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U.N. Touts Its Reform Package

Members are asked to endorse the document at a September session. Security Council expansion is the most contentious issue.

June 04, 2005|Maggie Farley | Times Staff Writer

UNITED NATIONS — When world leaders converge on U.N. headquarters for the institution's 60th anniversary in September, Secretary-General Kofi Annan wants each one to endorse a reform document unveiled Friday that he hopes will improve the way the world makes diplomatic decisions.

The reform proposals are full of lofty but attainable goals, distilled from a study Annan commissioned last year on how to make the world a more peaceful and stable place, as well as how to restore the U.N.'s role at the center of international decision-making.

"September is a chance to pull together to make the U.N. a useful instrument, able to deal with a complex and messy world," said Brent Scowcroft, a former U.S. national security advisor who was part of the original reform task force. "Countries are prepared to let the U.N. intervene in a way that no one else can."

The president of the General Assembly, Jean Ping, presented the document to the assembly's 191 representatives on Friday, asking for their nations' agreement to endorse the reforms in September. The endorsements would not be legally binding but would give momentum to sweeping changes.

The reforms are crafted as a package so that every country must give a little to get something back. The plan's creators are trying to forestall the inevitable nit-picking, warning that plucking out parts may make the whole plan unravel.

The document aims to update the U.N.'s structure and vision to make it more able to deal with threats and challenges that didn't exist when the world body was created in 1945. It asks nations to grant the secretary-general more power to run the institution -- currently he cannot even hire or fire the secretariat's personnel -- and to devote more money toward such duties as development, protecting human rights and fostering democracy.

The document also calls on developed countries to earmark 0.7% of their gross national product by 2015 to assist poorer nations. It is a target that only a handful of countries have reached. The U.S. gives less than 0.2%, and though the White House is increasing its development assistance, it is resisting outside voices telling it how to spend its money. Last week, the European Union pledged to increase its overall aid to 0.56% by 2010, and 0.7% by 2015. Japan this week announced it would double its aid to Africa.

The highest-profile reform issue -- expansion of the Security Council -- is also the most contentious, as countries vie for new permanent seats on the panel at the center of international diplomacy.

The five current permanent powers, the U.S., Britain, Russia, China and France, have been at the core of U.N. decision-making since their shared victory in World War II.

The reform document skirts endorsement of a specific expansion plan.

The most popular proposal would create six new permanent seats and four elected two-year seats. Four of the aspirants -- Japan, Germany, India and Brazil -- have called for a public General Assembly vote on their plan at the end of this month. If they receive a two-thirds majority, or 128 votes, six new countries will be elected in July, including two from Africa.

But another group of countries is trying to block this plan. They fear the proposal would award more power to regional rivals and diminish their voice in world affairs.

The group, which includes Pakistan, Mexico, Canada and Algeria, has forged an alternative that would create more renewable nonpermanent seats, giving more countries a chance to be on the council.

The United States has endorsed Japan's bid for a seat and is holding behind-the-scenes talks with India but seems ambivalent about Brazil. U.S. diplomats have rejected Germany's bid, but otherwise remain aloof from the fevered lobbying and horse-trading over the upcoming vote.

Chinese ambassador, Wang Guangya, this week repeated China's opposition to the plan that would give Japan, its regional rival and World War II enemy, a permanent seat.

If Japan and its allies move forward with the vote this month, "it will split the house. This will derail the whole discussion on the U.N. reform process," he said.

Even if the General Assembly votes to create the new seats, the current five permanent powers can scuttle the plan by not ratifying the agreement in their home legislatures.

U.N. officials hope that the dispute over the Security Council will not affect support for the rest of the reform package.

The easiest issues to support, diplomats say, are the creation of a peace-building commission to help nations recover from conflict and a new, streamlined human rights body to replace the current commission, which has been discredited for shielding rights violators from censure.

The issues facing the most resistance from Washington include a discussion of principles guiding the use of force. The U.S. objects to language on proliferation and weapons of mass destruction that it fears could constrain its own policies.

A review conference on the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty collapsed last week at U.N. headquarters, and Annan hopes at the September summit to revive commitments to stem the spread of atomic weapons.

The document shies away from offering a long-sought definition of terrorism that diplomats hoped would unstick years of negotiations over the difference between terrorism and the struggle against foreign occupation.

It says that the targeting and deliberate killing of civilians cannot be justified by any grievance, but it stops short of defining such acts as terrorism, because of objections by Palestinian groups fighting for a homeland.

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