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Thursday, March 24, 2005

Kofi Annan on the use of force

On repeated occasions, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has admitted to members of the media that the US-led "coalition of the willing" attack on Iraq was illegal under the UN Charter. Put simply, war was not authoriized by the Security Council and the war was neither self defense nor collective defense.

At the end of 2004, Annan's High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change addressed some of the hard questions raised by the prospect of states taking preventive action against threats that are not imminent. The Panel seemed to suggest growing agreement the need to address new threats in the post-9/11 world.

Now, this week, Annan's office released In Larger Freedom, a report that offers specific recommendations for the member states to consider this year as they debate the future of the UN. First, however, chapter 3 reminds everyone of the large set of related questions:
122. Finally, an essential part of the consensus we seek must be agreement on when and how force can be used to defend international peace and security. In recent years, this issue has deeply divided Member States. They have disagreed about whether States have the right to use military force pre-emptively, to defend themselves against imminent threats; whether they have the right to use it preventively to defend themselves against latent or non-imminent threats; and whether they have the right — or perhaps the obligation — to use it protectively to rescue the citizens of other States from genocide or comparable crimes.

123. Agreement must be reached on these questions if the United Nations is to be — as it was intended to be — a forum for resolving differences rather than a mere stage for acting them out.
So, what are Annan's recommendations? This continues where paragraph 123 left off:
I believe the Charter of our Organization, as it stands, offers a good basis for the understanding that we need.

124. Imminent threats are fully covered by Article 51, which safeguards the inherent right of sovereign States to defend themselves against armed attack. Lawyers have long recognized that this covers an imminent attack as well as one that has already happened.

125. Where threats are not imminent but latent, the Charter gives full authority to the Security Council to use military force, including preventively, to preserve international peace and security. As to genocide, ethnic cleansing and other such crimes against humanity, are they not also threats to international peace and security, against which humanity should be able to look to the Security Council for protection?

126. The task is not to find alternatives to the Security Council as a source of authority but to make it work better. When considering whether to authorize or endorse the use of military force, the Council should come to a common view on how to weigh the seriousness of the threat; the proper purpose of the proposed military action; whether means short of the use of force might plausibly succeed in stopping the threat; whether the military option is proportional to the threat at hand; and whether there is a reasonable chance of success. By undertaking to make the case for military action in this way, the Council would add transparency to its deliberations and make its decisions more likely to be respected, by both Governments and world public opinion. I therefore recommend that the Security Council adopt a resolution setting out these principles and expressing its intention to be guided by them when deciding whether to authorize or mandate the use of force.
The boldface is in the original document.

Frankly, this reframing isn't all that helpful. As Pete Dombrowski and I argued at ISA, a large number of states are starting to accept the Bush administration's worries about the threats posed by terrorists and rogue states armed with WMD. In other words, they are coming to a consensus about some of the questions Annan raises in paragraph 126.

The critical question is this: Who has the authority to authorize the preventive use of force? The US, as it did in Iraq, will say this is about "preemptive" use of force and will continue to assert that it has the right to act preemptively.

Most of the rest of the world probably concurs with what is implicit in the S-G's argument: preventive war is OK so long as it is authorized by the Security Council.

Otherwise, it is not.

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