Hopes for agreement on expanding the Security Council look dim as UN member states became more divided over the issue following weeks of intense debate on Secretary-General Kofi Annan's proposals for a quick decision on the matter.
In an ambitious plan unveiled last month, Annan called for the most sweeping reform of the United Nations in its 60-year history to enable it to deal with challenges of the 21st century.
Annan offered two options for the enlargement of the 15-nation council. Option A would add three non-permanent members and six new permanent members without veto power, two each from Asia and Africa and one each from Europe and Americas.
Option B would create a new layer of eight semi-permanent members, which would have four-year renewable terms, two each from Africa, Asia, Americas and Europe. One non-permanent seat would also be added.
Stressing that the council's expansion is the key to UN reforms, Annan urged a rapid decision by the General Assembly on the matter before world leaders gather in New York in September to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the United Nations.
He also suggested that the question of Security Council reform be settled by a vote in the General Assembly if the 191 UN member states cannot reach consensus on expanding the body, the most powerful UN organ.
Brazil, Germany, Japan and India favor Option A and regard themselves as legitimate candidates for new permanent seats on the council, whose structure has not changed since early 1960s when its non-permanent seats were increased to 11 from six.
Russia, the United States, Britain, France and China are the current veto-wielding permanent council members, which were victors of World War II.
Brazil, Germany, Japan and India, which formed an alliance in seeking the permanent council membership, staged a rally at the end of March in New York and put forward a draft resolution on the council's expansion. They intended to put the draft, which endorses Option A, to a vote in the General Assembly in June at the latest.
But Option A has been strongly opposed by the four countries' geographical opponents, such as Mexico, Italy, Pakistan, South Korea, Argentina and Canada, which launched a movement "Uniting for Consensus" in New York in early April.
The group rejected Annan's plea to come up with a deal on the council reform before the September summit as well as his recommendation to rush to a decision through an assembly vote.
The group objects to an increase of the council's permanent members, which it argues could undermine the effectiveness of the body. Instead, it throws weight behind Option B, saying elected longer-term semi-permanent members would be more accountable.
"We don't think it would be useful to appoint permanent members unless it can be done with the widest possible consensus, which does not exist," said Italian Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini who presided over the rally "Uniting for Consensus."
They also warned that a hasty vote on the council reforms would lead to confrontation, split the UN membership and thus shatter the entire UN reform process.
Annan's proposals on reforming the council were also unpopular with major powers, including the United States, China and Russia, which stressed that it is unwise to adopt a council reform plan before an artificial deadline or without broadest agreement.
"Only a blueprint resulting from consensus can truly help strengthen the Security Council's authority and effectiveness and win broad trust and support from the general membership," China's Ambassador Wang Guangya told an open debate of the General Assembly in early April.
"In the long-term interest of the United Nations as a whole, China is not in favor of setting an artificial time limit for council reform and still less of forcing through any immature proposals in the form of a vote," he said.
His views were echoed by Shirin Thir-Kheli, senior advisor to the US secretary of state on UN reforms, who also attended the debate.
The United States would like to move forward on the council reforms "on the basis of broad consensus" and "without artificial deadlines," she said.
"It would be unrealistic to adopt a 'package approach' to UN reform and development goals," she said. "We believe we should instead approach this task in a pragmatic way, building consensus around reforms we all agree are needed and then, progressively, working to achieve, more difficult stages."
The General Assembly is scheduled to resume debate on Annan's reform plan on Tuesday and it remains uncertain whether sharp differences on the council's enlargement could be removed in the coming months.
There are no signs that Japan, Germany, Brazil and India would abandon their plan to request an assembly vote on the council reform in the face of mounting opposition. Nevertheless, diplomats said that under the current circumstances, it would be imprudent for them to go ahead with the plan in the near future.
(Xinhua News Agency April 20, 2005)