Wartime enemies may join Security Council

The President of the United Nations General Assembly, Razali Ismail, yesterday formally proposed expanding the Security Council to include five new permanent members. Germany and Japan would be almost assured two of the new seats.

Any such enlargement would inevitably entail a dilution of the powers of the existing five permanent members, which include Britain. In spite of the stakes involved for Britain, Sir John Weston, the British ambassador to the UN, welcomed the initiative. "This is knuckle down and begin time," he said. "We have talked long enough".

The proposal, tabled as a formal resolution to the Assembly, envisages a Council of 24 members. Currently, the body is composed of 15 seats, of which 10 are non-permanent and are rotated among the full UN membership.

Under the blueprint offered by Mr Razali, who is from Malaysia, there would be five new permanent seats, not vested with veto powers, as well as an additional four non-permanent rotating ones. It is hoped that in return for permanent status, Germany and Japan would increase their UN contributions.

There has been resentment for years that the composition of the Council is an outdated hangover from the post-war years. As nations vanquished in the Second World War, Germany and Japan were never offered permanent seats alongside the US, Britain, France, China and the former USSR - now Russia. Mr Razali's resolution is an effort to kickstart the debate. However, it is likely to be a lengthy and highly contentious process. Such a change will need approval by a two-thirds majority in the Assembly as well as the ratifications of national parliaments.

Among countries certain to fight such a formula is Italy. As the third loser of the war, it believes it is being unfairly frozen out by the preference being shown for Germany and Japan.

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