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NEW YORK (CNN) -- The United Nations and the world have reached a "fork in the road" regarding what is perceived as a global threat and how such threats should be dealt with, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Tuesday.
In an address to the Council on Foreign Relations, Annan said U.N. member states used to share the understanding that countries "were supposed to use force only in self-defense, or by a collective decision that it was necessary to use force in order to keep the peace."
"Now we have a different situation, where one group of states, led by the U.S., is saying that some threats -- particularly terrorism and weapons of mass destruction -- are so dangerous that they dare not wait until they are attacked, or until there is an agreement in the Security Council, before taking action," Annan said.
The other group, he said, believes that it is more dangerous for the states to be "using force at their own discretion," and that group does not consider terrorism and unconventional weapons to be the most dangerous threats in the world.
"Most people are much more directly threatened by such things as extreme poverty, hunger, disease, environmental disasters, or by low-tech violence, when order breaks down in their country or civil war breaks out," Annan said.
The secretary-general said he hopes that a panel he created in November can help the United Nations agree on the main threats to humanity, and how to adapt and improve the world body's policies and institutions to deal with the threats.
The panel is to report to Annan at the end of the year with recommendations as to what the threats are, "so that we can get away from the idea that some, such as terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, are of concern only to the 'North,' while poverty and hunger only affect people in the 'South.' "
"I think we need a clear global understanding of the threats and challenges that we all have to face, because to neglect any one of them might fatally undermine our efforts to confront the others."
One of the panel's members is Brent Scowcroft, who served as national security adviser to Presidents Ford and George H.W. Bush.
The other panel members, Annan said, are similarly experienced and represent several parts of the world.
The secretary-general said he will relay the panel's recommendations to member states for their consideration.