Orders of the Day — Foreign Affairs

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 8th June 1978.

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Photo of Mr Evan Luard Mr Evan Luard , Oxford 12:00 am, 8th June 1978

I can quote one passage of the right hon. Gentleman's speech immediately. I should like further time to look at the rest of the speech. This passage is an indication of the sort of approach adopted by the right hon. Member for Knutsford. He said: The use of the Community's negotiated arrangements, either through the Lomé Convention or its association arrangements with many other States, is an area where much greater involvement of the Community in the political stability of the countries with which it is dealing can be achieved."—[Official Report, 7th June 1978; Vol. 951, c. 234.] That is a suggestion that the Lomé Convention could be used as a means of securing political stability of countries within Africa. That will be taken by many countries in Africa as an attempt to use economic leverage to influence the political situation in particular African countries. If the right hon. Member does not recognise that, or does not understand that this is how it will be taken in Africa, he has a limited knowledge of the way that African Governments react and feel about such matters. That is why the meeting in Paris turned down the idea of proposing such arrangements.

I turn to other subjects that have not so far been mentioned in the debate. There are, as has often been pointed out, many unsatisfactory features in general foreign affairs debates of the kind that we are engaged in. Discussion tends to flit from one topic to another with alarming rapidity and often no single subject secures adequate attention or debate to cover it in any depth. Such a debate does, however, have one advantage; it provides the opportunity for the discussion of certain topics that are not, perhaps, central or immediate enough to demand separate debates of their own and which otherwise would therefore never get discussed at all.

I wish to devote most of my remarks to three subjects of this kind. They are not, perhaps, of such burning and topical interest as those that were debated yesterday, such as recent events in Africa, or developments in East-West relations, but none the less they are topics that may be of equal importance, in the long term, to the future peace and well-being of the international community. These subjects are the United Nations, the Conference on the Law of the Sea, and our policy on human rights questions—all subjects which I believe deserve an airing here from time to time and which since I have personal responsibility for them within the Foreign Office I am glad to have the opportunity to introduce, this afternoon.

Many hon. Members probably feel towards the United Nations in much the same way as do many of the public outside, that is, as a subject of pained disappointment. Most people want to believe in it and to give it support and want others to do so. They recognise that the world needs such a body and that it could and should be an important force in securing the peace of the world, but they feel let down and disillusioned that it has not, in their eyes, achieved what it was originally hoped to achieve—above all, to secure for us a safer world to live in than we have today.

I understand this sentiment; indeed, I think that we all share it, to some extent. We all wish to see the world become a more peaceful place than it has been in the past 30 years, and we should all like to see a better, stronger and more efficient United Nations, equipped to keep the peace more effectively than it has in recent years.

I share that feeling, but I think that it should be tinged with a sense of realism. The United Nations is not a sort of ideal, amorphous entity floating somewhere in space, which can suddenly transform the nature of the world, the nature of States and the nature of human beings. The United Nations is simply the sum of its member States. It is as good or as bad as they are. It is inevitably a mirror of the world as it is. If that world is divided, so is the United Nations itself.

It would no doube be a great thing if all the nations of the world were agreed in their attitude to all the international crises that emerge in every corner of the world and could immediately join in a common response, within the United Nations, to resolve those crises. However, the sad fact is that the nations of the world are not united in that way. Governments have many differing views on the way that crises should be met. Within the United Nations they express these differing views and so often frustrate effective action by that body to keep the peace.

We do not yet have a supranational body that can intervene to impose an enforced peace on the world. The original hope that the United Nations Security Council could dispose of its own armed force, with which it could keep the peace of the world, which was enshrined in Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, was disappointed almost immediately after the United Nations was set up. The negotiations that took place concerning the constitution of that force in 1946–47 broke down within a year. From that moment it has been clear that the United Nations would not enjoy the superiority of power over individual States that would enable it to enforce peace all over the world.

Since that time the United Nations has had to be dependent on moral force alone—on persuasion, on the formulation of principles of peaceful co-existence which might influence the conduct of States and, above all, on seeking conciliation among member States themselves, especially the great Powers among whom mutual understanding is particularly important. Given the major differences in political philosophy and national objectives among different States, it is scarcely surprising that that has been a difficult role for the organisation to play.

In the light of these proposals I do not think that we need be too despondent about the way in which the organisation has evolved or about its record of performance so far. Although enforcement powers have not been available to it it has been able to develop alternative techniques and institutions lo help maintain the peace of the world. Perhaps the most important technique has been the development of peacekeeping forces.

The United Nations has new established seven different peacekeeping forces on different occasions in various parts of the world; from Cyprus to West Iran, from Syria to the Congo. Though not normally expected to fight, these various forces have performed an invaluable role in maintaining the peace in bitterly-contested areas and so helped to prevent a recurrence of fighting. It is a matter of considerable encouragement to those who believe in the United Nations and its role, as do the Government, that at the current Special Session on Disarmament there has been much discussion of ways to expand and strengthen the United Nations peacekeeping capacity.

The United States Government, for example, have made an imaginative proposal for the establishment of a United Nations peacekeeping reserve to which member States might contribute contingents and which would make it easier for the United Nations to respond rapidly and effectively in future crisis situations. The Prime Minister has welcomed these ideas and we ourselves have put to the Session related proposals for a study of ways in which to strengthen the United Nations peacekeeping capacity.

But we believe that improvements in the availability of United Nations forces of that sort are not enough. Peacekeeping forces are mobilised only after peace has already broken down. Their use is to some extent an admission of defeat, an admission of a failure to maintain the peace. We believe, therefore, that it is also necessary for the United Nations to be in a position to use its influence ear-her to try to prevent such situations arising in the first place. In other words, we think that the organisation needs to improve its capacity for crisis-anticipation. That means that it should have the capability for keeping all possible crisis areas under regular review so that if possible action may be taken by the Organisation to reduce tension in the area or to promote a settlement before the stage of fighting has even begun.

The proposals that we are putting forward for the consideration of the Special Session therefore suggest the consideration of ways to achieve that capability. One step forward might be to try to ensure that there are regular meetings of the United Nations Security Council to keep such situations under review instead of waiting, as at present, until war has broken out before the Council meets. Such meetings should perhaps sometimes be in private and could sometimes be at the level of Foreign Ministers.

Finally, however, even that is not enough. If such meetings of the Council are to achieve anything, they must do more than merely debate the issues. It is necessary that in addition the Council should have at its disposal techniques that will enable it to go to the root of the problem and to promote a settlement of the dispute concerned among the parties. That means, for example, techniques of conciliation or mediation, the appointment of a representative of the Secretary-General to try to sort things out and the setting up of missions of inquiry and conciliation. In other words, the whole series of techniques, often called peaceful settlement of disputes.

Thus the third element of our proposals is that the United Nations should consider ways in which its capabilities may be improved and strengthened so that it may become not merely an organisation for keeping the peace, or for restoring the peace after it has broken down, but for making peace; that is, for resolving the underlying problems that are in dispute between member States.

We believe that between them these three proposals—peacekeeping, crisis anticipation and peaceful settlement—represent an important complement to the measures of arms reductions which are at present being discussed at the Special Session in New York. Unless alternative means of resolving disputes are known to be available, it may be that States will be less willing to agree to reduce their armaments. Conversely, as States learn to place greater trust in the procedures for a peaceful settlement they may feel it less and less worth while to devote huge sums to maintaining large piles of destructive weapons of war.

I turn to another quite different area of the United Nations activity. It is one that rarely features in our debates in this place though it could be of huge importance to the history of the world and could determine the future use and distribution of a large part of the world's remaining resources. I refer to the Conference on the Law of the Sea.

I know that it must seem to some that the conference is a permanent feature of the international scene and that its meetings go on interminably from year to year with endless discussion of highly abstruse supbjects without any signs of appreciable progress. I can understand that feeling. It is true that it is now four and a half years since the conference began and that it has already passed through seven sessions without arriving at a conclusion.

It is not the case that no progress has been made during that period. Given the complexities of the subject, the magnitude of the issues and the radical differences of interest among States, it is perhaps remarkable how much progress has been made. We do at least have the draft of a complete treaty, even though it is only what is called a negotiating text, to which no country is committed and which we ourselves would not be willing to accept in its present form. Moreover, it is the draft of a treaty of huge scope, covering an enormous range of separate subjects from some fundamental issues that have been contested literally for centuries, such as the breadth of the terroritorial sea and the rules of innocent passage, to novel but equally important questions relating to marine pollution, marine scientific research, the economic zone, and such esoteric but not insignificant topics as the law on archipelagoes, the access of land-locked States to the sea, pirate radio stations, and rights over archaeological treasures beneath the oceans.

On the majority of these subjects there is a considerable measure of agreement and it is unlikely that the treaty will require significant amendment. Unfortunately, there are one or two questions—they are among the most important on which there remain considerable differences. It is on these that recent discussions have concentrated, including the session that has just ended at Geneva, part of which I attended. Most important of these is the system of exploitation to be established for the resources lying in the deeper parts of the ocean beyond the jurisdiction of any individual State—in other words, in the international area of the oceans. Even here there is a measure of consensus. It is agreed that there should be an international sea bed authority that will oversee the exploitation of the mineral nodules that are the main resource in the area, and that exploitation should take place under the so-called parallel system—