§ 3.10 p.m.
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos rose to call attention to the 50th anniversary of the United Nations Organisation; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is a privilege to open this debate and to discuss one of the great historic events of this century; namely, the formation of the United Nations Organisation. The world had then suffered the anguish of two great wars and, like many noble Lords, I remember the aftermath of the first war and our belief that it had been the war to end wars. This fervent hope was reflected in the League of Nations, and I recall the meetings which were held in the halls and chapels of North Wales to support the League, and its objective,
"to achieve international peace and security and to avoid war."
§ The memorial stone was there in every town and village to remember the losses and to support the League of Nations. The collapse of the League in the shadow of the Second World War was the great failure of this century, although it had some secondary successes in the fields of labour and health.
§ But it was essential 50 years ago that the reasons for the League's failure to prevent war should be learnt, and the leaders set out to study the scene and the shortcomings of the past. We must therefore be grateful today to those who brought the nations together and to those who drafted the United Nations Charter, which provided a better framework than the League's Covenant, both in its general statements of principle and in its procedures in the area of international security. The new charter was ratified on the 24th day of October 1227 1945. Let us not forget that the first General Assembly, with its membership of 51 nations, was held here in Central Hall Westminster on 10th January 1946.
§ But the central question we must ask in this important debate is to what extent the United Nations has succeeded in achieving its objectives over the past 50 years. It is of course a vast organisation—the greatest the world has ever seen. From the 51 countries which formed the United Nations in 1945, the membership today consists of 185 states and they represent 99.3 per cent. of the world's population. The United Nations budget is inevitably huge. In 1993 it exceeded 5.2 billion US dollars and that excluded the specialised agencies. Those agencies have their own budgets and constitutions, and there are 16 of them. They, as the House knows, perform remarkable work, especially in the third world. The United Kingdom has played an honourable role in the development and contribution of the agencies, but there have been difficulties and there have been controversies. I hope that, with the passage of time, these can be resolved and avoided.
§ As the noble Baroness knows well, Britain was involved—and, I think, understandably involved—when we withdrew from UNESCO in 1984. This is one of the most important UN agencies, and I hope we can rejoin it in the near future. We shall be grateful to the noble Baroness if she can let us know how matters stand at the present time, and what are the prospects.
§ The other point on which I should like the noble Baroness to help us is whether the Government are satisfied that the financial position of the agencies generally is sound. We are most concerned of course with the World Health Organisation, with the Food and Agriculture Organisation and with UNESCO itself. Furthermore, we are concerned that the heads of all the agencies should be seen to be persons of ability, experience and integrity. I know that a number of our colleagues who are expert in this field wish to deal with the agencies and their problems.
§ But our chief concern today must be the ability of the United Nations Organisation to implement the first two articles of the Charter which begin with the words,
"To maintain international peace and security".
§ Many of us breathed a sigh of relief when the cold war came to an end. We relaxed for a moment and said, "Well, now we can build the peace. We now have the opportunity to build a new world". But, sadly, we were soon to be disillusioned. The United Nations generally and the Security Council in particular have been busier than ever since then. They have also come in for heavy criticism. I understand however from what I have heard and read that there is growing criticism of the United Nations for its poor internal management and control, its bureaucracy and its role in certain world events, that is peacekeeping.
§ It is argued that the United Nations is insufficiently robust and of diminishing relevance in a dangerous and divided world. We must not forget however that peacekeeping, as we know, has had a number of outstanding successes. Between 1948 and 1966 the United Nations set up 10 peacekeeping bodies which were broadly constructive and successful. As the House 1228 will recall, further effective operations in the Middle East and in Cyprus followed. There has been bickering and argument about some peacekeeping forces from time to time, but if they had not been established by the United Nations during the past 50 years, wars with all their unpredictable consequences could have broken out in many parts of the world.
§ The 16 active peacekeeping forces in operation at this moment, as we debate this afternoon, create the atmosphere which enables and impels people to think again and which saves millions of people from becoming casualties of war. That is an immense contribution. There are other notable achievements which I can only refer to briefly, for example, the United Nations record on decolonisation, on the protection of human rights, on the safeguarding of the environment, emergency relief, education and crucial operations such as the negotiation of ceasefires. All these have been admirable. We must pay a warm tribute to the officials of the UN who are engaged on these critical tasks.
§ I regret that my noble friend Lord Ennals who intended to speak in this debate is unable to be with us because he is unwell and is in hospital. I hope that he will recover soon and be with us again. There are others here who have made great contributions. I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, is able to be here this afternoon because he made a notable contribution to the formation of the UN at the very start.
§ I fear I must now turn to a less encouraging scene; namely, the world security problems and their far-reaching implications. These have changed fundamentally since the cold war ended. Is it not the sad case that some nation states are now disintegrating from within; that the extremes of rich and poor in the world are greater than ever before? The symbol of this tragic reality is the rise in the number of conflicts and in the costs of peacekeeping. I shall give the House some figures. From 1988 to 1994 UN involvement rose from 11 to 28 operations, and the number of personnel engaged from 10,000 to 73,000 with the budget rising from 230 million dollars to 3.5 billion dollars—all this after the end of the cold war. These are some of the disappointing and threatening developments we have to consider in this debate.
§ We know that the United Nations was founded on the principle of collective security; namely, that the member nations decided to join together and agreed to defend the independence and freedom of nation states. This was a fundamental pillar of the United Nations. But does not the noble Baroness agree that the new world order which is developing after the cold war calls for a new definition of security? I suggest that this would encompass human rights, good governance, economic development and civil security as well as economic security.
§ At the end of the day security is an issue of justice: justice for the smallest, poorest and most desperate in countries such as Rwanda, Burundi, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Somalia (which was mentioned in the exchange at Question Time) and many other countries. The real danger is that those concepts, so vital to the future of the world, may remain as platitudes disregarded by the great powers.1229
§ The question is whether the United Nations and the international community can do anything to halt these dangerous and destabilising trends. Like other noble Lords, I have read in several articles that the United Nations is at present in crisis. One expert argued that when the main powers are authorised and mobilised by the UN to take action within their direct security interests, such as happened in Haiti and Kuwait, then the United Nations is effective. But is this not a matter of national self-interest? People inside and outside the UN complain that they want more than that to be done. I wonder what view the noble Baroness takes on that attitude.
§ It is on that central question of preserving security that difficulties arise. Ideally, the UN should provide leadership to resolve the problems in some of the countries I mentioned. Bosnia has shown how immensely complex and intractable some situations can be. But the influence, power and financial resources of the main powers ensure that their influence and judgment control the Security Council, whether or not their judgment is the right one. In the meantime, we must continue to hope that that judgment is the right one. We must also bear in mind that the United Nations is still in its infancy and countries have not yet learnt to subordinate their independence of action to the general welfare of mankind as a whole. Is it perhaps not true that only when people begin to think of themselves as citizens of the world will the United Nations begin to make quicker progress?
§ We have a duty to consider these problems and seek solutions. However, we must not get too depressed. Some important progress has been made, especially in non-political matters. We must remember with gratitude that genuine hardship and need have been tackled by the United Nations on a global scale far more effectively than ever before.
§ I am glad to think that over the past 50 years Britain has played her part in that development. So indeed have other countries, not least the United States, whose general contribution I have always admired. The United States is a great nation with a great past and, I believe, a promising future (although I wish that they would make as much fuss of St. David as they do of St. Patrick). I also read with concern this week that the Republican party plans to reduce US contributions to the United Nations. I cannot confirm that but that would be a retrograde step which could have very serious results.
§ As we proceed to the next century, it is crucial that the United States should be there in the Security Council, and that Russia and China should also be there. Getting them to work together, to understand each other better and to trust each other is essential.
§ In this debate we inevitably ask whether there is a prospect of a secure and happy future for our grandchildren and for children the world over. The answer is yes, if the United Nations remains active and 1230 effective, if the United Nations works under the principles of its Charter—whose words lie at the heart of our hopes and aims—namely:
"We the peoples of the United Nations, determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom".
§ Those are great objectives worth working for. I believe that this Parliament, and both Houses, have a record which should place us at the very front of the efforts which must be made in the next few years.
§ As I said, it is a privilege to place these facts before the House and to press the Government to support those objectives in every possible way. We have our Select Committee which deals with the European Union and its policies. I believe that it is time we considered setting up a Select Committee to look at the work of the United Nations. If we can put our shoulder to the wheel, we can help to create a better world. I believe that to be our duty. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.26 p.m.
§ Lord Howe of Aberavon
My Lords, it is a privilege to be able to follow the noble Lord in this debate. I am sure that I speak for the whole House in thanking him for having chosen this subject today and for the impressive style in which he set our proceedings under way. There was very little in his speech that I would not wish to endorse. I add my particular commendation to his enthusiasm for St. David in preference to St. Patrick.
I should perhaps disclose a special reason for my pleasure in being able to take part in this debate. I was privileged not long ago to be elected president of the committee established to mark this 50th anniversary year of the United Nations.
The noble Lord was right to pose almost at the outset of his speech the question of how far the organisation has succeeded. My experience as president of that committee has enabled me to observe, and indeed experience at close quarters, the remarkable polarisation of opinion about the United Nations, in both directions, and about internationalism generally. For example, in the economic field respect for and expectations of the economic partnership of the GATT seems to grow stronger day by day, even to the extent that it has now been reborn with a new name (the World Trade Organisation) and even, apparently, with luck a new director-general in the person of Renato Ruggiero. We must keep our fingers crossed that that post will at last be filled.
Yet at the same time the United Nations itself may have been, and in the eyes of some people has been, almost daily discredited, however unjustly, by the experience in Yugoslavia. However, even the harshest critics generally, and very rightly, are willing to qualify the severity of their judgment. They are ready, as was the noble Lord, to give due praise to the work done, for example, by UNICEF and to speak well of the work 1231 done by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Praise in those fields is often linked with respect and admiration for the leadership and enthusiasm of my right honourable and noble friend Lady Chalker. The whole House endorses that sentiment.
There is just one field in which, as the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, pointed out, my noble friend has not yet been able —or perhaps I should say enabled—to live up to expectations; that is, the field of UNESCO. It was, of course, during my time as Foreign Secretary that Her Majesty's Government decided to withdraw support from that organisation; and rightly so. But it was never intended to be a permanent step. The objective was to secure specific and essential changes in the management of that organisation. There was a clear implication that if those changes were achieved, our membership would be renewed. The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, was quite right to ask about the position today. I return to the same question, and quote, if I may, a letter that I wrote to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister on 12th October 1993. I wrote:The merits of the case have already been substantially conceded by Her Majesty's Government and the only problem is to find the money … Certainly, I think it would be difficult to resist re-entry to U.N.E.S.C.O. for longer than two years from now. The United Nations organisation celebrates in Golden Jubilee in 1995 and U.N.E.S.C.O. would surely be an unstoppable bidder by then?".I received a reply from my right honourable friend the Prime Minister on 9th November 1993, as follows:You correctly characterise our position. We recognise and welcome the progress U.N.E.S.C.O. has made since 1985. But we have to identify where the money is coming from before we can take a decision to re-join".Therefore I ask with due diffidence: why have we not yet re-joined? I hesitate to conclude that Her Majesty's Government are still unable, 18 months later, to find the £11 million or so necessary. I hesitate to recall that when I was making my first budget I learnt to my astonishment that the estimated size of the PSBR was rounded to the nearest £¼ billion. I am still more reluctant to conclude that Her Majesty's Government are unwilling to take the necessary decision.
With some confidence I hope that we may look for a more positive background to the 50th anniversary ceremony of the United Nations over which Her Majesty is due to preside in Westminster Hall on 26th June of this year. Indeed, I hope that we may look forward to a more encouraging announcement from my noble friend later today. If not, she must be looking to make the announcement on an even more dramatic forthcoming occasion.
The agenda for today's debate is much wider than that. It embraces those all too many areas of international relations where the rule of force has been and still is the strongest rule. Those are the areas in which 10 years ago the world was described by the then Secretary-General, Perez de Cuellar, as "perilously near to anarchy". He rightly laid blame then for the absence of even a minimum working relationship between the five permanent members of the Security Council on the 1232 attitude of the Soviet Union. He rightly said that a working partnership between those five was "a sine qua non of the Council's effectiveness".
That state of affairs was dramatically transformed by the historic shift in Soviet foreign policy for which Mikhail Gorbachev and Eduard Shevardnadze were responsible. As Shevardnadze said,No longer should Soviet foreign policy be seen as a continuation of class warfare by other means".That decision to return to a policy of co-operation within the United Nations system has been of profound importance to the international community. It offered, virtually for the first time since 1945, the prospect of actually making the United Nations work. Our own country is entitled to take at least some credit for that. It was our own ambassador in New York, in those days Sir John Thomson, who decided to recommence the long-neglected practice of informal meetings of the ambassadors of the Permanent Five. They had not met in that way for years. However, it was as a result of that British initiative that in 1987 I had the immensely exciting privilege of attending the first meeting for many years of the five Foreign Ministers of the five permanent members of the Security Council.
Of course, the structure of the Security Council may be coming up for change. But that change should never involve the departure of the United Kingdom from permanent membership of that organisation.
I wish to join the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, in paying tribute, first to Sir John Thomson, the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, the noble Lord, Lord Richard, who also played a part, my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gwydir, and to all those others, before as well as after 1987, who faced the challenging task of representing this country in New York.
In the seven years since 1987, expectations about the role of the UN and judgments about its success have swung from one extreme to the other and back. As the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn said, it is important to place that record in a proper perspective. Yes, there has been a great wave of extraordinary success in recent years—not all due to the United Nations. But the United Nations certainly can take some credit, for example, for the end of the prolonged Iran-Iraq War, the success of the operation to liberate Kuwait, the orderly independence of Namibia, and the reasonably orderly elections in Mozambique, perhaps Angola, and even Cambodia. For a time expectations soared. So, too, did the scale of the endeavour. In the first 40 years of its existence, the United Nations established some 15 operations. In the past six years it has set up 17 more.
Of course, there have been huge disappointments as well. There have been continuing unresolved tragedies. Somalia stands out among the many examples that the noble Lord gave of nations disintegrating, and creating their own chaos. So, too, does Bosnia. But we should remind ourselves that suffering there and elsewhere would have been infinitely worse had it not been for the presence of the United Nations. Britain, British volunteers and perhaps above all British Armed Forces, have played and are playing a prominent and effective role; and they deserve our warmest praise.
1233 I close by offering a couple of modest suggestions for the future of the organisation. First, and perhaps most importantly, we should by no means give up our endeavours in this field. On the contrary, we need to do all that we can to extend the rule-based system—"the community of civilised states". Even on the darkest days we should not despair of the organisation, still less denounce it or seek to lay blame for all its shortcomings upon the shoulders of those who strive to serve it.
Neither the Secretary-General nor the organisation itself has any more authority or strength than we, the member states, are willing to provide for them. Their strength, and much of their wisdom, is the strength that they are able to borrow from us. That is why they deserve our continuing commitment and support.
My second suggestion is that we should pay more attention to the question, "What next?" Every intervention that involves the use of force, whether through peace keeping or a more large scale military action, is in a sense an admission of failure, a recognition that already there has been a breakdown in the world order.
It is what happened that leads to fighting that we need to understand, and still better to anticipate. Intelligently developed, that can lead to the preventive deployment of United Nation troops before conflict has actually begun. That idea was applied, for example, with some success to deploying UN forces in Macedonia. For the United Nations, above all, the general proposition must be that prevention of conflict is better than cure. That is the right and cost-effective approach.
And so to my last and more cautious thought. We live in times when the basic principles of the United Nations are being judged by the instinctive human reaction to the "CNN dimension" of international diplomacy—the call for an instant response. It is clear that in this instant world-wide setting we shall go on being presented with an infinity of opportunities for the law to be mobilised; for the United Nations to be mobilized in support of law. However disappointing it may be to say so, we need to keep that ambition in reasonable check. Theoretically at least, the law, and indeed the United Nations itself, can be deployed to face almost every hazard. The real question should be: can it do so in practice in this or that specific case? Do we have the resources to apply legal remedies to what is actually happening? Do we have the organisation to deploy them in the right way? Do we have the right structure for commanding them? Can we define the achievable limits of the mission that we entrust to our representatives?
For me the most important thing is the need to take great care, while seeking to extend the rule of law, not to test that rule to destruction. We must harness and cherish that precious legal resource rather than risk destroying it all together.
I conclude with a quotation from Sir Michael Howard in a Ditchley lecture some 18 months ago, which perhaps sounds harsh but perhaps is worth remembering:We should approach world problems not with the universalism of the lawyer but with the pragmatic triage of the surgeon on the battlefield, who divides his patients into those who do not need help, those he cannot help, and those he can and must help".1234 It is a difficult thought, and as my noble friend Lady Chalker knows better than most people in this House,The road does indeed wind upwards to the very end".But we need to continue with our feet firmly on that road.
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
My Lords, I join the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, for his characteristically eloquent introduction to this important debate. I am conscious that the appropriate person to make the speech from the Liberal Democrat Front Bench is my noble friend Lord Gladwyn, who is sitting beside me. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, for reminding us that my noble friend was one of the drafters of the United Nations Charter at Dumbarton Oaks and San Francisco. In fact, he was the Secretary of the first General Assembly of the United Nations which met in the Central Hall here in London. My noble friend Lord Gladwyn was for a short time the first acting Secretary-General of the United Nations.
My noble friend no longer feels able to deliver a speech in your Lordships' House—a great deprivation for it. However, having had the benefit of his wise counsel in preparing my speech, I can assure your Lordships that whatever his physical frailties, with advancing years, his mind is as creative and forward-looking as it ever was in seeking constructive solutions to the challenges facing the United Nations.
It is easy to feel depressed and disappointed at times about the United Nations. The arrival in its early years of the Cold War prevented it from living up to the high hopes of its founding fathers. The ending of the Cold War produced fresh hopes of a new chapter, but the melting of the ice of the Cold War has revealed a world with, in some ways, not less but more tension in more places around the world. Yet the United Nations has come through 50 years of international strife and is still by far the best hope for international peace and for tackling global poverty. At the very least, it can echo the French aristocrat who, when asked what he did in the French Revolution, said: "I survived". Unlike its predecessor, the League of Nations, which the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, mentioned, the United Nations has not only survived, but we are inclined too easily to forget the scale of the work it continues to do in face of the dangers and cruelties of the contemporary world. At the last count, the thin blue lines of the blue berets were peacekeeping in 17 countries with 71,000 peacekeepers.
Even if the ending of the Cold War has not produced a new world order, it has, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, reminded us from his experience as Foreign Secretary, produced some substantial dividends. If the superpowers had still been dominating and sterilising the United Nations, I doubt whether the Iraq aggression against Kuwait would ever have been halted; the civil war in Ethiopia would still be going on; Namibia would not be independent; and the Arab-Israel peace process would probably never have got off the ground. However, there are glaring deficiencies in the way 1235 member governments support the United Nations. There is so much to do if the United Nations is to be made properly effective during its second 50 years.
The international community has changed out of all recognition during the 50 years since the UN was founded, and the world is still changing. With the ending of the western European empires and with the dissolution of the Russian empire, the United Nations has become a cumbersome community of 184 states. The original permanent membership of Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States no longer reflects the realities of world politics. Germany and Japan have an equal claim to be Permanent Members of the United Nations. What about the populous new nations of Asia, Africa and Latin America?
The composition of the Security Council today is a historical anachronism. The question which ought to be faced in this fiftieth anniversary year is whether it can be reformed. It is difficult to be optimistic about getting agreement for change, but an anniversary of this kind is an opportunity to make the effort to try to review the Charter. I wonder whether it would be worth while Her Majesty's Government considering an initiative, with Britain and France giving a lead in offering to merge their permanent seats in a European Union seat. Her Majesty's Government took a notable lead, to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, referred, in calling a Security Council summit in 1992. That led to further consideration by the General Assembly of the United Nations of the possible reform of the Security Council. I shall be interested to hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, has to say on that aspect of our approach to United Nations matters.
Then there is the question of the reform of United Nations finance. I immediately join with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, and the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, in their suggestion that the time has now come for Britain to consider rejoining UNESCO.
On the wider question of finances, one of our great ambassadors, Sir Anthony Parsons, wrote a book which was recently published in which he deals robustly with complaints about the cost of the UN. A £3 billion annual peacekeeping budget may be two or three times what it was in the past, but it is still less than 10 per cent. of the British national defence budget and it is about the same as the Anglo-American aid budget to Israel. It is not the size of the budget that is the problem; it is the distribution, with the Americans grumbling understandably about their 30 per cent. contribution to it. The European Union countries provide another 30 per cent., and that leaves 170 member states to meet only 25 per cent. of the budget. Some of the states have the highest per capita income in the world —for example, the great oil-producing Arab states. What better way would there be to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations than a fairer funding of the organisation?
Then the question arises of more effective peacekeeping arrangements. The United Nations needs better backing from member states who have so far rejected the Secretary-General's case for earmarked forces to be on call. I noticed a cri de Coeur the other day when he pointed out in the case of Rwanda and 1236 Burundi that there has simply not been an adequate response from member governments to the terrible problems there of combined civil war and human suffering.
An alternative proposal would be the creation of a special standing force, internationally recruited from volunteers, which could be deployed at short notice in roles more akin to police action than to military action. There will be increasing demands for that kind of deterrent preventive capability. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, was absolutely right to draw attention to that point. One of the striking features of our troubled world is that these days the United Nations rarely has to deal with classic examples of international aggression across recognised national frontiers, as in the case of the Iraqi aggression against Kuwait. It has to deal much more with civil war situations, as in the former Yugoslavia. One of the problems is that the dissolution of the Russian empire is taking place in a great land-based empire. The problems of United Nations constructive intervention there are very limited indeed.
Finally, it is vital to remember that the vast majority of the United Nations' efforts lie not in the Security Council and peacekeeping, but in waging war against the hunger and poverty that divide the human race so dangerously. My noble friend Lord Gladwyn has given me some terrifying statistics from United Nations sources. Some 1.4 billion people now live in absolute poverty. That is 40 per cent. more than 15 years ago. In 1960 the richest one-fifth of the world's population enjoyed 30 times more income than the poorest fifth. By 1989 the richest fifth was receiving 60 times the income of the poorest. Against that grim background, my noble friend Lord Gladwyn supports proposals put forward in a magisterial report by two of the great United Nations officials, Sir Brian Urquhart and Erskine Childers.
They believe that the image of the United Nations as an intractably large and reform-defying bureaucracy is greatly exaggerated. They argue strongly for an eventual single centre for the control of all United Nations activities. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, together with the various specialised agencies, should be integrated into the whole United Nations machine under an intergovernmental board. There should be a revival of the post of director-general for development and international economic co-operation, with all the power that was originally intended but was subsequently whittled away.
I realise that these are large reforms—though in this case no revision of the charter would be involved in relation to the kind of organisation that I have described. Neither my noble friend nor I under-estimate the resistance to them or the difficulty of making progress. But progress in this direction is needed if the United Nations is to rise to the challenge of increasing populations and poverty in the third world. 1237 This is the kind of grand design that ought to be debated as appropriate to the 50th anniversary of an organisation on which our hopes hang to master what the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, has called, in one of his vivid phrases, the suicidal tendencies of the human race.
§ 3.52 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Worcester
My Lords, I am also deeply grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, for initiating this debate. I am honoured that I can take part in it. I am, however, somewhat daunted by Members of this House who have such experience and knowledge in this field, not least the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn. I am glad to think—though I do not think it is a matter of great pith or moment—that the first Assembly was in the Methodist Central Hall; the first meeting of the Security Council was in Church House, Westminster; and I believe that the members of the World Council of Churches assisted in the drawing up of the United Nations Charter and constitution.
On 7th May this year we shall all rightly fall to giving thanks for the end of the war and recall those dark remembered days of over 50 years ago. It is terribly important also that we should look around us with awareness and look forward with hope. I am reminded of the words in "Salad Days":If I let nostalgia blind me and my resolution grows slack, I'll remind you to remind me we said we'd never look back".We must, of course, look back. But nostalgia is notoriously bad for resolution. It weakens it. It is essential to look around us at the changed world in which we live.
Looking back, we can see the achievements. They have been mentioned, and I shall not repeat all of them. The United Nations organisation has assisted in the democratisation of several countries. I would mention in particular Mozambique and Namibia, not forgetting South Africa. The UN has negotiated peace, I am told, in as many as 172 conflicts. It has protected refugees and done good work in UNCTAD and in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which is vital to making the world marketplace fair for those in the smaller countries with weaker economies. It has codified and addressed human rights. In the 1980s, through its own agencies, it eradicated smallpox and managed to immunise 80 per cent. of the world's children against six killer diseases. Those are great achievements. The organisation has also acted as an early warning system on the state of the planet. All that has been achieved with a staff of less than the number of health service officials in Wales. That is a figure that can be checked.
Looking back, we have to admit that the world community has not done enough to remove the scourge of war, to defend human rights and, above all, to provide for social progress among the third world nations—or what we probably should call the two-thirds world. Reports from Brandt to Brundtland have warned that there cannot be peace for any, nor well-being for any, unless there is peace and well-being for all. We have a common future or we have no future at all. Keith Suter, an Australian academic, has said that the task of the 1238 United Nations organisation is to bring nations together, not to keep them apart, and to move them forward in interdependence.
Perhaps I may ask at this point whether the noble Baroness can say that Her Majesty's Government are in support of debt cancellation in the year 2000 on the jubilee principle—by which every 50 years in Israel of old an effort was made to redress the accumulated imbalance of power and wealth, such as we see in the world today. We see debts incurred by the two-thirds world which those countries will never be able to pay. They spend all their energies trying to service those debts, and the poorest and the most hungry are not helped.
I also suggest that the 50th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations will be a good time to appraise the effectiveness and justice of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Even the best institutions require reassessment from time to time. I not infrequently hear a plea from aid charities such as Oxfam and Christian Aid for the reform, even the abolition, of structural adjustment programmes such as those which have damaged Zambia and Zimbabwe and which were the object of criticism at the summit in Copenhagen in March.
To look once more to the future, to the next 50 years of the United Nations organisation, I know that there will be those who argue, with reason, that peace is maintained by defensive alliances and by a shrewd pursuit of the balance of power. That may be so. It is sad that during the years when we were arming ourselves to death and playing beggar-my-neighbour, we were allowing a certain cynicism to grow up towards the United Nations organisation. Snide remarks were made such as, "There are two things wrong with the United Nations organisation: one, it's not united; the other, it's made up of nations". I cannot believe that the abolition of the United Nations would be in the interest of future generations; nor of the smaller nations; nor of the rights of vulnerable minorities; nor of the abject poor about whom we have just heard.
My figures are lower than those previously stated. I shall not quote them. I believe that there are now far more than 800 million people in abject poverty. Surely there must be an international body that provides a link between nations—a table around which nations can gather, and a tribunal where they can plead the cause of justice and peace. It is sad that there has been such cynicism which has caused nations, some of them rich and powerful, not to pay their contribution and their share for the maintenance of the organisation. I agree that the 50th anniversary is an excellent time to appeal to those who are in debt to pay their debts to the United Nations organisation and to support the Secretary General in pressing for payment; perhaps to make the Security Council more representative; and to make the United Nations resolutions more effective.
The Churches themselves are overdue for an assessment of the role of sectarianism, fundamentalism and extremism as the causes of war. I should like to see, certainly in Europe, the Churches ecumenically 1239 addressing the story and the track record of religion in causing a drift into barbarism. I believe that barbarism and religion can have an unhealthy relationship.
Yet, there is another side to that coin. For example, we have to remember that the most ugly regimes of this century—that of National Socialism in Germany and Marxist Communism in Russia—were both based fairly and squarely on atheism. We should nourish, foster and increase the role of religious people as peacemakers.
In 1993 there was the Parliament of the World's Religions. It called for a commitment to a culture of non-violence, for an economic order which was just, for tolerance and for an equal partnership between men and women. I should like to see that Parliament of the World's Religions called once more to address some of the issues of our day. Above all, could not the proactive, peace-making role of the United Nations be strengthened?
I was nine when the Second World War broke out. All through my young years it seemed as though we lurched from one crisis to the next. As the world of medicine has learned the importance of preventive medicine, do we not need a similar preventive foreign policy among the nations to forfend the outbreak of violence and war? It is too late to express concern when the killing has started. We are all so concerned to maintain our own prosperity. We must realise that that would be constantly under threat if the world is destabilised, anarchic and, as I said, drifting into barbarism.
Before I came to your Lordships' House today, I looked at a video of last Monday's "Panorama" programme. It was frightening, showing the degeneration into sectarian, cultic and indeed mindless violence in certain nations, nations which once had high standards and order. Such a degeneration would make Attila the Hun seem a beneficent ruler by comparison. Those are nations where they have failed governments, governments which admit that they can do nothing about the situation because there is a kind of international underclass which has no stake in the world's future and is prepared to be violent. The enemy is not known and the purpose of the war is not known either.
It is in that kind of situation that the United Nations organisation in the next 50 years will have to play its part. There will be refugees roaming the face of the earth and I am told that 80 per cent. of those killed will be civilians. We know in our own land the need to reinvent civil society. We also need to reinvent an international polity, otherwise we shall revert to a new Dark Ages, in which we shall think that God and his angels sleep. I long for energy to be poured not just into peace-keeping or peace enforcement but into peace-making, which Mr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali advocated in the Agenda for Peace. Can we be assured that more United Nations diplomats can be available and a separate department for peace-making, led by a deputy to the Secretary General, can be formed?
In front of the United Nations organisation building in New York, there is a sculpture given by Russia of a man turning swords into ploughshares. It illustrates the undying hope that people have for peace and well-being. 1240 I strongly support those who advocate a stronger, more effective United Nations organisation for the coming 50 years.
§ 4.6 p.m.
§ Baroness White
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Cledwyn, in his excellent opening speech, and the following distinguished speakers have all declared how pleased we are to see with us the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn. As Gladwyn Jebb, he entered the diplomatic service way back in 1924 and for the next decades he held increasingly important posts. He played a most active part in setting up the structure of the United Nations organisation. He was the United Kingdom Permanent Representative until 1954, when he was appointed our Ambassador to France. We are truly honoured to have the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, with us today for such an appropriate debate.
In a far more modest way I can claim a minuscule place in history which is unlikely to be shared by more than a few Members of your Lordships' House. On Thursday, 10th January, 1946, I attended the first ever meeting of the General Assembly of the United Nations organisation. The United Nations Charter had, of course, been signed in San Francisco in June and was ratified in October. But it was indicative of the leading position held by Great Britain—50 years ago—that, as the right reverend Prelate reminded us, the first great General Assembly with a number of delegates from all the member states was held here in London.
Members of the Preparatory Commission had come to London in November to supervise arrangements. They decided that the Assembly should take place in Central Hall, Westminster where, as we know, great meetings are still held from time to time. Church House agreed to assist with rooms for staff and committees. The Times reported—it will not surprise us—that mainly because of the difficulty of heating our Westminster Hall, the project to use this historic building, the Palace of Westminster, had been abandoned.
At that time Ernest Bevin was our Foreign Secretary. He led the British delegation. I was then a modest journalist in the Press Gallery in the House of Commons. They were sitting in this House as the Commons building had been blitzed in the war. I made it my business to obtain a press pass for what I knew would be a great historic gathering in the Central Hall.
It was encouraging to learn that the foreign and Commonwealth delegates would receive emergency ration cards and that Colonel Condrington, of the Foreign Office, had received a fairly good response to the appeal to the public to take some of the visitors, including their staff, into their homes, owing to the difficulty of finding unblitzed hotel rooms in London. The General Post Office decided to stamp all letters posted in London during the period of the Assembly with a specially designed United Nations cancellation mark, and so on. Everyone did their best. Just in time, the national flags of the 51 UN members arrived from San Francisco and people hurried to hang them up outside Central Hall. 1241 I am afraid that I cannot claim to have enjoyed the royal hospitality. On the night before the opening ceremony at Central Hall nearly 100 senior delegates, including many of the leading statesmen of the world, were received at St. James's Palace by His Majesty King George VI. He wore his service uniform of Admiral of the Fleet. The next evening, to maintain the position of Parliament, Ernest Bevin hosted a large reception in our Royal Gallery.
At the royal dinner his Majesty's immediate neighbours were Dr. Zuleta Angel, chairman of the United Nations Preparatory Commission and M. Spaak, Foreign Minister of Belgium, who, the next day, was confirmed as President of the new General Assembly. Next to them came Mr. Attlee, the Prime Minister, and Lord Jowitt, the Lord Chancellor, together with most members of the Cabinet. The Opposition senior members were headed by Mr. Anthony Eden and Mr. R.A. Butler. Mr. Churchill was not present. He had decided to make his way, with his wife, to Florida saying, very truly, "I think I have earned a holiday". Indeed he had.
The King was clearly much moved by the occasion. He felt that the eyes of all humanity were on the United Nations Assembly. Comprehension, patience and tolerance, one with another, were the qualities most needed. He concluded the main speech of the evening with these words:It is for you to lay the foundations of a new world, where such a conflict as that which lately brought our world to the verge of annihilation must never be repeated; where men and women can find opportunity to realise to the full the good which lies in each of them. It is a noble work and you have, in the Charter of the United Nations, a noble instrument".After 50 years, how successful can we claim to have been? How much more have we still to do?
§ 4.12 p.m.
Lord Campbell of Croy
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, for the way in which he introduced this subject today for our debate. In this 50th anniversary year for me the special United Nations date is 26th June—the date of the signing of the Charter. I am glad that that is to be commemorated in a ceremony in Westminster Hall, that information being provided in the Answer to a Question of mine two months ago.
The House will expect to be reminded of significant events of half a century ago and to hear some nostalgic references. We have just heard some extremely interesting ones from the noble Baroness, Lady White, of the First Assembly in London. I believe that we should also go further back than 1945. The first use of the expression "United Nations" was half-way through World War II. The declaration of the United Nations was on 1st January 1942, soon after the United States came into the war after the attack on Pearl Harbour. That declaration was signed by 26 nations and contained their aims in and after the war against Hitler and the leaders of Japan.
For a moment I pose a question of particular interest to my age group. What was happening today—22nd March 1945—exactly 50 years ago? It was a significant date for Britain and for our troops in North West 1242 Europe. It was D-day minus 2 for the Rhine; that is, two days before D-day for the assault crossing and air-borne landings across the River Rhine. The Scottish Division in which I was serving was one of the two divisions to attack in assault boats at 2 a.m. on 24th March. It is as well to remember that exactly 50 years ago the war was by no means over in Europe, still less in South-East Asia and the Far East.
After the commemorations in Normandy last June and with the prospect of VE day in May before us, younger generations may overlook the hard fighting, costly in casualties, in the months between. For example, 50 years ago last month our British troops had been engaged in the fierce battles to break through the Siegfried Line and go through the Reichswald Forest. The San Francisco Conference convened at the end of April, just before the ceasefire in Europe. It led to agreement on membership of the United Nations and on the text of the Charter.
It is worth noting that two Soviet Republics were made separate members—the Ukraine and Byelorussia as it was, Belarus as it is now—so that a compromise gave three votes to the Soviet Union. At that time a crucial part of the Charter was the veto. The five major powers from the Security Council could exercise it and prevent action by the United Nations. It was of course over-used by the Soviet Union and fell into some disrepute. But its origin was sensible. The main purpose of the United Nations was to prevent another world war. If one or more of the great powers were strongly opposed to action involving armed force, dangerous conflicts could be started by the decisions of the United Nations in the Security Council; hence the veto. It was designed to stop action at an early stage that might make matters worse and possibly lead to the world war which it was the UN's object to avoid.
The organisation started with 51 members, less than one-third of the membership of today. Other noble Lords have worked at the United Nations during the past 50 years. In particular, the noble Lord, Lord Richard, as Ambassador, had a distinguished period of service and is to reply this evening. My interest and participation in the debate arise from having been a junior diplomatist in the United Kingdom mission for three years. I went to New York in 1948 when the United Nations was only three years old—in its very early days.
While many disputes and situations have been before the United Nations, there have been two which severely tested the basic system and resulted in United Nations forces being sent to subdue an aggressor. The first was Korea and the second was Kuwait and the Gulf War. As regards Korea, I was at the emergency meeting of the Security Council at Lake Success on the Sunday morning in June 1950, the day after North Korea attacked the South. There were only four of us in the British delegation and I am the only one who still survives. Our ambassador was not there, Sir Alexander Cadogan, who had just retired. My noble kinsman, the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, took over several days later and handled brilliantly the later stages of the Korean crisis. I am glad that he is present today. As other noble 1243 Lords have said, he was the Acting Secretary General of the organisation before the first Secretary General, Mr. Trigve Lie, was appointed.
The war in Korea was tough and difficult. However, the fact that the United Nations forces prevailed and that the aggressor was forced to give up everything that had nefariously been acquired, probably acted as a powerful deterrent in later years against similar temptations to invade a neighbour's territory. The aggression of Saddam Hussein against Kuwait and the United Nations successful reaction through the coalition force are fresh in our memories. Again, the Security Council system was successful in restoring the territorial situation. The new factor, which was very welcome, was that Russia—now the successor to the Soviet Union as a permanent member—was assisting the United Nations action; the Cold War had indeed ended.
When the Charter was being negotiated, a clause on which most if not all countries insisted was one prohibiting the United Nations from interfering in the domestic affairs of any nation—not just members but any nation. That became Article 2.7 of the Charter. In its early days that clause assumed great importance among the members. It has, however, made it difficult for the United Nations to mediate or even to introduce humanitarian aid in civil wars. In addition, there are situations which have arisen over the years where international action was deemed to be necessary or helpful but world peace was not being threatened. A punitive force to deal with aggression was not needed, but lightly armed and equipped neutral buffer forces—sometimes only observers—were needed.
The Charter did not visualise the need for peace-keeping forces or make provision for them. The United Nations nonetheless has decided to introduce that concept. Now, peace-keeping forces are the most widely used troops acting for the United Nations in various parts of the world. Arrangements additional to the Charter have thus been put into effect with general agreement. I have to add that operating these peace-keeping forces has been a delicate and difficult business both for the military commanders and for the directing offices of the United Nations and individual governments.
What of the future in the next 50 years of the United Nations? Although the Cold War has ended, the United Nations must remain ready to deal with wild men in charge of nation states. The states may be small but if they are trying to obtain nuclear weapons they could become very dangerous. The United Nations also has to be alert to detect and forestall international terrorism. Contingency planning is needed all the time in New York for quick responses when military forces or units are needed for various occasions.
The question is asked whether there should be changes to the structure or in the Charter to reflect the comparative influence of members compared with 1945 when Germany and Japan were not members and nor were other countries now influential in the world. One small change was agreed in 1965 to increase the number in the Security Council to 15. There are problems in upsetting a system which is now working and well 1244 understood. Anomalies do exist and they may become more apparent. But I suggest that any revision will have to be undertaken with the utmost care and with very full consultation.
The United Nations has been successful, I submit, in its main, original object of preventing world war, but it has not done so exactly in the way which was foreseen and intended in 1945.
§ 4.23 p.m.
§ Lord Shepherd
Lords, it is right and proper that we should be celebrating next month the end of the war in Europe and next year, in a similar way, the end of the war in Asia. It is of equal importance that we should celebrate throughout the country and throughout the world, in a perhaps more vigorous and enthusiastic way than we are doing today, the creation and formation of the United Nations.
Fifty years ago some 51 nations signed a Charter. My noble friend Lord Cledwyn read it out. The words stand the test of time and still cause us to feel emotion. Those of my age and my experience, like the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, ask, "Where were we on that day?" High aspirations and high hopes remain. We have not yet prevented war. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, referred to Korea, and there was also the conflict with Iraq. Those were dealt with by the United Nations but mainly, I suggest, through the leadership of the United States.
My noble friend referred to the League of Nations. It collapsed over a period of time. It withered more than collapsed. I suspect that its death was inevitable because of the failure of the United States Congress to support it, although its creation had been inspired by an American president. Without the United States, the League of Nations could not play any effective role for peace.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, and others are right about the role of the United Nations in securing peace because the world, by and large, has lived in peace and with increasing security. However, the cockpit of Europe perhaps owes more to the creation of NATO for, as some of us used to call it, collective security. NATO perhaps more than anything has established a peaceful arrangement within Europe. NATO could not have been created or developed, nor could it have succeeded, but for the support and more importantly the participation of the United Nations. My hope is that whatever may be going on there the United States will remain a solid member of NATO. If the military forces of Europe continue to be held together, as they now are, the possibilities of another cockpit are fewer.
I stress the role of the United States because so much has been dependent upon strong leadership. However, the United States has done other things. I spoke of NATO a few moments ago. Perhaps the most imaginative act of the United States was the Marshall Plan which allowed Europe to form itself again out of the devastation of war. I stress the role of the United States deliberately because I sense a wind of change—not Macmillan's one of hope and confidence in Africa but one which bodes danger and ill not only for the 1245 world but for the United States itself. Isolationism has never been very far from the heart of the United States. It was rejected under Roosevelt and successive presidents. The Soviet Union collapsed because of the economic problems that arose as a consequence of the Cold War. In the same way the United States has carried a very major burden of defence at a high cost in terms of the many things, perhaps social, which it might otherwise have done.
I say a wind of change but I hope that it is only a breath. I have the feeling that there is developing nationalism throughout the world. I say to my noble friends in all parts of the House that when I hear the phrase "national interest" and the declaration that "national interest will govern what we do or say", I begin to wonder how close we are reaching towards the form of nationalism that pertained in the 1930s. I understand what is often meant by national interest; that is, our people. But we have to continue to recognise a responsibility and duty well beyond our own particular interests.
The United Nations has been more than successful in the field through its agencies such as the World Health Organisation, UNICEF and the IMF. Perhaps more than any, the IMF has played a major part in establishing the stability of currencies on which world trade depends. World trade is the only way for poor countries eventually to come out of poverty and squalor.
I see the 50th anniversary as an opportunity to go further than simply re-dedicate ourselves to the concept of the United Nations. There should be something more than a function in Westminster Hall. All the great and powerful will be there, no doubt. But when one talks to one's children or grandchildren it is frightening to realise their lack of knowledge of what was the cause of the last war and what led to the creation of the United Nations. I wonder whether it is not too late to see whether, through the national curriculum—perhaps in their history lessons—schools can be encouraged to tell their children, perhaps in a wider field, of the importance to us and to them of the United Nations.
§ Lord Howe of Aberavon
My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord. He may like to know that the United Nations Association is organising widely throughout the country a series of mock United Nations General Assemblies, the conclusion of which will take the form of an assembly in Central Hall, Westminster, where it is hoped that the Secretary General will speak. So children will be brought into participation nationwide in the important anniversary celebrations.
§ Lord Shepherd
My Lords, that is indeed great news. It fills a particular gap which some of us, I suspect, of my age, are becoming more conscious of with the passing of the years.
I come back to the point, made by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, and to which I referred earlier, of the United States being tired of carrying the burden. We really should be looking at ways and means by which we of the European Union, not necessarily national governments, try to relieve the United States of some of that burden. Perhaps that would have an influence on the general public perception of the United Nations. 1246 I believe that after 50 years the structures of the United Nations require some consideration and perhaps change. That will require great determination and leadership. I believe that it would be of great benefit to the member states if one were able to say that we are looking at it not only internally but through national governments. We could develop a greater understanding within our own country, especially among youngsters. So little is said about the United Nations other than in snide and depreciatory terms. I suspect that not enough is done—and that is the value of today's debate—to draw the attention of the House and the country to the remarkable successes of the United Nations. There have been mistakes, but I suspect that overall the United Nations has achieved something well beyond what the founding fathers expected.
My noble friend has done a great service to the House and, I hope, to Parliament by expounding this universal feeling within the House of the importance of the United Nations and the great necessity that we should sustain and seek ways to invigorate it. I thank my noble friend.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Lord Greenhill of Harrow
My Lords, at this stage of the debate a great deal of ground has been covered. I shall try not to go over what has already been said. I can therefore be very brief. I believe that I will be a good deal more pessimistic than speakers who have already held the Floor. It is indeed an appropriate time to consider the long-term fate of the United Nations organisation, not because it is the 50th anniversary, but because its future in its present form is, in my opinion, clearly at stake. There is in this country and in others a widespread and justifiable dissatisfaction about its failure to achieve its intended purpose and its ineffectiveness in present international situations. It is generally agreed that it is in financial difficulty. That is not the fault of the organisation, but of the members. It is over-staffed and engaged expensively in many superfluous activities. Of course, it is not without achievements, but it is failing in its main purposes.
First, it is not improbable—and indeed likely—that the Serbians will win the Bosnian war despite their appalling cruelty, treachery and deceit. The impact of such an event will appall world opinion and greatly discredit the United Nations itself. Previously, advantage was not fully taken of the victory in the Gulf War and a great opportunity was missed. Since then the United Nations has suffered a humiliating collapse in Somalia and in Africa—in Rwanda, Angola and elsewhere—and in parts of the Far East. Such progress that has been made in the Middle East has been made largely at the initiative of others outside the machinery of the United Nations.
Before suggesting a way to strengthen the United Nations, I believe it is reasonable to put on record the performance of the United Kingdom in the organisation itself. On the whole, I believe that our own country has put up a good show since the organisation was created. In its formulation we played a major part for which our colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, deserves the 1247 greatest credit. Since 1945 our representatives, political and official, have been of very high calibre and in my view performed outstandingly well.
Names have already been mentioned. Their performance in the face of a good deal of hostility has been admirable. One has only to recall the verbal contests of the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, with the Soviet Vyshinsky in New York. I remember in Washington at that time, when television sets were rare, meeting an American lawyer's wife, who asked whether I had seen "That man Jebb. I rang up my husband at the office and told him to drop everything and come home to see how the Russians should be dealt with".
Another name which has not been mentioned is that of Lord Caradon who carried his letter of resignation in his pocket all the time, but never used it. He played a very important part. Other performers were Sir Patrick Dean, Sir Anthony Parsons and the noble Lord, Lord Richard, who is here with us this afternoon. In recent months on the television we have been able to see the admirable performance by Sir David Hanney, our representative on the Security Council.
I do not believe that the UN is capable of reforming itself. Its past performance needs reviewing, and problems of the future need anticipating. What do I think needs to be done? Could not a modest sized, but highly talented, commission—international and independent—be set up? It could, in a way, reflect the system that was used when the Marshall Plan was being worked out after the war. The purpose of such a commission would be to think again, in the light of the world of today, and to plan how best to function. Of course, the members would not agree about everything, and could not run the organisation, but in the course of its debates new ideas could be considered and some at least be adopted.
The European Union could be represented on such a commission, and thus find an outlet for its common foreign and defence policy. In any case, the UK could bring an experience of more than 50 years to the discussions. I believe that the idea of such a commission has already begun to be thought out by some people. Perhaps the Minister would comment on that suggestion in replying to the debate.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ Lord Judd
My Lords, I join those who have congratulated my noble friend Lord Cledwyn on having made the debate possible. It is not just significant that the debate is being supported so strongly, but what became clear during his speech is that he retains undiminished his commitment, his vision and his leadership. I also support what he said in his introduction: it is very sad that my noble friend Lord Ennals cannot be with us today because of ill health. I cannot think of anyone who has devoted his life more tirelessly to the issues which concern us than has my noble friend.
At the outset I must declare an interest. Much of my professional life has been, and remains, with NGOs whose activities are directly and indirectly relevant to 1248 the debate. I am privileged to be a member of the Commission on Global Government whose report will, we hope, be a useful contribution to the wider debate surrounding the 50th anniversary. It is a report upon which I shall obviously draw in my remarks.
The first reality of existence, let alone politics, is total, global interdependence. That is true of finance, commerce, trade, information technology, the environment, the airways, shipping lines, fishing, health, military security, the arms trade, international terrorism, its potential brought home horrifically in Japan this week, fundamentalism, migration, and, indeed, the media. The list is overwhelming. It is impossible to look to our own well-being and that of our children and grandchildren within national boundaries alone.
It is not a matter of whether or not we have global governance, but of what kind of global governance we have. To say that is not to envisage some authoritarian, centralised world government; not at all. A complex matrix is obviously what will be required, and in many ways that is precisely what the UN system has become. If it did not exist, something very like it would have to be invented.
But were the UN being formed today, with five Permanent Members of the Security Council, it is unlikely that we would be one. That is a highly significant role we have inherited from history. We have to work hard to justify it. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, has just argued in his penetrating observations, none of us would, I suspect, advocate relinquishing it. We must therefore shoulder the responsibilities for the global stewardship it entails. If we were ever not prepared to do that, if we were ever to become myopically preoccupied with our own little insular concerns, we should do far better to move over and make way for someone else. What we must all remember is that it is very much our United Nations.
Clearly, the UN system is under stress and in need of reinvigoration. Parts of the system have passed their sell-by date and should be laid to rest. By cynical neglect, the Economic and Social Council has long since become an expensive and ineffective bore; the functions of UNCTAD could well be absorbed by the new world trade organisation and by the UNDP. Similarly, UNIDO could be integrated into the UNDP. However, other parts of the system—the good housekeeping utilities as they have been described—the International Postal Union, the World Meteorological Office, IATA, and their like, perform very well an indispensable co-ordinating role, but at the same time other major elements in the system are in urgent need of strengthening.
First, there is security. Recent history has amply demonstrated the challenge. An anthropological mission from another galaxy would find it impossible to give a rational explanation of human behaviour. Still we spend 250 times as much—or more—on arms than we do on peace-keeping; and still we spend only a fraction of what we spend on peacekeeping on conflict resolution and pre-emptive diplomacy. We agonise about how we will find the resources to cope with the next wave of refugees or displaced people, but what do we spend on preventing that next wave?
1249 Surely there is a case for considering within the UN system the establishment of a council for petition; a respected, credible body to hear petitions from threatened minorities or groups; a body which could produce an authoritative report to be directed towards those in a position to take action. That would at least be a step towards positive, as distinct from reactive, policy.
Surely at the same time we need to give far more authority to the Secretary General and the Security Council to gather intelligence; to mount missions—perhaps like the influential Eminent Persons Group which the Commonwealth dispatched to South Africa—and to appoint conciliators. As the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, suggested, surely we need to look at the case for a volunteer rapid deployment force to move into hot situations before they escalate. And we should also consider the earmarking of standby forces in member states, ready to be mobilised for peace enforcement, peace-keeping, and the protection of humanitarian operations.
All operations must have clear mandates—of late, so badly lacking. They should always be undertaken in the context of a thorough political analysis and clearly defined political objectives. Disastrously, those were conspicuous by their absence in Somalia. It is imperative to put in place a proper chiefs of staff committee with adequate support.
In parallel, disarmament and control of the conventional arms trade—that monster which fuels bloodshed, chaos and genocide—must certainly remain priorities. The extension of the non-proliferation treaty and closely related comprehensive test ban treaty is essential. To deal with conventional arms, the UN arms register is a start, but a far more comprehensive code of conduct for the trade could do much to promote the transparency which is vital. But every bit as vital are funds for industrial and research diversification and substitution. Whole communities—thousands of people—are dependent for their livelihood upon the production of arms.
In Africa alone, if we are serious about conflict prevention, now is the time to be acting firmly on Burundi, and to be concentrating on the action necessary to divert disaster in Algeria, Nigeria, Kenya and Zaire. If we are serious about conflict resolution we should be preoccupied with the ugly and contagious troubles of Liberia and Sierra Leone.
As the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, pointed out, all that raises the issue of sovereignty. I believe that that nettle must be grasped. Where nation states collapse, where rulers with no democratic or popular legitimacy tyrannise their subjects, we cannot pass by on the other side. There is a humanitarian obligation to intervene. To stand cynically by while the innocent are slaughtered before us on our television screens would do incalculable damage to the moral fabric of our own society.
In any case, of late it has not been a matter of whether the international community will intervene but of when. And too often it has been too late and at maximum expense when least can be achieved. Intervention has repeatedly been arbitrary, when media hype, because the cameras were there, became irresistible.
1250 There is a desperate need for consistent criteria and for well-designed methodology for intervention. For those who fear lest the UN has become a subcontractor or, indeed, a figleaf for the will of the powerful—for those who foresee in effect a pax-Americana—the answer is clear. The international community must get its act together to ensure effective international policy-making and action.
As was rightly stressed by my noble friend Lord Cledwyn, we must beware of traditional limited concepts of security. For many millions, the security that they seek first is the security of a home, a job, clean water, enough food and good health. Lasting security, as he argued, entails economic, environmental and social stability and justice. It entails the rule of law with universal access and consistent application of that law. It means the force of law and not the law of force. The role of the International Court of Justice must therefore, it seems to me, be enhanced and its writ must be made to run. An international criminal court may well be overdue but it must not become a tool of the mighty alone.
It is easy to favour sustainable development. But sustainable development raises vast issues of access to resources, distribution and equity. That is why the notion of the Trusteeship Council taking responsibility for the global commons should not be dismissed, and why we should be prepared at least to begin examining the feasibility of charging for the use of global resources such as flight lanes, sea lanes, space and fishing areas. That could be one way too, perhaps, of financing essential international services and the UN system.
After a great deal of internal debate, the Commission on Global Governance came down firmly in favour of a high-powered United Nations body that is more representative than the G7 or the Bretton Woods institutions and more credible in that respect than the UN system as it presently exists. It should deliberate on how macro-economic, social and environmental policy can best be related to the market system. It should not directly run—God forbid—the IMF and the World Bank but provide a forum in which both the bank and the fund would have to give account of themselves and take account of the wider social and security implications of their policies, ranging from the consequences of the debt burden to the human casualties of structural adjustment which too often keep the burden of such adjustment on the poor, as when, for example, increasing fees for education and health are introduced.
We may lament the undeniable inadequacies of the UN, but all over the world there is a growing crisis of confidence in the national and regional political systems of which we in this House are very much a part. Politicians are perceived to be mesmerised by tactics to the exclusion of strategy. The public sense that the big issues pass us by. They look for vision and leadership. As a nation determined to retain our membership of the Security Council, we in the United Kingdom above all must help to provide exactly that vision and leadership.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ Lord Beaumont of Whitley
My Lords, in rising to contribute to this welcome debate, I wish to turn to a 1251 subject that was touched on by the noble Lords, Lord Thomson and Lord Judd, and by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester. We must ask ourselves who in this world are the real powers. The past few years have seen the growth of the transnational corporations in size and power. Today, many of them have budgets greater than many sovereign nations and they transcend national and, indeed, regional boundaries. Furthermore, they transcend national and regional control.
Among the causes of that growth have been the revolution in communications technology and the growth of free trade with the consequent diminution of controls on such corporations. Indeed, if one wants to measure the power of the TNCs, one has only to compare the success of the Uruguay Round, leading to a GATT which essentially serves their purposes, with the failure of the efforts to liberalise the transfer of intellectual rights, which would not have served their purposes.
That growth of power, with its tool of the worldwide transfer of capital to any place which may combine certain workers' skills with a lack of protection for wages, workers' rights and environmental protection, is extremely alarming and a menace to the well-being of both rich and poor countries. Nations have lost control or, worse, are suborned into not wanting to exercise it. The only wholehearted opposition to those evils comes from the equally international efforts of various non-governmental organisations, in particular those which fight on behalf of the poor such as Oxfam and CAFOD, many of which have religious motivations.
But those bodies are puny compared with the might of the TNCs. I believe that there is a fair comparison between the present international situation and that which existed in America towards the end of the last century when the industrial barons—including, I regret to say, my ancestors—rode roughshod over the unions.
It is clear that if nations cannot or will not exercise control—and I hasten to say that it is primarily the former: that they cannot—regional and global bodies must step in to do so. Ultimately, only world bodies can be really effective while complete global freedom of capital allows TNCs to shift their funds about to where standards are the lowest. Therefore, there is a most important role for the United Nations to play.
What we need now is United Nations regulation, not so much of nations as of TNCs, above all to allow developing countries to pursue more self-reliant growth strategies in which they reduce their dependence on northern markets where demand is sustained (in so far as it is sustained) by unsustainable consumption patterns. It cannot too often be pointed out that the state of affairs that I have described is entirely incompatible with the sustainable development to which we are all pledged after Rio.
Among the ends that we must attain is the ability and the right of every country to feed itself. That means a situation in which in this country, for example, we do not have to choose between the courses of over-farming and not farming at all, in which we find ourselves.
1252 Although there are some existing organs of the UN which can be employed in those tasks—and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, touched on the issue—it is possible that a new organ is needed especially for this purpose. But we could start with the World Trade Organisation as the UN's special agency, incorporating the International Labour Organisation, to enforce minimum standards such as the rights of trade unions and the prohibition of any form of slave labour.
It could also recognise the rights of governments to protect their environment and to take such steps as are necessary to prevent the exploitation of non-renewable resources. An additional and very important task would be to guarantee the owners of intellectual rights only a fair return for their efforts but otherwise to see that knowledge flow freely for the good of all. Incidentally, that has been an aim of western civilisation ever since the Enlightenment. That involves, among other things, a strict control of patent rights.
When my noble friend Lord Gladwyn was first Acting Secretary of the United Nations, it started on a tricky role as a peace-keeper in a world which had seen two world wars and seemed quite likely to see another. During its history it has had many failures, but it is clear to most of us that it has been been worthwhile. The time has now come for it to take on a new role by seeing to the preservation not just of the peace of the planet but of the planet itself. Only if it is able to help us fulfil the pledges which we all made at Rio will it incidentally be able to help the global revolution which will lead to the adoption of ecological economics and which will, by no means incidentally, also lead the diminution of violence in the world. It has been pointed out several times in the debate that there is a growing amount of violence within nations which stems from great divergence between rich and poor. That violence is so often caused by a power system which worships Mammon rather than those things which are both human and divine.
In that area, the challenge to the United Nations will be vast. The transnational corporations may be far more difficult to control than have been the nations. But the nations themselves can and should be harnessed to help. I pray that our nation and western Europe as a whole will be in the lead.
§ 5.1 p.m.
§ Lord Kennet
My Lords, so far this has been a really interesting debate. Everything that has been said has been constructive and most of the contributions have sprung from the very best thoughts of those noble Lords who have spoken. It would be strange and terrible if it were otherwise, because if the United Nations does not bring out the best in us and our best thoughts, what will?
Perhaps I may start by dealing with two concrete subjects which touch this nation. The first is our membership of the Security Council. Indeed, it is an historical accident that we are there. We did not get there because we were a nuclear power, but it has been a justification for remaining there: we are one of the five nuclear powers which are also the five veto-holding permanent members. Change must be expected in time. It would be dangerous to resist it. It would be unfair to 1253 the fabric and development of the United Nations to do so. I should be all for our continuing as a permanent member if that could be reconciled in some way with the arrival of the European Union as an institutional permanent member on the Security Council. But it is hard to see how that could be reconciled. No doubt the Germans would have an opinion about it.
Secondly, I wish to speak about UNESCO and the need for us to rejoin. The House will be grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, for reading aloud the correspondence he had with the Prime Minister about when that could be achieved. I can tell your Lordships from personal experience that there is absolutely no doubt that the membership and secretariat of UNESCO would be overjoyed to see us back. That is largely for our own sakes, but also because it might herald the return of the United States to where it belongs.
As regards United Nations funding, which has been lightly touched on, it is clear, (is it not?) that no country can be a true member of the United Nations and have the right to exercise the weight even of other members unless it pays on the nail. There has been some mention in the press of an initiative being prepared within the European Union to devise a system of penalties, or some form of disadvantage, for UN members who do not pay on the nail. It has been reported in the press that this country is taking a leading part in that European Union initiative. I should be interested to hear the comments of the noble Baroness when she replies to the debate. That is something that we should be doing.
Many noble Lords have reminisced. What was I doing in the spring of 1945 when the UN was being set up? I was recovering, partly in hospital, from an unpleasant illness brought about by my involvement in what we should now call a manned weapons platform. In short, it was a very small wooden-built motorboat carrying a lot of machine guns that could proceed at 45 knots but could not sink anything. I contracted TB and it took me some time to recover. But that gave me a sense of weapons and what they are, from both ends, which has never left me throughout my life.
In the rest of my speech I wish to talk about one of the great world scourges, horrors, which can be dealt with only by the United Nations; that is, the arms trade. Let us pause for a moment and think about what is a weapon. It is something unique among all the products of human ingenuity. If we consider it physically, it is something which will inflict death on another human being. It has no other purpose, except to cause another to act in accordance with our will in order to avoid being killed. It is morally unique in that it is a physical machine designed to augment the effects of ill will. If we desire to kill somebody, we have our fists and then a knife and so on up to the H-bomb. Much ingenuity and wealth go into the deliberate and considered magnification of the ability of individual evil to inflict itself more and more widely.
If we consider it economically, the situation is more complicated. It is very seldom considered down to its roots. Weapons are unique in that they are useless if they are not used; that is, they do no good if they are not used. They are extremely expensive to maintain and 1254 require vast forces of highly skilled, dedicated and educated people. If they are used, they destroy wealth on an almost unimaginable scale. There is no other product of which that is true. Most of the other things that we make in our industrial society are either neutral—they do neither good nor harm—or they are positively beneficial in that they keep people alive, give them pleasure, or create wealth with which more useful things can be made, and more people can be removed from starvation and disease.
The world is only just at the beginning of the task of understanding the national arms trade. It has such infinite ramifications for ill. Perhaps I may give your Lordships one example which is happening now but which is not discussed very much. Our Government are proud to have achieved second place in the world after the United States as an exporter of arms. They have maintained that position for reasons which are very good in another context; namely, that they create employment. We suffer from unemployment. That is not due entirely to government policy. It is due also to the development of technology and the fact that people are being put out of work by the electronics revolution and so on. Making arms is a way in which to take up unemployment.
But it makes us anxious to find buyers. The Government and industry lay on great fairs. One is taking place at the moment for the Gulf states. We press them to buy our most modern weapons in the very largest numbers at the best prices that we can command. We succeed, and we shall continue to succeed, but if the United States and ourselves continue to succeed in persuading the Gulf states to pay us for major operations, as they did in the Gulf and again, in the past year, within Iraq, the Gulf princes will become poorer and poorer. As they become poorer and poorer and have more and more of our weapons, so their peoples will become more and more agitated as the wonderful consumer life which they lead is gradually withdrawn from them. The populations of the Gulf states are at the moment the greatest dependency culture in the world. If that decreases and the princes become broke and are overthrown, which is far from impossible, such has been the trend of British policy, that would be the very last thing we would want. We back them, but, I submit, are tending to overthrow them by our actions in pressing weapons down their throats. That is just one example. There are countless others where countries are the victims or the victimisers, or are morally innocent, or blinkered. But they just carry on the same.
As my noble friend Lord Judd mentioned, the trade could only be controlled by the United Nations. It is not in the nature of regional blocs to do anything on a world scale to control the circulation of arms—both new and second-hand arms. It is in the nature of the United Nations to do so, and members of the UN are beginning to understand that with the register. I am sure that in 100 years' time people will look back on the articles in the United Nations Charter which guarantee the right of a member state to act in its own self-defence and which preclude the United Nations from interfering in its internal affairs with surprise, understanding and perhaps even pity. Rather in the way that we look back now on the world of Shakespeare's histories where all barons and above—all Members of this House—were entitled to act 1255 in their own self-defence and no one, but no one, not even the king, had the right to intervene in their internal affairs. What England was in the 15th century, the world is now. What this Parliament is now, the United Nations must be in a 100 years' time.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Lord Finsberg
My Lords, the authors of 1066 and All That—Sellar and Yeatman—would have said, "United Nations, a good thing". I believe that that has come through in almost all the speeches that we have heard today. I add my gratitude to that already expressed to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn—who, outside the Chamber, I am happy to call a noble friend —for his initiative in raising the subject and giving us the opportunity to debate it. I only quarrel with the noble Lord in one instance: I wish that the Americans would pay more attention to St. George rather than St. Patrick or St. David; or, even, St. Andrew. However, one never knows.
Many speakers mentioned the plaque on Central Hall commemorating the first meeting of the General Assembly of the United Nations. I very much hope that that particular anniversary will be celebrated because it was unique and it might, perhaps, have given a different history to the UN if the permanent seat had in fact been in London. I believe that we would have been more pragmatic; but, alas, time has moved on.
My hero is Anthony Eden. I took the trouble to look up one of his speeches which was made on the 22nd August 1945 during a debate upon the United Nations Charter. He compared the failure, and the reasons for it, of the League of Nations with the prospects for the success of the United Nations. He made two points:The conception of democracy in international affairs led people to think—falsely, as I believe—that the League was constituted so that every nation must be regarded as exactly equal and there was no relation between power and responsibility. It was a case of one nation, one vote, with the result that Liberia was as important as the Soviet Union, and, if you like, Costa Rica as the United Kingdom. That was not a sound basis on which to found an international organisation, because it was not a basis of truth. Law and order, whether national or international, must be founded on truth, and, if it is not founded on truth, it pays the penalty eventually and is impotent when the crisis arises. It seems to me that we have embodied these lessons in the new world organisation, because, there, our membership is universal".— [Official Report, Commons, 22/8/45; cols. 674–5.]Mr. Eden was, of course, picking up the point that the failure of the United States to support the League of Nations very clearly led to its downfall.
So, where are we now? What reforms do we need to consider to try to push the United Nations ahead for the next half century? As has already been said, its costs need to be examined; it is wasteful and bureaucratic. Talking to British representatives who sit as staff of the UN, their comment is that if only a Treasury Civil Service team could examine the methods of operation and know that its recommendations would be put into effect, millions of pounds could be saved. All the initiatives so far taken by successive Secretaries General have foundered upon the self-interest of many of the people who work within the organisation and no one has had the ability to push things forward.
1256 Just over three weeks ago I was in Washington as the vice-chairman of the political committee of the Western European Union. It was very clear from talks on the Hill and with research organisations that the new Republican majority, as has already been said, is highly critical of the United Nations. The Republicans want to reduce the American contribution to its expenditure. They do not want to pull out of the United Nations; indeed, they all made that perfectly clear. However, they believe that it is wasteful and that it is not carrying out the sort of task that the United States thinks it should be. I should like to add one comment to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. I had very firm indications from almost the highest source within the Senate that the new Republican majority is even more supportive of NATO than the last Congress. That fact was confirmed in many conversations that I had in Washington.
One theme that has come through many of today's speeches is: should the Security Council have extra permanent members? My noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy spoke about Korea and the Gulf. We only had the success of the United Nations operation in Korea because the Soviets were not there to veto it. Therefore, if in fact we are talking about enlarging the membership of the Security Council we must remember that it would give more opportunity for vetoing and that it would also make it more difficult to obtain the sort of consensus that we have been getting since the disappearance of the Soviet empire. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will say very firmly that Her Majesty's Government will have no truck with the idea of merging the British and French seats and giving a seat to the European Union. I believe that most of us in this country would find that wholly repugnant and unacceptable.
Should the United Nations indulge in peacekeeping or peacemaking? More and more it is becoming fairly obvious that it cannot go on the way that it is going at present. One has spoken of the failures of the United Nations. People are asking: how can we reform it to make it more useful? I should remind noble Lords that the world set up the new organisation, the OCSE, which had great hopes some four years ago and which laid down in its Charter in Paris that no one who acquired territory by force from another country would have those borders recognised. How quickly those noble sentiments have been dispersed and how ignominious have been the attempts of those people who signed that document to justify what had happened, for example, in Bosnia-Herzegovina. What should the United Nations be doing? I looked at the proceedings which culminated in the Moscow declaration of 1943. That was fascinating. I am talking of a time at the height of the war when we had not even had D-Day. Two things were said by the participants at the proceedings:they will take all measures deemed by them to be necessary to provide against any violation of the terms imposed on the enemy".That is fine; that recognises the position. The declaration continued that,they recognise the necessity of establishing at the earliest practicable date a general international organisation, based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all peace-loving States and open to membership by all such States, large or small, for the maintenance of international peace and security".1257 What they did not do—nor was it done even at a later stage—was to decide exactly how that should be done. Various ideas were floated. Anthony Eden floated the idea of a permanent force that might be under the control of the Secretary General, but that did not get off the ground. There is a problem, of course, in that. I prefer the idea of the voluntary agreement of many countries to have forces available if the Security Council asks them to intervene. But that will cost money and of course it will not be able to operate speedily enough.
I believe that peacemaking is therefore the only way forward but it needs political will which is not always there. Its operation, clearly, will interact with many of the other ideas that the United Nations has had, We have seen how that interaction has not worked with the UN and NATO as regards the bombing of one anti-aircraft site in Bosnia. That was no way in which it should operate. I am glad to see here at least two of my colleagues in the Council of Europe and the Western European Union who more than two-and-a-half years ago advocated much tougher action—along with me—against the Serbs, which might have saved tens of thousands of lives. But, alas, no one listened to us.
Paraphrasing Winston Churchill, the UN is the best thing we have got until we can find something better. Perhaps the old convention that the Secretary General should not come from one of the great five ought to be re-examined. After all, why should the five biggest contributors in terms of forces to peacekeeping, and in terms of contributions, be discriminated against when a new Secretary General is considered? Surely we want the best available Secretary General, irrespective of sex or nationality.
I end with one thought. How is the United Nations going to deal with the innumerable tactical nuclear weapons that have disappeared from the former Soviet Union and are in the hands of who knows who—Libya, Iran, Iraq? What will the United Nations do against international terrorism of the kind we have seen this week in Japan? Nothing in the set up of the United Nations was designed to cope with things like that. That is where I believe the United Nations needs to do some thinking. I hope it has an answer. If not, I have to say to the noble Lord who spoke earlier that his great-grandchildren will not see a future in a hundred years' time.
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ Lord Kirkhill
My Lords, I believe that there is merit in being brief at this stage in a debate of this nature, but before I make what will be a few remarks I wish to thank my noble friend Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, who is not in the Chamber at the moment, for the thought of introducing this debate to your Lordships' House this afternoon, and for the lucid and comprehensive manner in which he made his remarks. Before I say anything further, perhaps I should just say that if the Government Front Bench is not freewheeling at the moment, it should do so because I do not intend to put any question to the Minister who might feel that at a later stage she had to say something to me. Anyway I see she has been sensible and has gone off to have a cup of tea or something.
1258 I wish to place a viewpoint before your Lordships at this time of the 50th anniversary of the United Nations which, were I a journalist—as my noble friend Lady White said she was many years ago—would probably get my copy scored through with the famous blue pencil and nothing very much would be left. I say that because the media in this country—largely, in my view, going through an iconoclastic phase in its history, for reasons best known to its proprietors and probably its editors—simply loves "knocking" all. and sundry, and in this regard the United Nations is no exception.
However, I want to put to noble Lords—incidentally, I have to say there have been few this afternoon, who have made comment along these lines, but many outwith this Chamber make such comment—that the United Nations is more than an expensive and worthless talking shop. I wish to pose a series of straightforward questions. For example, without the United Nations, would we have declared warfare illegal? That is, of course, a proposition which I freely acknowledge is usually ignored in extreme difficulty. But it is there as an outline and theoretically at least it is the means of settling disputes.
Would we ever have promulgated the universal declaration of human rights? Would peace-keeping, or some attempt at peace-keeping, ever have been invented? Would smallpox have been eradicated from the face of the earth and polio from the Americas'? Would all those arms control and disarmament agreements regarding nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction—and the arms register—ever have been brought to fruition? Without the United Nations would the people of Namibia and Cambodia be better or worse off? Would the international struggle against apartheid in South Africa have been so persistently executed? Would decolonisation have happened so relatively smoothly? Would the great body of international human rights law which now exists ever have seen the light of day? Would the struggle to eradicate the very worst of global poverty and adequately to protect our environment have made any headway at all?
I answer my own questions by saying that I believe that progress in each or some of those areas would have occurred to some extent or another without any United Nations lead. Governments have their own agendas of conciliation, and other international and continental quasi-governmental bodies usually seek to confirm their status as being both beneficial in influence and indispensable in action, often identifying, for example, a social or a physical need at the point of need, and then bringing in the appropriate NGO where some action can take place. I also quite understand that in geo-political terms it has been an international agreement hammered out time and again against the background of difficult concessions and complicated negotiation by the countries concerned which has sustained the United Nations in its worldwide mandate.
In addition, in my view it is foolish to believe that, because a UN initiative is ignored or exploited, we should encourage the major powers to do likewise. On the contrary, continued adherence by those countries whose fiscal and political commitment is now being 1259 questioned should, more than ever, be encouraged. However, I posed those earlier questions in a serious manner. They are difficult to answer other than in the rather general way that I attempted.
I conclude, confirming my earlier comment that I intended to be brief, by saying that I accept as much as anyone the need to restructure key areas of the United Nations, to root out corruption wherever it exists and to tighten the administrative efficiency of the overall body. Nevertheless (a good Scots word), I believe that the United Nations deserves our thanks and praise far more than we often appear willing to admit. I should like that to be remembered in this debate.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Viscount Waverley
My Lords, I rise with trepidation in the presence of such distinguished company. I hope that your Lordships will accept graciously my humble contribution. I shall be brief.
The United Nations is at a crossroads. Contradictory assessments of its past performance and usefulness and divergent views concerning its future roles have given rise to political controversy. The South Commission report recently concluded that the dilemma in reforming the United Nations is that it is an institution with an unequal and diverse membership operating in a global economy system. Many would like to see changes while others are determined to maintain the status quo.
The United Nations of the future must be based on the universal values which inspired its creation 50 years ago. It can act as an agent of progress and change, but must not be expected to solve all the problems of the international community. Properly equipped, however, it can play an effective and leading role in improving the economic and social situation of the inhabitants of all the world's nations, not merely the fortunate few. The system could deal with the growing number of complex international challenges involving development, peace and security by providing leadership and vision. It can offer alternatives to the dominant policies and relationships which generate inequality and sow seeds of turmoil and conflict throughout the world.
Those who express views which tarnish the United Nation's image often do so, I regret, for political interest. The reality is that the failing of the United Nations is that it has not been allowed to do more of what it was established to do. We must rationalise the organisation, modernise the management, cut costs, reduce waste, adapt to the changing world, and in so doing strengthen the structure. We must dispel the dominant public image of the United Nations as a highly bureaucratised structure which is mismanaged, inefficient and corrupt, with low quality staff.
As has been mentioned, the organisation has been brought to the brink of bankruptcy by the deliberate withholding of legally obligated dues in an attempt to force the United Nations to accept given political and administrative preferences. New and stable sources of finance are urgently required, together with the creation of mechanisms to ensure the payment of dues.
1260 The United Nations exists for all mankind, not just for a handful of member states representing a small minority of the world's population. Javier Perez de Cuellar was clear:It is mainly up to Governments to decide if they wish to co-operate in building on this foundation a useful, coherent, effective institution, or whether they choose the alternative that may sometimes seem easier in the short run, each taking their own short-sighted and self-interested course".This is not a time for despair but for determined efforts to rekindle the original inspirations and inject a new sense of purposeful direction, such that a strengthened United Nations will be able to fulfil the aspirations of many peoples around the world.
Fundamental issues have to be tackled, involving major reform. This 50th anniversary is an appropriate time to begin the process of debate leading to decisions.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
My Lords, I follow my noble friend Lord Kirkhill in an appreciation of the United Nations rather than criticism of it. It is not that criticism is not possible, but on this occasion appreciation is more appropriate. On the whole, the United Nations is short on appreciation and this is a good opportunity for us to amend that. To that extent I also follow the noble Viscount who has just sat down.
Indeed, I go further. I hazard the view that if during the past 50 years there had been no United Nations, it is more than possible that by now we would no longer exist. During that period there were one or two very narrow shaves and a different course from the one that was taken might have been disastrous, in the fullest possible sense of that word.
It is generally agreed that the agencies created by the United Nations are among its greatest achievements—the World Health Organisation, UNICEF, the UN High Commission for Refugees, and even UNESCO. I join with those who have expressed the hope that we are about to rejoin that organisation, which seems to a large degree to have dealt with the problems which caused us to depart from it. I hope that we shall return.
In addition, there are the conventions and treaties, such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That is an imperfect arrangement and not very efficient, but imagine what the situation would be now without it and if no attempt had been made to prevent the vast proliferation that could have taken place had there been no international determination to try to keep it at least at a minimum. Therefore, there are reasons to be grateful for the existence of the United Nations.
The conventions prohibiting biological and chemical warfare are no mean achievements. Either of those methods of warfare, had they been allowed to develop without any degree of control, had within them the same possibility of mass destruction, of both people and buildings, as, in a more frightening way, the nuclear weapon itself. To the extent that the United Nations has acted as a deterrent to the development of weapons of mass destruction, we have to be grateful for its existence.
1261 The non-proliferation treaty will come up for reconsideration in a month or two and we have to decide whether to advocate its permanent extension or its extension for a specified period. We might determine that consideration by asking ourselves, "What do we want to follow that treaty?" I wish to add my voice to those who say that the treaty should be developed into a convention so that the nuclear weapon could be outlawed, as are biological and chemical weapons. There is no reason that that should not be achieved and every reason that it should be. If we cannot take that step immediately, when considering extending the treaty, whether permanently or for a term, we should examine the possibility that over a period of time the convention should have the same value as the conventions relating to biological and chemical weapons. We could then eliminate, to whatever degree possible, the threat of mass destruction which has hung over the head of mankind for all these years.
That is all I wish to say. I began by saying that if there had been no United Nations for the past 50 years we might no longer exist. I venture to suggest that, if there were no United Nations over the next 50 years, our successors would be in even greater peril than we have been. It is up to us not only to praise and sustain the United Nations where we can, and to change it where necessary, but also to recognise that in the perilous time in which we live the fact that the superpowers no longer exist has not removed the dangers one iota. At present there is the possibility that development of nuclear weapons is spreading out from governments into the hands of criminals and gangs. There is an unhealthy and somewhat frightening development of nuclear material passing from country to country.
Having survived the past 50 years, it is not impossible that we may survive the next 50, provided that we are careful and clever. It is on that fraught note that I conclude. It is not a note of doom and gloom, but a warning that the possibility of survival is within our own hands and we must grasp it.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Lord Vivian
My Lords, I, too, am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, for bringing the debate to our attention, and how appropriate to do so on the 50th anniversary of the United Nations.
I should like to address two slightly different specific points concerning the United Nations. The first is the development of a better understanding between UN military forces and humanitarian groups. The second is to bring to your Lordships' attention some aspects relating to the Cyprus problem.
I shall start with UN military forces and humanitarian organisations, which are rather like chalk and cheese. However, they both have a job to do and a successful mission is unlikely to be achieved without the support of both those organisations when deployed.
If a UN operation is to be successful, it is essential that both the military and humanitarian organisations work in the closest harmony, learning to trust each other implicitly. How can that be achieved? I suggest that 1262 much more joint training and liaison should take place in countries, including the United Kingdom, where those organisations live side by side. The military should invite those non-governmental organisations to their study days and training for possible UN deployments, and the humanitarian organisations should do the same and invite the military to their seminars to take part in their discussions.
Currently, military forces are welcomed initially to stabilise potential flashpoints and to control areas by patrolling and observation to prevent atrocities from taking place. However, soon after the arrival of the military, NGOs tend to distance themselves from them as the warring parties lose confidence in NGOs if they are seeking to side with the military, losing their unbiased status.
Your Lordships may well recall that in a debate a year ago I proposed that there should be two peacekeeping colleges, one for senior personnel in New York run by headquarters United Nations, and the other run on a privatised basis in the United Kingdom to train students from NGOs and the military at around the level of lieutenant colonel and below. No further action has been taken at this stage in respect of those two training colleges, but the proposal is not dead. I am glad to be able to say to your Lordships that my noble friend Lady Chalker has been most helpful and we are some months down the road with an important study looking into the social impact and intergroup relations of humanitarian protection and peacekeeping operations for the training of UN military forces in the future.
I now turn to Cyprus and the United Nations force which has been there for just over 30 years since 1964. I have had the privilege of serving in that United Nations force, known as UNFICYP, shortly after Turkey intervened with her army in 1974, and some years ago I had overall responsibility while serving in headquarters land forces in the sovereign base area for the logistic support and general assistance to that force.
At this point I should like to remind your Lordships that the military part of this force has been a model for achieving the UN's mission to provide a stable environment in which negotiations can take place between the political leaders of the two opposing sides in Cyprus. It is to the immense credit of the UN that, with the exception of the Turkish intervention, UNFICYP has provided a stable platform for political negotiations. It is not the fault of UNFICYP peacekeeping troops that time and again the talks between the two sides have broken down. That is the fault of the political advisers and negotiators.
I do not agree that the existence of UNFICYP has prevented both sides from reaching an agreement; and I do not think that just because UN resources are so stressed and strained worldwide UNFICYP should be withdrawn in an attempt to pressurise the two leaders into accepting proposed solutions. Anyone who believes in that approach does not understand the Cyprus situation and the depth of the present mistrust between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots. In my opinion, to withdraw the UN force would create a return to genocide and no responsible government should vote for that line of action. 1263 At this point I wish to pay tribute to the UN for the way in which UNFICYP has been organised and controlled and for its perseverance to try and achieve a political settlement. The main mission of peacekeeping troops is to preserve the status quo and relieve human suffering. They do not actively find a settlement—that is for political advisers, negotiators and the leaders of a troubled country like Cyprus.
I should like also to pay a large tribute and extend our deep gratitude to the British Army and Royal Air Force, who have been the backbone in UNFICYP and who have faced many serious difficulties over 30 years. It is the leadership, dedication and high professionalism that is found in British regiments which has set the standards and provided the example of how a United Nations force should be run. We should all be grateful that we have such professional and highly skilled Armed Forces that never fail this country.
I served in Cyprus first in 1967 and in those days appalling and shocking atrocities occurred frequently, with the most barbarous and most cruel murder of men, women and children, In 1974, Turkey intervened with its army which advanced from the northern coast of Cyprus to Nicosia causing some 160,000 Greek Cypriots to flee to the south of Cyprus. A line of demarcation running east to west through Nicosia, between the Turkish Cypriots in the north and the Greek Cypriots in the south, was established and became known as the Attila line. Since the establishment of that line, patrolled, policed and observed by UNFICYP, there have been only minor encroachments which have all been successfully dealt with by the UN force. Soon after the Attila line came into being, 45,000 Turkish Cypriots were removed from their homes and escorted to the northern part of Cyprus for security reasons. Many of the villagers were evacuated from mixed villages where Turkish and Greek Cypriots were living happily side by side. The Turkish Cypriot evacuation, which took place at around four o'clock on three successive mornings, may have been a highly successful UN security operation, but to me it was a most harrowing occasion vented with emotion, with sights of distraught and disturbed Turkish Cypriots handing over their houses and livestock to their Greek Cypriot friends for care and safe custody. Then they were bundled into the backs of lorries and old buses, with their few and scant personal belongings packed in old cardboard boxes and wrapped inside sheets. That is an appalling and sorrowful memory for me.
In practice, the military role of UNFICYP then changed from the protection of safe havens dotted throughout Cyprus to observing and patrolling a buffer zone in order to separate former belligerents. However, I hear on occasions that pressure should be brought to bear on the leaders of a divided Cyprus to bring about a political settlement. Those pressures, apart from a possible withdrawal of UNFICYP—and I have already informed your Lordships that I am in complete disagreement with that—seem to take the form, first, of proposals for demilitarisation of both sides. Secondly, it 1264 would give the Republic of Cyprus—the Greek Cypriot community—membership of the European Union some time after 1996.
I cannot agree with either of those two proposals for the following reasons. I do not believe that pressures such as demilitarisation and a subsequent withdrawal of UNFICYP as we know it now would be in any way helpful. In my view, it would be disastrous and highly irresponsible for any government to adopt such a course, as it would lead to a return of genocide, with a never-ending number of revenge killings to atone for the past. In some way, rather like the Cold War, the armies of Turkey in the north and the national guard in the south, separated by the thin blue line of the United Nations in the middle, provide the stable platform for political negotiation. To remove all three would without any doubt be a disaster.
I believe it would be a regrettable and unwise step to allow the Greek Cypriots membership of the European Union at this time. It is a provocative step which Mr. Clerides welcomes. He argues that accession of the Greek Cypriots would force Turkey and Mr. Denktas to think seriously of the Cyprus political problems. Mr. Denktas argues that accession by the Republic of Cyprus to the European Union will secure the full integration of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus with Turkey. The Prime Minister of Turkey has concurred with that statement. To bring in the European dimension at this stage can only be damaging and set back any political agreements which may have been in the offing.
What is the way ahead? First, I believe that it is to urge political advisers to make even greater efforts with the cause of a settlement to the Cyprus problem. To that end, maximum support should be given to the confidence-building measures of opening Varosha and Nicosia airports to all Cypriots. Mr. Clerides and Mr. Denktas accepted these measures in principle in February 1994, only a year ago. But neither side was able to agree the detailed drafting. It should be possible to redraft those details to make them acceptable to both sides. The agreement and acceptance of confidence-building measures would he a major stepping stone in the eventual reunification of Cyprus.
Secondly, a recent European Court ruling preventing the export of goods and merchandise from Northern Cyprus to Europe should be reviewed. If agreement can be accepted for the proposed confidence-building measures, the ruling should be overturned. Thirdly, it should be clearly stated that there will be no consideration of any application to the European Union until such time as a lasting political settlement is agreed between the two sides in Cyprus.
In conclusion, there are a considerable number of Cypriots on both sides who have experienced 20 years of sleeping peacefully in their beds at night, which they welcome more than anything else. Many of them tell me that they have forgotten about their properties, either north or south of the line. They are content and happy with their new peaceful way of life. However, with the daily increasing threat of fundamentalism in Turkey and throughout the Middle East, it would be easy for Cyprus to become once more a flashpoint in the eastern Mediterranean, possibly leading to a shattering of the 1265 south-east flank of NATO. The western powers should act now with great urgency to ensure a political settlement to the Cyprus problem, before further disturbances break out in the eastern Mediterranean area.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Lord Molloy
My Lords, first I wish to express my appreciation for the excellent speeches from my noble friend Lord Cledwyn and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe. I was also interested in the part of the debate that involved the patron saints. Various people argued the good points of the different patron saints and it reminded me of the wisdom of my Welsh mother. She sent us to a little church on Kilvey Hill called "All Saints, Kilvey". She could not go wrong and nor could we.
All world organisations today continue to search for some measure to prevent wars and overcome diseases. They should also be aware that folly is often more cruel than malice can be in the intent.
I wish to mention the League of Nations, which was created when I was a young man. Those of us who were in South Wales knew the dangers not of war but of working in a pit and either having what we called "the dust" which later had the posh name of pneumoconiosis; or having the fear of a fall in the pits, with the agony of trying to dig through to the men before they could be released. That was no world war, but for those of us in the valleys of South Wales every disaster was disgraceful and should never have happened.
In those days the League of Nations was the first international organisation whose task was to preserve peace and security. We were proud that we in the United Kingdom, together with the USA, were the major people who helped to do that. We must not forget that it was the League of Nations that first tackled drugs, slavery and many other vicious evils. In many ways it was sad that the organisation was dissolved, but now we have the United Nations, which succeeded it. We have seen the world summit of the UN calling for social development, attacking poverty, unemployment and social disintegration.
The Secretary-General, Mr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, called for an international summit at global level to enhance social development. I believe that that is vital for all mankind. Some degree of social development is required in almost every country and we must do our best to ensure that poverty is eradicated. By that means we shall provide a wealthier and better United Nations.
The United Nations also achieved something remarkable in that it created International Women's Day. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, will mention it in her reply and it has shown that women have every right to be in all the professions.
Attempting to find solutions to problems in various parts of the world is a tremendous task. How do we resolve situations in Angola, Croatia, Somalia, Rwanda, Afghanistan, Georgia, Mozambique and Guatemala? Then there are the terrible events and threats in Africa. I believe that the Security Council needs and deserves world support. I am sure that our country will give a 1266 lead in that. We need international partnerships in the hope that world environments will improve. Once again the UK has given a lead in debt relief for the poorest. We can be proud of the endeavours of our Government and our country. In these sorts of matters the parties are united in doing the civilised, decent things.
The United Nations is far from perfect, but it is the only organisation that we have on which to build in order to achieve world security. Through the United Nations all mankind can contribute to the day when mankind will be proud and free. I believe that that can be achieved in due course if we give the United Nations the full support which it so richly deserves.
§ 6 p.m.
§ The Earl of Winchilsea and Nottingham
My Lords, this House may remember that on 5th December I asked an Unstarred Question about the conflict in the Western Sahara and what action the UK Government were taking, as a member of the UN Security Council, about it. In the short debate that followed, and indeed in his excellent speech today, the noble Lord, Lord Judd, rightly stressed the central role that the United Kingdom plays in the United Nations as one of the five permanent members of the Security Council. He said that if the Security Council were being formed today it is almost inconceivable that the United Kingdom would be offered permanent membership. The noble Lord added:However, permanent membership is what we have inherited based on the world as it was in 1945. If we want to retain that permanent place we must justify it. In our post-imperial, post-colonial era, the way in which we can best look to our interests is to be second to none in our commitment to international institutions, which are vital for effective global governance".—[Official Report, 5/12/94; col. 812.]Noble Lords do not need me to tell them that the noble Lord was right.
However, perhaps I do need to tell the House, and particularly the noble Baroness the Minister, for whom I have the very highest regard, that the reputation of the UN—and therefore, by implication, of the United Kingdom—now stands at zero in the refugee camps of the Western Sahara from where I have just returned. The Minister herself said in the debate on the Queen's Speech last November that there is no United Nations other than its member states. Yet I had it openly said to me by the present Foreign Office Minister in his office that there was no reason why the United Kingdom should go out of its way to support the UN peace plan for the Western Sahara when there was nothing in it for us by doing so.
The noble Lord, Lord Judd, also touched on this unacceptably cynical and selfish attitude as being totally inappropriate to a nation that wishes to retain its permanent membership of the Security Council. Again, the noble Lord is right. Noble Lords could be forgiven if they rapidly reach the conclusion that I am about to use the opportunity of this debate on the United Nations and its first 50 years for a "second go" on the situation in the Western Sahara and the UN role in that sad and long-standing dispute. And why not? I make no bones about it; and I give fair warning that I intend to pursue the topic at every opportunity. I think I owe it to people 1267 who have been forced out of their homes and country at gunpoint, who have been subjected to tons of high explosives, napalm, phosphorous and cluster-bombs being dropped on them, and who have been forced to exist in exile in the most barren region of the Sahara desert for the past 20 years while the world looked the other way.
I do not propose to go into the long list of complaints and accusations which the Saharawi people, in their prolonged agony, level against the UN as I intend to produce a report on my recent visit to their camps which will include those in some detail. I shall forward that report to the noble Baroness the Minister at her request. However, I can state here and now, without any doubt and with no reservation, that the long-suffering people out there have just about had enough. They have very nearly reached the end of their tether. If something is not done very soon by the UN to halt the constant Moroccan violations of the cease-fire and the cynical manipulations of the peace plan by the Moroccan authorities that take place on a massive scale, then hostilities will inevitably recommence. No doubt if that happens the Saharawis will carry the blame for it and will be labelled as warmongers.
As I said in my speech on 5th December, the very least that this country must do, as one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, is to take a much more robust role in supporting peace processes wherever they occur, including the Western Sahara. To be selective as to where we protect people's rights is unacceptable and unsustainable. By doing so, we demean ourselves.
I should like to quote from Oxfam briefing paper No. 8, dated 13th January 1995, which was produced for the 50th anniversary of the United Nations. On the back page it states:What upholds rights, however, is law and the means to enforce it. What governments have not succeeded in doing in the UN's first half-century is to create an accepted and enforceable international rule of law. Too many governments seem to believe that law can be broken in one part of the world, but upheld in another. But it is not sustainable to protect people's rights in Kuwait, but not in Goma"—or for that matter in the Western Sahara—any more than it would be sustainable to prosecute someone for murder in London, but not in Liverpool. As the UN moves into its second half-century, its credibility and that of the Security Council, and its member states, will increasingly depend on how consistently and effectively the international rule of law is applied".I take great comfort from the Secretary General's agenda for peace in which he places prime importance on preventive diplomacy. Prevention has always been preferable to cure. Perhaps this is the way into the future. But it will not be much comfort to the millions of people who have already paid for the murderous sins of others with their lives, or to those who have suffered losses to their families and friends or who have been forced to leave their homeland and all their possessions and go into exile. What do we tell them? How do we explain to them our failure to protect their rights and, worse, our inability or lack of earnest desire to do anything to assist them to regain all that is rightfully theirs?
1268 All this talk about preventive diplomacy and deployments, fast-track standby arrangements and improved UN bureaucracy is just so much hot air to Somalians, Bosnians, Rwandans, even Turkish Cypriots, Kurds, the people of East Timor and the Saharawis, to name but a few. The UN is our only real hope. Therefore, we must see that it is well funded and impartial, that it is not afraid to speak up and censor members for wrongdoings, and that it is incorruptible. Sadly, on all these counts, it is guilty, and therefore it is hardly surprising that people like the Saharawis have lost any faith that they may once have had in it.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Lord Plant of Highfield
My Lords, I speak with some reticence in this debate since I do not have the wealth of experience in international affairs that is possessed by many noble Lords. I decided, however, to speak since, like the United Nations, I am in my 50th year; and like one or two other 50 year-olds in this House I was asked by the United Nations Association to do what I can to draw attention to the anniversary of the UN and to promote discussion about the UN's role in the post-Cold War world. I therefore thank my noble friend Lord Cledwyn for providing me with this opportunity.
I want to concentrate on just one matter; namely, the role of the UN in relation to human rights. For most of its history, the role of the UN in protecting human rights has been hampered by Cold War rivalries played out in the Security Council. However, with the ending of the Cold War, many have seen the opportunity for the international community, acting through the UN, to play a more vigorous role in the protection of human rights throughout the world. This is indeed an opportunity, but it is one which in my view is fraught with danger, and I should like to explain why. In a sense, my speech will be something of a counterpoint to that of my noble friend Lord Judd. I do not think that we disagree, but the problems weigh a little more heavily with me than do the opportunities.
We need perhaps to go into the history a little to elucidate why there may be dangers in taking a more active role in pursuing human rights. Ever since the conclusion of the Thirty Years War by the peace of Westphalia in 1648, there has been a recognition of the sovereignty and legal equality of states. The Treaty of Westphalia implicitly established the principle that there was to be no transnational moral order such as that derived from Christendom, in terms of which the morality of states could be judged and used as a moral basis for one state or a collection of states to intervene in the affairs of another. Sovereignty was not to be constrained by morality. State sovereignty was to be the basis of international relations and if there was any guiding ethical principle to govern relations between states, it was to be the norm of non-intervention. Since there was no transnational moral framework to regulate states and to be represented in law, then intervention could not be justified except in terms of self-defence.
That in turn led to another basic principle in this understanding of international relations; namely, that states will act out of a conception of their own interests 1269 rather than out of a concern to protect what on this view is a non-existent set of moral values rooted in a sense of common humanity. As my noble friend, Lord Healey of Riddlesden, put the point in New Fabian Essays in 1951:nation states are political entities, not moral entities; with interests and desires, not rights and duties".On that view we should have a norm of non-intervention because intervention threatens the harmony of a society of sovereign states able to pursue in their own way what they see as their domestic and international interests in ways which do not interfere with the ability of other states to do the same. If we look at the forms of intervention which took place before the end of the Cold War—for example, the Tanzania intervention in Uganda in 1978–79—the claim to intervention was based on those same principles. The Tanzanian Government argued not that they were seeking to preserve human rights in Uganda, but rather intervening because Ugandan forces had invaded the Kegera Salient which was claimed to be part of Tanzanian territory. The United States justified its invasion of Grenada on the basis of a claim to be protecting US citizens. The argument of intervention was not that of upholding human rights, but self-defence—or vicarious self-defence in the case of Grenada.
However, with the end of the Cold War I believe that we may be in the process of transition in international affairs in which there will be growing pressure to intervene in the affairs of states based upon the notion which was rejected in 1648; namely, a transnational moral and political order which in our day is defined in terms of the set of human rights identified in the UN declaration.
In many ways that is a very beguiling picture and it was painted particularly so by my noble friend Lord Judd. If there are basic human rights which all people share on the basis of their common humanity, it may be argued that we all have some responsibility for their protection and that the UN should develop both the collective will to secure those rights and the collective power to do so, a theme which came into the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Winchilsea, a few moments ago.
However, there is a case to be met which suggests that such an approach is fraught with danger, despite its obvious humanitarian appeal. There are five reasons why that may be so and those who favour the human rights/intervention approach need to meet this case. First, it can be argued that there is in fact no agreed moral basis for a more interventionist approach. While there may be a commitment to human rights, what those rights require for their protection will be a matter of legitimate political dispute and there may be catastrophic differences in interpreting what may be sanctioned under general principles.
Secondly, large and powerful states would be immune from such intervention, despite their human rights record. That would undermine the view that intervention was being justified in terms of common human rights. Thirdly, intervention would infringe the equality of sovereign states because any such intervention, for the 1270 reasons I suggested, would have hugely differential effects between rich and poor, powerful and less powerful states.
Fourthly, if we look at the history of intervention, the outcome is likely to be as bad as the circumstance which the intervention was originally designed to overcome. Fifthly, if states act out of concern for general principles such as human rights, rather than their own palpable interests, they may run the danger of not carrying the support of their people with them. While we may wish it were not so, ordinary people, particularly those whose sons and so forth may be asked to serve in the armed forces, will want to know why we are doing it. There must be some link between serving a general principle and what ordinary people believe national interests might be.
Many of us feel torn over this matter. On the one hand many are attracted by the words of the last Secretary General, Mr. Pérez de Cuellar, who argued in 1991,It is now increasingly felt that the principle of non-interference with the essential domestic jurisdiction of States cannot be regarded as a protective barrier behind which human rights could he massively and systematically violated with impunity",As I said, that is a beguiling view. Equally, intervention based on general principles such as rights, can lead us to make major mistakes. As the American philosopher, Michael Walzer, once said,Foreigners … don't know enough about … [a state's] history, and they have no direct experience and can form no concrete judgments of the conflicts and harmonies, the historical choices and cultural affinities, the loyalties and resentments, that underlie it".This is not just a theoretical problem, as the UN Vienna conference on rights two years ago showed. There was fundamental disagreement between the western states, the Islamic states and China about what a commitment to rights required and what "rights" actually meant in specific circumstances. Responding to those historical and cultural differences the US Secretary of State, Mr. Christopher, argued in Vienna that,we cannot let cultural relativism become the refuge of repressionIn other words, because we differ culturally in what we think "rights" may mean, we cannot leave the question of intervention to be governed by that kind of consideration; the implication being that a set of rights can become the basis for collective responsibility and action by the international community.
My conclusion is rather bland and reflects my own uncertainties. We have to be concerned about human rights. But that concern cannot become in itself a categorical basis for a new moral order in international affairs. We must be careful to weigh the costs and benefits of intervention and to ensure that national and regional interests are linked with any case for intervention on the defence of human rights; otherwise, domestic populations are unlikely to support governments risking lives in the service of what may be seen as important but nevertheless rather abstract principles. If human rights are to become the basis of a new world order and collective action by the international community, it is essential that they are seen 1271 as being linked to security and our own interests in that security. We should count the costs and weigh the consequences carefully.
§ 6.19 p.m.
§ Lord Taylor of Gryfe
My Lords, it is difficult to say anything new when one is batting No. 20 on the list. However, I want to say a few words about what a privilege it is for us to join in the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the United Nations. This is not really a debate. Of course there have been useful contributions making criticisms of this or that aspect of the United Nations. But it is not really a debate. There is a consensus in the House today that the United Nations is essential for our survival.
Inevitably, when one is celebrating 50 years one looks back to the beginning. That has been the case with many of the speakers today. I too should like to look back to the beginning. I had the privilege to have an interview with H.G. Wells. It must have been about 1944 because he died in 1946. He was the great gum of my generation. He had forecast the war of the worlds. He had warned about the dangers of the destructive instruments which we now had at our disposal. I made my way up to his flat in Regent's Park. All around it houses were bombed and devastated. He sat there quietly and I asked him two questions. I was a young man at the time. First, I asked, "What am I to do with my life?" Secondly, I asked, "What is the future of mankind?" I shall not weary the House with the answer to the first question because it is not the subject of today's debate but I have tried to accept his guidance in my life subsequently. Looking at the future of mankind, he said, "I am a biologist and any species that does not adapt to its environment inevitably perishes. That is the history of the science of biology. Today in the world we have conquered communications. We can fly in a few hours to all parts of the world. We can lift the telephone and talk to each other in Australia or California. We are living in an environment where mankind has been brought closer together and where our interdependence should be recognised. If you do not create the political instruments that recognise that fact, then mankind will perish". I believe that to be true, and in so far as we have succeeded in creating one of the instruments for human survival, we are just likely to survive.
I was a conscientious objector during the war and joined the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration in order to play some part in the reconstruction of the devastated European continent. I was fortunate to have that opportunity. For me, the United Nations was not about glamorous conferences which are so prevalent nowadays. I notice that the Minister does not think that the conferences are all that glamorous. They look glamorous on television and they provide a platform for important statesmen to make important statements. I commend to the House an 1272 extract from the Economist in which it is said that perhaps the United Nations is becoming over-conferenced. It says:On the 50th birthday we may have over conferenced. After the environment in 1992, human rights in 1993, population in 1994 and with women as well as social development coming in 1995 the world is suffering a little from conference fatigue. Rich summiteers will be much keener to put their names to distant objectives rather than to accept the immediate needs of the horribly poor in Africa and Asia".We are in danger in international relations of holding summit conferences and making generalised statements with which everyone can agree and taking our minds off the day-to-day activity which is necessary to make the United Nations a reality in relieving suffering, helping the poor and bringing comfort to refugees. We are in danger of generalisation. I always remember the words of William Blake, who said, "I have little time for people who do good in general. They are hypocrites. Give me the men and women who do good in the particular".
I worked for the United Nations and I have my UN passport to prove it. I worked in trying to rebuild Europe following the destruction that took place. It was a wonderful thing to do. Millions of people were wandering about the continent. They were refugees, with no homes and few prospects. They had nothing to offer but their labour. We handled 1.5 million refugees in Europe. We had displaced persons' camps. They were small cities in their own right. We brought some kind of relief to the suffering people at that time. Not only did we bring them immediate relief, which was a case of supplying food, clothing and so on, but the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration was engaged in rehabilitation; in helping people to help themselves, not as recipients of charity but through being able to do things to lift themselves out of the despair in which they found themselves.
The United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration was succeeded by new agencies. The work of refugees is now in the hands of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. It does a tremendous job in the name of the United Nations. Last year I visited Yugoslavia and went to refugee camps. I saw the same sad faces I had seen in Germany in 1945 and 1946. There were children who had lost their parents, their homes and any real purpose in life. They were gathered around television sets in refugee camps watching American cowboy films. That was the extent of their excitement in life. I felt that I was back again at the end of the war. Nowadays the United Nations is doing a tremendous job through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, with a very small staff and very few resources. We have to look at all these contributions. There is the contribution of UNICEF for the relieving of the suffering of children. It builds playgroups and homes and brings education to people. Those are the kinds of positive things that are important in establishing the United Nations' reputation.
Today we are celebrating the 50th anniversary. We have celebrated the good work and we have recognised some of the weaknesses that inevitably exist in large 1273 international organisations. But at least we can be thankful for the positive contribution that has been made by the UN.
§ Lord Kennet
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down perhaps he will allow me to ask a question. I very much enjoyed his passage about the prevalence of summit meetings at the UN. But would he not consider that the important statements made by important statesmen at those meetings can sometimes usefully be used by the rest of us when we feel that our governments are not instantly doing everything they ought to do?
§ Lord Taylor of Gryfe
My Lords, I agree completely with the noble Lord. Conferences are important; meeting people is important in international relations; understanding other people's points of view is important in international relations. Conferences achieve that. But I was trying to emphasise the more detailed coalface activities of the United Nations.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, this has been a very interesting debate. I must apologise that I had to leave in the middle of it for some time, but I have had a full report of everything that was said. Inevitably, I agree with some parts, of that report and disagree with other parts. I am told that that the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, said that:the failure of the United Nations is that it has not been allowed to do more than it was set up to do".If that is an accurate report of what he said, I entirely agree with him. It seems to encapsulate some of the problems.
Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Plant, that 50th birthdays are usually a good time for taking stock not only for the United Nations but also for the individual. I am glad to have seen present here today the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn. I am sorry that he is no longer in the Chamber. I gather that he is one of only two UK citizens who were present when the Charter was signed in San Francisco. One was Lord Gladwyn; the other was Mr. Archie McKenzie, who served with me in New York as the chief economics diplomat. He is still very much alive. Indeed, I saw him recently. I hope that, as the other British survivor of San Francisco, he will not be totally forgotten when the invitation lists for whatever is taking place come to be drawn up.
I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Cledwyn for having initiated the debate. I appreciate the way in which he opened it. In effect, he asked three questions: what has the United Nations done in the past 50 years? What is it doing now? What is it likely to be doing in the future? Those questions sum up the whole object of the debate. Various people have expressed degrees of optimism and degrees of realism. The noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, expressed a degree of pessimism about the future. In some ways, I suppose that every speaker, from his own perspective, has a degree of truth and accuracy in what he said.
Indeed, 50th birthdays are a good time for taking stock. The first heady days are over by that time. The institution or individual has settled down into a 1274 comfortable middle age. There is a history of past performance that can be assessed and there is the prospect of a reasonable working life to come. So it is with the United Nations in 1995.
When one considers the future of the UN in a world that is increasingly characterised by ever faster change, it is important to look at the UN as it is and not perhaps as we would wish it to be. We must recognise that a new world order is not necessarily a new world government. Indeed, we must acknowledge that the real nature of the United Nations has not radically altered since the Charter was signed. It might be coming under pressure and in some respects may be becoming distorted, but the original structure is basically intact.
It was conceived, rightly so, in those days as a free association of independent states coming together for specific purposes, which themselves were set out in the Charter. If one looks at the Charter, it is interesting to see that those objectives were fairly limited. Right at the centre was the proposition that the organisation was based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its members.
The purposes of the United Nations, as set out in Article 1 of the Charter, were:To maintain international peace and security, and to that end, to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and internal law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace".Those are the objectives that were set out.
Article 2.7, to which my noble friend Lord Plant referred (and I shall say something about it a little later), sets out in very specific terms—it is worth underlining how specific those terms are—the principle of non-interference in matters essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state. It states:Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which arc essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state … this principle shall not prejudice the application of enforcement measures under Chapter VII".Thus, the two organisational pillars (if I may put it that way) on which the United Nations was founded were that it was an association of independent states and that it should not interfere in matters within the domestic jurisdiction of any one of those states. Indeed, it is the relationship between those two fundamental principles set out in the Charter and the way in which Chapter VII—the enforcement of international peace and security sections—is being operated now which may cause difficulties in the future. That is well worth looking at on this occasion of its 50th anniversary. It is against that background that one has to assess the effectiveness of the UN during the last half century and try to appreciate the possibilities for the future.
Although the Charter has not changed much since 1945, the size and nature of the membership of the UN has changed. It mirrors the changes that have taken place in the world as a whole. It is highly unlikely, if one were now bringing into being such an international organisation, that a permanent membership of five would include Britain and France and exclude Japan and 1275 Germany. It is also highly likely that the Third World would take the view that it should not be ignored quite so comprehensively as it was in 1945. Apart from anything else, as has been pointed out in this debate, the number of countries now members of the UN has increased enormously since then: from 51 to 184. Countries such as Brazil, India and Nigeria (to mention only three) would be pushing hard for permanent membership of a reorganised Security Council. Nor is there any guarantee that 15 would be seen as the proper size of a new Security Council. Perhaps it should be larger or have greater regional connotations; perhaps the entrenched nature of the permanent membership and the privileged position that they have—each holding a veto—might be called into question; and perhaps too the relationship between the Secretary General and the Council may have to be reconsidered. There might be a case, as the Secretary General has argued, for permanent United Nations' forces to be more at the disposal of the Secretary General himself.
All those are matters which would have to be negotiated if one were starting again. Fortunately one is not. So, given the fact that we are dealing with an association of sovereign states coming together within the existing structures and as set out in the existing Charter—indeed the realistic possibility is that it is that structure which will continue and it is within that broad framework that we shall have to operate—what can we now realistically expect from that extraordinary institution of the United Nations? Those of us who have worked in it or with it know that it is a most remarkable institution.
Fundamental to the successful political operation of the UN is the institutional position of the five permanent members of the Security Council. We know that the position of those five depends upon the fact that they were the main victorious allies in the Second World War and each therefore has a veto on Security Council action, although in recent years that veto has not been greatly used. It is very interesting too to note that, while in the early days of the existence of the UN the Soviet Union used its veto a great deal, in the past 20-odd years it is fair to say that the Soviet Union has indeed been increasingly reluctant to make use of that veto.
Recognising that the United Nations is not a democratic structure, and indeed was never intended to be so, the successful operation of the Security Council depends on at least the acquiescence of all five permanent members; otherwise there is inactivity, as there was for many years. In the years I spent at the United Nations it was relatively inactive as far as the Security Council was concerned. We did a lot, met a lot, talked a lot and we tried to do a lot. But we did not actually succeed in doing all that much because of the way in which action tended to be stifled by disagreement between the five permanent members. I can only say that it has improved greatly since I left. I do not necessarily say that that is cause and effect, but the fact of the matter is that the situation has now been transformed. I believe that from the moment Mr. Gorbachev decided that the then Soviet Union would take the United Nations seriously, that the interests of 1276 the Soviet Union required a greater degree of international stability and that one could use the United Nations to create it, the situation changed.
The position in which the five rarely, if ever, successfully co-operated together has now changed so much that no major issue of security can now be realistically raised without their discussing it first. The only issue I can remember when the five co-operated when I was there was on that of Charter reform. There were various moves by some countries to reform the Charter itself. One will not be surprised to hear that the British and French were against the idea of Charter reform and the Russians were passionately opposed to it.
In those circumstances the five actually met and discussed it. It was an essentially negative and very defensive posture that we all took up on one relatively important issue, but which was not desperately concerned with the maintenance of international peace and security. Now I understand that the five meet on a regular basis. There is a rotating chairmanship; minutes are kept; the position is co-ordinated fully prior to an issue even reaching the stage of unofficial informal consultations at the Security Council.
It means that provided the five continue to act in concert they can virtually guarantee the acquiescence of the Security Council as a whole. That situation has obvious advantages in terms of getting the council to act and not merely talk. It also has disadvantages in terms of the rest of the membership. They perceive it as fundamentally elitist in its nature and over-privileged in the way it works. How much longer the other nations of the world will be prepared to allow the five to maintain their existing privileges is a matter that I do not believe anyone can clearly foresee. Although the number of permanent members may have to be increased, as long as they continue to act with the degree of consensus which they are showing at present the fundamentals of that position will probably remain unchanged.
There is no doubt—and it has emerged in the course of this debate—that functionally the United Nations is now infinitely more effective than it ever was before the Cold War ended. The Security Council itself is much more of an executive and less of a deliberative body. That is probably all to the good, although it may be less fun for those people actually taking part in the deliberations. After all, it was designed to be an executive arm of the United Nations although it is only recently that there has been enough political agreement to allow it to operate as such.
That the United Nations operates in a somewhat untidy way is not something at which we should be too surprised. Nowhere in the Charter is there any mention of peacekeeping, yet in 1993 there were no less than 70,000 troops in blue berets stationed around the world engaged in precisely that job. As far as enforcement action is concerned, the Gulf War, whatever else it showed, proved that force can be organised and applied under the aegis of the UN if not under the direction of the Military Staff Committee. I believe that everyone will agree that such action would have been inconceivable a few years ago.
1277 So the position we have now reached is of a United Nations which formally and institutionally has not changed a great deal since 1945, but which is at last beginning to act more in the way that the Charter originally envisaged. I believe that we ought to consider the extent to which that will continue in future.
I believe that the real problem for the United Nations in future is going to be the number and scope of interventions that it will be called upon to take. There is a feeling abroad—and it has been echoed by some noble Lords in this debate today—that if something goes wrong in the world, whatever it is, then the UN ought to do something about it. It is not only that the UN ought to do something about it, but that it ought to be able to do something about it. People may not be clear as to precisely what it is that the United Nations can do, or should do, but that it has a general obligation to try to do something. That is an opinion which seems to be increasingly held.
I listened to the words of wisdom which came from some speakers in this debate—notably those of the noble Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon—expressing caution. I am prepared to express caution, but I am bound to say that I have considerable sympathy with the point of view which says that something ought to be done if something ought to be done. There is no other institution or organisation in the world that I know of which is capable of providing the degree of co-operation, co-ordination, leadership and, if necessary, force, to do something other than the United Nations itself.
That means that the scope of international intervention has grown. For example, in Angola, Cambodia, Mozambique, Namibia, Bosnia and in the Gulf different types of action were required. In Cambodia, Namibia and Mozambique what was needed was the organisation and supervision of a democratic process leading to elections and a fresh government. In Bosnia what has been required is massive humanitarian assistance in a situation which has imposed almost a straitjacket of neutrality. In many ways the Gulf was, at least in principle, one of the simplest actions. It was an example of old-fashioned aggression by one country on another and therefore firmly within the scope of actions originally envisaged by Chapter 7 of the Charter.
So while the machinery has remained pretty much the same the circumstances in which it is being called on to operate have changed radically. The utility of peacekeeping efforts by the UN is, I believe, now generally accepted. The fact that that activity is outside the terms of the Charter has demonstrated that the UN is capable of flexibility and innovation. I have no doubt that this part of the UN's work will continue and indeed intensify.
There will be increasing difficulties over problems arising within countries rather than between states. At least in theory, we do not at the moment have power to intervene in a civil war. We do not have power to intervene where a government is persecuting a minority within its own borders unless it gives rise to a more generalised threat to the peace, which it frequently does not. Yet it will be difficult, if not impossible, for the world now to ignore evidence of genocide on a large scale or of oppression by a state of its own population 1278 on a major scale, even if it were to take place solely within the borders of one state and even if it were to be carried on by the government of that state.
What we lack, however, is a corpus of law, or at least of international understanding, as to the circumstances in which Article 2.7 of the Charter should be, if not exactly ignored, at least interpreted more flexibly. I hope that that is a direction in which we shall all be prepared to move.
Perhaps I may say one final word about pre-emptive diplomacy. I am sure that there is greater scope for the use of such things as the good offices of the Secretary General and his staff or, more directly, by the Security Council itself. The UN has perhaps been too much of a reactive organisation in the past. Things have happened. The Security Council has met and then done something or tried to do something. The task of looking at things in the future is not one which has been performed by the United Nations and the Security Council with great skill. In future it may well have to become one in which greater thought is given to preventing situations from happening rather than, as now, trying to deal with problems when they have actually arisen.
I came across a quotation recently by F.E. Cornford. It is somewhat cynical and I give it merely in order to knock it down. I hope that it does not reflect the mood in which this country is now approaching the affairs of the United Nations:Nothing is ever done until everyone is convinced that it ought to be done and has been convinced for so long that it is now time to do something else".I hope that so far as concerns the UN we can at least agree a series of severely practical measures which will make that extraordinary institution work perhaps more efficiently and better in the future than it has in the past. It is, as I said a little earlier, an extraordinary institution in which to work. For all its faults—it has faults; no one who has worked in it could deny that—there was a feeling (at least, I felt it and I believe that most people who have been involved in it do) that at last an attempt was being made to try to organise the affairs of this planet on a more rational basis in the future than they have been organised in the past.
Britain is in a privileged position to help that process. I hope that we shall do so in the next 50 years.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Baroness Chalker of Wallasey
My Lords, I first thank the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, for tabling his Motion on the UN at such an opportune time, and I thank all noble Lords who have participated in the debate. I too was delighted that Lord Gladwyn could he with us for the debate. He has written me a note regretting that he could not remain until the end, which I pass on to your Lordships. Today we have heard many helpful and thoughtful speeches which will help us in divining the way forward. Perhaps I may join also with other noble Lords in wishing the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, a speedy return to health. We are sad that he is not with us today since he often speaks on these matters.
1279 It is clear from my mailbag and the questions that have been asked in the debate that there is great interest in and support for the United Nations in this its 50th anniversary year. But there are worries too, and they have been voiced clearly. Although many of the letters are critical of various aspects of the organisation, it is gratifying that the overwhelming view is that the UN, whatever its faults, should not be abandoned; it should be developed, as my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon, said.
As many noble Lords have pointed out, including the noble Lord, Lord Richard, just now, the principles enshrined in the UN Charter remain as good a basis for a peaceful, just and prosperous world today as they did in 1945, and the UN is still the organisation that offers the best hope of progress towards those goals. Another widely held view, which the Government share—as have many of your Lordships in the debate—is that there is a pressing need to enhance and develop the capacities of the UN. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, referred to that when he talked about preventive diplomacy. I shall come to the matter in more detail in a moment.
While no thinking politician would deny that the UN has failings, we should put those failings, such as they are, into context. Throughout the Cold War, as a number of noble Lords said, the UN was severely inhibited in carrying out some of its key tasks. The East-West confrontation meant that the Security Council rarely operated by consensus. It was largely unable to play the role envisaged for it in the Charter, as the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said, when he reminded us of the period before 1979 when there was discussion of Charter reform. Once we got down to discussing it, we found how much we believed the original Charter should remain.
It was the lack of democracy, above all, which hindered the role that the UN could play during those years in protecting human rights. But even then, as is well known, the UN system scored some notable achievements. We should not cast them off without recognition. The WHO waged a successful campaign to eradicate smallpox across the globe. The UNHCR coped with the protection of countless refugees and displaced persons. In those days, while the Security Council was not innovative, crises were contained, if not resolved.
In Cyprus, as my noble friend Lord Vivian said, UNFICYP has kept the peace for 28 years. I shall not be drawn into the wider question of Cyprus's application for European Union membership, but I believe that for a very long time bloodshed has been prevented by the presence of the UNFICYP forces. The UN has produced a number of conventions of fundamental importance to us today; for example, on human rights—a subject mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Plant of Highfield. I shall return to that subject later if I have time.
But what happened with the end of the Cold War and the Gulf War is that we had a time of what I might call great expectations which, sadly, in the years immediately following the Gulf War, have proved to be 1280 unrealistic hopes, as the noble Lords, Lord Cledwyn, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, and my noble and learned friend Lord Howe, said.
The belief has grown up that the UN could and would solve most of the world's problems. It soon became apparent that the new shape of the world in fact presented the organisation with challenges on a scale that it had never before encountered. The figures, as many noble Lords said, speak for themselves. The UN has launched as many peace-keeping operations since 1989 as it did in the whole of the first 40 years of its existence. In 1991, 12,000 blue helmets and blue berets were deployed; in 1993, nearly 100,000. Today, 56,000 remain in the field.
The very fact that in the past four years alone I have visited deployments in seven countries says something about the scale of the ongoing responsibilities. I have visited several of them, such as UNPROFOR in Bosnia, many times. Peace-keeping deployments are invariably only one part of the UN's response to complex crises since they engage many of its agencies, especially to help with refugees and displaced persons; to deliver emergency aid; and to help rebuild shattered economies and societies. Thus the exponential increase in demand for the UN's services has inevitably exposed the organisation's weaknesses. But it has also spurred the UN and its members to take a hard look at what is wrong; where the barriers are; and how we can overcome the problems.
In reviewing its own structures and applying good management and administrative practice where it is relevant, the UN is not a static institution. It knows that it must move with and adapt to the times. It is doing so. We have seen an astonishing burst of life on the peace-keeping side, as has been evident from noble Lords' speeches.
How the UN has managed to cope with the impact of having nearly 100,000 men on the ground at one time in various operations around the world, even as the process of adaptation and restructuring at headquarters was under way, deserves praise rather than criticism. Her Majesty's Government have contributed strongly to the debate on reform with constructive proposals and ideas, not least in the reply to the Agenda for Peace of July 1993. Many of our ideas have been adopted.
The British input has been reflected in decisions of the Security Council; for example, on the criteria for launching new operations and, at the practical level, of a mechanism for consultation on group commitments. We propose to continue a constructive and interactive dialogue, designed to build on best practice rather than merely to criticise the weaknesses and the problems.
In the UN agencies, the reform process is ongoing, and we intend to see that it is maintained as it is extremely important that those agencies are enabled to cope with the new challenges they face. We are working with other major donors to review progress on financial and administrative questions throughout the system. We are trying to find the best way of applying the best practice, or as good practice as we can possibly deliver. It is particularly important that member governments of the UN themselves follow through their own policies in a coherent manner from UN agency to agency. Some 1281 are better than others but we need "to keep at it". That has been the message from this debate and from every non-governmental organisation with which I have discussed the way to advance progress in the UN.
Finance and management are major issues at the United Nations. The establishment of the Office of Internal Oversight Services is a major step forward. There is a new dynamism from the recently appointed Under-Secretary General for Administration and Management. We hope that the Secretary General will once again give the lead in rationalising jobs and bureaucracy at headquarters, which has not changed a great deal over the years. Although it appears to have increased and become more difficult to cope with, it probably is no different from the time when the noble Lord, Lord Richard, was our ambassador there.
As regards finance, assessed contributions to the UN and peace-keeping budgets are legal obligations and the key principle must be that member states should pay their contributions not only in full but also on time. We recognise the perception in Congress, referred to tonight, that the United States is bearing an unfair burden. But relative to its economic weight that is hardly the case. Major friends and allies of the United States also contribute in support of Security Council resolutions as well as pay their assessed contributions in full and on time.
However, that US perception is regularly causing a huge cashflow problem for the United Nations. That is why the United Kingdom has been active in making constructive proposals to review the UN's scale of assessments on a transparent and balanced basis. We hope that the membership will build on those ideas, looking forward to the next General Assembly. Your Lordships' comments are most helpful in that regard because the problem must be tackled. Otherwise, there will not be the ability to respond to and back financially our response to real crises when they come up unexpectedly.
Many questions were asked tonight and I shall write to noble Lords if I do not have a chance to refer to them. Perhaps I may comment on the Security Council enlargement, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth. Of course we recognise the need for expansion to make the council more representative. But it must also be effective and therefore that expansion should be limited. At this stage, the most important goal is not to let the enlargement discussions, which are currently underway in New York in a General Assembly working group, become bogged down. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary said in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly last September that the United Nations 50th anniversary should be a milestone in the debate and that that problem should not be a millstone round our necks. The wrangling, which might go on for several years, would be progressively debilitating for the council.
I viewed with surprise the comment made by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, that there might be a merging of the United Kingdom and French seats. I do not know whether the noble Lord has tested that thought in Paris but I can imagine that it would not gain much favour there. For that reason, my noble 1282 friend, Lord Finsberg said that he hoped we would have no truck with it. We are a valuable member of the United Nations and uniquely of other bodies too, such as the Commonwealth. It is through the Commonwealth that a great deal of our other work goes on in trying to prevent problems. Therefore, we should certainly remain in the Security Council and I am certain that the French will say the same, However, we believe that certain states, by virtue of their global interests and contribution to world peace and security, may be invited to accept the responsibilities of permanent membership in the future. That is why we have stated our support for both German and Japanese permanent membership.
My noble friend Lord Finsberg asked about the veto. We would not wish to see any change in the current veto provisions. Although the veto is now rarely used its very existence encourages agreement.
Perhaps I may turn to peace-keeping, in which we are playing a leading role in supporting United Nations efforts. We have led the way in pressing for the Department of Peacekeeping Operations to be strengthened so it can more efficiently plan, launch and manage peace-keeping operations. We have backed that up with constructive ideas and the provision of expert personnel on secondment to the UN secretariat. The UN remains the pre-eminent international authority for the maintenance of international peace and security. It has unique world-wide legitimacy but it depends crucially on the determination of member states to make it function properly and on their willingness to make available the necessary resources, in particular their troop commitments.
We and other Europeans fully pay our contributions to peace-keeping but Britain is contributing more troops to UN operations than any other nation except France. British blue berets are performing outstandingly in Bosnia. They are on the green line in Cyprus and were in Rwanda carrying out a phenomenal task, probably far more than their remit would have envisaged, and doing it willingly to save lives and to bring peace.
Our objective must be to ensure that the UN, working with regional organisations, is able to respond quickly to the need for peacekeepers where they are able to underpin a political process. We are helping the UN to improve its logistic support for operations and to develop a common UN doctrine for peace-keeping. Provided that the parties respect the Lusaka Protocol, we have agreed to provide a British logistic battalion for three months in order to get the UN operation in Angola off to a good start. British logistics expertise is highly prized in such operations. As honorary colonel of the Royal Logistic Corps, I am proud that that is so.
My noble friend Lord Finsberg and the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, referred to standing forces. Our view is that it is much better to enhance the UN's rapid reaction capability by making the standby force planning initiative work more effectively. We have responded to the Secretary General, setting out the forces which we would be prepared in principle to make available on a case-by-case basis and are following that up with the UN secretariat. Through our initiative on peace-keeping in Africa, which my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary launched at the General 1283 Assembly, we are encouraging other partners to work with African countries to enhance their capacity to deploy their troops more rapidly and effectively. That is one of the practical measures requested by the noble Lord, Lord Richard.
The standing force, mentioned by many noble Lords, is not a new idea but it is not practicable. It is extremely difficult in terms of command and control and we are much better in developing a capability, particularly in Africa with African forces. Many of them have been trained by British forces and they can work together. We are looking monthly at the whole development of the African peace-keeping initiative with the OAU, the UN and the African countries which are willing to contribute.
My noble friend Lord Vivian talked about the peacekeeping college. It is generally accepted that training should remain a national responsibility, even if we, with other nations, help with the training. Therefore, the idea of having specific training in one place for all nations does not gain great favour. We will continue to make available places at the Royal College of Defence Studies and the staff colleges and we shall continue to help many nations with training at their request.
I am grateful to my noble friend for what he said about the way in which we should try to bring together the capability of the military forces and humanitarian organisations. We are learning a lot in practical terms in our deployments not only in Bosnia and Rwanda but also in other places around the world.
I noted very carefully the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, about prevention being cheaper than cure. He knows that I agree with him. Of course, one way in which we hope that we can help prevention is by reducing the quantity of arms circulating throughout the world. That is why the Prime Minister advocated back in 1991, at the European Council, the UN register of conventional arms. We strongly support it because it brings greater transparency into the arms trade. It will help to identify excessive accumulations of weapons at an early stage, so adding to the preventive knowledge that we have and on which we can act. So far, the register has had a successful start. About 90 states have submitted returns which cover the vast majority of arms transfers. Copies of our own returns are in the Library. We shall continue to encourage wider participation and we shall certainly do our best to make sure that that aspect of prevention works as well as possible.
My noble friend Lord Finsberg asked a specific question about tactical nuclear weapons. There is no evidence that those weapons are leaving the former Soviet Union. Of course, under the non-proliferation treaty, Russia is obliged not to transfer nuclear weapons to non-nuclear weapon states. There is no evidence that that obligation has been breached.
My noble friends Lord Campbell of Croy and Lord Finsberg spoke about terrorism. I am sure that your Lordships know of the statement made by Security Council members at the summit in 1992 that the council was concerned to address problems of international 1284 terrorism. There is absolutely no doubt that we must be careful about international terrorism and continue to work in that field.
Other issues have been raised this evening, one of which is global governance. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Judd, for the work of the commission on global governance. The recently published report Our Global Neighbourhood contains a number of thought-provoking ideas. It identifies the key dilemmas facing the international community. I fear that we shall have to do a lot more work to come up with all the solutions to those dilemmas. Nevertheless, it is very good on analysis.
One way in which to make the ideas work is to continue with the progress of reform of the economic and social council of the UN. Making the economic and social council work better is very much part of our ongoing concern. We are pursuing reforms there. That spreads out into the various agencies—for example, UNDP and UNICEF, where progress is already being seen. But there are other areas where there is resistance to change. The economic and social council will have to push and push quite hard to achieve that change.
The noble Lord, Lord Greenhill of Harrow, spoke about his idea of the commission. There are already three commission reports on the UN. I am not sure whether a further commission would be helpful. We have certainly had misgivings about the proposals to establish a new working group to look at UN reform in the round because we are making better progress by taking the various agencies and scrutinising their processes and trying to make sure they do not overlap. Therefore, it may be that that idea will not gain a lot of credence. We are seeking to cut out duplication of work and there are groups already doing well looking at Security Council enlargement and financial reform.
On finance, perhaps I may briefly repeat that the deepening cash flow crisis must be tackled. Any influence which your Lordships may have with US members of Congress to talk about the reality of that will be most welcome. We are doing what we can now that the Administration in Washington have made clear their opposition to proposals to limit further funding. We have pointed out that as a whole the European Union is already paying more towards United Nations peace-keeping than the United States. Therefore, the only sustainable way forward will be through a negotiated deal, of which I spoke earlier.
There are many development institutions in the United Nations. We support them all in various ways. But the UNHCR has borne an enormous load in recent years. We have been very glad to support Mrs. Ogata to the hilt. I shall meet her again on Friday and I hope to agree with her what we can do further to help UNHCR in its work.
I have one piece of good news for your Lordships this evening. Despite the enormous pressure on resources, we have managed to maintain our core contribution of £8.5 million to UNICEF in 1995–96. Of course, that will be added to by supplementary funding. Whether it will reach the £23 million which we have managed to pay so far in 1994–95, I cannot say. This financial year has not yet finished and some emergency appeals are still 1285 under consideration. We believe that UNICEF is doing a first class job and we intend to continue to support it as much as possible.
There are concerns about management efficiency and accountability but the management review of UNICEF indicates that it is going in the right direction. We should give as much help as we possibly can to that organisation.
I turn now to the very difficult subject of UNESCO. My noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon raised that subject, as did many other noble Lords. The fact that we are able to maintain the UNICEF core contribution at only the same level as last year is an indication of the financial pressure we face. Therefore, I must say to what I know will be a disappointed House that I cannot announce this evening a return to UNESCO but we are keeping the question under close review. We must take into account existing financial pressures and the other priority demands for resources as well as the progress which my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon rightly indicated has been made on reform.
Many other questions were raised in the debate. I do not wish to detain your Lordships but I wish to say a few words about the new world order about which the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, asked me. We are extremely conscious that questions of security are bound up inextricably with questions of human rights, development and justice. Failure in any of those fields leads to deterioration in security, and instability. All our interests lie in a stable world and, as the noble Lord, Lord Plant of Highfield, said, we must work in the field of human rights and weigh up the costs and benefits of them because they are, as he put it, linked to security and the maintenance of that security.
We wish to make this 50th anniversary of the UN a real celebration. We shall shortly announce the details of that. We are most grateful to my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon for the work he is doing with the United Nations Association to make sure that we celebrate well the stage that we have reached.
The United Nations can only ever be as effective as member states are prepared to make it. I note the comment made by the noble Earl, Lord Winchilsea and Nottingham, about one of my colleagues in the other place. I shall take up that matter. I have covered many, but not all, of the areas in which we have been active in enhancing the capabilities of the UN but it is financially more than in any other respect that there is an urgent need for all members to pay their full dues to the organisation and on time. Some UN problems are far from resolution but they are now being addressed. Britain will continue to play a leading role in the process of making the organisation more capable of fulfilling the great tasks given to it at its foundation. It is as much in our interests as it is in the interests of the rest of the world that that goal is achieved.
We have a vision. As the noble Lord, Lord Judd, hinted, that vision corresponds exactly with the remarks made by my noble and teamed friend Lord Howe of Aberavon in his forthright speech. We should not give up and we should not despair. We should not denounce the UN. It is easy to knock any organisation. There will 1286 always be variable standards. But we have seen progress made in a very short space of time. That shows us that with confidence and hard work, much can be achieved. We intend to help the United Nations to so achieve.
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
My Lords, we have had an interesting and constructive debate today. I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in it. Perhaps I may say that I am particularly appreciative of the speeches made, first, by my noble friend Lord Richard whose speech reflected his great experience as ambassador in New York; and, secondly, by the noble Baroness whose commitment and integrity is respected by all of us. If I may say so, the Minister made a most helpful and impressive speech this evening.
If we take the long view, we have to agree that nothing in the political scene worldwide is more important than the success of the United Nations and its agencies. All of us must take a greater interest in the work and efforts of the United Nations. As I said earlier, this House has a first-class Select Committee to deal with European Union affairs. Perhaps we should now think of a similar committee on United Nations affairs. However, that is a matter for future consideration. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.