The proposal that Japan, India, Germany and Brazil become permanent members of the UN Security Council is almost certain to fail, but it may trigger sweeping reforms in an institution dating from 1945 that is incapable of coping with the issues of 2005. \nPrime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil presented their joint bid in New York on Sept. 22, asserting that "they are legitimate candidates for permanent membership in an expanded Security Council." \nThe Security Council today has five permanent members with veto rights: the US, China, Russia, the UK and France, the victors of World War II. \nTen other members are chosen to rotate through the council on two-year terms. \nOpposition to the new proposal was immediate. China, South Korea and North Korea objected to Japan's bid. Pakistan, with support from China, opposed India. Italy opposed Germany, as well as expansion of the veto. Spanish-speaking Mexico, Argentina and Chile opposed Portuguese-speaking Brazil. \nMoreover, Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa are also vying for permanent membership. Other African countries argued for wider representation, as did Arabs, Asians and Latin Americans. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has ordered a study due by the end of the year on possible changes. Observers of the UN said reform is the talk of the headquarters in New York, because the UN's ineptitude has become increasingly clear. In its latest dithering, the UN has dawdled over the Sudan, where 6,000 to 10,000 people a month are dying from starvation or being killed in civil strife. \nAs David Brooks of The New York Times has written: "The US said the killing in Darfur was indeed genocide, the Europeans weren't so sure and the Arab League said definitely not and hairs were split and legalisms were parsed and the debate over how many corpses you can fit on the head of a pin proceeded in stentorian tones while the mass extermination of human beings continued at a pace that may or may not rise to the level of genocide." \nAs far as long-standing conflicts in Asia are concerned, the UN has done little to foster reunification of South Korea and North Korea, to ease the dispute between China and Taiwan, to combat terror and piracy in Southeast Asia, to mediate between India and Pakistan over Kashmir or to end 20 years of ethnic strife in Sri Lanka. \nVictor David Hanson, a historian at Stanford University, wrote recently: "Our global watchdog, the UN, had been largely silent. It abdicates its responsibility of ostracizing those states that harbor mass murderers, much less organizes a multilateral posse to bring them to justice." \nSchemes for fixing the UN Security Council and General Assembly have been flying around for months. The key is to find an acceptable balance among the major powers, the middle powers and the smaller nations. \nIn the Security Council, the world's powers supposedly exercise leadership, but the UK and France have long since slipped off that top shelf. If they could be persuaded not to veto reforms, perhaps a three-tiered Security Council could be assembled. Criteria for the top and middle tiers would be population, political stability, economic strength and military power. \nThe top tier would comprise the US, the EU (including the UK, France, Germany and Italy), China, India, Japan and Russia. The veto would be diluted by requiring two nations to block an action. \nIn the middle would be permanent members without a veto -- such as Brazil, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Korea, Indonesia, Egypt and Mexico. In the third tier would be members rotating by geographic region -- Eastern Europe, Latin America, Africa, Asia, the Arab world and Pacific island nations. In the General Assembly, which has nearly quadrupled from 51 members in 1945 to 191 members today, the US vote counts no more than that of Palau, population 20,000. Consequently, the assembly is largely ignored. \nTo make the General Assembly effective, weighted voting would be tried. A nation, for instance, would get one vote for every 100 million people and another for every 2 percent of the world's GNP. That would give the US 17 votes (three plus 14) and China 15 votes (13 plus two). Resolutions would be binding -- they are not now -- if they gained two-thirds of the vote. \nAll of this is admittedly speculative. As a devoted advocate of the UN says: "That the UN does not fairly represent today's world is true -- but that doesn't make re-organizing it any easier." \nRichard Halloran is a journalist based in Hawaii.
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