UNITED NATIONS, Nov. 30 -- An influential U.N.-appointed panel challenged the Bush administration's right to use military force against an enemy that does not pose an imminent military threat. The 16-member panel, which was appointed by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, said in a long-awaited report that only the U.N. Security Council has the legal standing to authorize such a "preventive war."
The panel's findings reflect persistent international unease over the U.S. invasion of Iraq last year without an explicit council endorsement, noting that "there is little evident international acceptance of the idea of security being best preserved by a balance of power, or by any single -- even benignly motivated -- superpower." It also recommends the establishment of five guidelines that must be met before force can be legitimately used -- including a determination that force is used as a last resort and that the threat is serious.
"If there are good arguments for preventive military action, with good evidence to support them, they should be put to the Security Council," the report said. But "in a world full of perceived potential threats, the risk of the global order . . . is simply too great for the legality of unilateral preventive action . . . to be accepted."
Richard Grenell, a spokesman to the U.S. mission to the United Nations, said the Bush administration will withhold comment on the report until it is formally released Thursday. "We will review this report with an eye towards how, if at all, the recommendations will improve the workings of the Security Council."
The panel's reform initiative comes as Annan is facing fresh attacks from conservatives who cite new evidence that Annan's son, Kojo, received secret payments from a company that profited from the U.N.-administered oil-for-food program. Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, is expected to call for Annan's resignation in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, citing his failure to exercise effective oversight over the program.
The U.N. chief commissioned the panel -- which is headed by former Thai prime minister Anand Panyarachun and includes former U.S. national security adviser Brent Scowcroft -- to confront new threats to international security. They said the major threats include poverty, disease, civil war, terrorism, organized crime, weapons of mass destruction, and the ongoing disputes in the Middle East and Kashmir. "Many people believe that what passes for collective security today is simply a system for protecting the rich and powerful," the report said. "Without mutual recognition of threats there can be no collective security."
The 95-page report calls on states to define and aggressively confront terrorism, eradicate poverty that fuels extremism and enlarge the Security Council to extend the influence of the world's emerging powers. It also urges the 15-nation council to refer cases of genocide and large-scale war crimes to the International Criminal Court, a recommendation expected to engender fierce opposition from the United States.
The report endorses the "emerging norm" that the Security Council has an obligation to intervene militarily "as a last resort" to prevent genocide, ethnic cleansing and other cases of mass killing that governments "have proved powerless or unwilling to prevent."
Annan, who recently charged that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was illegal, is expected to dedicate his final two years as secretary general to implementing many of the panel's key findings. U.N. officials say Annan hopes that reforms included in the report will be part of his legacy.
But the 101 recommendations contained in the report have already fueled resistance from governments that oppose specific proposals -- particularly a plan to enlarge the Security Council. The composition of the council reflects the balance of power at the end of World War II, in which the five key victors -- the United States, Britain, Russia, China and France -- possess permanent seats with veto power and 10 other countries serve two-year terms.
Efforts to expand it over the past 12 years have encountered intense resistance from countries that are likely to be excluded from an enlarged council. India, Brazil, Japan and Germany have opposed any proposals that would deny them an opportunity to become permanent members with veto rights.
In an effort to bridge the gap, the panel developed two competing proposals, including a plan to add six permanent seats without veto power and three two-year seats. The other option calls for the creation of eight new seats for countries that would be elected to four-year terms with the possibility of reelection. This plan would call for one new two-year term.
The report also identifies several shortcomings in the United Nations that have eroded international confidence in the organization. For instance, it criticizes the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, a 53-member body that frequently blocks action against the world's worst human rights violators, for "a legitimacy deficit that casts doubts on the overall reputation of the United Nations." It also faulted the General Assembly, saying that the United Nations' most representative body "suffers from a loss of vitality and often fails to focus effectively on the most compelling issues of the day." And it calls for the elimination of the Trusteeship Council, which has largely completed its core function of overseeing the decolonization of Europe's former colonies.