UN to back pre-emptive strikes in first major overhaul

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The Independent Online

The United Nations secretary general is poised to recommend the first major overhaul of the UN in its 60-year history which will back the use of pre-emptive military strikes with the approval of a more proactive Security Council.

The United Nations secretary general is poised to recommend the first major overhaul of the UN in its 60-year history which will back the use of pre-emptive military strikes with the approval of a more proactive Security Council.

Kofi Annan is due to present a report tomorrow by a team of 16 high-level experts after he formed the panel a year ago in the midst of the Iraq crisis and asked it to come up with solutions for dealing with the challenges to global security in the 21st century.

The panel, whose members include Lord Hannay, a former British ambassador to the UN, has come up with 101 recommendations, including a proposal to enlarge the 15-member Security Council to 24 nations.

However, the panel members themselves openly disagreed on the model for an expanded Security Council, and therefore put forward two models. UN officials recognised that given the competition among governments to belong to an expanded Security Council - with Japan and Germany expected to be first in line for a permanent seat, albeit without veto power - the report is unlikely to lead to any consensus on an issue that has divided the UN membership for more than a decade.

The 93-page report considers the fierce polarisation of positions in the run-up to the Iraq war, that pitted the US and UK against France and Russia, and says that the council "needs to work better than it has".

Although implicitly criticising the US "war on terror", the report recognises the international community needs to be concerned about the "nightmare scenarios combining terrorists, weapons of mass destruction and irresponsible states and much more besides, which may conceivably justify the use of force, not just reactively, but preventively and before a latent threat becomes imminent".

It also looks at the UN's major failures - the Rwandan genocide in 1994 and the massacres during the Bosnian conflict - and argues that when prevention fails, "there is urgent need to stop the killing and prevent any further return to war". But military action should be used as a "last resort". The panel's other main recommendations include a call to strengthen measures to prevent the proliferation of nuclear material by calling for a moratorium on the construction of any further enrichment or reprocessing facilities.

It also suggests the creation of a peace-building commission that would improve the UN's somewhat dismal record in rebuilding countries after wars.

In a first for the organisation, the report defines terrorism, which has previously foundered because of the issues of the use of armed forces against civilians, and the consideration that one man's "terrorist" is another man's "freedom fighter". But the panel agreed that terrorism is defined by "any action ... that is intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants, when the purpose of such an act, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population, or to compel a government or an international organisation to do or to abstain from doing any act".

Although the Bush administration will find much that it can agree with in the report, it remains to be seen how it will react to Mr Annan's recommendations, which could be consigned to the dustbin of history unless endorsed by influential governments.

UN officials recognise the report is being released when its reputation is at an all-time low in the US because of the oil-for-food scandal in which billions of dollars were diverted by Saddam Hussein from a UN humanitarian programme to bribe officials over a number of years. "I don't think they've closed to door to it," said a senior official. "But we'll have to see if they want to engage with it."

Earlier major UN reports, such as the Brahimi report on peace-keeping, have been diluted after being pulled to pieces in the General Assembly. Mr Annan intends to spend the next three months consulting governments to see what ideas have traction so he can press for firm decisions at a special summit in September next year.

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