Committee reports are usually deadly dull, and UN committee reports are among the dullest. But the recent report of the UN Secretary General's High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges, and Change broke that rule. Sixteen political leaders and former diplomats combined principle with political realism to produce the most comprehensive proposals for change since the UN was created in 1945.
Secretary General Kofi Annan is to present the report in March. Then it will be up to governments to act.
Many early comments focus on the Panel's recommendations for enlarging the UN Security Council from 15 to 24 members. The report proposes two alternatives. One would add six new permanent members -- such as India, Brazil, Egypt, South Africa, Japan and Germany -- as well as three two-year members. The other alternative would create eight semi-permanent members with renewable four-year terms and one additional member chosen for a two-year term.
Either proposal would entail amending the UN Charter, which requires marshaling the support of a two-thirds majority of the 191 member states, including the five veto-wielding members of the Security Council. Skeptics doubt that this is feasible.
But focusing on enlargement of the Security Council risks diverting attention from the rest of the Panel's analyses and 101 recommendations for reform, many of which do not require amending the Charter. According to the report, the General Assembly has lost vitality, the Security Council must be more proactive, the Commission on Human Rights suffers from a legitimacy deficit, the Secretariat should be more professional and better organized, and major institutional gaps hinder responses to economic and social threats to international security. The report is critical of the organization's performance on genocide in Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur, as well as the late response to HIV/AIDS.
In the panel's words, the UN was created above all "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war," but today the biggest security threats we face "go far beyond states waging aggressive war. The preoccupation of the UN founders was with state security. When they spoke of creating a new system of collective security they meant it in the traditional military sense."
Today the threats are from non-state actors as well as states, and they jeopardize human security as well as that of states. Collective security nowadays means a broader sharing of responsibility for each other's security.
The Panel deals forthrightly with the new transnational threats posed by terrorists and the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Its members agreed that there could be "nightmare scenarios" that combine the two and might require the preventive use of force. They urge strengthening the non-proliferation regime through more intrusive inspections, and negotiation of arrangements for internationally guaranteed access to nuclear enrichment and reprocessing services, rather than allowing countries to construct them for themselves.
They back US President George W. Bush's Proliferation Security Initiative aimed at stopping traffic in weapons of mass destruction. On terrorism, they break the long UN impasse over finding a definition, condemning all attacks against civilians, and propose a number of measures that member states should take.