G7 Summit: Britain starts to bow towards the inevitable: Hurd and Major give first signs of accepting German and Japanese claims to seats on UN Security Council

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BRITAIN yesterday started planting discreetly in the public consciousness the fact that it has yielded to the inevitablity of Germany and Japan becoming permanent members of the UN Security Council. The 'shift in emphasis', as reluctant policy changes on delicate matters are termed, became finalised after approval by John Major during the Group of Seven deliberations hosted by one of the contenders, Japan.

The shift started becoming apparent in private comments on the opening day of the G7 summit. 'We are not against change,' said a diplomat from Britain, which as late as last month submitted to the UN a recommendation that the effectiveness of the Council must not be compromised in any way. 'We recognise that the debate is about widening the Security Council, including the permanent membership . . . There are countries who are, or who are on the way, to being able to carry out their peace-keeping responsibilities.' This was a clear reference to efforts by Germany and Japan to overcome constitutional obstacles to sending troops abroad. But, British officials added in a hint of how the issue will be played to delay the reform, the UN could never justify limiting the new admissions to those two members of the rich man's club. The Third World, too, would want to see its interests represented and the most logical candidates would be populous nations such as India and Brazil. 'And then we'd have Nigeria knocking at the door. Look at the state they're in,' one official said.

As if on cue, the Foreign Minister of Nigeria's military-led transitional council flew into Tokyo to hold talks with Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, yesterday. Matthew Mbu had contrived an excuse to find himself in Tokyo during the summit, as it is unlikely he would have received an audience in London. What the minister told Mr Hurd in his private 15-minute bilateral at the British embassy residence is not clear, but it is likely he pleaded for understanding and patience while Nigeria sought to set up its interim government, tentatively formed yesterday. By now, Mr Hurd had won the approval of Mr Major for Britain's more reform-friendly policy on the UN. Immediately after the bilateral with Mr Mbu, Mr Hurd happened to be giving an interview to the BBC where he said: 'Our main concern is with the effective working of the Security Council. There is a debate about enlarged membership. I think that debate will go on for some time. It will not be settled simply by adding Germany and Japan. But I think if at the end of the day there is agreement on a widening of the Security Council, and if Germany and Japan are by then fully involved, fully able to take part in peace-keeping, then they would be natural beneficiaries to it. I think to be honest it is some way off, it certainly will not be solved simply by adding Germany and Japan to the present list. The British and French position is safeguarded and no one is suggesting that it should be altered.'

France, the other medium-sized world power desperate to hang on to its seat, has been less opposed to the idea of reform, saying it would not go against it in isolation. It has been accused of hiding behind Britain's skirts on the issue. Britain must have realised the danger of being the lone reactionary. As one senior Japanese diplomat said: 'Britain and France have done a lot of good on the Security Council - it's always those who feel most at risk in a hierarchy who make the greatest effort to be constructive. But Britain risks spoiling its entire image if it is perceived as digging its heels in against reform.'

Leading article, page 21

Andrew Marr, page 23