In a speech to be delivered shortly before Bush addresses the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, Annan declared that the Iraq crisis had brought the world body to a “fork in the road”.

Without mentioning the United States by name, Annan spoke as states in the 191-member world body were struggling to heal deep rifts, caused by the war on Iraq in which Washington acted without UN Security Council approval.

The Secretary General questioned US arguments that nations had the “right and obligation to use force pre-emptively” against unconventional weapons systems even while they were still being developed.

New precedent?

“My concern 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 credible justification,” Annan said in a text of his speech released in advance.

He pointed out that the UN Charter allowed military action for the purpose of self-defence.

London, Washington launched war
without world body's approval

Annan said when countries decided to use force with broader threats to international peace and security, they needed the legitimacy of 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,” said Annan.

Early authorisation

However, the 15-member Security Council, in charge of peace and war, may need to consider rewriting the rule book for the use of force, he said.

“Its members may need to begin a discussion on the criteria for an early authorisation of coercive measures to address certain types of threats-for instance, terrorist groups armed with weapons of mass destruction.”

Annan also rebuked UN members for not being able to agree on expanding the Security Council, which has remained nearly the same for 58 years.