After meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Tuesday, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and the Indian and Japanese prime ministers, Manmohan Singh and Junichiro Koizumi delivered a joint statement launching a united bid for permanent UN Security Council seats, arguing that expanded membership was crucial to addressing new global threats.
The declaration stated that Germany, Brazil, India and Japan, known as the G4 nations, "based on the firmly shared recognition that they are legitimate candidates for permanent membership in an expanded Security Council, support each other's candidature."
"The Security Council must reflect the realities of the international community in the 21st century," the statement continued, echoing many voices within the United Nations including that of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, saying that the broadening of representation on the 15-nation council would strengthen the moral authority of decisions taken by the group.
"In order for the international community to effectively address the various threats and challenges that it presently faces, it is important to reform the United Nations as a whole," a further passage read.
Such a reform of the council, which passes resolutions that are binding for the UN's 191 member states, is long overdue, both supporters and critics of the institution say. The council has had the same five permanent members with veto power -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- since the United Nations was established in the wake of World War II. Ten other nations are elected as non-permanent members for two-year rotation terms.
Proposed reforms biggest in 60-year history
The proposal put forward by the four nations, which also envisages a permanent seat for Africa and an expansion of the non-permanent council membership, would represent the largest shake-up at the top decision-making body of the United Nations in its nearly 60-year history.
A high-level panel set up by Kofi Annan to research the possibilities of reform is scheduled to offer concrete proposals for change in December. Annan was recently quoted as saying the question of reform took on added urgency after last year's crisis over Iraq, when the United States went to war without the backing of the council.
Germany, who is the third highest contributor to UN coffers behind the United States and Japan, has lobbied strongly for a permanent seat on the council as its two year term as a non-permanent member comes to an end this December. Foreign Minister Fischer has recently completed an exhaustive tour of countries in a bid to drum up support for Germany's campaign for permanent status. His work seemed to have paid off on Tuesday night.
Fischer sees G4 as natural candidates
"All four states regard themselves as natural candidates," Fischer said after the meeting, "based on what they are doing for the UN, what they are capable of doing and also because of their regional roles."
At least one of the five current permanent members, Britain, has already voiced its support for all four bids.
Old regional animosities, however, are likely to ensure that none of the candidates enjoys an easy ride. Germany is likely to face opposition from Italy, a solid ally of the United States in Iraq, for its stance against the 2003 invasion.
Opposition may bar the way
Pakistan could find it hard to accept India, their nuclear-armed neighbor, while Brazil's bid might get a lukewarm reception in Mexico and Argentina, and China on Tuesday indicated reservations over Japan's candidacy, saying the UN was "not a board of directors" whose composition could be decided by "the financial contribution of its members."
Addressing the General Assembly later in the day, Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi fleshed out his country's credentials, pointing to its reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as its leading role in talks to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue.
"Countries with the will and resources to play a major role in international peace and security must always take part in the Council's decision-making process," he said. Koizumi also claimed a unique voice for Japan as the only country to have suffered a nuclear attack.
The four countries also said that Africa, the poorest continent in the United Nations, "must also be represented in the permanent membership of the Security Council." African leaders are debating which country from the vast continent might get a permanent Security Council seat if one is made available. Tanzania put itself forward as a candidate for a non-permanent seat on the council, saying it would seek election before August.