U.N. Report Urges Big Changes; Security Council
By WARREN HOGE
Published: December 1, 2004
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UNITED NATIONS, Nov. 30 - The United Nations on Tuesday proposed the
most sweeping changes in its history, recommending the overhaul of its
top decision-making group, the Security Council, and holding out the
possibility that it could grant legitimacy to pre-emptive military
The changes were outlined in a much-anticipated report commissioned by
Secretary General Kofi Annan a year ago after bruising division over the
Iraq war left the United Nations feeling ill-equipped to meet modern
challenges represented by terrorism, failed states, nuclear
proliferation, poverty and violence.
In its most attention-getting recommendation, the panel called for an
expansion of the Security Council to 24 members from 15. But the panel
was unable to agree on one proposal and ended up suggesting two options.
Both are intended to broaden the membership of the Council to reflect
the world of today rather than the one that existed at the United
Nations' beginning nearly 60 years ago.
The Council now has 5 veto-bearing permanent members - Britain, China,
France, Russia and the United States - and 10 members elected to
One alternative would add 6 new permanent members - the likely
candidates are Brazil, Germany, India, Japan, Egypt and either Nigeria
or South Africa - as well as 3 new two-year term members.
The other would create a new tier of 8 semipermanent members chosen for
renewable four-year terms and one additional two-year term seat to the
The right to cast vetoes, a power coveted by the nations seeking
permanent status and one they are likely to press for, would continue to
be limited to the 5 original permanent members.
The panel's 101 recommendations will inform a report in March from Mr.
Annan, who is expected to refine them to 8 to 10 principal subjects to
be taken up at a summit meeting of heads of state at the United Nations
in September before the opening of the General Assembly.
Many of the recommendations in the 95-page report can be put into effect
by the secretary general or the parts of the United Nations that would
be affected. The new makeup of the Security Council, however, would
require an amendment to the United Nations Charter, which requires
approval in the General Assembly by two-thirds of the 191 member states,
including all 5 permanent members, and ratification by the legislatures
of their governments.
While the report created new offices and positions, it cast a critical
eye on the stultifying bureaucracy of the United Nations, calling for a
one-time voluntary retirement buyout for many staff members.
Asked what led to the proposal, a senior participant who briefed
reporters on condition of anonymity said, "The sense that looking around
the Secretariat, there is a lot of, frankly, dead wood, and that
secondly there is a whole new generation within the Secretariat who are
younger - in their 30's and 40's - who have an immense amount of field
experience for the last 15 years. They're finding themselves feeling
very frustrated and unable to advance."
The panel was very critical of the Human Rights Commission, a body that
has often brought the United Nations into disrepute by incorporating
some of the worst rights violators like Cuba, Libya and Sudan into its
membership. The commission, which is based in Geneva, "suffers from a
credibility deficit that casts doubt on the overall reputation of the
United Nations," the report said. The official who briefed reporters
added that too often the chief motivation for countries to join was to
deflect attention from deplorable rights conditions at home.
Addressing the critical issue of the legitimacy of the use of force, a
source of crippling tension at the United Nations last year when the
United States was seeking Security Council authorization to go to war in
Iraq, the panel said it found no reason to amend the charter's Article
51, which restricts the use of force to countries that have been
attacked. The report said the language did not constitute, as some have
asserted, a demand that nations wait to be attacked. And it said many
countries had exercised the right to attack when they had felt
But it acknowledged that a new problem had risen because of the nature
of terrorist attacks "where the threat is not imminent but still claimed
to be real: for example, the acquisition, with allegedly hostile intent,
of nuclear weapons-making capability."
It said that if the arguments for "anticipatory self-defense" in such
cases were good ones, they should be put to the Security Council, which
would have the power to authorize military action under guidelines
including the seriousness of the threat, the proportionality of the
response, the exhaustion of all alternatives and the balance of
Apparently in anticipation of objections from Washington over that
requirement, the report said, "For those impatient with such a response,
the answer must be that, in a world full of perceived potential threats,
the risk to the global order and the norm of nonintervention on which it
continues to be based is simply too great for the legality of unilateral
preventive action, as distinct from collectively endorsed action, to be
accepted. Allowing one to so act is to allow all."
Though the bitter dispute over whether to go to war in Iraq was a
principal reason for the institutional crisis at the United Nations that
persuaded Mr. Annan to appoint the panel, the official said members did
not discuss it. He declined to speculate whether the recommended changes
would have forestalled the diplomatic fallout over Iraq. "This was a
forward-looking panel," he said.
The official said that at the outset, some of the panel members had been
in the habit of faulting the United States for exaggerating the threat
of terror and seeking what they called "perfect security." But he said
the members had come to a sharp new appreciation of the menace of
nuclear and chemical agents and how easily they could be infiltrated
into Western societies.
The report addressed six specific and interconnected threats to
international peace - "interstate conflict, civil war, economic and
social threats, weapons of mass destruction, terrorism and organized
Addressing a long sought codification of terrorism that would not allow
people to class it as an acceptable act of national resistance, the
panel suggested defining it as any action "that is intended to cause
death or serious bodily harm to civilians or noncombatants, when the
purpose of such act, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a
population or to compel a government or an international organization to
do or abstain from doing any act."
In a sentence that may have been directed at members of the United
Nations who habitually condemn violence by Israel while making no
mention of attacks on Israel, the report said, "There is nothing in the
fact of occupation that justifies the targeting and killing of
One area where the report criticized the United Nations was the
ineffectiveness of existing conventions to curb the spread of nuclear
material, and the report predicted that the "erosion of the nuclear
regime could become irreversible and result in a cascade of
proliferation." Noting that at least 40 nations have the capacity to
build nuclear weapons on short notice, it said that a way had to be
found to make the nonproliferation treaty an effective constraint.
The panel also urged a more aggressive approach to interventions when
states fail in their primary responsibility to protect their own
citizens. "There is a collective international responsibility to
protect, exercisable by the Security Council authorizing military
intervention as a last resort in the event of genocide and other
large-scale killing, ethnic cleansing or serious violations of
international humanitarian law which sovereign governments have proved
powerless or unwilling to prevent," the report said.
The panel was headed by Anand Panyarachun, a former prime minister of
Thailand, and included Brent Scowcroft, the United States national
security adviser under the first President Bush; Yevgeny Primakov, a
former prime minister of Russia; Qian Qichen, a former foreign minister
of China; and Amr Moussa of Egypt, secretary general of the League of