UNITED NATIONS - Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned President Bush that his doctrine of preemptive military intervention posed a fundamental challenge to the United Nations and could lead to a global free-for-all.
In a speech to be delivered shortly before Bush addresses the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, Annan declared that the Iraq crisis had brought the United Nations to a "fork in the road" as decisive as 1945 when the world body was founded.
Without mentioning the United States by name, Annan spoke as states in the 191-member world body were struggling to heal deep rifts caused by the war on Iraq, in which the United States acted without U.N. Security Council approval.
United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan speaks at the opening of the 58th United Nations General Assembly special session on HIV/AIDS at U.N. headquarters in New York, September 22, 2003. Annan warned President Bush that his doctrine of preemptive military intervention posed a fundamental challenge to the United Nations and could lead to a global free-for-all. Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters
Annan questioned U.S. arguments that nations have the "right and obligation to use force preemptively" against unconventional weapons systems even while they were still being developed.
"My concern is that, if it were to be adopted, it could set precedents that resulted in a proliferation of the unilateral and lawless use of force, with or without credible justification," Annan warned in a text of his speech released in advance.
He said the U.N. Charter allowed military action for the purpose of self defense.
"But until now it has been understood that when states go beyond that and decide to use force to deal with broader threats to international peace and security, they need the unique legitimacy provided by the United Nations," he said.
"Now some say this understanding is no longer tenable since an 'armed attack' with weapons of mass destruction could be launched at any time," Annan said.
"This logic represents a fundamental challenge to the principles, on which, however imperfectly, world peace and stability have rested for the last 58 years," Annan said.
NEW RULES ON WAR?
However, Annan said the 15-member Security Council, in charge of war and peace, might need to consider rewriting the rule book for the use of force.
"Its members may need to begin a discussion on the criteria for an early authorization of coercive measures to address certain types of threats -- for instance, terrorist groups armed with weapons of mass destruction," Annan said.
He said he was establishing a "high-level panel of eminent personalities" to examine current challenges to peace and security and recommend ways the United Nations could reform its institutions.
"Excellencies, we have come to a fork in the road," Annan said. "This may be a moment no less decisive than 1945 itself, when the United Nations was founded."
Annan again berated U.N. members for not being able to agree on an expansion of the Security Council, which has remained nearly the same for 58 years.
"I would respectfully suggest to you, excellencies, that in the eyes of your peoples the difficulties of reaching agreement does not excuse your failure to do so," Annan said.
Jan Kavan, the outgoing assembly president from the Czech Republic said earlier that U.N. ambassadors alone could not resolve Security Council reform after a decade of trying.
"For that, you would need a major political breakthrough in the capitals of certain key member states," he said.
Copyright 2003 Reuters Ltd