Talks on Expanding U.N. Panel Called Off
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
UNITED NATIONS, March 30 -- Having invited the foreign ministers of the four other permanent Security Council nations to London to discuss enlarging the 15-nation council, Britain on Monday called off the Wednesday meeting after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and China's foreign minister declined to attend, according to key U.N. members.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband had hoped to press for agreement on adding as many as six new members to the council. But the United States and China resisted the initiative on the grounds that it would prove politically divisive at the United Nations, where there are sharp differences over who should serve on an enlarged Security Council. "The Chinese killed it, and the Americans were not very positive," said a Security Council diplomat.
The proposal underscored the degree to which the British hope to use the attendance of the world's big powers at this week's Group of 20 financial summit in London to address a host of international problems. U.N. diplomats said they still expect discussion on the sidelines of the G-20 summit about other global issues, including North Korea's plans for a rocket test in coming days.
Expansion of the Security Council has been the subject of off-and-on negotiations at the United Nations for more than 15 years. There is broad agreement that the council, which has included 15 nations since 1965, should be expanded to account for the rise of new political and economic powerhouses.
But there is no agreement among U.N. members on who should get into the exclusive club. A group of four regional powers -- Brazil, Germany, India and Japan -- has campaigned to establish six permanent new Security Council seats without veto power. Under the initiative by the so-called G-4, each of those countries would get a seat; the two other seats would go to an African and an Asian country. But the plan foundered in 2005 when key regional rivals and the United States, China and Russia voiced opposition and African states demanded two seats with veto rights. Veto rights are currently held by the five permanent members: the United States, Britain, China, France and Russia.
The expansion effort has gained traction in recent months, after British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy proposed a compromise -- adding the six council seats as proposed by the G-4 but requiring those nations to run for reelection after several years. Britain and France have expressed concern that the failure to enlarge the council is undercutting its legitimacy and influence, allowing countries such as Iran and Sudan to flout its demands.
Russia has been among the most skeptical about the need for a larger Security Council. Nevertheless, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had agreed to attend the London meeting of top diplomats, officials at the United Nations said.
Some U.N. observers said Washington and Beijing had little to gain from attending that meeting, and thereby locking themselves into a political position, when negotiations on expansion are likely to last years.
"They will have to keep their powder dry if they want to be in position to really lead on the subject," said Colin Keating, a former New Zealand diplomat who heads the New York-based nonprofit group Security Council Report.
"The United States and China have the greatest stake in the council being effective because they have global foreign policies," said Edward Luck, a U.N. expert at the International Peace Institute and part-time adviser to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Luck said that while there is "a very serious question" about whether the current composition of the council is undermining its legitimacy, it is not clear that a larger council would command more respect internationally.