HL Deb 28 July 1993 vol 548 cc1249-52

11.13 a.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they are taking to strengthen the expertise of the military staff at the United Nations to assist its management of the greatly increased UN forces now operating in several parts of the world.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey)

My Lords, we have seconded five serving military personnel to the United Nations to strengthen the military advice available to the Secretary-General; and loaned seven more personnel for individual UN projects.

We have also submitted proposals to the UN Secretary-General for further measures to strengthen the UN's ability to respond to the increasing demand for peacekeeping forces. A copy of the proposals is in the Library of the House.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that encouraging reply. As United Nations forces worldwide have doubled in about the last two years, are the staff in New York able to cope? Now that the Soviet Union is no longer there to oppose the setting up of a military staff committee as proposed in Article 47 of the Charter, opposition which continued for about 40 years, could not something on more modest lines now be considered to deal with the foreseeable use of United Nations forces?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I think it would be right to say that the secretariat in New York is able to cope, with secondments from national governments in the way that I have described and with other personnel. Certainly, all member states have been responding to the requests of the Secretary-General for specific trained personnel who can fit into the needs of the time. The United Kingdom is way out ahead in responding in this field because we have many very aptly trained personnel.

In respect of my noble friend's second question, I do not believe that the military staff committee—an idea which evolved in 1945—is the way to proceed. That is partly because with 70 countries involved in peacekeeping in one way or another, there is a certain reluctance on behalf of some of them to have their troops under a committee of the permanent five. But we have put a whole raft of suggestions to the Secretary-General. Over the coming months I shall be seeing him, as will my colleagues, to try to work out the best way of coping with the enormous pressure for peacekeeping.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, will the noble Baroness assure the House that the United Kingdom will use its position on the Security Council to urge that the military intelligence component of the staff available to the Secretary-General is significantly increased for the reasons that her noble friend just gave in his supplementary question?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord is right. The UN already has some welcome measures in hand: the creation, for instance, of a 24-hour situation room to improve the two-way flow of information which it has not had previously. I also see a need for far better information. That is why the Field Operations Division being incorporated into the Department of Peacekeeping Operations is a sensible rationalisation which will bring all the information together in the very way that the noble Lord has requested.

Lord Alport

My Lords, as it was obvious 30 years ago, at the time of the fighting in the Congo, that it was necessary for the United Nations to have a permanent military staff at its headquarters available to deal with any of these problems, is it not now time not to rely any further on secondment, but for the United Nations to have a permanent military staff covering the three arms and which is capable of dealing with the enormous problems which the United Nations has to face all over the world?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I tried to say in my supplementary answer to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy that I think it is very difficult for nations among the non-permanent members to accept the direction of their troops only by the permanent five. That is why I believe that we need to look at all the suggestions that the United Nations is considering at the moment. We put in separate proposals ourselves to try to cope with the doubling —in fact, the ten-fold increase—over two years in the number of peacekeeping troops. But things have changed so greatly that to go back to an idea which may have seemed appropriate 30 years ago, or indeed even longer, since it started in 1945, is not the best way forward. We need to have an up-to-date peacekeeping tactical plan. If those who are so well qualified can fulfil the needs of the UN, secondment to an increased operations staff may be the best way to do it.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, will the noble Baroness tell the House whether the military staff have now completed plans to use air power to support our ground troops in former Yugoslavia, and to enforce the ceasefire around Sarajevo, the continued shelling of which is a disgrace to Europe and the civilised world?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, needless to say, that question goes very wide of the original Question. But let me say that our own Royal Air Force is ready to work with other NATO forces to do what is decided to be necessary. The situation in Sarajevo is not so simple as I so often hear it described as being by various spokesmen each morning on the radio. We have to work our way to a solution, as the noble Lord, Lord Owen, and Thorvald Stoltenberg have been doing. I do not give up hope that we can proceed without the newly found support for air power that the noble Lord's party now seems to adopt.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, does the Minister agree that there needs to be more effective UN supervision of some of the UN operations? Does she further agree that the idea that the military staffs committee must be controlled only by the permanent five might also be reconsidered? The military staffs committee could well include all members of the Security Council. Does she not accept that it is important that there is not only a permanent staff of military experts but also the ability to bring effective control over United Nations operations?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, as I have said before in the House, there has to be unified command and control in all the operations. But there also has to be a unified control system working out of New York. It is that we are working on now.

Lord Bonham-Carter

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that peacekeeping is an extremely expensive procedure? Would she be so good as to inform your Lordships how many members of the United Nations have not yet paid their full contribution and whether the United States is one of them?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, five nations were in arrears, as I explained at Question Time just a week or so ago. Most of those debtors are trying to pay off their arrears. The United States is already paying off its arrears. Every nation must continue to pay its ongoing contribution as well as to pay off its arrears. Russia and the Ukraine have a very particular problem with their arrears.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, perhaps I may pursue the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Alport, and my noble friend Lord Ennals. Although I welcome the improvement in military advice to the Secretary General of the United Nations, I wonder whether this goes far enough and whether there is a case not just for permanent military advisers in the UN in New York but also, in the light of the difficulties of UN peacekeeping operations around the world, for a permanent peacekeeping force. Are the Government taking any steps to secure that?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, there are many suggestions around at the moment. Certainly, the proposal for the planning and operations staff, to which I have already referred, is an important one among them, as is the proposal to integrate force commanders into the planning phase of operations. But a standing peacekeeping force could be very wasteful of resources. I do not think that that is yet the path down which to go. A whole raft of suggestions is being taken up at present, and in a month or two's time I hope that we shall have a sensible outcome from the deliberations which are going on.

Lord Richard

My Lords, will the noble Baroness answer a purely factual point? She referred to a raft of proposals that the Government had submitted. Have they been published?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, as I said in my first answer, I have placed a copy of the proposals in the Library of the House.

Lord Carver

My Lords, will the noble Baroness accept from someone who set up a United Nations force and was chief of staff to one that the answers she has given on the permanent staff, on the military committee and on the standby force are absolutely correct?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble and gallant Lord.