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Developing states could reform UN

By Haider Rizvi

UNITED NATIONS: When the World Trade Organisation (WTO) met in Mexico recently, a group of developing countries refused to be taken for granted by the rich industrialised nations that control the body , sending a message to the elite that they must change their way of doing business.

The same message was heard this week in the United Nations General Assembly, where speaker after speaker from the developing world pressed for speedy reforms of the world body, especially its most powerful organ - the Security Council.

The General Assembly is "unfortunately subservient to the Security Council, which in turn is subservient to any single one of the five victors of war fought more than half a century ago," said Malaysian President Mahathir Mohamad.

The five permanent members of the Security Council, which have veto powers, are the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China.

The United Nations, Mahathir continued, "is today collapsing on its feet ... it is helpless to protect the weak and the poor. It can be ignored, pushed aside, gesticulating feebly as it struggles to be relevant. Its organs have been cut out, dissected, and reshaped, so that they may perform the way the puppet masters want."

Brazilian President Lula de Silva, whose country played a leading role in forging the Group of 22 coalition of developing countries at the WTO meeting, agrees with Mahathir.

"It has become an urgent task," he said of UN reform. "The Security Council must be fully empowered to deal with crises and threats to peace. It must be equipped with tools for effective action. It must take into account the emergence in the international scene of developing countries.

Both Mahathir and Lula think that developing countries have become important actors that can play a significant role in settling disputes among states. Currently, there is no permanent seat on the Security Council to represent Latin America or Africa.

"Given the support received within South America and beyond, Brazil is encouraged to continue advocating for a Security Council that better reflects contemporary reality," Lula told the General Assembly.

Last Tuesday, UN chief Kofi Annan appealed to world leaders. "If you want the Council and the Council's decisions to command great respect, particularly in the developing world, you need to address the issue of (its) composition with greater urgency."

The issue of expanding the Security Council has been on the UN agenda for more than a decade. But member nations have so far failed to agree on how big the council should get and which other nations should be given veto powers.

Permanent Council members like France are pushing for the inclusion of Germany and Japan, two major industrialised nations that are major donors to the United Nations. Other potential candidates for permanent seats include Australia, South Africa and Indonesia.

While developing nations have argued forcefully for their place in the 'inner circle', they are not presenting a united front.

President Pervez Musharraf said this week, "The Security Council must be made more representative by increasing the number of non-permanent members. New permanent members will only expand inequality. States which occupy and suppress other peoples, and defy the resolutions of the Security Council, have no credentials to aspire for permanent membership."

Musharraf's words were aimed at India, which contends that as the world's largest parliamentary democracy, and with a population of more than one billion people, it deserves a permanent seat on the Council.

"Some states with weak claims want to ensure that others do not enter the Council as permanent members," Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said in response to Musharraf's remarks. "This combination of complacency and negativism has to be countered with a strong political will."

Some leaders from the developing world note that even after the Security Council is expanded, the United Nations will still need new decision-making tools.

"How can multilateralism be genuinely implemented?" asked Vajpayee. "A single veto is an anachronism in today's world. On the other hand, the requirement of unanimity can sabotage imperative action."

Mahathir suggests that in a revamped Security Council, permanent members should be able to use their veto only if they have the support of three non-permanent members.

But overall, Malaysia's leader, who retires in October after 22 years in power, is not optimistic.

"While the world wants to see the UN reformed and an end to the veto powers of the five (permanent members), unfortunately the very structure of the UN does not allow any reforms to take place because any reforms could be vetoed by the five." -Dawn/InterPress News Service.


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