Australia Wants Indonesia, Others as New Members on UN Security Council

Patrick Goodenough | September 25, 2003 | 8:14pm EDT
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Pacific Rim Bureau ( - Contributing to the global debate on how to make the United Nations more effective, Australia has proposed that the world's most populous Islamic nation, Indonesia, become a permanent member of the Security Council.

Prime Minister John Howard said Thursday it was unrealistic to imagine any of the five nations permanently on the Council agreeing to give up their veto power.

"Perhaps you could add another five permanent members that reflect the geo-political realities of the modern world and not the world of 1945," Howard said in a radio interview.

Apart from its northern neighbor, Howard suggested that two other Asian giants, Japan and India, as well as Brazil in Latin America, and possibly Nigeria in Africa, also become permanent members of the decision-making body.

He was echoed by Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, who in an address to the General Assembly in New York, also called for additional permanent members of the Council, including Indonesia.

"We support an overhaul of the UN architecture, particularly in light of new security threats," he said.

Both Downer and Howard also voiced criticism of the U.N.

Downer said in his address Australia was a strong supporter of multilateral institutions, but only insofar as they were a means to an effective end.

"Sometimes the most effective means of preserving security and indeed international law occur alongside the traditional mechanisms of multilateral diplomacy."

He cited Australia's involvement in the war against Iraq, and in the U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative, designed to prevent rogue states and terrorist groups from transferring weapons of mass destruction, by intercepting ships and aircraft.

In his radio interview, Howard rejected the notion that "you can't do anything to stop an evil event or to remove an evil regime without the involvement of the United Nations."

He accused "the French and others" of hypocrisy for complaining about the U.S. and its allies acting outside the Council with regard to Iraq, when they had participated in the earlier NATO action in Kosovo in the absence of Council approval.

Open-ended debate

Since the U.N.'s formation in the aftermath of World War II, the veto-wielding members of the Council have been the declared nuclear powers - the United States, Britain, France and Russia (formerly, the Soviet Union). The People's Republic of China was added in 1971 when it replaced Taiwan as China's official representative.

The Council's 10 other seats are held in rotation by other countries, selected from regional groupings for two-year stints. These countries do not have veto power.

The debate, which has dragged on for a decade, has been given new prominence following the Council's failure to agree on military action against Iraq earlier this year.

At the General Assembly gathering in New York this week, secretary-general Kofi Annan appealed to world leaders to make the Council more representative of 21\super st\nosupersub century "geopolitical realities."

Representatives of Brazil and Japan echoed the calls.

The two countries are among a small group routinely suggested as strong contenders for permanent seats on an expanded Council. Others are Germany, India, South Africa and Egypt.

Arguments in favor of a particular country have included size, as in the case of India and Brazil; regional importance in under-represented parts of the world, as with South Africa or Nigeria; and economic clout, typified by Japan and Germany, respectively the second and third largest financial supporters of the U.N.

Japan has for years been proposing expanding membership of the Council to include permanent seats for 10 countries, including Japan.

This week has, so far, also seen German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder say his country was "willing to assume more responsibility" on the world stage, including becoming a permanent member, and French President Jacques Chirac arguing that Germany, Japan, and "some leading countries from Asia, Africa and Latin America" should be part of an expanded Council.

The U.N. has a body called the "Open-Ended Working Group on the Question of Equitable Representation on and Increase in the Membership of the Security Council and Other Matters related to the Security Council," which has been working on the question for 10 years.

Heritage Foundation fellow Nile Gardiner argued in a memo Wednesday that the U.N.'s influence would diminish further in the absence of far-reaching change.

"The United Nations continues to slowly decline as a force on the world stage, and will go the same way as the League of Nations unless it is radically reformed and restructured," he said.

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