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At 60, UN Needs Reform to Avoid Retiring

The United Nations came into existence 60 years ago on Sunday. As the world celebrates the global organization, members grumble that it urgently needs reform, but disagree on exactly what that means.

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After six decades, the world's policeman could use a makeover

More than 60 years ago, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt realized that the world needed a strong international body to replace the slowly dying League of Nations. He approached British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and after, China and the Soviet Union. After meeting in Washington in 1944, the "Big Four" came up with a plan and a year later, the UN was born when the new body's charter was signed by the representatives of 50 countries on June 26, 1945.

"We kept in mind that Germany was only defeated because of the combined might of countries working for the same thing," said then-Secretary of State Edward Stettinius, sent by Roosevelt to San Francisco in 1945 to sign the document creating the UN. "And we knew that lasting freedom would only be possible when united nations use their power to create it. The United Nations had to be."

Now six decades later, its membership has reached almost 190 nations; its members send troops under UN banners on peacekeeping mission around the globe; its staff raise alerts to natural and man-made disasters and coordinates relief for victims and the poor of the world.

And these days, a debate over its very core is being played out: reforming the 15-member Security Council.

"We want in"

In the next month, the foreign ministers of Brazil, Germany, India and Japan known as the Group of Four will set a date for the UN General Assembly to vote on their groundbreaking resolution. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan wants a decision before the end of the summer.

The resolution supports expanding the Security Council to better represent the state of the world 60 years after World War II ended. If approved, it would increase the number of seats by 10, including six more permanent seats to the five that currently exist. The Group of Four would expect to get four of the permanent seats.

UN Vollversammlung Joschka Fischer und Kofi Annan

Germany Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan

"The structure of the Security Council has not changed in 40 years," said German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. "I think it is high time that it begins to reflect the current state of the world today."

So far, it seems likely that the resolution could pass as many UN nations support the initiative, except for one very powerful member, the US.

Thorny relationship

The US declined to join the ill-fated League of Nations, the UN's predecessor, because of a lack of veto power.

So it is no wonder that the US is not supportive of its power on the Security Council being diluted -- currently veto power belongs to the five permanent members of the Security Council, the US, Russia, France, England and China. The current American administration, never particularly friendly to the international organization, meanwhile has created its own proposal for fewer new seats and those going to nations who display a clear commitment to democracy.

George Bush bei Kofi Annan

US President George W. Bush with the UN's Kofi Annan

The US has also signaled that it sees reforming an inefficient and corrupt bureaucracy as more urgent than expanding the body's core structure, so much so that last week, the US House of Representatives passed a bill that would reduce the US's financial contribution to the UN by 50 percent if reforms are not taken.

"Our goal is massive UN reform," said Nicolas Burns of the state department. "And if we back down, we will not only lose our credibility in the UN but also around the world."

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