HC Deb 12 May 1993 vol 224 cc786-8
2. Dr. Goodson-Wickes

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in how many United Nations peacekeeping or peace monitoring operations the United Kingdom plays a part.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Douglas Hogg)

The United Kingdom contributes military personnel to five United Nations peacekeeping operations, including 600 to the force in Cyprus, 15 to the force on the Iraq-Kuwait border, 15 in western Sahara, 122 to the force in Cambodia and 2,500 to the United Nations protection force in former Yugoslavia.

Dr. Goodson-Wickes

The House will be impressed by the extent of that list, representing as it does the country's commitment to peacekeeping in the post-cold war period and, above all, the high regard in which British troops are held worldwide. However, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that we have reached the point in history at which the whole concept and mechanism of United Nations peacekeeping, and possibly peacemaking, should come under review? In that context, will my right hon. and learned Friend give an assurance that, given Britain's permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council and our reputation and abilities, we will maintain the capability to play a full and prominent part?

Mr. Hogg

My hon. Friend is right to stress the ever-increasing nature of the peacekeeping operations conducted by the United Nations. He is also right to say that British forces should make a significant contribution to those operations. We do so especially in the present operations in Bosnia to convey humanitarian supplies. However, I think that my hon. Friend would also agree that we cannot participate in every peacekeeping mission: we have to determine priorities.

Mr. Rogers

I am sure that the Government, with all of us in the House, view with great concern the decision of the Russians to veto the reform of the United Nations financing of the peacekeeping force in Cyprus. Combined with the withdrawal of the Canadian contribution some time in June, that will inevitably put an added burden on this country. In view of the present poor state of our defence forces and the Treasury-driven cuts in the "Options for Change" process, will we be able to fulfil those commitments, which are limited at present?

Mr. Hogg

The hon. Gentleman was right to draw attention to the Russian vote last night. That is a matter which must be considered. But I return to the point that I made. We cannot participate in every peacekeeping force. We have to make choices. Our contribution to peacekeeping forces is recognised as among the most effective made by any member of the United Nations.

Mr. Colvin

If we participate in the number of peacekeeping activities that my right hon. and learned Friend said, that means that there are another 12 in which the United Kingdom is not involved with the United Nations. There are a further eight civil wars going on around the world where the United Nations is not involved and another 25 flashpoints where war could break out at any time, so the role of the United Nations is bound to increase.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes) has a good point. The United Nations must convene, deliberate and determine how it will reach agreement on keeping the peace throughout the world and implementing the Secretary-General's "Agenda for Peace", and how it will enforce Security Council resolutions which it passes.

Mr. Hogg

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the many parts of the world and operations in which we could make a contribution. That rather emphasises the point that I have already made. One must make choices about where the priorities lie. It is also worth reminding my hon. Friend that, for example, the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe can operate in a peacekeeping role, sometimes under the direct authority of the United Nations and sometimes free standing. Therefore, it is a question of making priorities and seeing whether regional organisations can sometimes take some of the strain.

Sir David Steel

Does the Minister accept that the number of forces required for peacekeeping operations would be smaller if they could be deployed in a more timely manner? Does not that underline the importance of the Secretary-General's report "Agenda for Peace", in which he talks about member nations ascribing and allocating forces on a permanent basis to the United Nations? Is that now part of Her Majesty's Government's official policy and, if so, what are the implications for "Options for Change"?

Mr. Hogg

The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that sometimes timely action can prevent a more substantial contribution later. There is rather a good example of that in Macedonia where, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, there is now a battalion of United Nations authorised troops in a pre-emptive role. I suspect that over the years we shall see rather more of that.

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