The report is an attempt by the United Nations to address some of the most pressing security issues facing the world community. Last year, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed a 16-member panel of former diplomats and world leaders to come up with answers. The result is a 99-page report dealing with such issues as nuclear non-proliferation, collective security, terrorism and U.N. reform.
One of the authors is former U.S. National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft. He says the report looks at problems that were not in existence when the United Nations was founded 60 years ago.
"In 1945, there were inter-state conflicts, that's all we worried about. Now it is internal conflicts, it is terrorism, it is things that don't have anything to do with the nation state," Mr. Scowcroft said. "And in 1945, the United Nations was based on the sovereign independence of its members: indeed, it says that the U.N. could not interfere in anything essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of its members. Well, since then, we've had, for example, a genocide convention and we've had a whole bunch of things saying if the state grossly neglects its responsibility to its own people, the U.N. has to intervene.".
One of the main questions addressed by the report is when and in what circumstances is it appropriate to use military force without going to the Security Council for approval? That issue was brought to the fore in March 2003 when the United States decided to invade Iraq without U. N. support. Mr. Annan described the Iraq war as "illegal."
The panel agreed there was no need to re-write or re-interpret Article 51 of the U.N. Charter, which allows the use of force by countries that have been attacked. In addition, the report says, "according to long established international law, a country can take military action as long as the threatened attack is imminent".
Without specifically commenting on the U.S. invasion of Iraq, former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans, a co-author of the report, says there are strict limits to the notion of self-defense.
"What we say, though, is that Article 51 does not allow unilateral action in response to a threat which may be real, but is not imminent - some distance away," he said. "For example, the threat that is argued to exist from a potentially hostile state developing a nuclear weapons capability, the argument that it may be necessary to take the facility out at an early stage of its construction, that might be a good argument, but that's one that you have to take to the Security Council and get collective international endorsement for it. This is not the proper realm of self-defense. If you acknowledge the right of self-defense in that situation, you are acknowledging it not just for one country, but for everybody and that way, frankly, lies anarchy."
In the words of the report: "allowing one to so act is to allow all."
The document also focuses its attention on the issue of terrorism. The United Nations has been trying to define terrorism for decades, but with little success. The report says "the lack of agreement on a clear definition undermines the moral stance against terrorism and has stained the United Nations image."
Mr. Evans says the 16-member panel agreed there is nothing that justifies the targeting and killing of civilians.
"The bottom line is that terrorist acts are acts of violence perpetrated against civilians or other non-combatants for essentially political motives," he said. "And if we can get international agreement about that, and we did in a very varying mixture of 16 people on the panel, then we can cut through a debate which has clogged the international system for the last couple of decades with arguments about freedom fighters, arguments about state terrorism, arguments about whether terrorism extends to attacks on uniformed personnel and so on."
Mr. Evans says it is imperative for the U.N. General Assembly to rapidly complete negotiations on a comprehensive convention on terrorism.
The report has been circulated to the 191 members of the United Nations and it is expected to be debated next September in New York - the 60th anniversary of the world body.