United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has warned the world’s only superpower that unilateral and pre-emptive military action risks returning the world to the law of the jungle.
Mr Annan addressed the UN’s General Assembly before an unapologetic United States President George W Bush said the US-led invasion of Iraq was the right thing to do.
The Secretary General warned pre-emptive attacks “could set precedents that resulted in a proliferation of the unilateral and lawless use of force, with or without credible justification”.
His words were echoed by French President Jacques Chirac: “No one can be isolated, no one can act alone in everyone’s name, and no one can accept the anarchy of a lawless society. There is no alternative to the United Nations.”
Mr Bush, who received an icy reception, said Iraq was now free “because a coalition of nations acted to defend the peace – and the credibility of the United Nations”.
A year ago, he told the same UN assembly that it had to deal with Iraq or risk the UN becoming irrelevant.
But he urged the UN to put divisions over the war in Iraq behind it and “move forward” with stabilising and rebuilding the scarred country.
“Now the nation of Iraq needs and deserves our aid and all nations of good will should step forward and provide that support,” he said.
Mr Bush said the UN could “contribute greatly to the cause of Iraqi self-government”, but he did not see the need for a greater UN role in Iraq.
“As in the aftermath of other conflicts, the United Nations should assist in developing a constitution, training civil servants, and conducting free and fair elections,” he said.
Mr Annan said the logic of unilateral, pre-emptive action represented a challenge to the principles the UN was founded upon.
But he said he was establishing a review panel to examine current challenges and recommend future reforms.