Straw Plan to Boost UN Security Council


By Ewen MacAskill

June 11, 2003

Campaign to increase permanent membership to 'realistic' 24 is likely start new row.

The foreign secretary, Jack Straw, is planning to put forward detailed proposals at the UN in the autumn for reform of the security council to try to mend some of the damage done by disagreements over the Iraq war. The Foreign Office confirmed yesterday that it wants to see the 15-member security council expanded to 24 to provide a more realistic reflection of world opinion. The security council has remained unchanged since the formation of the UN at the end of the second world war.

But the British reform plan will run into trouble from various countries hostile to the new members being proposed by the Foreign Office. The government is also braced for opposition from hawks within the US administration who regard the security council as neutered by the Iraq row and are happy to leave it in that state. The US state department is believed to be sympathetic to the British plan but the hawks in the Pentagon, which has a big say in US foreign policy, are hostile.

The British plan is for the five permanent members on the council - Britain, the US, Russia, China and France - to be expanded to 10. The new countries Britain wants to see become permanent members are: Germany, Japan and India as well as one Latin American and one African country, yet to be decided.

Unlike the existing permanent members, the new members will not have a veto. The Foreign Office believes that giving the new members a veto would make the security council unmanageable. Bill Rammell, the Foreign Office minister responsible for the UN, said yesterday: "If we went for 10 countries with permanent vetoes, we might as well shut up shop." Reform of the security council was proposed by the then foreign secretary, Robin Cook, three years ago but a Foreign Office source said yesterday that the push this time will be "much, more serious because of what happened over Iraq".

The plan is almost certain to create friction within the UN. A permanent place on the security council for Japan would be vigorously opposed by South Korea, reflecting the traditional enmity between the two countries. Brazil claims to have British support for the Latin American place on the reformed council but will be challenged by Mexico. South Africa's claim to represent Africa would also face a challenge from Nigeria.

Reform would need unanimity on the security council as well as two-thirds of the 191-member UN general assembly, which might be difficult to achieve given the expected level of opposition. The Foreign Office said it wants the reform not only because of the Iraq divisions but because it believes the permanent members should reflect the present world rather than the five victorious nations of the second world war.

But there is scepticism within the UN, including the office of the secretary general, Kofi Annan, about Britain's commitment. It argues that if Britain is serious about reform it should give up its veto. The Foreign Office said there was no willingness on the part of existing permanent members to do this and that any reform plan had to be credible. Another criticism of the British plan is that the inclusion of Germany would add to the already disproportionate representation of European countries.

The Foreign Office is to work on the detail of its reform plan over the summer. As part of this process, it is to hold a seminar at the Foreign Office for academics and others involved with the UN next week. Votes in the security council at present require support of at least nine of the 15 members. The government has not yet decided on what would constitute a majority on its proposed 24-member council but said yesterday it would be either 14 or 15.

More Information on Security Council Reform
More Information on UN Reform

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