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UN: Panel To Study Improving UN Response To Global Security Threats

  • Robert McMahon

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has formed a panel of high-level officials from every continent to examine how to make the UN system more effective in countering global security threats. Annan had pledged to study collective security reforms after raising concern at the UN General Assembly in September about the use of preemptive military action by the U.S. in Iraq.

United Nations, 5 November 2003 (RFE/RL) -- At a time when the U.S.-led Iraq campaign remains divisive, a group of officials with vast government and UN experience will begin to study how to mount a more effective collective response to security threats.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan yesterday, 4 November, announced he is forming a 16-person panel of representatives from a wide spectrum of states and organizations. They include former top officials from the five permanent UN Security Council members, as well as experts in areas such as refugees, health, and labor.

Annan had promised to form the group during a speech to the UN General Assembly on 23 September that challenged member states to reform UN institutions. He said they needed to confront challenges ranging from combating terrorism and weapons proliferation to eradicating poverty and safeguarding human rights.

In his speech, Annan also expressed alarm at the U.S. preemption doctrine, saying it could lead to the spread of the lawless use of force in the world. He called on the Security Council to discuss how to mount collective action against new kinds of threats.

"The council needs to consider how it will deal with the possibility that individual states may use force preemptively against perceived threats," Annan said. "Its members may need to begin a discussion on the criteria for an early authorization of coercive measures to address certain types of threats."

A UN spokesman said the panel will hold its first meeting in New York in a few weeks and decide on a timetable of work. It is expected to issue a report within one year. Among those chosen to serve are former U.S. national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, former Russian Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov, and former Arab League Secrectary-General Amr Moussa.

The prospects for such a panel to be effective are uncertain given recent developments. Divisions among key UN members continue to limit reconstruction and peacekeeping aid for Iraq. Member states have been unable to agree on reforms that would reshape the Security Council. After nearly a decade of debates, the General Assembly has failed to reach an agreed-on definition of terrorism.

But there have been increasing alarms sounded by world leaders about the prospect of weapons of mass destruction coming into the hands of terrorists.

There was no immediate U.S. reaction to the formation of the panel, but U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Affairs Kim Holmes recently praised Annan's initiative.

Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York two weeks ago, Holmes stressed the U.S. commitment to improving global security. "Secretary Annan is right to ask how the United Nations should come to grips with these new challenges. The United States, for its part, has responded to the dangers of our time with resolve. President [George W.] Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell have continued to call on members of the United Nations not to shy away from these challenges but rather to deal with them head-on," Holmes said.

In Bush's own address to the General Assembly, he announced U.S. plans to introduce a resolution in the Security Council to combat the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. France immediately backed the idea, but Russia has circulated its own proposals.

A U.S. diplomat said Security Council members were expected to meet next week to try to come up with a common text. The diplomat said, "We have a lot of work to do."

The measure is expected to aim at tightening efforts to prevent the passage of weapons of mass destruction across state lines and spelling out interdiction methods in international waters.

Meanwhile, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Muhammad el-Baradei, has warned of increasing strains on the regime governing nuclear-weapons proliferation.

He told the General Assembly on 3 November that UN members should consider placing the processing of weapons-usable material, such as separated plutonium and highly enriched uranium, under multinational control.

Henry Sokolski is director of the independent Nonproliferation Policy Education Center based in Washington. He told RFE/RL there is a need for tighter enforcement of the provisions of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). He said that "three decades of inattention" have allowed countries like North Korea and Iran to abuse the treaty, which allows for peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

"Either we reinterpret, supplement and toughen up the rules with regard to safe nuclear activity, or we once and for all accept as tolerable the current losing approach, which allowed North Korea and Iran to get as close as they have to [nuclear] bombs," Sokolski said.

Sokolski, a former U.S. Defense Department official for nonproliferation policy, said the nuclear powers should come to an agreement to cease production of all weapons-grade material. He said they should stop allowing it for commercial use and secure the remaining material.