International clamor for reform of the UN Security Council grew on Thursday after US President Barack Obama, threw his weight behind India's demands for a permanent seat on the UNSC.
Japan, Germany, Brazil and African nations laid claim to permanent council membership. But the five heavyweight veto-wielding powers expressed worries about change and warned negotiations risked becoming bogged down in UN bickering.
Experts said that despite Obama's intervention, change to the UN's guarantor of international peace and security, which still has no permanent members from Latin America or Africa, remains a long way off.
"It isn't going to get anywhere fast," said Tom Weiss, director of the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies at The City University of New York. "We can all agree that the Security Council reflects 1945 and not 2010. But every solution creates more problems than it solves." The veteran observer of Security Council affairs noted the United States has supported Japan's bid for a seat despite "knowing full well" that China would veto such a move. "There is no consensus on the Security Council, so for the moment there is nothing for it to talk about," a senior diplomat said.
Highlighting the emergence of the Group of 20 nations and major reforms to the International Monetary Fund, Germany's UN ambassador Peter Wittig said "the concern is that the United Nations might be left behind in this process." He pressed Germany's case for a permanent seat to the UN General Assembly in light of its role as a major UN contributor.
Japan's ambassador Tsuneo Nishida, meanwhile, said the council should expand to include nations that have "demonstrated well the readiness, capacity and resources to play an important role."
Africa has demanded two permanent seats on the council, with South Africa, Egypt and Nigeria as the leading candidates. "Limiting the expansion of the Security Council to the non-permanent category only is not an option for us, as it will neither change the power structure of the council nor correct the historical injustice to the African continent," said Egypt's ambassador Maged Abdelaziz.
The council is currently made up of 15 members. Since 1945 Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States have been permanent members able to veto any resolution. All have said they support change - to varying degrees.
Reform "should not have a negative impact on the effectiveness of the council," Russia's ambassador Vitaly Churkin warned the General Assembly. "We are in favor of maintaining a compact membership of the council and we are convinced that ideas that would lead to an infringement of the prerogatives of the current permanent members, including the veto, would be counter-productive."
The United States supports a "modest" council expansion, according to its envoy Susan Rice. "As we have previously stated, the United States is not open to an enlargement of the Security Council that changes the current veto structure," said US deputy ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo.
French ambassador Gerard Araud put the French and British case for intermediate steps before "ambitious" changes. He said the "sterile" UN debate had to be advanced or "Security Council reform will die a slow death to the satisfaction of some people but at the expense of everyone." China's ambassador Li Baodong voiced cautious support for "reasonable reform."
Diplomats said that in any debate, China would probably veto any Indian or Japanese membership and that regional rivalries mean Africa could not choose between Egypt, South Africa and Nigeria if it had a permanent representative.