U.N. urged to set up council to deal with crises

A high-powered “global watch” council should be set up at the United Nations to sound the alarm when world crises loom, says a group dedicated to U.N. reform.

The council would serve as “a small political centre for high-level consultations on urgent matters of human security and welfare.”

While the 15-member U.N. Security Council deals with direct military threats to world order – such as the Persian Gulf war – a similar body of up to 25 member states is needed to deal with non-military threats, the panel argues.

Such threats would include world debt repayments, environmental hazards, natural disasters, disease, drug trafficking, urban growth, refugees and special Third World problems such as capital flight.

The 23-member panel, chaired by former U.S. attorney-general Elliot Richardson, included former World Bank president Robert McNamara, former West German chancellor Helmut Schmidt, former U.S. secretary of state CyrusVance and former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo.

Its report, timed to coincide with the opening of the 42nd General Assembly in New York this month, is one of several to point out a need for “fresh thinking” at the U.N. to tackle a growing list of world problems.

Recently Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev urged the U.N. to set up a world “brain trust” composed of scientists, politicians – even church leaders – to help solve global problems and shape the Earth’s future.

Only drastic structural reform will save the U.N. from becoming a “marginal” player in world affairs, the panel concluded after two years of study. Its final 116-page report is entitled A Successor Vision: The United Nations of Tomorrow.

Already, the U.N. is in a “deep crisis” and faces pronounced skepticism about its ability to respond to world problems, the panel concluded.

This pessimistic assessment reflects official U.S. government attitudes toward the U.N. Nine of the 23 panel members were Americans and there were no Soviet or Eastern bloc members, and no Canadians.

At present, the U.N.’s 54-member Economic and Social Council debates some non-military threats to global security. But the council is neither “fish nor fowl” because it’s too big for quick decision making, and too restricted in membership to serve as a full sounding board of all 159 U.N. members, the panel said.

Like the Security Council, which has five permanent and 10 rotating member states, the 25-member global watch council would have a small “core” of permanent members and a larger number of rotating ones. A research team and computerized data bank would back it up.

The core states should include “the largest developing and developed countries,” based on population and economic importance, the report said.

The U.S., Soviet Union, and Japan would qualify for “core” membership on both grounds. China, India, Brazil and Indonesia would qualify in terms of population while France, West Germany and Britain would qualify in terms of economic clout.

A country such as Canada, with a strong economy but relatively small population, might not qualify for a permanent seat on such a body.

The report also proposed:

* Electing U.N. secretaries-general for a single term not to exceed seven years. The current term is five years, but the tradition is to re-elect U.N. leaders for a second term.

* Slapping a six-year “sunset clause” on U.N. programs, after which funds would be cut off unless the General Assembly voted an extension.

* Setting up a five-member U.N. advisory commission to give the secretary-general better advice on emerging problems and U.N. responses.

* Creating a 15- to 18-member U.N. commission to better co-ordinate the annual spending of $2 billion, now spent directly by U.N. agencies on development, population control, and food production.

* Scrapping the General Assembly’s “second” and “third” committees, which duplicate debate about economic and social issues, and broadening the Economic and Social Council to include all 159 U.N. members.

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