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UN Agrees to Open Negotiations on Security Council Enlargement

Members of the United Nations General Assembly finally passed a resolution approving "inter-governmental negotiations" on expanding the Security Council.

Members of the Security Council meet for a special Security Council Meeting at UN Headquarters

If the negotiations succeed, the UN will have to find room for a few more chairs

The on-going process regarding the expansion of the Security Council almost collapsed during discussions on Monday, Sept. 15, but after hours of tense bargaining, the assembly unanimously agreed on full-scale negotiations which could lead to the addition of new members to the United Nations' most powerful body, which has the power to authorize sanctions, trade embargoes and military action.

Describing the breakthrough as "historic," some diplomats present said that the agreement opened the door for the council to become larger and more representative of the world of the 21st century.

Process hindered by rivalries

The pursuit of expansion has been a laborious process, starting in 1993 when a UN working group was given the task of drawing up a plan for enlarging the 15-nation body. But the last 15 years have been punctuated with spats over who should be given permanent seats on the council, who would have veto powers and when new members should be admitted.

The negotiations have often pointed to the under-lying allegiances and divisions within the existing council as the powerful states played a game of promoting allies and blocking moves by nations seen as rivals.

Angela Merkel, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany addresses the 62nd session of the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2007 at United Nations headquarters.

Merkel has pushed for membership for Germany

Regional rivalries also created an impasse that was difficult to break. Italy opposed Germany's aspirations for a permanent seat, just as Pakistan opposed India and Argentina countered Brazil.

And while the decision to pursue the inter-governmental negotiations is certainly a breakthrough, the process of ratification by UN member states will likely take years and there is no guarantee that it will succeed. The negotiations are likely to begin before an agreed date of Feb. 28, 2009.

Assembly involvement ups chance of success

However, the fact that the discussion will now be moved to the main 192 member assembly and out of the hands of the deadlocked committee gives hope to those who believe the majority of UN states hold the widely-held view that an enlargement is long overdue.

"It means that we are now moving from discussion of procedure into discussion of substance," Britain's UN Ambassador John Sawers told Reuters.

Members of the General Assembly at the opening of the first plenary meeting of the sixty-second session of the General Assembly

The General Assembly is likely to be in favor of the move

Many UN diplomats believe that, once the negotiations move into the General Assembly, it would not be difficult to get the support of two-thirds of the UN states needed for the motion to enlarge to be approved, providing there was consensus on how many seats to add.

A recent proposal for an additional seven new council members enjoyed broad support among member states, UN diplomats revealed.

The council now has five permanent veto-wielding members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, considered the victors of World War II. Ten non-permanent members are elected for two-year terms on a regional basis.

The size of the council has increased once since the United Nations was created in 1945. In 1965, the number of elected members rose from six to 10.

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