The United Nations General Assembly has approved a compromised reform package that will be the basis for discussion at the UN's 60th anniversary summit starting Wednesday.
The summit celebrates 60 years of the UN
Some 170 world leaders are expected to attend the conference -- making it one of the largest meetings of its kind in history.
The three-day summit prompted New York to launch a massive security operation. "This is a general assembly like no other," New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly told BBC.
It's equally significant in terms of content. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has warned that the UN faces a fork in the road and needs bold action.
On Tuesday, he presented a 35-page draft package of reforms that ended weeks of deadlocked negotiations.
UN Security Council
"I think it is a success," he said. "We've got a good document. We didn't get everything we wanted and I think we can build on it." He admitted the draft failed to address non-proliferation and disarmament, while other sticking points included the creation of a new human rights body, the definition of terrorism and enlargement of the UN Security Council.
Meanwhile, John Bolton, US ambassador to the UN, took no pains to hide the limits of a reform he said would lead to "a somewhat improved UN."
"It would be wrong to claim more than is realistic and accurate about what these reforms are," he told reporters. "They represent steps forward, but this is not the alpha and the omega, and we never thought it would be."
He also said the reform process "goes to the question, which is a much longer-term question, as to whether the culture of decision making at the UN is the most effective for the organization."
Step toward basic reform
"What we can say now is that we will have a document that will reflect what is politically possible right now among 191 members," Gunter Pleuger, Germany's ambassador to the UN, told The New York Times. "It may not be the great reform idea that (UN Secretary General) Kofi Annan put into the world two years ago and might not meet with the excitement of all member states and of the press, but it will be an important step in the direction of a basic reform of the UN."
The draft document addresses topics that include the creation of a new human rights council, ways to increase economic development and reduce poverty and a UN management overhaul.
In many cases impasses were resolved by substituting specific goals with broad statements of principle, according to the newspaper.
American Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns
The original reform plan was meant to be the centerpiece of Annan's ambitious plan to reform the world body on its 60th anniversary. Enlarging the powerful, 15-member Security Council was supposed to reflect the 21st century's new balance of forces, enshrining the enhanced status of economic powerhouses Germany and Japan -- the World War II losers -- and the emerging power of India and Brazil.
But the plan, which was to have been endorsed by world leaders at their summit this week, seems to have fallen victim to the competing egos and interests of rival nations.
The most promising expansion plan came in a draft introduced to the UN General Assembly in July by the so-called G4: Brazil, Germany, India and Japan. It called for boosting council membership to 25, with six new permanent, non-veto-wielding seats -- the G4 nations plus two from Africa -- and four non-permanent seats.
Power to veto a sticking point
But the African Union, led by Algeria and Egypt, rejected the G4 proposal and pushed instead for their own draft calling for two permanent Security Council seats for Africa -- with veto power -- as well as five non-permanent council seats, including two for Africa. This plan would correct what they perceive as a historical injustice that has left them as the only continent not represented on the Security Council.
That demand for veto power was generally viewed as unrealistic by the five current permanent members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States. Early on, the United States warned it would reject any major expansion of the council, stating its preference for only two additional permanent seats, including one for Japan.
In an attempt to reconcile these differences, at a July meeting in London, the G4 proposed a plan by which Africa would drop its demand for veto power in exchange for a fifth non-permanent seat.
Yet as the United States and China signaled opposition to the G4 blueprint, the Africans decided at a summit in Addis Ababa in August to reject the compromise deal offered by the G4 and backed by Nigeria, the current AU chairman.