Annan pushes for enlarged UN Security Council

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Indy Politics

Kofi Annan called for the enlargement of the United Nations Security Council yesterday as an urgent measure to salvage the battered legitimacy of the UN in the wake of the Iraq war and the bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad.

The secretary general said that radical reform of the 15-nation Security Council and of the 191-member UN General Assembly, along with reform of other multilateral organisations, should be a matter of "national interest" for every UN member state. But Mr Annan held out little hope that the political will exists for such an overhaul.

In a pessimistic report presented to journalists yesterday ahead of the General Assembly session, Mr Annan pointed out that the UN's record was being undermined on all fronts: peace and security, human rights and even development.

"We seem no longer to agree on what the main threats are, or on how to deal with them. And last month, in Baghdad, the United Nations itself suffered the most direct and damaging attack in its entire history," he said. "All this is bad enough. But I also have an uneasy feeling that the system is not working as it should."

In his report, he complained that countries with strong military capacities, which had applauded a UN peace-keeping reform document, "had been found to be some of the most reluctant to contribute their forces" to United Nations peace-keeping operations. Without mentioning the United States by name, he also warned of the dangers of states taking unilateral action.

Recognising the disastrous effects of the rift among the big powers in the Security Council regarding Iraq, Mr Annan warned that the UN was now at a "critical juncture".

"Unless the Security Council regains the confidence of states and of world public opinion, individual states will increasingly resort exclusively to their own national perceptions of emerging threats and their own judgement on how best to address them."

Mr Annan said council reform could no longer be delayed, adding that it should be "broadly representative of the international community as a whole and of the geopolitical realities of the contemporary world". There is little chance of this happening, however.

The UN General Assembly has been entrusted with reforming the Security Council, but discussions have been going on for years in the so-called "open-ended" working group on council reform, nicknamed the "never-ending" working group.

There is still no sign of agreement on what to do about the veto and the number of countries that should be in the council, whose structure has remained unchanged since 1945. The five permanent members - Britain, France, China, Russia and the United States - are fighting any dilution of their veto power.

Mr Annan seems to have been galvanised by the attack on the UN in Baghdad on 19 August that killed 22 people, including his special representative, Sergio Vieira de Mello. He described the attack as "a direct challenge to the vision of global solidarity and collective security".

In the wake of the attack, there is a widespread feeling among UN officials that the United Nations must assert its independence from the United States in order to recover its legitimacy.

Mr Annan has written to all the 191 member states before world leaders fly to New York for the General Assembly's debate opening on 23 September, asking them for new ideas on fighting terrorism, weapons proliferation, poverty and promoting development, as they had pledged in the UN Millennium Summit in 2000.