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Overhauling the UN

The United Nations is in dire need of the extensive overhaul proposed by a high-level panel after a year-long study. Many of yesterday's 101 recommendations are too logical to be ignored and long overdue. They would make the UN much more efficient, effective and better able to respond to a rash of global problems -- terrorism, poverty, HIV-AIDS, nuclear proliferation, human-rights abuses -- that no single country can hope to tackle on its own. This in turn would greatly benefit Canada and other countries that have staked a great deal on multilateralism and on making the UN more than just a talking shop for the world's ills.

By far the most contentious -- and least useful -- item on its ambitious list of reforms is an expansion of the 15-member Security Council to 24 members, some of which would have permanent status. Making the council more democratic by enlarging it has considerable appeal to ambitious developing countries such as India and Brazil. But it would make the council even more cumbersome than it is now and less likely to reach a consensus on any proposed response to a major crisis.

The panel came up with two expansion models, showing how hard it will be to implement any change. It also dropped efforts to strip the vetoes held by the five major postwar powers, no doubt because those five would have exercised theirvetoes to prevent it. It would be far more valuable to focus on the proposals designed to make the current Security Council more effective and to prevent the bitter divisions that arose before and during the Iraq war.

The panel's report recommends guidelines for the approval of pre-emptive military action, and calls for the deployment of peacekeepers in a preventive capacity and the effective targeting, monitoring and enforcement of Security Council sanctions. The panel also reached a consensus on a definition of terrorism, something that the General Assembly has never managed to achieve. It would cover any "action . . . that is intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants" when the purpose is to intimidate a population or compel governments or organizations to do something they otherwise would not.

This is not the first time Mr. Annan has attempted to introduce serious reform to the seriously flawed institution he heads. Canadian Maurice Strong was his point man for change in 1997, including a massive internal restructuring and better control of costs. Much of the proposed makeover never materialized.

This time, though, Mr. Annan must succeed in his reform efforts if the UN is to retain any relevance. As the new report plainly states, the UN "was never intended to be a utopian exercise. It was meant to be a collective security system that worked."

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