The “Retired General Syndrome”; Kofi Annan Learned Little from Daniel Ellsberg
Joan Russow, Global Compliance Research Project

The “Retired General Syndrome” is a fundamental systemic constraint where people of influence speak out not when they have the power to make a difference but when their positions are not longer in jeopardy.

It is time for pre-emption/ prevention of war through whistle blowing not for the use of pre-emption/prevention for justifying military intervention.

The serious consequences of the “retired general syndrome” were eloquently expressed in the “Pentagon Papers” by Daniel Ellsberg. He is currently reaffirming his concern in his press conferences given as a recipient of the Right Livelihood Award. In his press conferences and interviews, he has been calling on officials who are aware of the US plans for an invasion of Iran, to not make the same mistake he made. He deplores the fact that he failed to expose government plans for Vietnam when he was privy to vital information.

Similarly, Kofi Annan, as Secretary General failed to speak out when he could have made a difference. Kofi Annan prior to being named Secretary General of the United Nations was a special envoy to NATO. His close association with NATO has been obvious during his tenure as Secretary General of the United Nations.


In 1999, he did not oppose the NATO bombing of Kosovo

As early as 1998, Kofi Annan was indicating where his support for so-called “humanitarian intervention” lay: the Secretary-General of the UN Kofi Annan said:

'The (UN) Charter protects the sovereignty of peoples. It was never meant as a license for governments to trample on human rights and human dignity. The fact that a conflict is 'internal' does not give parties any right to disregard the most basic rules of human conduct.... All our professions of regret, all our expressions of determination never again to permit another Bosnia or another Rwanda, all our claims to have learned something from the recent past will be cruelly mocked if we now let Kosovo become another killing field'. (IHT, 27-28 June 1998)

In a statement to NATO in January 1999, it is clear that he had decided on the legitimacy of intervention in Kosovo.
“Let me begin with Kosovo. When I addressed the NATO Conference in Rome last June, I expressed the hope that we were beginning to draw the right lessons from our experience in the Bosnian war - about such critical factors as credibility, legitimacy and the morality of intervention and non-intervention. But I added that there is only one way in which we can prove that we have done this; by applying those lessons practically and emphatically where horror threatens.
Alas, the horror no longer threatens. It is present, in the lives of hundreds of thousands of the people of Kosovo whose lives have been disrupted violently. And now, Racak has been added to the list of crimes against humanity committed in the former Yugoslavia.”
Kofi Annan did not appear to come out in support of the International Court of Justice in its deliberation on May 10 in the case of the Former Yugoslavia vs. NATO. This case called for an immediate cessation of the NATO bombing. He did not condemn the NATO states for standing before the International Court of Justice and refusing to accept the jurisdiction of the Court. In addition, when Kofi Annan spoke at the 1999 May Hague for Peace Conference in The Hague, he did not call for NATO to end the bombing of Kosovo.

In 2001, Kofi Annan gave credibility to the US’ misuse of article 51-self defence- of the Charter of the United Nations

In November 5 2001, in response to a question at the United Nations

Question: Mr. Secretary-General, if as you have told the world the two resolutions of September 12 and September 28 do form the legal basis -- also for the current military operations even though they do not contain the specific mandate of military measures -- do we have to expect that in the future every State which claims self-defence under Article 51 of the Charter can take military measures even without getting a specific mandate by the Security Council? And secondly, what is your understanding, your interpretation of what the goal of the
current military actions are? Is it to catch Mr. Bin Laden, to bring him to whatever court? Is it the goal to get him killed? Is it the goal to topple the Taliban Government? What is the goal of this military action?

The Secretary-General: I think on the first part of your question, we have to be clear here that the comments or questions I have answered have related specifically to Afghanistan. And there I have indicated that the Security Council, in its resolutions, stated that all necessary means should be used to fight terrorism. It also indicated that the perpetrators of the 11 September attack must be brought to justice. And it reaffirmed the right of collective and individual self-defence under Article 51. And the countries that are now engaging in the military action in Afghanistan have set their actions in this context. Not only that, the British Government gave a report to the Council offering some indications or some evidence as to why they believed Al-Quaeda is the perpetrator of this. The Council discussed it and did not seem to object to the discussions that they had. But the fact is, the issue was discussed in the Council. Not only before but even after the actions. So normally I would expect those who are going to take these kinds of action would also approach the Council in future.


In March 2003, he was in the Hague even meeting with representatives of the International Court of Justice, and rather than calling for the implementation of Chapter VI –the peaceful resolution of disputes, and emphasing the key role of the International Court of Justice under Chapter VI, he deplored the failure on the part of the UN security Council to come up with a common position.

New York, 19 March 2003 - Statement by the Secretary-General to the Security Council
“Needless to say, I fully share the regrets expressed by many members of the Council at the fact that it has not been possible to reach a common position. Whatever our differing views on this complex issue, we must all feel that this is a sad day for the United Nations and the international community.”

In many ways the fact that the UN Security Council members resisted the cajoling, intimidation, and bribery by the US was not a sad day for the United Nations and the international community. If the US Security Council had agreed to move from “serious consequences” in the November 15, 2002 resolution to “being seized of the matter” – which in UN-ese means military intervention- then the US could have argued that the US-led invasion of Iraq was in fact “legal” under international law.

He also did not come out in support, of a global call for an emergency UN General Assembly meeting under the United for Peace resolution. If the UN General Assembly had met before the invasion of Iraq, there would probably been a strong resolution passed condemning the invasion of Iraq, and this resolution probably would have passed with over 75% support. It would then have been difficult for the US to continually feign support through its “coalition of the willing”. US citizens would become aware that was not only a great percentage of citizens were protesting on the streets, but also a substantial majority of the member states of the United Nations were opposed to the war.

Undoubtedly, Kofi Annan will be free to embrace the “Retired General Syndrome” and will increasingly make statements, such as his recent condemnation of treatment of prisoners in various camps; but will he be listened to?