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  June 1998    

General Assembly President concerned by pace of Security Council reform
Finding a solution to the issue of Security Council reform that would be unanimously supported in the General Assembly is proving to be practically impossible," said Hennadiy Udovenko (photo), President of the 52nd Session of the United Nations General Assembly and Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs, while speaking at the UNU Centre on 11 March.

During his one-hour lecture, Mr. Udovenko expressed his views on how the UN is being improved so as to meet the needs of a changing world. He told the audience that one of the reforms being considered is how to make the Security Council more reflective of the UN's membership.

"The present composition of the Security Council has attracted a lot of criticism in recent years, as its makeup reflects the balance of power when the UN was established at the end of the Second World War," he said. He explained that an open-ended working group on Security Council reform had been set up in 1993 within the General Assembly with the task of coming up with ideas for change. But the reform process was stalled until March 1997, when Malaysia's Ismail Razali, then President of the General Assembly, placed a high priority on renewed action.

The Security Council is made up of 15 members - five permanent and ten elected for two-year terms. Under international law, the Council is responsible for maintaining global peace and safety. Its decisions are binding on all countries and can be enforced by military means.

But even though 160 of the General Assembly's 185 members believe that change is needed, Mr. Udovenko said that "they have not been able to come close to delineating the contours of this change." He pointed out that the debate has even come close to slipping into an open confrontation between competing sides.

Japan is the most likely candidate for new permanent membership. Its financial contribution to the UN regular budget for 1998 is set at just under 20 per cent of the total, second in amount only to the United States. Any new UN initiative - including launching a new peace-keeping mission - is practically impossible without Japan's support. And because Japan has been a prominent member of the UN, it is difficult for other countries to object openly to its bid for membership. For its part, Japan is worried that momentum for change might be lost if discussions drag on.

Mr. Udovenko also voiced concern about the dilatory approach taken by the working group. He said that although the group's deliberations have improved the efficiency and transparency of the Security Council's activities, no answer to the problem of overhauling its membership has yet been found.

He reckons that in the end the working group will abandon its goal of finding a solution that the members of the General Assembly will approve unanimously, and instead try to come up with one that would at least win majority support.

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