Annan Strikes Back

Listening to the United Nations assembly today, I heard a lot of the same old same old from Bush, while the usually quiet and reserved Secretary-General, Kofi Annan started the proceedings outright criticizing the Bush Administration in as clear and mild a manner I’ve ever heard. While he didn’t mention Bush, Cheney, or Rummie by name, I’m pretty sure he wasn’t talking about Switzerland either.

Until now it has been understood that when states go beyond self-defense, 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.

Now, some say this understanding is no longer tenable, since an ‘armed attack’ with weapons of mass destruction could be launched at any time, without warning, or by a clandestine group. Rather than wait for that to happen, they argue, states have the right and obligation to use force pre-emptively, even on the territory of other states, and even while weapons systems that might be used to attack them are still being developed.

According to this argument, states are not obliged to wait until there is agreement in the Security Council. Instead, they reserve the right to act unilaterally, or in ad hoc coalitions.

This logic represents a fundamental challenge to the principles on which, however imperfectly, world peace and stability have rested for the last fifty-eight years. My conern 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 justification.

Read or listen to the entire speech.