UN Secretary General Kofi Annan says the United Nations must decide whether it should undergo radical changes to deal with the global threats of terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, and nuclear proliferation.
Annan says the UN has some tough choices to make
He told the General Assembly that the organisation had reached the most decisive period since its formation in 1945 and the time was right for a hard look at fundamental policy issues.
He also announced plans to create a panel of eminent personalities to carry out a wide-ranging examination of the UN's role in addressing challenges to peace and security.
Mr Annan emphasised the importance of the decisions facing the assembly saying: "History is a harsh judge, it will not forgive us if we let this moment pass."
He said pre-emptive attacks "could set precedents that
resulted in a proliferation of the unilateral and lawless
use of force, with or without credible justification".
But he measured his comments with a challenge to the UN leaders saying: "It is not enough to denounce unilateralism, unless we also face up squarely to the concerns that make some states feel uniquely vulnerable, and thus drive them to
take unilateral action.
"We must show that those concerns can, and will, be addressed effectively through collective action."
Council members may need to start discussing the terms under which collective action through a Council resolution might authorise a pre-emptive strike against a threat such as that posed by terrorist groups armed with weapons of mass destruction, Mr Annan said.
This would be a major departure from the UN Charter, which until now has sought to deal with potential threats through a policy of deterrence or containment, says the BBC's Greg Barrow at the UN.
Mr Annan said the new panel, which will report back before the next General Assembly session, would be set four tasks:
- To examine current challenge to peace and security
- to consider the contribution which collective action can make in addressing these challenges
- to review the functioning of major organs of UN and the relationship between them
- recommend ways of strengthening the UN and reform of its institutions and processes.
He said the panel's main priority would be peace and security but must also look at other global challenges.
Mr Annan also condemned the recent attacks on the UN headquarters in Baghdad - one in August which left around 22 people dead, and another on Monday which killed an Iraqi policeman.
He said the UN must take more effective measures to protect its staff, not only in Iraq but everywhere else in the world.