UNITED NATIONS – One after another, world leaders and ministers called for expanding the powerful 15-nation Security Council (search), saying the modern world shouldn't be dominated by a few wealthy countries chosen in the aftermath of World War II.
Mexican Foreign Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez said the founders of the United Nations (search) in 1945 could not have envisioned the terrorist attacks and other problems facing the international community.
"Today we face events of such magnitude and complexity," he said Friday. "Diplomats of this generation now have the obligation to envision a second phase, a new chapter on collective action so as to eradicate these modern threats."
Efforts to reform the United Nations and its main body have been under way for years and the debate isn't likely to end soon because of national rivalries and differences over key details, including veto power.
But the issue came to the forefront of the 59th annual General Assembly session last week when Brazil, Germany, India and Japan joined forces to press for permanent seats and said Africa should get one as well.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said Muslims and Arabs have the right "to be represented in the Council on an equal basis with the representatives of other cultures and civilizations."
Only the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China currently have permanent Security Council seats and wield veto power, giving them effective say over the body's agenda.
The 10 other council members are chosen for two-year terms by regional groups.
The General Assembly, which is composed of representatives of the 191 member states, would have to decide whether to expand the Security Council.
Britain agreed Thursday the Security Council should be nearly doubled in size to 24 nations as its challenges have evolved to facing "terrorist organizations, failed states and from man-made shocks to our environment like climate change."
The Bush administration also has supported Security Council expansion.
The debate came as the more than 120 world leaders and ministers sought to keep their focus on poverty and humanitarian crises in Sudan and elsewhere, largely steering clear of the divisive debates of the past two years over Iraq.
President Bush on Tuesday defended his decision to invade Iraq without U.N. Security Council backing, saying it "helped to deliver the Iraqi people from an outlaw dictator."
But he also urged the international community to refocus energies on humanitarian missions, from helping to end the bloody violence in Sudan's western region of Darfur to combating AIDS in Africa.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (search), meanwhile, got resounding applause after he ended his speech by calling for expanding the powerful U.N. Security Council to give more countries influence over global decisions.
"There will be neither security nor stability in the world until a more just a democratic order is established," he said Tuesday as the two-week ministerial meeting got under way.
Some countries sought to increase the number of permanent seats with or without veto power; others said nobody should have the right to overturn decisions.
"In a world of global threats, global markets and global media, our security and prosperity depend more and more on an effective multilateral system," Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Bot said Tuesday.
"What gives great strength to the United Nations is its legitimacy," he added, speaking on behalf of the European Union. "But the organization must adapt to changing circumstances."
Developing nations also said the world was losing its battle against poverty and hunger because of the uneven distribution of power. Many warned that ignoring the widening income gap between rich and poor would lead to more violence.
"This situation represents a dangerous time bomb, which the world can ill-afford to let take its own course," Namibian President Sam Nujoma said.
Small island nations had more immediate concerns amid a devastating hurricane season in the Caribbean, with Jeanne blamed for more than 1,500 deaths in Haiti.
The prime minister of the Caribbean island of Dominica a former British colony of 71,000 people, recommended the United Nations set up a special insurance fund that states could draw from at short notice.
Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said it was "abundantly clear" that a new global economic order was needed that was more balanced and in tune with the concerns of its weakest members.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search) unveiled a sweeping plan to reduce expenses and streamline the United Nations in July 1997 after the United States said it would withhold its dues without changes.
A U.N. report addressing reform is expected in December and will serve as the basis of a major presentation by Annan to U.N. member states.