President George Bush was accused at the United Nations yesterday of undermining the system of multilateral security by going to war in Iraq without authorisation from the Security Council.
The criticism was led by the French President, Jacques Chirac, who used the annual General Assembly of the UN, the first time world leaders had gathered in New York since the invasion of Iraq, to blame Mr Bush for the crisis of confidence facing the world body. By extension his criticism was also directed at Tony Blair, who did not attend.
"The war, launched without the authorisation of the Security Council, shook the multilateral system," M. Chirac said. "The UN has just been through one of the most grave crises in its history."
M. Chirac's sentiments were echoed by Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, who warned that pre-emptive unilateral military action without the authorisation of the UN risked a move to the law of the jungle.
"My concern is that it could set precedents resulting in a proliferation of the unilateral and lawless use of force, with or without credible justification," Mr Annan told the assembly to sustained applause. He did not mention the United States by name. As a result of the Iraqi crisis, the UN, he said, was at a "fork in the road".
Mr Bush, for his part, defended the war without apology, despite the continuing violence in the country and absence of any evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
Indeed Mr Bush raised the issue of the weapons once again: "The regime of Saddam Hussein cultivated ties to terror while it built weapons of mass destruction. It used those weapons in acts of mass murder, and refused to account for them when confronted by the world."
Tensions over Iraq and the war infused the mood of the Assembly's opening day. Mr Bush also made an implicit jab at M. Chirac, rejecting French proposals for an immediate transfer of symbolic sovereignty to the Governing Council in Iraq followed by the granting of full authority within nine months.
"The primary goal of our coalition in Iraq is self-government for the people of Iraq, reached by orderly and democratic means ... [the] process must unfold according to the needs of Iraqis - neither hurried nor delayed by the voices of other parties," he said.
While acknowledging that differences remained over Iraq, Mr Bush appealed to other nations to help the reconstruction effort. He also said he was ready to give the UN a greater role in helping to establish democratic rule.
Among those listening in the chamber was Ahmed Chalabi, the holder of the rotating presidency of the Governing Council of Iraq.
Mr Bush said: "As in the aftermath of other conflicts, the UN should assist in developing a constitution, training civil servants and conducting free and fair elections."
Behind the scenes, efforts are still under way to negotiate a new UN resolution, drafted by the US and aimed at getting countries such as India and Pakistan to contribute forces to restoring order in Iraq. Despite the differences between Paris and Washington, President Chirac has signalled that his government will not veto the resolution.
M. Chirac played down his disputes with Mr Bush. But before the full chamber of the assembly, he roundly voiced his complaints about the coalition invasion of Iraq.
"No one should be able to accord himself the right to use force unilaterally and preventatively," M. Chirac proclaimed. "In an open world, no one can isolate themselves, no one can act alone in the name of all and no one can accept the anarchy of a society without rules. There is no alternative but the UN."
Mr Annan said members had to recommit to multilateralism. "This may be a moment no less decisive than 1945 itself, when the UN was founded.
"It is not enough to denounce unilateralism, unless we also face up squarely to the concerns that make some states feel uniquely vulnerable, and thus drive them to take unilateral action.
"We must show that those concerns can, and will, be addressed effectively through collective action."Reuse content