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Analytical Studies

Objectives by Issue (Evaluative Criteria): 1998 Birmingham Summit

UN Reform

Since Halifax, a considerable amount of attention has been paid to UN Reform. However, Birmingham may be different in that talks may focus on certain issues under the wide umbrella of UN Reform. It is likely the leaders will use the summit to give certain reform issues some impetus and momentum.

Trends and subsequent priorities at Birmingham:

At the "leader level", the US has definitively changed its anti-UN attitude. The Clinton administration is really pushing to get Congress to approve the payback of its dues to the UN, claiming economic and security interests would suffer badly if the US did not fulfil its obligations to the UN. Public opinion seems to be favouring the US paying its dues. The Washington Post and the New York Times both carried open letters from American business and political leaders calling on Washington to pay its dues to the UN. The change of attitude in the US speaks to the issue of ensuring the UN's financial viability. There is no doubt the UN is bankrupt and its lack of financial resources is crippling the momentum for reform. As a result, one of the particular issues discussed at the leaders' meetings will be financial reform. This is an important issue for all G8 countries, particularly the US. The Communiqu=E9 will likely attempt to push forward the momentum for financial reform. More importantly, it will help Clinton strengthen his position against Congress on the issue of payment of arrears.

The second issue receiving considerable attention recently concerns the Security Council reform. There is a growing recognition that the present configuration of the UN Security Council is outdated and no longer reflects the realities and needs of today's world. This is an important foreign policy priority especially for Japan, Germany and Canada. While there is no doubt Security Council reform is vital to ensure the relevance of the UN in the world, there has been much procedural wrangling and regional division on this issue. As a result, any real forward movement for Council reform has been delayed. Within the G8, there are opposing views on how the Security Council should be reformed, particularly on the question of expansion. However, given that Security Council reform is potentially the most important reform issue facing the UN and it is an important priority for several of the leaders present, this issue will likely be discussed in some detail. The Communiqu=E9 will not reflect any consensus on how to proceed with the Council reform. But the leaders may want the Communiqu=E9 to reflect a desire to push forward the momentum for Council reform beyond its present deadlock situation.

The G7 countries have traditionally been supportive of multilateral institutions (some more than others). Now that Russia has joined the Summit club, support for the UN and its role in the post-Cold War regime will likely increase. Russia sees the UN as a lever to help balance the diplomatic weight of the US in the post-Cold War world. It is likely the G8 will increasingly support UN initiatives to assume a key role in international dispute negotiations, particularly after Kofi Annan's coup in Iraq.

These are the three UN reform issues. Given Kofi Annan's impressive progress on reforming the UN and making it a more relevant institution for today's globalizing world, it is unlikely that UN reform will occupy as much of the leaders' agenda or in the final Communiqu=E9, as in the past couple of Summits. There seems to be strong support for Annan's efforts and a general consensus that UN reform is well underway. These three issues are probably the most serious areas of concern that need the political impetus of the G8 leaders.

Document prepared by: Christina Tahoces
April 1998

~ Objectives by Issue (Evaluative Criteria): 1998 Birmingham Summit ~


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