Washington has thrown a wrench into Berlin’s aspirations of becoming a permanent member of the UN Security Council, arguing that the expansion of the body is not its top reform priority.
How many seats are open for expansion of the Security Council?
At a joint press conference with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer on Wednesday, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held back on endorsing Germany's bid to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council, arguing that other UN reforms such as streamlining management were more important than the expansion of the top decision-making body from the current 15 members to 25, as proposed by Germany, Japan, India and Brazil.
While generally acknowledging the need of a reform, Rice, however, said the United States was looking closely at the various proposals to have "a sober and reflective discussion" aimed at achieving "the broadest possible consensus on how to move forward on what would be a very fundamental change.
"And so our plan at this point is to try, through the appropriate channels at the UN, the presidency of the General Assembly and so forth, to promote that dialogue on what it is that we are trying to achieve in Security Council reform as well as in the broader UN reform," she said.
Support for one of four
Support for the reform initiative and the four contenders for permanent seats is far from certain. On Wednesday, Rice said the US was not ready to endorse all four countries and their bid for permanent seats. Although she reiterated Washington's interest in reforming the council, she left the door wide open in terms of the exact context of the expansion proposal.
"The only country that we have said unequivocally that we support is Japan, having to do with Japan's special role in the UN and support for the UN," Rice said. "But obviously, we are going to look at how to think about UN Security Council expansion within the context of… broader reforms."
Flags wave in front of UN Headquarters in New York
Despite the stated preference for only one of the four bidders, German officials interpreted Rice's statements as less of a rebuff of Berlin's efforts to join the council, and more of a general wariness to expansion.
"We were given to understand by the United States that their concerns about this procedure are not motivated by any anti-German considerations," said Wolfgang Ischinger, the German ambassador to the United States, who attended the meeting with Rice and Fischer.
However, several other European and Asian diplomats who asked to remain anonymous have indicated that one of the factors in the US position on Security Council expansion was its continuing distrust of German Chancellor Gerhard Schöder's strong opposition to the US-led war in Iraq.
Back to the drafting board?
The reform proposal favored by Germany, Japan, India and Brazil initially called for the adoption of a resolution which would add 10 new members to the council, six permanent members and four non-permanent ones, which would rotate for two-year terms. The council currently consists of five permanent members, France, Britain, China, Russia and the United States, and 10 non-permanent rotating members.
Leaders from India, Japan, Brazil and Germany team up to lobby for UN reform
The four chief contenders for permanent seats, Germany, Japan, India and Brazil, had joined forces to lobby for their reform plans over the past year, arguing that the UN's highest body needed to better reflect the current geo-political situation and the amount each of them contributes financially and otherwise to the UN.
But on Wednesday, the initiative was shaken up a bit after the four chief contenders revised their proposal and dropped the right to a veto for the first 15 years for new permanent members, in the hopes that their resolution would be adopted as early as this month. Diplomats speculate that the four contenders have about 100 of the 191 UN members behind them, far short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass the reform resolution.
Five powers divided
Among the current five council members, only France and Britain support all four of the new bidders. China openly opposes any seat for Japan while Russia's position remains unclear.
Within the General Assembly, diplomats say Germany faces the least opposition, while Muslim nations are expected to organize against India and developing nations are believed to want to block Japan's aspirations.