HC Deb 15 March 1979 vol 964 cc831-61

10.21 p.m.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath)

I wish to draw to the attention of the House the considerable expansion and general success of the United Nations peacekeeping operations, to put forward a few ideas on future developments and to probe the Government to find out what they have done to match words with deeds and what they hope to do in the future.

I have chosen a subject that has been of considerable interest to me since I was a professional soldier and one that is highly topical. Peacekeeping by United Nations forces has become an essential part of the work done by the United Nations for international harmony and security. We must not underestimate the problems, but here, surely, is one important area of UN activity where there can, and must, be major constructive development.

So far, 100,000 solders from 50 different armies have taken part—a remarkable fact. Throughout the past 21 years, at least one UN force has been on duty in some part of the world. UN forces watched over the two truces of 1948 between Israel and the surrounding Arab States. In 1949 they watched over the ceasefire in Kashmir and showed how a relatively small number of observers could successfully maintain a ceasefire and a ceasefire line.

Then came Korea in 1950 and Suez in 1956, when they supervised the withdrawal of Israeli, British and French forces, and later, in 1960, the Congo tied up 20,000 UN soldiers for four years and cost 126 lives and about £200 million. In 1962 and 1963 UN forces supervised the transfer of West New Guinea from the Netherlands to Indonesia. Today there are UN forces in Cyprus, Sinai and on the Golan Heights. In the Lebanon, the force under General Erskine, from Ghana, faces the most complex and dangerous challenge since the Congo bloodbath.

To turn to the British contribution, in the words of the"Statement on the Defence Estimates"for 1979, The United Kingdom has continued its support for existing UN forces. British troops and armoured reconnaissance and helicopter units form part of the UN force in Cyprus, and the United Kingdom provides logistic support from the Sovereign Base Areas for the whole of the UN force and also for the UN Interim Force in the Lebanon. In addition, RAF VC10 aircraft airlifted the Fiji contingent to the Lebanon in June 1978. I only wish that Britain's contribution were better known in this country and abroad, and I ask the Government to try to obtain better publicity for it.

Peacekeeping is also superb training for our defence forces, giving them overseas service outside Germany—all too uncommon at present—and experience of international co-operation. It has particular value for the young NCO and for young new soldiers.

In the future, it is possible that there will be more demands than there are resources. For example, President Carter's peace initiative may need to be followed up by the dispatch of more forces to the Middle East, and there is talk of peacekeeping in Rhodesia and South-East Asia. However, we can all be encouraged by the increased interest among member nations.

When United Nations Emergency Force II was set up, 28 countries volunteered contingents, although only seven were needed. France now has a crack battalion with the UN forces in the Lebanon. West Germany, I am told, provided logistic support for another battalion in the characteristically prompt time of three days.

Recently the General Assembly passed a resolution calling for a new look at the whole question of peacekeeping, which was opposed only by the Soviet bloc. Over 80 countries supported the resolution. Unfortunately, peacekeeping activity in different parts of the world over the years has not resulted in the creation of a proper administrative structure at UN headquarters.

I approach this subject with some diffidence, as I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James)—whom I am delighted to see on the Front Bench, and I hope that he will have a long sojourn there—is a real expert in this subject. A sub-committee of member countries has spent 13 years studying the theory and practice of peacekeeping without producing sound proposals. Although the political direction of these forces from New York is good, the"nuts and bolts"business of mounting these operations and then sustaining them logistically is too often inefficiently and inadequately handled. This discourages the soldier on the spot and adds to the cost of getting him and keeping him there.

I sincerely believe that there is need for a small but really effective international military planning staff at UN headquarters. I know that my view is shared by a large number of senior officers with practical experience of UN peacekeeping. Anthony Verrier described in The Observer on 14 January how detailed planning for UNTAG in Namibia had been carried out by the Department of Defence in Ottawa because the UN has insufficient staff to cope with what will be an extremely complex operation ". In passing, and perhaps as a humble first step, Britain's UN Ambassador could be given a military assistant. It is time that a permanent force—I have in mind a brigade group—was created to carry out training and to anticipate the next emergency. I know that the Minister has spoken most eloquently in the House on the need to anticipate future crises.

The House will recall that last year President Carter called for the creation of a UN peacekeeping reserve composed of national contingents trained in peacekeeping functions ". In my opinion, such a force must have the very latest day and night surveillance equipment, including infra red aids, listening devices such as the British Army has in Ulster, drones and sideways-looking airborne radar. The application of highly sophisticated scientific techniques, including the use of satellites, will be able to help UN forces solve problems which have previously been insoluble. Science can give a whole new emphasis to peacekeeping operations.

There should be international and regional seminars and exercises. The United Kingdom should consider taking the initiative to form an international group on the Nordic model to study, train and plan jointly for UN operations. I should like to see a UN defence college run along the lines of the NATO defence college. Surely it is astonishing that there is no official manual on peacekeeping, although there is an excellent private publication edited by Brigadier Michael Harbottle." The Peacekeeper's Handbook"has proved to be highly popular, and even the Chinese have recently shown interest. A further handbook is required for junior ranks.

I have put forward the suggestion of a UN disaster relief force which would be highly trained and mobile and prepared to tackle potential disasters such as earthquakes or cyclones and man-made disasters such as a major chemical or nuclear radiation leak. UN peacekeeping has become a special military task, quite different from the Imperial policing of the past and from that required in Ulster today. There is still a lack of knowledge, and possibly interest, in the British Army concerning the required techniques and operating procedures.

From the replies that I have received to written questions on the subject and from military sources, I have the impression that we pay little more than lip service to the training required to fit our Army for such duties. For example, I am told that at the Camberley staff college only 13½ hours during the year's course is devoted to this subject. The Canadians, who are widely experienced in UN operations, allocate a full fortnight to it at their staff college.

I understand that the International Peace Academy—a most useful institute that is patronised by 114 Governments who send staff officers and senior officials to attend its courses—is considering opening a branch in the United Kingdom. Would such an enterprise receive the active and unstinted support of the Government?

I welcome the Prime Minister's comments at the United Nations on 2 June last year on the need to strengthen the world body's peacekeeping role. I would like to ask the Minister who will reply—I apologise for the false start a few weeks ago—to say what has been done to follow up the Prime Minister's speech. In particular, the House should be told what the Foreign Secretary had in mind when, on 27 September, he declared that up to 1,000 British troops would be available to join a UN force at a week's notice. Are 1,000 now available? Which battalion has been designated? Where is it? Would it be available for action in Rhodesia, and, if so, what exactly would be its task in that bloody but still unbowed country?

In that same speech, the Foreign Secretary offered military observers. That is excellent. How many officers are now being employed by the UN in that capacity? Very few, I suspect. If so, why? What exactly will Britain do to assist UN operations in Namibia? Has a British battalion been allocated as well as a signals and communications unit? How many men will Britain be sending, and when? Have some already gone there? What about hardware—helicopters, trucks and radios?

Experience suggests that a comparatively small UN force can reduce tensions and aggressive activity, thus facilitating a political settlement. UN peacekeeping offers hope to an increasingly divided and violent world. Britain could lead the way in getting UN peacekeeping organised in a more sensible and enlightened manner. After all, her military contribution to the UN has always been second to none.

10.32 p.m.

Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)

The House is indebted to the hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) for introducing this important subject in the debate on the Consolidated Fund. I am glad that by sheer accident—there was no collusion between us—we both wish to raise broadly the same topic. I was interested in the points that the hon. Member made and I shall try not to duplicate too much of what he said. I wish to concentrate my remarks on the problem of UNIFIL in the Lebanon.

The hon. Member is right to draw attention to the extraordinary and encouraging development of peacekeeping activities by the UN over the past 20 years. I would not entirely bracket Korea and some of the other episodes he mentioned in what has come to be known as UN peacekeeping, but I see no reason to quibble over that point.

I would regard the first UN peacekeeping force, in its now accepted sense, as the United Nations emergency force which was set up in 1957 in Sinai by Hammarskjöld following the attack on Egypt by Israel, France and the United Kingdom. There followed, as the hon. Gentleman said, the creation in 1960 of the Congo force, which was the most ambitious, involving about 20,000 men at the peak of its efforts. In 1963 there was the Cyprus peacekeeping force, in 1974 UNEF II in Sinai, the second Sinai force, and again in that year the UN disengagement force in Syria. Finally, in 1978 there was the UN interim force in the Lebanon, to which the United Kingdom is, I believe, contributing £4½ million and logistic and other physical support.

As the hon. Gentleman said, there is, we hope, a fair possibility that there will be a UN force in Namibia in the course of this year if South Africa stops its present process of obstruction. I do not know whether that would be a peacekeeping force exactly but it would certainly be a supervisory force. Maybe—who knows?—in 1980 there may be a UN force in Zimbabwe.

This practical, pragmatic development of UN peacekeeping techniques over the years, by the creation of these forces and the experience gained, has been enormously valuable. It is a great tribute to the UN itself and to the officers of the UN who have assembled, commanded and directed these forces.

A number of interesting points arise from that experience. With the exception of the first Sinai force in 1957, all the forces have been created under the authority of the Security Council and by resolution of the council. That is significant. It clearly restores to the council its central role of maintaining international peace and law and order as envisaged in the charter. It is also significant that, although on occasions certain great Powers have abstained from the votes creating the various forces, no veto has been cast. It now seems fairly clear that there is no permanent member of the council that will veto the creation of a UN force when there is a clear indication by the international community that such a force is desirable and needed. That is encouraging.

Secondly, it is probably within the recollection of the House that at one time the argument over the cost of the forces threatened almost to destroy the UN. The quarrel between the Soviet Union and France on the one hand and other UN members on the other over whether the payments were a charge under the charter led to a serious political crisis. Fortunately that was resolved and there is now no issue of principle on payment for UN peacekeeping forces. However, I am sorry to say that a number of members do not stump up very readily. Some are still badly in arrears with their payments.

Thirdly, there is the role of the permanent members of the Security Council in contributing troops. Originally, when the first Sinai force was set up, Dag Hammarskjöld elaborated a set of guidelines—they were sometimes referred to as the Hammarskjöld rules—among which was the suggestion that troops from permanent members of the council should not be included with the troops on the ground in UN peacekeeping forces. I am glad to say that that rule has been considerably modified. For example, British troops have served for many years with great distinction in the Cyprus force. I was glad to hear the tribute paid by the hon. Gentleman to Brigadier Michael Harbottle, who took part in those operations.

As we know, France has contributed to the UN force in the Lebanon, although it has recently withdrawn the infantry battalion. However, there are still about 600 French troops giving logistic and other support in the Lebanon to the UN force. That is encouraging. It is important that countries such as Britain and France take an active part in UN peacekeeping operations.

My view—it is one that is not very popular—is that at some time in future, perhaps not the immediate future, we may see American and Russian troops in blue helmets taking some part in UN peacekeeping operations and by their participation giving those countries an authority and prestige that only the really great super-Powers may have. That is probably a controversial argument. It is a view that would not be shared by everybody. However, I am sure that gradually the permanent members of the Security Council will have to be more and more involved in UN peacekeeping operations. That will be all to the good.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the number of countries that have taken part in UN peacekeeping forces over the years. He put the figure at 50, which I am not in a position to dispute. I am sure that he is right. From Europe there have been Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, the United Kingdom, France, Ireland and Yugoslavia contributing at various times. Commonwealth countries such as Canada, India, Pakistan, Ghana, Nigeria and Fiji have made contributions. Latin American countries such as Venezuela, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru and Panama have made contributions from time to time, such as sending troops or giving other help. Other countries such as Senegal and Nepal, which are currently involved in the UN operations in the Lebanon, have helped. I am sure that there are many others that I have not mentioned. I have not mentioned them not because I undervalue their contribution but because I am ignorant of it. Many countries that have not contributed troops have contributed funds or given logistic support to enable the operations to be carried out.

We know that the United Nations has produced distinguished commanders—men of the calibre of Rikhye, Silvasuo, Erskine and others—who have created a core of expertise in commanding forces of many different nationalities to cope with all the problems that are bound to arise, and who have done so with great skill and dedication. The world is indebted to those men for what they have achieved.

What success have the United Nations peacekeeping operations had? The first UNEF force in Sinai held the line successfully for 10 years, from 1957 to 1967. That force maintained peace on a dangerous and inflammable frontier. Had Israel shown the same co-operation with UNEF I as was displayed by Egypt, and had Israel allowed her forces to be stationed on her side of the frontier, there is a good probability that the tragic 1967 war would not have broken out.

The Congo involvement was a difficult, controversial and dangerous operation, but it succeeded in its main objective—namely, to prevent the break-up of the Congo as a single country and to prevent the secession of Katanga. That was the object of the original Security Council decision and was carried through successfully. But I believe that it would not have been carried through without the involvement of the United Nations force.

The"success ", if I may put that word in inverted commas, of the United Nations force in Cyprus is somewhat more controversial. It has helped to mitigate the human tragedy of Cyprus, although it was not able to stop the Turkish invasion and the political problems in Cyprus are still unresolved.

It is still debatable whether UNEF II, the United Nations disengagement force on the Golan Heights and the United Nations force in the Lebanon can hold the line in the Middle East for long enough for us to see a permanent settlement. None of us knows what will happen in the next four or five years, or even longer ahead, in the Middle East, but those forces are there and are making an important contribution to stability. The Middle East would be a far more dangerous place without them.

I wish to spend some time on the activities of the United Nations force in the Lebanon because some serious considerations arise to which the Government should give their attention—indeed, not only our Government, but the Governments involved in the Security Council generally.

As the House will know, the reason for the creation of UNIFIL—the United Nations Interim Force in the Lebanon, to give it its full title—arose from the barbaric invasion by Israel of Southern Lebanon in March 1978 as a result of which 1,000, or perhaps more, people were killed, mostly civilians, 200,000 refugees were created and there was wanton destruction of homes, crops and animals and general devastation in Southern Lebanon.

That attack gave rise to resolution 425 of the Security Council, largely on the initiative of the United States, which was adopted on 19 March 1978. The main points of that resolution were as follows. First, the territorial integrity of the Lebanon must be respected, and there should be no question of Israel annexing Southern Lebanon, as she appeared to want to do. Secondly, Israeli forces must withdraw forthwith from that territory. Thirdly, a United Nations interim force in Southern Lebanon should be set up.

The terms of reference were, first, to confirm the withdrawal of Israeli forces; secondly, to restore peace and security in that area; and, thirdly, to help the Lebanese Government to ensure the return of their effective authority in the area. In fact, one of the major objectives of the creation of UNIFIL was to make it possible for the lawful Lebanese Government to exercise some authority in their own territory in that particularly dangerous and difficult area.

The secretary-general of the United Nations acted with commendable speed to put the resolution into effect, and within 14 days United Nations troops were on the ground. There were contingents from Canada, France, Norway, Sweden and Iran, and offers from Nepal and Senegal. It was useful from the point of view of bringing the force together that the secretary-general was able to second troops from the existing UN operations in Syria and Sinai, and to some extent from Cyprus. The United Kingdom made a valuable contribution through the provision of staging and other facilities to get the troops there. By June 1978 the force had been built up to 6,000 men. France contributed by far the greatest contingent with 1,250 men. Norway contributed 930, Ireland 665, Nepal 642, Nigeria 669, Senegal 634, Fiji 500, Canada 100 and Iran 700.

The ceasefire was established and most Israeli forces were withdrawn. Unfortunately, instead of handing over authority and physical control to the UN forces, Israel handed over many important strategic positions to the Fascist militia, which was one of the contending parties in the Lebanon which had caused the original civil war, and this had led—partially at least—to the Israeli invasion. It was this action by Israel, in not handing over fully to the newly constituted forces sent by the international community to take over in the area, that led to a difficult and complex situation that has not yet been resolved.

The result was that, instead of UN forces being able to restore civil order and complete control in Southern Lebanon within the six months of their original mandate, the Security Council in September 1978 had to reconvene and reconsider the matter. It adopted resolution No. 434 on 18 September 1978, renewing the mandate until January this year and with the demand that Israel should co-operate fully with the UN forces.

On 18 November 1978 the secretary-general made a report on the progress of the operation in the Southern Lebanon. He told the Security Council that in areas where UNIFIL had full control effective action against armed personnel and the progressive normalisation of civilian life had occurred. But unfortunately UNIFIL did not have full control in all parts of Southern Lebanon to which its mandate related.

I shall quote from some parts of the secretary-general's report. In paragraph 12 he said: UNIFIL has observed the presence of IDF personnel— that is, Israeli regular forces— in southern Lebanon on a number of occasions. In particular, on 13 and 14 November, a group of about 30 IDF personnel were seen laying mines some 300 metres inside Lebanon in the area of Op Mar. This matter has been brought to the attention of the Israeli authorities with the request that such incursions cease. He went on to say: An essential precondition for UNIFIL's success is the co-operation of all concerned, especially those armed elements and groups in and around its area of operation. In the present circumstances this particularly applies to the Lebanese de facto forces— which is a euphemism for the Fascist militia— in the area and to the Government of Israel. I regret to have to inform the Council that at the present time the necessary co-operation is still lacking in these quarters, and the complete deployment of UNIFIL and the progressive re-establishment of Lebanese authority in the area is therefore blocked… 17.…UNIFIL has from time to time requested the Israeli authorities to use their good offices and influence in efforts to control or moderate the actions of Major Haddad and his militia. The Israeli authorities have indicated that they do not control the Lebanese de facto forces. However, it has not been denied that they provide them with logistic and other forms of support. During the period under review, IDF personnel— Israeli regular forces— have been observed on several occasions in southern Lebanon… 20…UNIFIL is there to protect all groups of the population and is a threat to none. The fact that the Force has persisted, in the face of provocation and harassment, in seeking by peaceful means the constructive co-operation of all concerned, should be proof enough of its good faith. Thirdly, the present state of affairs, if continued, will inevitably lead to the erosion of UNIFIL. No one should be in any doubt as to the dangers of the situation that would then inevitably emerge. It is in the long-term interests of all concerned to avoid such a development. Following that report by the secretary-general, the Security Council met and on 8 December made its own statement on the matter in the light of that report. The statement was not a formal resolution. It was a statement adopted by consensus, read by the president of the council. I quote two paragraphs from it, as follows: The Council— that is, the Security Council— therefore, calls upon all those not fully co-operating with UNIFIL, particularly Israel, to desist forthwith from interfering with UNIFIL's operations in southern Lebanon and demands that they comply fully without delay with the implementation of resolutions 425 (1978) and 426 (1978.) This is important: The Council also calls upon Member States that are in a position to do so to bring their influence to bear on those concerned so that UNIFIL may discharge its responsibilities unimpeded. The secretary-general made a further report to the Security Council on 12 January 1979. He pointed out that UNIFIL had continued to discharge its responsibilities so far as it was able. Not only was it exercising a peacekeeping role, but it had helped with the provision of food, water, electricity, the repair of school buildings and medical treatment to civilians in the areas where it was operating. He also said that there was continued harassment, including harassment of civilians, by the Fascist militia.

I want to quote briefly from the secretary-general's further report. Paragraph 31 states: On a number of occasions, UNIFIL has observed the presence of Israeli military personnel on Lebanese territory, either alone or together with elements of the Lebanese de facto armed groups. In addition to the instance of mine-laying described in my interim report…Israel Defence Force personnel have been seen manning checkpoints and positions, transporting water and supplies, constructing positions, observing the impact of shelling across the Litani River etc. Paragraph 34 states: A crucial element for the effectiveness of the United Nations peace-keeping operations is the co-operation of the parties concerned, and UNIFIL is no exception to this rule. The fact is that UNIFIL now lacks the co-operation both of the de facto forces under Major Haddad and of the Israeli Defence Forces, in relation to the complete deployment of UNIFIL in its entire area of operations. The Security Council took note of that report and on 19 January passed a formal resolution, resolution 444, the three operative sections of which were the following. First, it condemned the Israeli obstruction of the United Nations peacekeeping operations and Israeli assistance to the Fascist militia. Second, it extended the mandate of UNIFIL for five months to 19 June 1979. Third, it stated categorically that in the event of any further obstruction the Security Council would examine ways and means of securing the full implementation of resolution 425, under which the United Nations peacekeeping force was orginally set up.

The French infantry were withdrawn earlier this year and I understand that they are to be replaced largely by Dutch troops. The Iran contingent has also been withdrawn, and I think it is intended that either Fijian, or possibly Senegalese, troops will make good that deficiency. There has been some slight change, therefore, in the physical composition of the forces.

The United Kingdom has backed this exercise throughout. We have not committed troops, I understand, in the Lebanon, but we have troops in the United Nations peacekeeping force in Cyprus. We have given money and logistic support and, as the hon. Member for Bexleyheath mentioned, we were instrumental in flying the Fijian troops into the Southern Lebanon to take part in the operation.

The question which now arises is this. What practical steps are the permanent members of the Security Council to take to ensure that the writ of the Security Council runs in the Southern Lebanon, that Israeli forces are totally withdrawn and that the obstruction and impeding of the United Nations operations under the Security Council cease? This is important. The hon. Gentleman very fairly and very reasonably set out certain technical and other problems relating to the creation, deployment, training and availability of United Nations forces. There was hardly anything in his speech with which I could disagree.

At the end of the day, however, there is also the political commitment particularly of the permanent members of the Security Council, without which no United Nations peacekeeping operation will be successful. The men on the ground and the countries contributing the troops on the ground have to be assured that those troops, operating in the name of the international community, will carry the full support and backing of the international community if their work is in any way obstructed, impeded or made difficult.

As of this moment, as far as I can see, the permanent members of the Security Council have been deplorably slow and deplorably unready to spell out to Israel that it is the job of that country to co-operate fully with the United Nations operation in the Southern Lebanon, to cease its obstruction, to cease its connivance and conspiracy with the Fascist militia in that area and completely to withdraw from its unlawful occupation and operations in Lebanese territory.

What can the permanent members do? First, I think they should examine whether the strength of UNIFIL needs to be supplemented in any way. It was originally set at 4,000. It was subsequently increased to 6,000. If it is necessary, in the peculiarly difficult terrain and circumstances of that dangerous international border, to build it up to a greater level, I think it should be built up. The United Kingdom should say in the Security Council that the forces are not adequate for the particular difficulty of the situation, and the international community should be prepared to pay for an increased force if this is regarded as necessary.

It is scandalous that the United States should be promising massive supplies of arms to Israel while that country is defying the authority of the Security Council and harassing and obstructing the work of the UN peacekeeping operation. The United States, as the most powerful member of the Security Council, should at least say firmly to Israel that there will be no further supplies of arms, equipment and weapons until Israel ceases its obstruction of the work of the UN force, to which the United States was a party and which was set up on the political initiative of the United States.

Whether one should proceed to further forms of economic or diplomatic sanctions if Israel will not accept the ruling of the Security Council is a wider argument which I do not wish to pursue in this debate.

My argument is that the authority of the United Nations is at stake. The force has been set up by resolution of the Security Council, it is financed by the international community, the men are there from a dozen member States of the UN, in some cases their lives are at risk in the operations that they are carrying out, and the least that the commander and the men can expect is full and unequivocal support from the great Powers, and particularly from the five permanent members of the Security Council, which undoubtely have it within their diplomatic and economic power to insist that Israel and the Fascist militia should cease impeding and obstructing the work of the UN force, which, after all, is in the interests of peace and security for the population of that part of the country and has the objective of restoring the authority of the lawful Government of Lebanon.

The cost of UNIFIL is not only a matter of dollars. Most of the French contingent have just returned home, but three members did not. They were killed during the operations. Another 12 were wounded. Other contingents have also suffered casualties. An article in The Times on 4 August 1978, written by Anthony Verrier, who was quoted by the hon. Member for Bexleyheath in a different context, said: Unifil does not execute its tasks without loss. The blinded, 20-year-old Nepalase soldier, lying silent in a Haifa hospital bed, a member of his section as silent by his side, victims of anti-personnel mines, is a telling reminder that Unifil was only welcomed by those who suffer in war. That is part of the price of the operation. It is one of the reasons why it should be given full and unequivocal backing by the permanent members of the Security Council, of which the United Kingdom is one.

11.3 p.m.

Mr. Robert Rhodes James (Cambridge)

The House is indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) for having initiated the debate. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) sits on the Government Benches, but I hope that I may always call him my hon. Friend because we have done much work together for the United Nations. I regret that he spoke about the situation in the Middle East at a time when there is a gleam of hope that there may be a reasonable solution. I have great regard for the hon. Gentleman and I respect his sin- cerity and the strength and consistency with which he has argued his case over the years, but I regret that his concluding words were unfortunate in present circumstances.

The hon. Gentleman and I are at least at one in believing in the United Nations as a remarkable human experiment and we know that the concept of UN peacekeeping has considerable potential, even though it also has weaknesses and difficulties. However, it is going a long way from acceptance of the principle and the achievements of the United Nations to move to arguments about the Fascist militia and so on, which do not help the United Nations and certainly do not help this nation in its attitude towards the future, and particularly towards the future of the United Nations.

I welcome very warmly the initiative of my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath in initiating the debate. I say with a personal interest, having been an official of the United Nations, as was the Under-Secretary in a previous incarnation, that I take some pride in the fact that the senior British official in charge of the United Nations peacekeeping operation is a British member of the secretariat, Mr. Urquhart, who joined the United Nations in 1946. He was the second person to do so, the first being the late Sir David Owen.

We have considerable reason to be proud that not only Sir David Owen and Brian Urquhart but many other British people have been involved in the United Nations, particularly in its peacekeeping operations. For that they have had precious little thanks from this House or from this country. It is important that some of us recognise the contribution they have made, and recognise, too, the importance of the contribution of UN peacekeeping work, which my hon. Friend so clearly, so strongly and so well emphasised.

My right hon. and hon. Friends and I have a profound and eternal commitment to the preservation of peace. We believe that that must be achieved through strength. We believe that its achievement in the world in which we live will be immensely difficult. We also believe that that peace will be preserved not only by our own strength and determination but by our membership of international organisations, of which obviously NATO, the EEC, the Commonwealth and, less obviously to some people, the United Nations will be crucial.

My party is committed not just to membership of the UN and the other international organisations but to effective membership. One of the key decisions which this country will have to make over the next decade is whether we are to be real and determined members of international organisations or merely paper members. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I are determined that we shall be real members. We shall certainly be profoundly involved in the United Nations and its peacekeeping operations.

We must be realistic. We know that the UN peacekeeping operations have a limited value, limited resources and limited objectives. As one who at one stage dedicated his life to the United Nations, I am entitled to say that I believe deeply in the peacekeeping techniques and the operations. But I also recognise that one should not regard them as the answer to political problems which should be resolved by other means. It can be a help and it can, above all, buy time. That is certainly happening in the Middle East.

But the buying of time—we had bitter experience of this in Cyprus—can persuade politicians that there is no need for them to indulge in negotiations. Therefore, the strength and development of the UN peacekeeping forces can be a double-edged weapon. It is appropriate that this House and those concerned in these matters should not only recognise the value of the UN peacekeeping machine but should also recognise its deficiencies and weaknesses.

This is not a party political debate, and I hope that it never will be. I regret, however, that we are not in a position to give stronger support to the United Nations through our diminished defence resources. I regret that we are not able to help rather more than we could in the Lebanon. I regret that we are not in a position in the immediate future to give the kind of undertakings and assurances to the United Nations that we would wish, because our own defence situation is such that we are not in that position.

We shall always have to recognise that the nature of United Nations peacekeep- ing is that each operation will be ad hoc, that each one has its own particular characteristics and that it is not possible to plan very far into the future beyond making certain general commitments, about which the Conservative Party would be very happy to join with the views expressed by the hon. Member for Heeley, which I am sure the Minister will endorse.

The fact is that particular situations and particular problems arise which are impossible to anticipate, and the fact that the United Nations operations have to be ad hoc and have to be particularly related to the problems is a fact that we shall have to continue to face.

However, in supporting the admirable speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath, for which we are all very grateful, and in thanking the hon. Member for Heeley for his contribution, I should like to emphasise that my party, and what I hope will be a future Conservative Government, wishes to support very strongly not only the United Nations and the concept of peacekeeping but the understanding that we believe that this nation has a role to play in the maintenance of peace in the world. That is a role which we wish to play, through the United Nations, through the Commonwealth and through any other organisation which is available.

Although there are obviously many things which separate the Opposition side of the House from the Government side, I hope that that thing will remain constant and that all will recognise that although an election is approaching, in which we may be obliged to say certain critical things about each other, one thing will come out clearly—that those of us who are responsible politicians wish to ensure the safety, the freedom and the peace of mankind.

We believe that the United Nations, for all its weaknesses, fallibilities and human deficiencies, remains one of those instruments through which that fragile peace might be maintained. We intend to do the best we can, through peacekeeping and other operations, to ensure that that peace may be maintained.

It is in that spirit that my hon. Friends and I support very strongly the particular proposal made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath.

11.13 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Evan Luard)

The House should be grateful to the hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) and my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) for raising this important subject tonight. Many of us in the House believe that there is no more important task before this country and other countries than that of building up the United Nations. In that respect, we recognise the special importance of trying to improve and strengthen its peacekeeping capacity.

The emergence of peacekeeping forces represents perhaps one of the most important developments that has taken place on the international scene in recent years. Perhaps it is a pity that when we have debates on foreign affairs in this House our attention is so exclusively devoted to particular crisis situations in different parts of the world and we have little time to devote ourselves to general developments of this kind. Indeed, for my part, I think it is a pity that we never have whole debates which are devoted to such important topics as the United Nations and its various activities.

As many hon. Members know, there is a provision for peacekeeping in the United Nations charter. When the charter was formulated, when the United Nations was founded, hope was placed in a still more ambitious concept—the idea of enforcement action by armed force in order to keep the peace. There are certain articles of the charter—articles 42 to 50—which set out the way in which it was hoped that this might be done through the creation of a permanent force which would operate under the authority of the Security Council.

Unfortunately, that never came into being. Negotiations took place for the formation of such a force, but they rapidly broke down over questions such as the size of the force, the size of contributions by individual members, the location of the force and so on. By 1947, those negotiations had been abandoned.

Not long afterwards, in 1950, the Korean war broke out. That was the first occasion on which one might say that a form of United Nations force was established, although it was not a peacekeeping force within the meaning of that term today. That was enforcement action, and only a small proportion of the membership of the United Nations contributed to the UN force in Korea. A large proportion of the then small membership of the UN at that time had no wish to contribute in that way.

At about the same time, the first beginnings of the UN's peacekeeping role could be discerned in various small-scale operations: by UNTSO—the United Nations Truce Supervisory Organisation—in the Middle East and by the UN Observer Force in Kashmir. But it was not until the time of the Suez operation—that misguided and ill-fated venture—that the first peacekeeping operation, in the proper sense of that term, was mounted. There was then a general feeling that what was required to meet the situation, in the aftermath of that adventure, was some form of international action rather than action by individual national forces or even a group of national forces.

It was remarkable that, in the course of a week or two weeks, agreement could be reached in the United Nations on the establishment of the first United Nations peacekeeping force. It was a remarkable feat of improvisation, in which Dag Hammarskjöld, the then secretary-general of the United Nations, played a major part. It established a precedent, which has since been followed on a number of occasions.

Peacekeeping forces since then have been established in New Guinea to supervise the evacuation of the Dutch, the Congo—the largest single peacekeeping operation—in the first place to supervise the evacuation of Belgian forces but increasingly to seek to pacify civil conflict in that country and to maintain its territorial integrity, and in Cyprus to keep the Greeks and Turks apart. More recently, three new forces have been established in the Middle East: in Sinai, on the Golan Heights and last year in Lebanon. We have had a remarkable succession of operations by the United Nations which add up to a considerable mass of activity.

In the early days, the forces were financed almost entirely by voluntary contributions. As my hon. Friend the Member for Heeley said, there was some controversy in earlier times about the way in which these forces were financed. As I mentioned, there is no provision in the charter for the establishment of such forces. Therefore, there was room for controversy and disagreement on the subject. Unfortunately, many member States, including some permanent members of the Security Council, declined to take part in the financing of the early forces.

One significant advance has taken place in the last three or four years. With the establishment of the two forces in Sinai and Syria, there was a considerable degree of agreement on a new system of financing for these forces, under which all members of the UN would be assessed on a special scale—slightly different from that of the UN budget—which was more favourable to the developing countries. The financing of these forces, though not strictly on a regular budget, became part of the normal budgetary process of the United Nations. Unfortunately, that has not, as many of us hoped, altogether solved the problem—a few countries still persistently refuse to make the payments which they are due to make for the financing of these forces—but it has certainly reduced the problems.

Many of us will condemn those countries of the United Nations which often have shared in approving the establishment of a peacekeeping force and which certainly must share in the appreciation of the work such forces do but which none the less have persisted in declining to help to contribute to the financial cost. I hope that other members of the United Nations which are aware of the benefit that these forces bring will make their views known to those countries—such as the Communist countries but also others—which have persistently declined to help to contribute.

I was asked about our own role, particularly by the hon. Member for Bexley-heath. We have always taken a positive attitude to these operations. We have recognised that there are many situations—perhaps, in the modern world, an increasing number—in which there is a need for international action rather than competitive action by different nation States. This type of operation can help to avoid great Power involvement in particular situations and competition for influence, and can help to stabilise what might otherwise be very insecure situations.

Until fairly recently, there was a convention that permanent members did not take part in these operations. That was already broken with the establishment of the Cyprus force in 1964, because Britain has played a leading role—perhaps the leading role—in that force from the beginning. We have also, of course, from the beginning played a prominent part in the financing of all these forces. We have not been among those who have refused to pay but we have consistently been one of the most generous providers of finance.

We have always reiterated our readiness to play a more active part. This positive attitude was most conspicuously reflected in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary at the United Nations last year in which he expressed our readiness to play our part in future peacekeeping operations and committed us to contribute a battalion of our forces which would be ready at seven days' notice and which we would be prepared to commit for up to six months.

This positive approach to peace operations has also been shown by the degree of our involvement in such operations over the last year or so. As has been said, we have provided logistic support for the United Nations force in the Lebanon. We also helped to transport Fijian forces there and we have provided equipment for Fijian and Nepalese forces in Lebanon. In Namibia, where there have already been discussions about the establishment of UNTAG, we have offered to provide a signals unit and other assistance. We are still contributing 800 men to the UNFICYP, the United Nations force in Cyprus, after 15 years' involvement in that force.

There have often been proposals in the United Nations for putting peacekeeping operations on a more recognised and constitutionally based footing, given that there is no provision for such forces in the charter itself. Many people feel that there is a need for at least some body of principles to govern the operation of these forces. At present, there is a corpus of tradition only and there are no widely agreed principles which should be applied in these operations.

Many of us feel that, if it were possible to reach such an understanding about the principles to be used and the guidelines which should govern these operations. it would be easier to secure agreement when new forces were proposed. I hope that there would then also be greater readiness on the part of the membership as a whole to pay for these forces. This has been recognised for some time, and it is for this reasoin that for 14 or 15 years a special committee on peacekeeping operations has been meeting and considering these questions.

The hon. Member for Bexleyheath tended to deprecate the committee's activities, which he felt had been totally unproductive. I cannot agree. We must remember that we are talking about matters on which members of the United Nations—in particular permanent members, the most important members—have been in great disagreement over many years. Those disagreements led in earlier times to the most bitter disputes in the United Nations history, including the crisis over financing of the forces, which led to an entire Assembly being wasted on one occasion.

Although it is true that the committee has still not reached agreement on the exact guidelines that should be provided, I think that it has gone some way to examine what the problems are and to reach a degree of consensus on a number of points. For example, there is now general agreement that it should normally be the Security Council that authorises the use of the forces. There is also genera! agreement about the new system of financing that I have described, and there is agreement on a number of other points. There is a whole set of principles, a number of which are already agreed.

It is true that there remain significant differences on certain points. As so often, these are the most important points—the system for the control of the forces, which has always been the most highly contested issue, and the relative role of the secretary-general and the Security Council in undertaking supervision of the forces' operations. I would not say that the committee's activities have been totally useless by any means.

However, peacekeeping operations do not require only principles; they also require hard cash. It is here that the present system leaves most to be desired. Everybody would agree that where a peacekeeping operation has been decided on by a great majority, sometimes even unanimously, in the Security Council, there is at least an implicit obligation on all members of the United Nations to play their part in financing those operations.

Many of us deplore the fact that there are still member States refusing to pay their share for the operations. This has led to a serious financial problem for the United Nations, seriously affecting its capacity to make preparations for the United Nations operation in Namibia, which many of us fervently hope will shortly be put into effect. Unless all member States are more willing than they have shown themselves so far to participate in the financing of the operations, the United Nations' financial problems will become even worse than they are today.

I now turn to some of the more specific points that were put to me by the hon. Gentleman. He believed that there should be better organisation at United Nations headquarters for the management of the operations. One of the difficulties is that, as the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James) pointed out, so far all the operations have had to be organised very much on an ad hoc basis. There is no permanent system in the United Nations for maintaining a peacekeeping force There is a series of forces that have been set up in response to several immediate crises. The result is that the operations at the United Nations headquarters have always been of an improvised kind.

It may well be said that that in itself is undesirable, but it is not easy for the United Nations to take on a large staff for activities that cannot be anticipated. The hon. Member for Bexleyhealth will be glad to know that there has been a substantial strengthening of the headquarters staff in the United Nations responsible for the organisation and management of these operations, under the British senior member of the United Nations staff. Brian Urquhart, who has the ultimate responsibility under the secretary-general.

This follows the fact that we now have four United Nations peacekeeping operations in the field at the same time—something never known in the past—and at the same time there are intensive preparations for a large-scale operation in Namibia which will probably be second in size only to the operation in the Congo, which was so far the largest in United Nations history. These developments have made necessary a strengthening of the staff in United Nations headquarters devoted to this sort of operation.

The hon. Gentleman addressed a number of questions to me about our own practice. He asked why we did not do more in the way of training our own forces for peacekeeping purposes. Again, I think he may be pleased to know that we do a considerable amount in this respect. Lectures and presentations on United Nations peacekeeping in theory and practice are included in the courses at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, and the Army Staff College, Camberley. In addition, the subject is covered in the progressive scheme of education for army officers.

In the context of higher defence training, United Nations peacekeeping features in the courses at both the National Defence College and the Royal College of Defence Studies, which are attended by officers of all three Services. General Rikhye, president of the International Peace Academy, which the hon. Member mentioned, said recently that he was delighted to hear of what was being done here by way of training studies in peacekeeping.

We believe that our present system of training gives adequate grounding in peacekeeping for officers and troops who might be engaged in United Nations operations, but the general question of training for peacekeeping operations is being kept under review.

The hon. Gentleman asked why there was no specialised manual for peacekeeping. But he himself mentioned the excellent"The Peacekeeper's Handbook ", and I endorse his commendation of Brigadier Harbottle, who was responsible for it. That handbook, as the hon. Gentleman knows, is used in a number of armed forces throughout the world, and it has proved invaluable for our own forces who have been engaged in operations of this kind.

Next, the hon. Gentleman asked about the International Peacekeeping Academy and wanted to know the British Government's attitude towards it. We have had extensive contacts with it. I myself know, I think, all those who have been actively engaged at the head of that organisation. When they come to London, they usually come to see me or one of my right hon. or hon. Friends. Members of our Foreign Office staff have taken part in seminars which it has organised.

We should welcome the setting up of an office in London, which, I believe, the academy has had in mind. I am afraid that I can make no commitment about financial assistance towards the setting up of such an office, but we are always ready to consider suggestions which are made in this respect, and we have already had discussions on the subject.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether we would have forces ready for service at any moment. He mentioned what my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said in New York last autumn. Would we, the hon. Gentleman asked, have a particular unit ready for service at any moment? That, of course, would involve what is often called the earmarking of a particular force. People often talk about earmarking in this context, and it is true that some nations earmark particular units. But I put to the hon. Gentleman that it is not necessarily the most rational way to tackle the problem.

What is important from the United Nations point of view is to know that when it is in need and it undertakes a particular operation it can call on a nation and know that forces will be provided. This is what we have offered. We have made a commitment that when such a call is made, and there is no pressing national commitment which would make it impossible, we should provide a force of a certain size and kind within a certain time.

I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that that is what is most important to the United Nations, and it is not necessarily rational to keep one particular unit twiddling its thumbs for years on end waiting for a peacekeeping operation to turn up. It is better to do it the way we have, allowing the rotation of forces. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have many commitments for our forces in different parts of the world. As long as we know that there is always one which will be available at any moment to help the United Nations, this, surely, is what is most required.

The hon. Gentleman asked what help we would give to UNTAG the United Nations operation in Namibia. We have been in close contact with the United Nations itself about what it requires, and we have had a considerable number of communications on the subject. We have offered a signals unit and one or two other particular kinds of capacity for which the United Nations has made requests.

I stress, however, that we are still only in a preliminary stage of the Namibia operation. We do not know for certain whether it will get off the ground. The United Nations requirements may change before it comes into being. But I can say that we hope to play an active and useful part in that operation.

I agree that Vice-President Mondale should be applauded for his suggestion at the United Nations special session on disarmament that there should be a peacekeeping reserve. Most of us feel that it would be invaluable for the United Nations if it knew that a reserve was always available at a moment's notice. Some countries have earmarked forces which, in a sense, form part of such a reserve. Our offer, although it does not represent earmarked forces, enables us to say that we have a battalion which is available to take part in such a reserve.

Mr. Townsend

I am grateful to the Minister for his detailed reply. What is the Government's attitude to UN peacekeeping in Rhodesia? Does he envisage that a British battalion will be sent there as part of a UN mission? What would be the task of such a unit in Rhodesia?

Mr. Luard

There has been some misunderstanding about this. When my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made his offer to the United Nations last autumn, he did not make it in reference to any particular situation in any part of the world, whether in Rhodesia or anywhere else. In some quarters my right hon. Friend's statement was misinterpreted. We have no idea whether there will be a UN operation in Rhodesia or whether Britain will be requested to play a part in it. Of course, if such a request is made, we shall try to respond as best we can in the form requested. I hope that there will be a UN force in Rhodesia in the not too distant future. I hope that we shall be able to play a part in it. I cannot say more than that now.

I turn to the questions raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Heeley. When the United Nations force in Leba- non was established by the Security Council a year ago, following the Israeli invasion of South Lebanon, we took a prominent part in securing the establshment of the force and we have given it our full support ever since. We have looked to it to act as a peacekeeping force in the area and to pave the way for the re-establishment of Lebanese Government authority there.

We have been able to give concrete assistance through the provision of logistic facilities from Cyprus. The force has, on the whole, performed its task with commendable efficiency and it has been able to restore a large degree of normality to the area in which it has operated. We are grateful to those countries which have contributed forces towards it.

But we share my hon. Friend's regret that UNIFIL has been prevented from deploying fully throughout the area laid down in the mandate because of the lack of co-operation from de facto armed Christian groups in the area. As my hon. Friend said, the UN secretary-general has drawn attention to this lack of co-operation in successive reports. He has expressed serious concern about the unprecedented obstruction of a United Nations peacekeeping force. He has said that he fears that unless the situation improves, the very existence of UNIFIL could be threatened.

The British Government share that concern. We have made our views clear. We supported the Security Council resolution of September 1978, when the mandate was first renewed, which appealed to all concerned to co-operate fully with UNIFIL. In December, when the council met to review the position, our view was that there was no excuse for the lack of co-operation with the UN peacekeeping force and that the Israeli Government, which had substantial influence over some of the groups, had a considerable responsibility. We joined in approving a statement by the president of the Security Council which called on those not co-operating with UNIFIL to desist immediately from interfering with the force's operations.

Mr. Rhodes James

Does the Minister accept that one of the deep problems in the Lebanon is that there are no fewer than eight Palestinian groups involved, with no single Palestinian negotiator? Without derogating from the point the Minister is making, may I ask whether he does not agree that the position of the United Nations and the Israelis became almost impossible because there was no one element with which negotiations could be held and which could be described as representing the Palestinian cause?

Mr. Luard

We continually called for co-operation with the United Nations force from all quarters. The hon. Gentleman must be aware that the main concern of the United Nations has not been with the Palestinians in Southern Lebanon but with the so-called de facto Christian forces, and in particular with the help they have been given by the Israeli Government. That has been expressed in successive United Nations Security Council resolutions.

Mr. Hooley

Is it not clear from the secretary-general's reports—I refrained from making even longer quotations from them—that, although there have been incidents and clashes with some of the Palestinian forces, in general there has been no serious problem with them? The problem has arisen with what have been called the de facto Lebanese forces, the militia, and through the lack of co-operation from the Israeli side. The secretary-general makes this perfectly clear. There have been incidents, but there has been no serious problem with the Palestinians.

Mr. Luard

I would not go so far as to say that there had been no problems with Palestinians, certainly not in the early stages of UNIFIL's operations in Southern Lebanon. It is true to say that in recent times the problems have been almost entirely with the Haddad forces and with the help they have been given from outside Lebanon.

I was saying that the British Government joined in approving a statement by the president of the Security Council calling on those not co-operating with UNIFIL to desist immediately from interfering with the force's operations. We have also responded to the secretary-general's request that members of the Security Council should use their influence with all parties involved in South Lebanon to secure compliance with UN resolutions. I regret to say that the de facto forces have continued to harass UNIFIL in its efforts to implement its mandate.

In January of this year the Security Council again considered the renewal of UNIFIL's mandate. We supported the resulting resolution, No. 444, which renewed the mandate for five months and called upon all concerned to give their full co-operation to UNIFIL. The resolution also called for a new and determined effort to extend the presence of the Lebanese Government, civilian as well as military, into the South. This resolution, too, has been ignored. Harassment continues and the Lebanese Government, apart from attaching a small number of liaison officers to the UNIFIL zone, have been unable to extend their presence significantly.

We are deeply concerned by these developments. This refusal to co-operate with the peacekeeping force of the United Nations threatens the fragile equilibrium in which Lebanon now survives. If UNIFIL cannot fulfil its mandate, it will be difficult for it to continue. Its disappearance would have serious consequences, not only for peace in the area but for the prestige and authority of the UN.

I take this opportunity once again to appeal to the de facto forces to cease their harassment of UNIFIL, which is particularly disturbing when there are some Lebanese national forces coming to the area, seeking to re-establish the authority of the Lebanese Government. It seems particularly unjustifiable that this Lebanese force, whose leader was at one time a member of the regular Lebanese forces, should be continuing to obstruct the attempt to restore a normal situation in Southern Lebanon. I hope, too, that Palestinian units in the area will refrain from attacks on Israel from across the Lebanese border.

I would like to express, on behalf of the British Government, our deep gratitude for the efforts of the secretary-general and his staff and, above all, the troops who make up UNIFIL. They are performing a thankless job with distinction in the most difficult circumstances. They deserve our full support and they have the British Government's unqualified support. We shall continue to take every available opportunity to demonstrate our concern and to use our influence to ease their task and help to maintain peace in the area in which they operate.

I hope that I have answered fully most of the points made in this short debate. I should like to repeat how glad I am that the opportunity was taken to raise this question. I only wish that we devoted more time in the House to these vitally important matters concerning not merely individual questions but the whole development of the United Nations and its capacity to confront more effectively all the difficult, dangerous and warlike situations that still occur, I regret, in so many parts of the world.