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Wednesday, 26 September, 2001, 09:07 GMT 10:07 UK
UN seeks role in anti-terror war
World Trade Center site
The UN regards the attacks as a threat to world peace
By the BBC's United Nations correspondent Greg Barrow

"We the peoples of the United Nations [are] determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind."


This organisation is the natural forum in which to build such a universal coalition. It alone can give global legitimacy to the long-term struggle against terrorism

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan
So begins the Charter of the United Nations, signed in San Francisco in 1945.

At times of international crisis, the world expects the UN to swing into action, but in the aftermath of the attacks on New York and Washington earlier this month, the organisation appears to have been surprisingly quiet.

This is deceptive. Amidst all the shock and chaos in the days after the attacks, the UN Security Council quickly and unanimously adopted an important resolution on 12 September.

It condemned what it called "the horrifying terrorist attacks", and went on to say that the Security Council "regards such acts, like any act of international terrorism, as a threat to international peace and security".

Self-defence

The words used by the council were extremely significant.

If they are read in conjunction with article 51 of the UN charter, they appear to support the right of America to respond in self-defence against the alleged perpetrators of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan
Mr Annan says the best response is a joint response

In addition, there are long-standing UN Security Council resolutions on Afghanistan and the Taleban authorities, whom America accuses of sheltering those responsible for the attacks on the United States.

As early as October 1999, the council adopted a resolution demanding the hand-over of Osama Bin Laden, the exiled Saudi-born millionaire and main suspect in the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, and the bombing of US embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam in 1998.

This, and a subsequent follow-up resolution adopted in December last year, also called for the closure of all terrorist camps in Afghanistan, and placed an embargo on weapons sales to the Taleban authorities in Afghanistan.

Long-term war

The diplomatic landscape could, however, change rapidly in the light of a US attack on Afghanistan.


America knows it cannot possibly win this war on its own, and it is here that the United Nations could prove to be a vital source of international support

There would be the inevitable concern about unilateral action by America, and the role of the Security Council as a check and balance on US military designs would increase.

There is also the question of how the long-term war against international terrorism should be fought.

America knows it cannot possibly win this war on its own, and it is here that the UN could prove to be a vital source of international support.

Closer UN-US relationship

In this respect, there are indications that the US has recognised the need to improve its relations with the UN.

In the two weeks since the attacks it has finally appointed a new ambassador to the UN.

John Negroponte's appointment had been held up in Congress, but was suddenly swept through in the days after 11 September.

Congress also finally approved the release of almost $6m in unpaid dues to the UN.

What was a lukewarm relationship between the Bush administration and the UN appears to be warming by the day.

International support

As the diplomatic offensive gains momentum, there is talk of the US tabling a new resolution on counter-terrorism at the Security Council, while the UN General Assembly is due to discuss international terrorism on 1 October.

These moves reflect the reality that no initiative to deal with the problem will be successful without support from all nations.

As if to underline this, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has reminded the world that the best response to an attack on global peace and security is a joint response.

"Let us respond to it in a way that strengthens international peace and security, by cementing the ties among nations, and not subjecting them to new strains," he said this week.

"This organisation is the natural forum in which to build such a universal coalition. It alone can give global legitimacy to the long-term struggle against terrorism."


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24 Sep 01 | Americas
24 Sep 01 | South Asia
16 Sep 01 | Americas
21 Sep 01 | Europe
17 Sep 01 | Europe
21 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
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