Peacekeeping Operations

Part of Estimates Day – in the House of Commons at 5:22 pm on 13th December 1993.

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Photo of Mr Calum MacDonald Mr Calum MacDonald , Na h-Eileanan an Iar 5:22 pm, 13th December 1993

The question of internal borders is very difficult. While we all support the principle of self-determination of nations, communities or minorities within states in its broadest sense, we must be careful not to allow support for the principle of self-determination to become automatic support for the principle of secession. It is important that we try to maintain the integrity of nation states, which are the building blocks of the international community.

The constitutions of some nation states allow for various parts of those states to secede. Similarly, the international community may recognise the constitutions of those states as well as the federal constitutions of various parts of those states and their right to secede. It could be argued that, from 1974 onwards, the republics within Yugoslavia had a constitutional right to secede. I agree that we must be careful not to allow our respect and support for minority rights and for the principle of self-determination of communities to lead to an interminable fracturing of existing states. That is a danger which we must guard against.

My hon. Friend is also right that the principle I am putting forward is, in many ways, a simplifying principle. Unless we try to put forward such a simplifying principle, any hope of maintaining a consistent line and policy when we face the challenges that will come from eastern Europe and elsewhere during the rest of the decade will disappear. It will then be difficult to maintain the kind of stability and order that we seek. If we allow disputes to arise, and the resolution of them by aggression to succeed, many borders in eastern Europe could be disputed. That is unfortunately what we have done in the former Yugoslavia.

As to the United Nations, the problems that we have seen over the past couple of years have diminished our original optimism. Those problems can be divided into three categories: lack of material resources for the United Nations, the problem of its internal organisation when it comes to peacekeeping, and a certain lack of will when faced with various conflicts that we should try to do more about.

As to the material resources of the United Nations, there is no doubt that those available for peacekeeping have to be built up. A recent report of the United Nations revealed the startling statistics that its peacekeeping budget in 1991 was less than the combined budget of the New York fire and police departments. That was in a year when there were already several peackeeping operations in place around the world. There is no doubt that the budget is utterly inadequate for the tasks that the United Nations will be asked to perform during the rest of the decade.

The right hon. Member for Guildford raised the point about the United Nations Organisation. The United Nations lacks an independent intelligence gathering capacity and has difficulties with command and control of United Nations operations. Another great problem is the lack of co-ordination between forces that are unused to working with each other and have different levels of equipment and training.

I visited NATO with a group of colleagues earlier this year, and we were told by General Sir Richard Vincent, the chairman of the military committee, that, in deciding the number of troops he thought necessary for the implementation of the Vance-Owen proposals, he had to take into account all those various deficiencies in the United Nations organisation. Given those deficiencies, in order to do its job the United Nations has to deploy many more troops than would otherwise be necessary.

The important point about standby forces has already been made. We must look more and more to regional organisations to help to carry the load for the United Nations. We should be looking to regional organisations in Africa, Asia and Europe to share some of the burden. We in Europe have to take a very hard look at how we organise our forces, particularly in the European Community.

The European Union now has more than 2 million men under arms, yet it protests its absolute impotence and inability to act to sort out regional conflicts in Europe without massive help from the United States, particularly with ground troops. Such a position is unsustainable and the European Union must look towards integrating its forces, particularly in an era of diminished resources all round.

The third factor that has led to a decline in optimism about the abilities of the UN is the difficulty met in imposing political will, as has been obvious in the Balkans. I do not believe that it has been the failure to impose military will that has held western Governments back from intervening in the Balkans on a grand scale. My conversations with General Vincent and his predecessor, General Eide, have convinced me that a lack of political will has been the key to the failure of the West to intervene more aggressively in the Balkans.

Western Governments had hoped that the conflict in the Balkans could be contained, that the war in Bosnia could be limited to Bosnia and that it would eventually burn itself out. That hope will be dashed in months and years to come. Our failure to intervene at an earlier stage in that conflict, perhaps during the bombardment of Dubrovnik, means that when we do eventually intervene with military forces—I am sure that that will be necessary—the operation will be far more painful than it would have been had we intervened earlier.

Even those who disagree with me about the need for military intervention in the Balkans must agree about the importance of maintaining the flow of humanitarian aid to the region. A couple of colleagues and I visited Sarajevo in October and we saw the privations caused by the siege. The aid that is getting through is nothing like enough to relieve the population.

The figures may sound impressive: 6,000 flights delivering 60,000 tonnes of aid by air to Sarajevo in two years. That should be compared, however, with the 40,000 tonnes of aid that was delivered in one month by air to Saudi Arabia during the Gulf crisis. More tellingly, it should be compared with the 200,000 flights that delivered more than 2 million tonnes of aid to Berlin in 1949—a city which suffered a shorter siege than that of Sarajevo. Such comparisons raise a giant question mark about the serious intent of western Governments' aid efforts in Sarajevo and elsewhere in Bosnia.

I have raised this matter with the Foreign Secretary. The Minister of State has written to me to explain that an attempt will be made to increase the tempo of the airlifts to Sarajevo. He stressed the difficulties that have been encountered because there is only one flight path in to and out of Sarajevo and because no night flying is allowed due to the supposed greater dangers that such an operation poses. He argued that that one flight path meant that planes were given a 30-minute time slot to land and take off from Sarajevo.

Such excuses are inadequate. I do not see why it is not possible to establish more than one flight path and to organise night flights to deliver aid. I do not know why each plane needs a 30-minutes time slot when planes land at Heathrow every couple of minutes and planes landed every minute and a half during the Berlin airlift. Those excuses are not credible and I fear that western Governments' seriousness of intent in delivering humanitarian aid is no greater than their seriousness of intent in maintaining international law and the principles previously enunciated in the Balkans.