United Nations (Reform)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th December 1964.

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Photo of Mr David Ennals Mr David Ennals , Dover 12:00 am, 7th December 1964

My first privilege is to congratulate the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Sir J. Fletcher-Cooke) on his maiden speech. I delivered my own maiden speech only two weeks ago, and I hope that he will not feel it condescending of me if I say that I thought that he made a very significant contribution to our debate. It was a very thoughtful speech, which drew from his long and distinguished service to this country in the Colonial Service. I know that there will be many occasions when hon. Members on both sides will welcome contributions from the hon. Member.

I wondered at one moment in what part of the Commonwealth the hon. Member was serving in 1956. He said that he had some difficulty in recognising differences in attitude to the United Nations on the two sides of this House. No doubt, the hon. Gentleman was very busy at that stage in important service on behalf of the country, and newspapers did not get through to him.

Secondly, I should like to tell the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) how very much I welcome the fact that so early in the life of this Parliament we are able to have a constructive debate on the future of the United Nations. In the limited amount of time at my disposal, I shall not speak in the broad about the United Nations, except to say that I believe that in that organisation lies our main hope for peace in the world, and that it will be through the United Nations and through disarmament that we will achieve our goal. That said, I want to direct my thoughts to the particular problems of peace keeping.

This is a very apt time to have this debate, because it is the time when the United Nations is faced with the financial crisis not of just how to pay for its previous peace-keeping actions, but of how it is in the future to pay for its peace-keeping function. Again, we are holding this debate in the shadow of the tragic events in the Congo. There are probably many of us on both sides of the Chamber who feel that if the United Nations Force had stayed there, if the member States had been prepared to finance it to stay there, we might not have seen the tragic loss of life. Some of us gave warnings of what might happen if we allowed the United Nations Force to pull out before its task was completed, and we have seen the consequences of that action.

As the hon. Member for Wavertree has said, there have been real achievements in peace keeping. He mentioned the United Nations Emergency Force in the Middle East and the current operation in Cyprus, and I could also mention a number of other instances in which United Nations observers have prevented a bad situation from growing worse. I remember that a few weeks after the United Nations had sent its observer group to the Lebanon, when it was reported that Syrian troops had moved into the Lebanon, I was in the frontier area.

The observers had reported that there was no sign of Syrian forces in Lebanese territory, but everyone on the spot said that before the United Nations observers arrived hundreds upon hundreds of Syrian troops had been there. As soon as it was known that the observers were coming they had got back into their buses and had driven back over the frontier. It is clear evidence that observers can perform a function without ever firing a shot.

This debate is also important because most of us feel that the main danger of war in the world does not spring from a direct confrontation between the forces of the Soviet Union and the other Communist countries and the forces of the West, but that it is likely to develop from a brush fire situation in which both sides become involved. It is, therefore, of prime importance that we should improve the peace-keeping machinery of the United Nations.

It may be thought that I am too realistic—that I have not set my eyes far enough forward, and that I am not optimistic enough. There are many things one would like to see done but the world situation does not allow us to do them. I do not think that the original concept of Article 43—the allocation of substantial forces by members of the United Nations, and the placing of their contingents under United Nations control—is "on" in the conceivable future. Until we have made progress in the process of disarmament I do not think that we shall be able to establish an international force that can in any way perform enforcement functions.

Neither do I believe that we can yet achieve the small permanent peacekeeping force which is, I believe, in the minds of some hon. Members on both sides: the idea that we should have in permanent existence an emergency force of between, perhaps, 5,000 and 30,000 troops to carry out functions such as those that were carried out in the Middle East, the Congo and Cyprus. I do not believe that we are yet ready for that. There is no sign that the majority of the Governments of the world—particularly the Soviet Government—are prepared to give this authority to the United Nations. In fact, it is the political objections to the better organisation of our peacekeeping needs that are more serious than the financial ones.

It was because of the difficulty of creating such a force that the Canadian Prime Minister, Mr. Lester Pearson, put forward the proposal referred to by the hon. Member for Wavertree. The United Nations should examine that proposal—a group should be established to study it—but I confess that I have serious doubts about it, and those serious doubts are reflected not only in the article which Mr. Lester Pearson wrote, but in the very wording of the Motion.

The weakness in the Motion is the thought that we can establish for the United Nations a force of like-minded States. The thing about the United Nations is that it draws from all countries; there is nothing like-minded there. We can see that N.A.T.O., the Warsaw Pact or some other regional treaty brings together like-minded States-the United Nations does not do that. There is the danger, whether it is done through the proposals canvassed by Mr. Lester Pearson or others, of establishing a force that is not representative of the main forces of the world and thinking that it can do the job of the United Nations.

I remember, also, looking back on some of the reports and words of the late Secretary-General, Mr. Dag Hammarskjoeld, that in many of the challenges that come before the United Nations the situations are quite different, and we might find that to be like-minded in one situation does not mean to be like-minded in another. Dag Hammarskjoeld said in the report which he made to the 1961-62 Assembly: The Congo experiment has strengthened my conviction that the organisation of a standing United Nations force would represent an unnecessary and impractical measure, especially in view of the fact that every new situation and crisis which the Organisation will have to face is likely to present new problems as to the best adjustment of the composition of the force, its equipment, its training and its organisation. What, therefore, can we do? My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu) said that we must make a beginning, and I agree. It may be that the first steps will be only limited, I mention two in particular. First, we must make more effective stand-by arrangements. We must make certain that there are more countries which have specially recruited trained forces ready on call by the United Nations. This was reflected in the "Uniting for Peace" resolution back in 1950, which said that member States should maintain national armed forces elements so trained, organised and equipped that they could promptly be made answerable, in accordance with the constitutional processes, for services as a United Nations unit or units. We have seen the beginning of this. Canada, as has been pointed out, has a Regular Army battalion available on call by the United Nations. The Netherlands has a marine corps unit, Finland has an infantry battalion and the Scandinavian countries together have a force of 3,000 properly trained troops recruited for this purpose. It is extremely important that we should see that other countries are prepared to undergo this preparation.

The task of a United Nations force is a very difficult and onerous one. It calls for tremendous control and often the training adequate for ordinary Army functions may not be enough in the difficult situations with which a United Nations force is presented. It is also extremely important that we should try to persuade every non-like-minded State to take part. It is important that Brazil, India and Yugoslavia should take part and that other countries—those which are in the Communist world and those which are not—from all continents, including Africa, who could make a contribution to collective security.

My second proposal is not new. It is that there should be at United Nations headquarters, recruited by the Secretary-General, a trained staff as a nucleus of a permanent force. I hope that it is not impermissible in this House to quote one's own words. In a pamphlet I wrote in 1959 I said: There would need to be a nucleus of officers and men concerned with questions of command, military equipment, feeding, welfare and law. Such a nucleus … should be permanently available at U.N. headquarters and be on the U.N. Secretariat, thus individually recruited. The staff officers concerned should be in close contact with contingent commanders of the stand-by troops. There one has a picture of a headquarters group of staff ready to meet a situation arising and dangers as they emerge so that the United Nations would be ready logistically to face these challenges in different parts of the world with contingents ready and on call.

What about the contribution which Her Majesty's Government can give to this task? It has been said that it would not normally be wise for one of the five major Powers to be involved in a peacekeeping force. This may be so in normal circumstances, but Cyprus proved not to be a normal cirmumstance. No one, on either side of the House, would say that the British troops who were part of the United Nations Force in Cyprus did not perform extremely important functions. But there will be other situations in which it would be quite inappropriate for British forces to participate. Each situation may require different contingents to fulfil the political challenges that are met.

Britain ought to declare its willingness to train certain of our forces to be available if required. It may be that we might concentrate not so much on combatant forces, but that some of our technical services—some of our engineers and signallers can be contributed so that we could have signallers who have been trained in several languages available for service. We must offer to provide transport and other logistic support when called upon. We might offer training facilities to those from other countries who are being trained for United Nations service.

My last consideration concerns the complicated question of finance. I do not want to deal at this stage with the difficult issue now before the Assembly. Like other hon. and right hon. Members, I welcome the clear statement which was made earlier this afternoon from the Government Front Bench that we would stand firmly by the collective principle. It may be that way will be found for compromises from both sides which will meet the difficulty. We hope that it will. I hope that no one will suggest that we should rush into a situation which might produce a collision course.

When we look at the question of financing future operations we recognise that, while finance appears as a huge looming problem, in fact the demands made on any major State are diminutive compared with the demands already made to meet national defence expenditure. We are not here dealing with huge sums of money. It must be established that if a headquarters nucleus is approved and recruited it must be on the United Nations budget and paid for by all the member States. The stand-by contingents when called upon must be paid for out of the United Nations budget and paid for by all member States. But we should be prepared to accept differences in apportionment. The principle has been accepted that countries with small ability to pay might be asked to pay a relatively smaller amount. We should be willing to look at proposals for not sticking rigidly to United Nations budgetary proportions.

There are also situations in which only a few member States might need to make contributions. The United Nations force which went to West New Guinea and the one which went to the Yemen—I am not suggesting that it was a successful operation—were established and paid for not by all member States. Very serious consideration should be given to the proposal, already voiced in this House by my hon. Friend the Member for Ash-field (Mr. Warbey), that there should be a United Nations peace fund and that it should be possible for individuals and organisations to make their modest contributions to peace-keeping even if those payments were of only a token nature.

I hope that during the course of the present United Nations Assembly the United Kingdom will show a very positive attitude to the problems of peace-keeping. I hope that a lead will be given from Her Majesty's Government. I hope that they will indicate their willingness to support and assist United Nations peace-keeping operations. I hope that we shall specifically propose that there should be established a headquarters planning group such as that to which I have referred. I hope that the Government will welcome the initiative of Mr. Lester Pearson and others involved in the Ottawa conference and call upon the United Nations to examine the consequences. I look forward at the end of this debate to a reassertion of the positive attitude of Her Majesty's Government to this most vital question.