- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 14, 2003

UNITED NATIONS, Jan. 14 (UPI) — U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan Tuesday warned pre-emptive strikes pose "a difficult issue to deal with," because even accepting the strikes as an extension of the right of self defense argument, without a clear cut threat the strikes may enter a "murky area" that can set precedent.

During Annan's first news conference of the year, in which he immediately struck an optimistic note despite having to discuss a litany of world trouble spots, it was pointed out that his name had become "attached to the idea of humanitarian intervention — that the world cannot stand by and watch a genocide occur within borders."

He was then asked if "the new United States concept of pre-emptive action is simply an expansion of the 'Kofi doctrine' of humanitarian intervention" and did he believe there was a case for pre-emptive military action, "especially in the case of incipient terrorism?"

The always well-groomed secretary-general, wearing a diplomat's traditional gray suit, and standing behind a lectern, briefly broke the somber setting with a slight smile and what appeared to be a twinkle in his eye, replying, "That is an interesting question. But I would want to distinguish the two."

Annan said his argument was "that sovereignty is not just privilege; it also carries responsibilities. Governments do have responsibilities to protect their citizens. If they fail to do so, in a situation where their human rights are systematically and grossly being violated, the international community may have to step in, because a government has failed to protect the people. We should not allow them to use their sovereignty as a shield behind which to commit these gross violations.

"If I understand the Washington doctrine properly, that is focused on terrorists or groups or countries that may be planning attacks against them," the secretary-general continued. "Therefore, the pre-emptive action is, if you wish, an extended doctrine of self-defense. But it is a difficult issue to deal with, because one can talk of war of prevention, where you see a force arrayed against you, with a visible threat, ready to attack, and you make a pre-emptive strike to stop that attack.

"There are instances of this in history," Annan said.

"Beyond that, where the threat is not imminent and the evidence is not obvious, it becomes a very murky area to deal with," he said. "One will have to be very careful when moving into these areas of pre-emptive strike. Of course, the evidence is usually only with the one who is making the strike.

"Often, others may claim that it is not verifiable or that the evidence is not convincing," Annan said. "So, except for those situations where the evidence is clear, where there is imminent threat, where it is obvious, and so forth, it can lead to lots of confusion and set precedents that others can use."

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