UNITED NATIONS - The United Nations proposed the most sweeping changes in its history yesterday, recommending the overhaul of its key decision-making organ, the Security Council, and suggesting standards of international legitimacy for countries that have not been attacked to go to war against an enemy posing an imminent threat.
The changes were outlined in a much-awaited, 101-recommendation report from a panel commissioned by Secretary-General Kofi Annan last year in the aftermath of bitter divisions that had left the United Nations feeling ill-equipped to meet challenges represented by terrorism, failed states, nuclear proliferation, poverty and mass violence.
In its most attention-getting recommendation, calling for a 24-member Security Council, the panel, led by Anand Panyarachun, a former prime minister of Thailand, was unable to agree on one proposal and ended up suggesting two options. Both are aimed at broadening the membership of the 15-member council to reflect the world of today rather than the one that existed when the council was formed after World War II.
It currently consists of five veto-bearing permanent members - Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States - and 10 members elected to two-year terms.
One alternative would add six new permanent members from Asia, Africa, the Americas and Europe - the likely candidates are Brazil, Germany, India, Japan, Egypt and either Nigeria or South Africa - as well as three new two-year members.
The other option would create a new tier of eight semi-permanent members chosen for renewable four-year terms and one additional two-year term seat.
The right to cast vetoes would continue to be limited to the five members that now have that right.
The new arrangement is aimed at rewarding countries that have achieved economic and regional prominence over recent decades and countries that make the most significant contributions to the United Nations.
Addressing the legitimacy of the use of force, a source of tension at the United Nations last year when the United States was seeking Security Council authorization to go to war in Iraq, the panel said it found no reason to amend the United Nations charter's Article 51, which restricts the use of force to countries that have been attacked. The report said that this language did not constitute, as some have charged, a summons on nations to wait to be attacked, and that many countries had exercised the right to attack if they felt threatened.
But it acknowledged that a new problem had arisen because of terrorism, "where the threat is not imminent but still claimed to be real: for example, the acquisition, with allegedly hostile intent, of nuclear weapons-making capability."
It said that if the arguments for such "anticipatory self defense" were good ones, they should be put to the Security Council, which would have the power to authorize military action.
Addressing a long-sought codification of terrorism that would not allow people to class it as an acceptable act of national liberation or resistance, the panel suggested defining terrorism as any action "that is intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants, when the purpose of such act, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population or to compel a government or an international organization to do or abstain from doing any act."
The 16-member panel was created by Annan in a speech to the General Assembly in September 2003 in which he said that divisions over how to achieve collective global security had brought the world institution to a moment as critical as the post-World War II moment of its inception.