Global Policy Forum

UN Panel Proposes New Criteria for Using Force

November 28, 2004

A report by a high-level panel on reforming the United Nations proposes expanding the criteria for U.N. military action but maintains the need for Security Council approval, U.N. diplomats said. The report, requested by Secretary-General Kofi Annan and to be released on Thursday, also presents two proposals for expanding council, the most powerful U.N. body, from 15 to 24 seats.

The document includes benchmarks for acting against a terrorist threat and for humanitarian intervention when atrocities are committed against defenseless civilians, provided the Security Council gives its consent. The international panel of 16 men and women was set up by Annan more than a year ago after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, which went ahead without the council's blessing, and responds to decades of pressure for reform.

Particularly since the Sept. 11 attacks with triggered a global campaign against terrorism, President Bush has increasingly advocated the principle of pre-emptive war to confront perceived threats. Although criticizing the Bush administration's decision to go to war in Iraq without U.N. approval, Annan said it was not enough to denounce unilateralism unless the world body also considered thoroughly why nations went to war.

The report does not recommend a pre-emptive strike without Security Council approval, according to the diplomats who are familiar with its proposals. It envisages leaving intact a provision in the U.N. Charter that justifies "individual or collective self-defense" in case of an attack. At the same time the report urges the council to consider action that could be taken against threats from terrorists that have or are seeking weapons of mass destruction, provided all other means have been exhausted, the diplomats said.

The report lays the groundwork for next September's 60th anniversary U.N. General Assembly, when goals set in a Millennium assembly to reduce poverty and disease are to be re-evaluated. Among the report's 100 or so proposals is a timetable for rich countries to meet foreign aid goals. The 16-member panel is chaired by Anand Panyarachun, a former Thai prime minister, and includes Brent Scowcroft, a former U.S. national security adviser. Also on the panel are Yevgeni Primakov, a former Russian prime minister, Qian Qichen a former Chinese foreign minister, Amr Moussa, the Egyptian head of the Arab League, and Gro Harlem Brundtland, a former Norwegian prime minister, among others.

Security Council

On the 15-nation Security Council, which was created nearly 60 years ago and no longer reflects the complex balance of world power, the panel has two proposals -- one that is advocated by Germany, Japan, Brazil and India, and another by Italy, Pakistan, Mexico.

The council's five permanent members with veto rights are World War II victors - the United States, Britain, Russia, France and China. It also has 10 non-permanent nations rotating for two-year terms. Any change has to be approved by a two-thirds vote in the 191-member General Assembly and no veto from the five permanent members.

One proposal would add six permanent members, without veto power -- one each from Asia, Europe, Latin America and two from Africa, presumably to give an Arab country a seat. It would add three non-permanent members for a total of 24. Germany, which has formed a lobbying group with Japan, India and Brazil for these seats, wants to introduce a resolution in the General Assembly as soon as possible, the diplomats said.

The other proposal is for eight semi-permanent seats for four-year terms, subject to renewal and one non-permanent seat, for a total of 24. This is favored by those who are unhappy with the leading candidates. Italy opposes Germany, China has doubts about Japan and several Latin American nations, led by Mexico, oppose Brazil. The United States backs Japan but has remained silent on Germany since it opposed the Iraq war.

More Information on UN Reform
More Information on the High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change


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