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 Philip Goodhart Mr Philip Goodhart , Beckenham 12:00 am, 7th December 1964

If my memory serves me correctly, which it may not do, the first time that I met the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Sir J. Fletcher-Cooke) was in the United Nations Trust Territory at Tanganyika, when I decisively beat him at a game of croquet. Speaking about the United Nations this afternoon, I thought that the hon. Member hit decisively and put the ball squarely through the hoop.

It is about a year ago since I made my maiden speech at the United Nations, where I had the honour to be "our man" on the Third Committee which deals largely with social and humanitarian problems There I have been succeeded by the noble Lady, Baroness Gaitskell, whose warm humanity will, I know, make a sharp impact on the delegates.

The Third Committee, with its emphasis on racial relations, is of the greatest interest to the newly emergent countries. When serving at the United Nations it does not take one long to realise that it is the new nations that dominate the scene. In fact, as Sir William Hayter, an acute diplomatic observer, said, the United Nations is really the place where small Powers send their diplomats to practise anti-great Power diplomacy.

The one reform of the United Nations which at the moment grips the imagination and the interest of the new nations is the making over of the councils and, indeed, of all the component parts of the United Nations in the shape of the General Assembly, where new nations have already achieved a substantial majority. I do not think that there is any particular diplomatic or democratic justification for this. As has been so ably pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney), the difference in size between the nations is very striking.

At present, black Africa has 34 votes in the General Assembly and a population of 200 million, whereas India, with one vote in the General Assembly, has a population of 400 million. The disproportion in votes between India and Africa is 1 to 68 and I would point out that should she ever become a member of United Nations Communist China has a population more than 3,000 times greater than that of Malta, the last country to be admitted to membership of the General Assembly.

We must recognise that this wish to make everything in the image of the General Assembly is the driving force for reform in the United Nations at the moment, but it does not necessarily make for great efficiency. The Third Committee, on which I served, had representatives of every single member State sitting around the table. Last year, the main discussion was on the preparation of a draft declaration on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination. An able and satisfactory draft on this subject had already been prepared for us by the Sub-Committee on Human Rights of the Economic and Social Council, but the fact that there were 112 members of the Committee meant that every nation had to put forward one or more amendments, if only to justify its status and the presence of its representative. We spent more than 150 hours debating this document.

Some of the amendments submitted were, frankly, completely unintelligible. I remember that at one point I virtually acquired the chairmanship of this Committee because I brought with me to the meetings each day a copy of the Shorter Oxford Dictionary. Our chairman was a Chilean lawyer who prided himself on his knowledge of the legal meaning of English words. He would rule that a word meant one thing and I would look it up in the Shorter Oxford Dictionary and find that it meant the complete opposite. I would then raise my hand on a point of order and my version would be accepted. One African delegate came up to me half-way through the discussion and said, "How can you stand the maltreatment of the English language which is going on in this Committee?"

By the time we had spent 150 hours discussing the amendments to this declaration, the document had lost all cohesion and form. This was meant to be a document to give a moral lead to the world. Children in the Andalusian high levels may be learning the declaration by heart at this moment, but so far as I know, the only time that it achieved any public recognition was when it was printed in toto on page 34 of the New York edition of the New York Times. Then it disappeared from sight altogether.

Unfortuately, this lack of clarity and intelligibility is creeping into documents which are of rather greater urgency and importance than a draft declaration on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination. I doubt very much indeed whether, in the future, in any United Nations intervention which may conceivably emerge we shall have in the Security Council or the General Assembly a political directive which is understandable. I think that this will be because of the blurring of the language which comes when one has so many "cooks" stirring the pot, and also because of the fundamental and political divisions which separate the member States. I doubt, therefore, whether, in the future, we shall have more political guidance from the Security Council or the General Assembly any greater than we did over the Congo or Cyprus. That means that the responsibility for guiding the destiny of the United Nations Forces falls back on the Secretary-General and on the commanders of the United Nations Forces in the field.

It must be recognised that in recent months the lead which has come from the Secretary-General's office has been largely a negative one, although it has not necessarily been the worst for that. That, in turn, has put still more responsibility on the shoulders of the United Nations field commanders. I had the privilege and pleasure of listening to the speech made at the United Nations last October by my right hon. Friend the present Leader of the Opposition, in which he said that if certain operations have to be undertaken it was surely better that they should be undertaken officially. This means that we must try to have greater training for those who are likely to be chosen to be United Nations force commanders and those who are likely to be chosen to serve on the staffs.

This, for all practical purposes, means mainly Indian and Swedish commanders. I do not myself believe that we should shirk establishing a United Nations defence college. At the moment there is a N.A.T.O. Staff College. I do not see why there should not be a small United Nations staff college with a special place for those who are likely to be called on to command operations.

However effective the peace-keeping force may be, it will not help very much if the entire United Nations goes bankrupt. The clash between the Soviet Union and America on the payments that the Soviet Union owes to the United Nations has emphasised the danger of the bankruptcy that faces the organisation. Indeed, the strain has been so great that the Secretary-General has retired to hospital with a suspected ulcer, even before he has had the pleasure of meeting our Prime Minister.

One good item, however, may emerge from the present financial crisis. That is a sense of new reality, because sitting in the delegates' cocktail lounge at United Nations headquarters it is easy to absorb the idea that in the long run the United States will foot the bill for everything. As one sees the riches of America moving up and down the East River, it is easy for this myth to gather force. In each year up till now there has been at the back of delegates' minds a feeling that, whatever they did, in the long run the taxpayer of the United States would dip their hands into their pockets and shell up. Now, as a result of this direct confrontation between the United States and ourselves and the U.S.S.R., it is plain that there is a limit beyond which the United States will not be pushed and that it is not prepared to be a bottomless well. I hope that this will bring a new sense of reality into the financial thought of the United Nations. Once this has happened, a move can be made towards the imaginative proposals advanced this afternoon by my hon. Friend the Member for Wavertree.

I believe that what is needed at the moment is not so much a new constitution or new powers or new committees or even a new army, but rather a new sense of reality and a new determination to make the organisation as it exists work. If, rather than tinkering with the machinery, an effort could be made to get a new spirit of urgency behind the organisation as it is at present, I think that the present crisis will not have been in vain.