HC Deb 31 January 1995 vol 253 cc836-7
2. Mr. Alan W. Williams

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many British personnel are currently involved in United Nations peacekeeping activities; and what percentage this represents of the United Kingdom's total armed forces.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)

Some 3,840 personnel are deployed on peacekeeping operations under United Nations command, and some 3,550 more on operations in support of United Nations Security Council resolutions. That represents 3.4 per cent. of the trained strength of the United Kingdom's armed forces.

Mr. Williams

As we look forward to the next 50 years of the United Nations, does the Secretary of State agree that its peacekeeping role should become ever more important, and that each country, particularly Britain, should assign a growing proportion of its armed forces to the United Nations?

Mr. Rifkind

Peacekeeping is certainly important, but the capacity to take part in high-intensity combat must remain the prime role of our armed forces. Consistent with that, it is desirable that they should provide a useful contribution to the United Nations and other such international operations, but we should never forget their primary role.

Mr. Viggers

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that today is the last day on which the 23 members of Partnership for Peace can, if they wish, give information about their peacekeeping activities and availability? Will he further confirm that our armed forces are maintaining a good dialogue with the Partnership for Peace forces that have chosen to register, and that that is a very good way of registering our military co-operation?

Mr. Rifkind

It is indeed very important. An excellent example of the United Kingdom's contribution is the training that we are giving the Baltic battalion that is being set up by the three Baltic states as their own contribution to United Nations peacekeeping: that will help to increase the status and reputation of the new independent Baltic states.

Mr. Gapes

Does the Secretary of State share my concern about the attitude taken by the President of Croatia to the continued presence of UN peacekeeping forces on Croatian territory? Is it clear to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, as it is to me, that that poses a great threat? The withdrawal of UN forces in March could lead to an increase in the conflict, and put at risk the lives of other British personnel in the area.

Mr. Rifkind

We are concerned. One of the significant achievements of the United Nations over the past three years has been the containment of fighting in Bosnia. The withdrawal of UN forces from the protected areas in Croatia could lead to a resurgence of the fighting there, with very dangerous implications for the former Yugoslavia as a whole.