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December 5, 2004

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Blueprint for UN reform unveiled

The United Nations unveiled a sweeping proposal to overhaul the organisation, including the Security Council, in what would be the most comprehensive UN reform since its founding in 1945.

After bitter divisions over the war in Iraq, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan ordered a high-level panel last year to come up with the blueprint and help the United Nations adapt to the global realities of the 21st century. The panel's report released proposed more than 100 recommendations, including some - an expansion of the Security Council and a definition of terrorism - that have eluded UN diplomats for years.

"What is needed is a comprehensive system of collective security, one that tackles both old and new threats, and addresses the security concerns of all states - rich and poor, weak and strong," Annan said in his preface to the report.

He said the proposals, which must be approved by member nations, set out "a broad framework for collective security and indeed gives a broader meaning to that concept appropriate for the new millennium." In setting out a blueprint for collective security decisions, the report also takes implicit aim at the United States over the Iraq war, which was strongly opposed by Annan and many Security Council member states.

"There is little evident international acceptance of the idea of security being best preserved by a balance of power or by any single - even benignly motivated - superpower," the panel said. "The yearning for an international system governed by the rule of law has grown," it said. "No state, no matter how powerful, can by its own efforts alone make itself invulnerable to today's threats." Annan intends to use the report as a basis for widespread reforms he would like to see carried out before his tenure ends in 2006, and he commissioned it while acknowledging that divisions over Iraq had brought the international system to a "fork in the road."

The panel said that while the Security Council may need to be more proactive in addressing the "nightmare scenarios" combining terrorists, weapons of mass destruction and "irresponsible" nations, any preventive action taken without an imminent threat should still require the council's approval.

The United States did not have the Security Council's backing when it launched the invasion that brought down Saddam Hussein, and Annan has called the war illegal. Revamping the Security Council, the top UN decision-making body, is likely to be the most contentious issue, and the panel came up with two competing proposals for expanding the council's membership to 24 seats. One method would add six new permanent members to the council, which has had the same five permanent states -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- since the United Nations was founded in the wake of World War II.

The other would create a third tier of council member nations, which would be given four-year, non-permanent seats that could be renewed. Two-thirds of the 191 UN member nations would have to approve any change to the council membership, which would then take effect if none of the permanent members uses its veto power to block the move.

John Danforth, the US ambassador to the United Nations, said Washington would consider council reform in the light of a crucial question: "Would it make the Security Council more effective or less effective than it is now?"

The UN panel was headed by former Thai prime minister Anand Panyarachun. Among the other members are Brent Scowcroft, a former US national security advisor, and former Chinese foreign minister Qian Qichen.

Source: AFP

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