Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Speech)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5th February 1962.

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Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley 12:00 am, 5th February 1962

Since this is a Motion of censure upon the Foreign Secretary—one of my principal colleagues, and one of the chief Ministers in the Government—I think it right that I should reply to it immediately. We always knew that the right hon. Gentleman disliked the Foreign Secretary—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—not personally, but as a Minister and a statesman. That was made quite clear eighteen months ago, when the right hon. Gentleman attempted to censure the Government and myself on the appointment of my noble Friend. He then made a number of prophecies, all of which have been falsified—for, regardless of party politics, the Foreign Secretary has earned the respect and admiration of his fellow countrymen, as well as the confidence of all the Foreign Ministers with whom it is his duty to deal.

Nothing has been more remarkable than the close and initimate co-operation that my noble Friend has established with the Secretary of State in the new American Administration, as well as with the Foreign Ministers of our principal allies. This has been of great assistance in avoiding some of the perils of the world situation—in Europe, especially Berlin, in Africa and in the Far East.

The reason for my noble Friend's success is simple; it is his own character, of which the most salient feature is a disarming combination of charm, integrity and strength. Therefore, despite the right hon. Gentleman's detailed arguments in the first part of the presentation of his case, and even having regard to the latter part of his speech, where he warmed up a little, I am certain that this Motion will make but little impact upon the country.

However, it provides—and the right hon. Gentleman showed us the way in that respect, in that part of his speech—a useful opportunity for a review of the present situation in the development of the United Nations and of some of the deeper reasons for the difficulties in which it now finds itself. The right hon. Gentleman quoted the statement of President Kennedy. He might have quoted the statement in which we joined with the American Government in our support of the United Nations. He did not quote the statement of Mr. Stevenson, the American Minister in the United Nations, who referred to these tendencies as the beginning of the end—a much more powerful attack or criticism than that of the Foreign Secretary.

Part of the confusion in the public mind is due to the misunderstanding of the history of the Charter of the United Nations. It is not a sovereign body. It is not even an alliance. It has no claim to infallibility. It is an association of nations, with the qualities and faults of all of them. I know that majorities are usually right—they will certainly be right tonight—but this is an association of sovereign States whose sovereignty is specially emphasised in the Charter, and one of the difficulties about the resolutions which the right hon. Gentleman quoted, and to which I shall refer shortly, is that many of them are contrary to the Charter and to the sovereign rights of States laid down in that Charter.

When we speak of the United Nations doing this or that, therefore, we must bear in mind all the time its limitations and its difficulties. It acts through the Secretariat, which does its best to carry out what it considers to be the general wishes of the Security Council or the Assembly, as shown in the resolutions. These decisions are sometimes conflicting and often obscure.

Let us go back to the origins, for it is important to understand the funda mental difficulty in which we are. When the work of the founders began at San Francisco, towards the end of the war, those who were entrusted with this task were deeply conscious of the failure of the previous attempt at a world organisation—the ill-fated League of Nations. Perhaps it is worth remembering that the pioneer work at San Francisco was carried out by the allied Powers engaged in the war against Germany and Japan.

They were, principally, the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, France and China. Our representatives were Mr. Anthony Eden and Mr. Attlee, acting under the full authority of the Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), who was then presiding over a National Government. In all this work they were all the time conscious of the failure of Geneva.

Why did Geneva fail? First, because the greatest Power in the World, the United States, was not a member. Russia was intermittently in and out. Germany came in and then left it. Whatever the League accomplished in social fields, where its work was of very great value, it failed in its primary purpose, which was to afford collective security. Some hon. Members will remember the long debates on this very issue in the years before the last war.

When the United Nations set about its task its central purpose, its main purpose, its prime purpose, was stated to be to maintain international peace and security. That is what it was for. That is why the Security Council was to consist of the great Powers at the time, acting then—alas, no longer—in free alliance with each other. It is true that they were to elect annually on a rotation basis additional representatives from the smaller Powers, but the great Powers were the permanent basis of the Security Council.

The Security Council was to be, so to speak, the Cabinet of the world. It was to preserve peace and security. It was to be assisted, hon. Members may recall, by a military staff committee, a concept obviously based upon the work of the combined Chiefs of Staff in the war. It was to have international air force contingents. Although this was laid down in the Charter, it has never happened.

The effective operation of the Security Council has been made impossible by the Russian veto—used, I think, in all 100 times. The military staff committee and the air force contingents have never been set up, again because of the Russian objection. All this results from the division of the world and the tremendous conflict between Communism and the free world, with a number of unaligned nations lying outside.

The whole foundation on which the United Nations was built has been undermined. This is not the fault of the organisation. It is due to the facts of life. The Security Council has been made impotent, due to conditions having developed wholly contrary to what was thought likely in San Francisco in 1945. It is no good neglecting these facts. We have to understand them and see whether a healthier situation may some day emerge. I must be quite frank and say that I think that this can be done only if we reach some kind of détente, some kind of working arrangement, not through the United Nations, but through direct negotiations between East and West. We tried hard enough two years ago and we were disappointed, but I am not without hope that after this interval a new turn of events may open up these possibilities again.

So much for the underlying situation. It is not belittling the United Nations to say this. Indeed, it is probably enhancing the work of those who are trying to operate in these extremely difficult circumstances. At any rate, it is just stating the facts.

I have said that the primary purpose of the United Nations was, through the machinery of the Security Council, to keep peace and security. It has made some contribution to this end, especially in conciliation at the early stages of a dispute. We all know that between the two great blocs it is not the military committee, which does not exist, nor the international air contingents, which have never been made available, which keep the peace. What keeps the peace today—an uneasy peace, but peace—between the two great blocs is a much more grim and terrible force, the balance of nuclear power.

Of course, I do not underrate all the additional work of the United Nations in its related agencies—in economic and social fields, where they have been so active. In this the United Nations has, as one might say, developed the inheritance of the old League of Nations, especially in the work it has done amongst refugees, labour, social welfare and education—all this with considerable success. But still, first things first. Important as these economic and social problems are, they are not the matters which are causing anxiety about the development of the United Nations, except perhaps as regards their financial implications.

In this situation, where the Security Council has not been able to operate, certainly not as planned, what has followed? It is the best that could be done. The influence of the Secretary-General and the Secretariat has tended to be increased and developed in ways not envisaged in the Charter or in the minds of the founders. No one did more than the late Secretary-General in this regard, and it is right that a tribute should be paid to his work and that of the Secretariat generally in conciliation in the early stages of many dangerous disputes, especially perhaps of the minor kind, not the great conflict between the two great entrenched forces in the world.

It is because we realised that, although perhaps somewhat distant from the Charter, this was the only practical course to pursue that we and our allies and all our friends took a leading part in defeating the attempt of the Soviets to impose the so-called troika structure, the result of which would have been to reduce the Secretary-General, in his turn, to impotence by a new form of veto. That is what it would have meant. However, it is not a satisfactory position and it is not the position envisaged in the Charter. The United Nations can never be made to work unless political conditions can be created in the world which allow the Security Council to operate, not for perpetual propaganda purposes, not as a body permanently divided, but gradually as a team.

The deep divisions in the Security Council have led to a development of another kind which is altogether different from those envisaged in the Charter. It has been the development of the Assembly. Originally, it was thought that a resolution of the Assembly would be quite a rare occurrence. That was before the frustration of the Security Council and before the growth of this very large membership. If the Security Council could have been enlarged, if there could have been any way of amending the Charter to avoid the veto, we might have overcome this difficulty and developed it with great advantages.

But the Charter cannot be amended. No constitutional change can ever be made, so long as a single permanent vote in the Security Council prevents it. It is not true to say that the United Nations is what the members make it. It is what it has been made by an unalterable situation which can never be changed. Therefore, we are really in the position of the old Polish Diet—one veto stops any development.

We have tried with our friends to cut this knot, but we have been up against this rigid constitutional rule. So, in the circumstances, the Assembly has tried to turn itself into something quite different from what was envisaged, namely, a kind of semi-executive authority. This is, of course, attractive to all assemblies, but it has inherent dangers and difficulties. It is true that there have been occasions when, in spite of the voting, the Security Council has been able to pass effective resolutions. One of these cases is the Congo, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred but, in itself, the history of those resolutions is not very satisfactory. A number are usually put down in various forms and, after much lobbying, amendments are agreed. Some members abstain but, since abstention has lately come to be regarded as a more or less negative vote, some members are willing to accept resolutions as a whole, parts of which they regard as reasonably good and parts as unsatisfactory, and even dangerous.

At the best, those resolutions represent a compromise and, as a result, few of them present to the Secretary-General and his staff a clear directive of the kind that executive officers are entitled to expect from their superiors. We should compare them with the directives that were written, on the advice of their chiefs of staffs, by statesmen in the war to the commanders in the field. Much of the difficulty and much of the con fusion in the Congo results from this cause.

I know that the right hon. Gentleman feels deeply about the Congo; so do we all. We debated it on 14th December, and as the right hon. Gentleman and my noble Friend referred to it I should just like to recall that position. In the very distressing situation of last autumn we thought—perhaps we were wrong to think so, but it seemed not improper to think so—that the first purpose of the United Nations ought to be to bring about peace, not war. When we last debated it I was, if I remember, much derided for suggesting a ceasefire; that was the "trick" to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. I do not know why right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite are so wedded to military operations. I was much attacked because we put the whole weight of the British Government behind asking for a cease-fire. What happened? The ceasefire took place two or three days later.

Our second purpose has been, and it still is, to prevent the United Nations from being drawn into a position in which it will itself become a kind of new colonial Power, with vast and increasing obligations for administration, finance and military operations far beyond its present capacity. I am happy to say that since that debate some of those difficulties—although many of them remain—are looking better. Things look more hopeful, the chances of a settlement seem better, but, I repeat, the situation largely results from the system itself and the lack of carrying out the original plan.

I refer now to the Assembly and to the resolution to which the right hon. Gentleman has devoted much of his time and to which my noble Friend referred. As I said at the beginning, resolutions were regarded as quite rare, and they did, of course, command a special authority, but now they come flooding in, they are very long and complicated and, with the best will in the world, they really do present quite a difficulty to the delegations in New York and to Governments overseas.

This is, of course, not made easier by the time factor, and the curious rules of procedure which are not, like ours, worked out after many generations. Amendments are moved in New York of which we in the capital cities have hardly seen the context—perhaps we get it on the telephone—and in situations in which we are unable to appreciate the full implications. Many of the member Governments, I can assure the House, have given up the task in despair and give no instructions to their representatives. Some have given permanent instructions to their representatives to abstain—[Interruption.] I will come to that; I am not afraid.

What the Foreign Secretary rightly complained of was a curious bias—what he called a double standard—in relation to some of these resolutions. There is a favourite topic in the United Nations—and it is, perhaps, natural. It is what is called anti-colonialism. "When in doubt, put in a resolution about colonialism." Yet, by a strange paradox, many of the newly-independent nations are sitting in the Assembly as the result of British policy followed over the last fifteen years.

In September, 1960, at the 15th Session, I tried to put the British record in some detail. I was interrupted while doing so, but I did make my speech. I think that it was an overwhelming answer to those who claim that we are clinging to the old colonialism, or are trying to invent a neo-colonialism. With many of these resolutions, however, we are put in this difficutly. Sometimes they are really out of order: they are interference with the sovereign rights to which I have referred and which are built into the Charter itself. Sometimes they are like the curate's egg; parts of them are good and parts of them are bad.

We know now, of course, why there are not comparable resolutions, or very few, against the true imperialists—the dictatorships which have seized much of the territory of Europe and Asia. We never hear against all those countries and their allies the charge of tyranny. Why is this so? The reason is that it is much easier to attack the democratic Powers and, perhaps, get some result out of them, while the promoters know that such an attack will have not the slightest effect upon the policy of the Russian Government; such charges bounce off their armour like peas off an iron breastplate.

All the same, by these tactics, the British delegations—and we have very able delegations of both Ministers and officials—are often put into a position of great difficulty. Honesty would require us to oppose a particular resolution or, at least, part of it, while we might be in sympathy with the broad underlying concept. We have to try to judge as a whole, and take the best course we can

I refer to the famous Resolution 1514, to which the right hon. Gentleman devoted some time. One clause states: Inadequacy of political, economic, social or educational preparedness should never serve as a pretext for delaying independence. Yet that resolution was passed a bare six months after the Congo, and is still frequently invoked. If that view were to prevail, if we were immediately to accept the resolution and give independence forthwith to all the remaining Colonial Territories without regard to all these considerations, it would not be the path to freedom but the decline to chaos.

The United Nations is based on the principle of equal national sovereignty: one nation, one vote. One day we shall, perhaps, achieve some form of a world Government and world Parliament, but such a Government or Parliament would have to be based on quite a different principle, because "one nation, one vote" does not correspond to the power position of the world. Some of the greatest Powers, such as West Germany—yes, and China—are not even members, and it is because they knew that one man, one vote, and rule by the Assembly, was unworkable that the founders put all their faith in the Security Council.

I do not want to dwell too much on the question of paying, but my noble Friend the Foreign Secretary referred to it and so did the right hon. Gentleman. There is a rather curious situation here. I am told that one could collect a two-thirds majority in the Assembly from members who pay 5½ per cent. of the budget. I do not say that votes should go in proportion to contributions but, all the same, there is an unreality about what is happening. The United Nations is in deficit to the extent of more than 100 million dollars, and unless some disentanglement can be made fairly soon in the Congo that deficit may grow to really embarrassing figures. In any case, it will probably rise to 170 million dollars by the middle of this year.

The right hon. Gentleman quoted the figures of countries in arrears. This is the actual situation. At the end of 1961 there were 52 countries out of 104 which had not paid their ordinary contribution for that year, of which six—that is the six which the right hon. Gentleman has in mind—had not paid for two years. Then there is the special contribution for the Middle East and Congo, and here the right hon. Gentleman is quite right; some have not paid and some nay late. At the end of last year, out of 104 members on the Congo account 79 were in default—it is one nation in five that is contributing to this great Congo effort, about which so much is talked and voted upon—and 65 were still in default on the Middle Eastern account.

After two full years—not one year—one is supposed to be posted. One either leaves the club or is not allowed to vote. However, some countries contend that this provision does not apply to the cost of the special operations, and this matter is going to the International Court of Justice. Meanwhile, there is no way of compelling defaulting States to pay their contributions to the Congo and the Middle East for great undertakings, or of prohibiting them meanwhile from voting upon those issues. Here, indeed, is power without responsibility.

It is against this background that we have to consider the United Nations record, since the right hon. Gentleman's speech covered a wide field. Our contribution to the general budget is 7·58 per cent. of the whole. That is not our decision. That is made for us. We pay the same percentage to the Middle East and Congo special accounts. In addition, we are paying annually on a voluntary basis over £5 million for economic development and refugee relief, and on an assessed basis rather less than £2 million for the specialised agencies. We do not know yet what our total expenditure in 1962 will be, but in 1961 it was £12,300,000.

Also, as the House knows, we have recently announced that we are intending, in principle, to purchase up to 12 million dollars of the United Nations bonds before the end of 1963 to help to put the United Nations finances back upon some sound basis. But unless the member States face their responsibilities and pay their contributions, the United Nations must go bankrupt, and quickly.

There are the problems, some of which are inherent in the situation which has developed in the world. We must work on at a cure for it, for it is the fundamental problem of the world, by far the biggest.

Against these practical difficulties of the United Nations itself—while awaiting a larger movement or some degree of arrangement between the two great blocs, there are many practical difficulties which could and should be dealt with. And, in my view, far outweighing them, as my noble Friend said in the latter part of his speech, we must put into the opposite scale all the ideals, the aspirations and the hopes which were embodied in the very words of the Charter itself.

Just as with individuals, it is no reason to abandon principles of conduct because it is so hard to live up to them in practice, so in this great body of nations we must go on hopefully with our eyes on the future, not deterred but not refusing to see and understand the difficulties and problems of the present.

It is that that my noble Friend meant when he summed up his whole attitude in these clear and unequivocal words: Having drawn up the balance sheet between pessimism and hope, I come down decidedly on the side of hope. It was that that the United States and the United Kingdom Governments meant when, in spite of Mr. Stevenson's statement which I have quoted, the communiqué issued said: The United Nations has no stronger and more faithful members than the United States and the United Kingdom. That is right. To do otherwise would be to impute the present situation in the United Nations to a major cause other than the great gulf which divides the world. There are, indeed, failings and difficulties. I think that it would be much better if there were some more orderly procedure and this flood of resolutions could somehow be prevented. We could very much improve it, and I think that we shall. Nevertheless, I feel it so strongly that I must repeat it: it is from the divisions of the world. This is the spring from which all this evil flows.

Our first duty must be, therefore, never to abandon the hope of turning what is called peaceful co-existence into a reality and not a phrase. That we shall continue to pursue with all the power we have. Meanwhile, we can and shall give our support to the United Nations, although it is our duty not to be deterred by criticism either at home or abroad from striving to improve its methods and its effectiveness.

The House has seen that we have carried out our obligations, and more than carried them out, in the financial field. We are carrying out our obligations in every other way to the best of our ability. We recognise the work that has been and is being done in many fields of endeavour. We recognise it all the more readily because the work that the United Nations is doing is work that we have been doing for many generations in many parts of the world, in the old Empire and in the new Commonwealth. We also know how useful has been and can be the intervention of the Secretariat under an authoritative resolution at an early stage of some dispute.

All this we shall continue to support. But it would be equally wrong to seek a little cheap popularity by abandoning the great responsibilities that remain to us in the Colonial Empire, where everyone knows we are working towards the end that we have in view, where the matter of timing and method must be of importance if we are to have success and not a frightful failure. In reaching a balanced judgment, the Foreign Secretary's speech has, in my view, done us a great service, for which he deserves our thanks and not our censure.