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Jockeying for a Seat

Talk over reforms have replaced the war in Iraq as the issue du jour at the UN in New York. Germany is also pushing for one of its own: A permanent seat for Berlin on the Security Council.


Germany wants a permanent place at the Security Council table

The current division of seats in the United Nations Security Council stems from the time just after World War II: the then victors, the United States, Great Britain, France and Russia were each allotted a permanent seat along with China. But now there are calls to expand the number of permanent seats.

"The Security Council should be expanded from 15 to 25 seats," said Berthold Meyer, Professor for Peace and Conflict Studies at Germany's University of Marburg. The idea is to make the body more geographically fair, explained Otto Keck, Professor for International Organizations at the University of Potsdam.

"It would be desirable for every continent to be represented," he said.

Vying for seats

But that's easier said than done considering that no formal decisions have been made about the future division of seats or how they should be geographically allocated. Observers like Keck believe the decision-making process surrounding the new seats will be a lengthy one.

"It's going to take a while," he told DW-WORLD. "We're not even at the stage yet where individual countries are in the running."

UNO Gebäude in New York

UN headquarters in New York

According to Meyer, the two countries with the best chances are Germany and Japan, "afterall, they each contribute about 10 percent to the overall UN budget." Indeed, Germany is the third-largest funder of the UN. Lately, Germany has been increasing its diplomatic campaign to win a seat.

Just last week, Germany and India signed a pact stating that the two countries would jointly promote the other's efforts to gain a permanent seat. And while in China, Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer sought to win over the support of the Chinese government.

However, both experts expressed skepticism about the German government's current approach. During his visit with his Chinese counterpart last week, Fischer also broached the taboo issue of China's human rights violations, a move that "doesn't promote" Germany's campaign for a permanent seat -- at least not in the eyes of Beijing, Meyer noted.

No seat for the EU

Building up the necessary support for a seat could prove an additional complication for Germany. Developing nations are asking why a third rich EU country should be given a role on the Security Council, according to Meyer. And recently a US diplomat told the British Financial Times that the US has serious concerns about Germany getting a permanent seat.

It would also be possible, at least theoretically, for the European Union to pursue a single seat in the Security Council instead of promoting an individual country. But Keck casts the idea aside. "We can't count on the idea that, in the future, France and England would be willing to give up their positions in order to create a European seat," he said. Meyer, too, said there's too little unity within the EU for the creation of a single permanent seat in New York.

General Assembly's approval required

Vereinte Nationen Logo UN UNO

The official logo of the United Nations

Moreover, the planned reform of the Security Council is dragging on. "There are still some things that remain unclear," said Keck, "voting rights, for example." Will the members with permanent seats still have a veto right in the future, he asked?

For his part, Meyer said he thought the time frame for reform "would first open up after the US presidential election." It's widely anticipated that a special commission of 16 former leaders convened by UN General Secretary Kofi Annan in November will submit proposals for a major UN overhaul by the end of the year. It could come up for a vote in the General Assembly by 2005.

Even then, a modified UN charter must be approved by a two-thirds majority in the General Assembly, which includes some 190 nations. In the final step, the changes must also be ratified by the current Security Council members.

Though officials in Berlin have conceded to reporters that Germany's chances of gaining a permanent seat are limited, it has become a major thread in Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's foreign policy strategy, with both Schröder and Fischer making increasingly strong remarks in recent months about Germany's desire for a seat. France, Russia and Japan support the move, and in recent months Schröder has sought to woo the United States and China.

In a speech in Berlin last March, Schröder said: "I am certain that, in light of our contributions to the war against terror, that our friends in America will also support this wish."

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