent of the U.N. budget, Germany is the third-largest contributor after Japan (19.7 percent ) and the U.S. (22.2 percent).

No doubt, with Germany actively in the forefront, the unexpected four-state initiative has restored momentum to the lagging reform process.

Proof that their proposal’s relevance has piqued the interest of members of the Task Force comes with announcement that its members, including former House speaker Newt Gingrich, Georgia Republican, and former Senate leader George J. Mitchell, Maine Democrat, are to go to Berlin for further talks.

There are, needless to say, counterprograms by the Italians and other candidates. Pleasing the more-than-anticipated adherents of the status quo by leaving untouched the current Security Council membership, one scenario advocates enlarging the nonpermanent membership to a hefty 20.

For now, the Bush administration remains in the background. The administration may well be worried about the numbers if there is a General Assembly vote, speculates an adviser to Secretary-General Kofi Annan for whom Security Council reform is needed in order to emerge from the oil-for-food scandal.

But others wonder if any truly significant reforms could be made so long as the tainted present leadership under a lame duck secretary-general remains in charge.

Viola Herms Drath is a member of the executive committee of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy.

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