New, More Diverse U.N. Security Council Meets for First Time Wednesday

By Anita Snow | January 6, 2011 | 4:59 AM EST

United Nations (AP) - The U.N. Security Council has launched the new work year with a fresh mix of non-permanent nations including India and South Africa whose diversity better reflects the modern world but could complicate efforts to reach consensus.

The U.N.'s most powerful body has been criticized for sometimes failing to properly represent the world, especially the poorer, non-Western states. The new assemblage will offer a glimpse of how a more diverse panel might work together if efforts prevail to expand the number of permanent council seats. It also will test new members on their ability to put international concerns over their own national and regional interests.

The new council met together for the first time Wednesday, representing a world in which former colonial states have become economic and political powerhouses. Besides India and South Africa, Brazil and oil-rich Nigeria already are members.

The first order of business was a political stalemate in the West African nation of Ivory Coast, where the incumbent president is refusing to step aside for the man the world says beat him in recent elections. The council this week also will discuss weekend elections in Sudan that are expected to divide Africa's largest country into two.

"These countries want to be at the inner sanctum, to be at the table, but they also tend to be in a postcolonial, anti-interventionist mindset that can worry the United States" and other Western nations, said U.N. specialist Stewart Patrick from the Council on Foreign Relations, a New York-based think tank. He said this year's mix will be a "testing ground" for what a larger, more diverse Security Council could look and act like.

India is now the world's largest liberal democracy and a nuclear power. South Africa has blossomed politically and economically since apartheid ended 17 years ago and is now a major leader in Africa, home to more U.N. member states than any other continent. Latin American giant Brazil boasts the world's eighth largest GDP.

"Everyone will be watching whether they make good use of the tools they have on the council, whether they will be willing to go after rogue states," Patrick said. "Will they be willing to go after those accused of gross human rights violations?"

Germany, Europe's largest economy, is also on the council this time around, adding heft to an already muscular mix. Portugal and Colombia are also new council members.

Indian Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri said the new diversity provides "a good opportunity to see what it would be like," with countries such as India, Brazil and South Africa playing a larger role.

Bruce Jones, a former senior U.N. staffer who now directs New York University's Center on International Cooperation, said he's "relatively optimistic" that the new members will put international concerns first.

"For instance, India isn't the India of 10 years ago, playing to the Group of 77," which represents 132 mainly developing counties and China, he said. "This is an India that has strategic relations with the United States."

The 15-member council is empowered to authorize military force and impose sanctions to ensure the world's peace and security. The five permanent members -- the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia -- have veto power. The 10 non-permanent members represent all regions of the world and are elected for two-year terms.

Brazil, Japan, Germany and India have been lobbying for years for permanent seats on an expanded council. India's bid for a permanent seat got a boost from President Barack Obama in November when he visited New Delhi. Africa is also demanding two permanent seats with veto power.