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Published: 10/20/2009

You call this security?

MOST Americans welcomed President Obama's pledge during his speech last month to the United Nations General Assembly to re-engage the United States in the work of that body.

The United Nations can do much important work that is appropriate to its global function, thereby relieving the United States of some of its responsibilities or aid in meeting them.

On the other hand, it is fair to say that the United Nations is sometimes difficult to work with, given some of its own, sometimes bizarre, actions. One of these is the selection of the nonpermanent members of the Security Council, the United Nation's most important load-bearing, decision-making body.

The Security Council is composed of 15 members. Five of them, China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, are permanent, veto-wielding members, the most important of the states that won World War II 64 years ago.

The other 10 are nonpermanent and do not have a veto. Five are elected each year, roughly on a regional basis, to serve two-year terms. This is where the craziness sometimes comes in. Last week, five members for the 2010-2011 term were chosen: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Gabon, Lebanon, and Nigeria.

Bosnia-Herzegovina is in precarious condition, barely functional, operating with the ramshackle structure put in place by the 1995 Dayton Accords devised by Richard Holbrooke, now the U.S. special adviser on Afghanistan and Pakistan. Brazil is solid, democratic, and one of the G-20 countries. Gabon's longtime kleptocratic dictator, Omar Bongo, died in June and was replaced in very dubious contested elections by his son, Ali. Lebanon remains one of the most divided nations on the planet, frequently unable to choose either a president or a prime minister, and is paralyzed by religious and other divisions. Oil-rich Nigeria is universally judged to be one of the most corrupt nations on earth.

These are the five countries that on Jan. 1 will join the five permanent Security Council members and the other five nonpermanent members in their second year - Austria, Japan, Mexico, Turkey, and Uganda.

The kind of issues the council faces is typified by one referred to it Friday by the U.N. Human Rights Council: the explosive question of possible Security Council action on a report on war crimes allegedly committed by Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza during the war last December and January that took the lives of some 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.

There are enough responsible countries on the council to deal with grave issues of this sort, but it's difficult to take some of the members seriously.

It's not good enough that U.N. members abdicate their responsibility to put a solid council in place by allowing the choice of members to be made on the basis of precedent, money changing hands, or trade-offs, given the Security Council's major responsibilities to the world.



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