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UN: High-level Panel

Volume 687: debated on Tuesday 28 November 2006

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they accept the recommendations of the High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change of December 2004 addressed to the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

My Lords, the Government strongly welcomed the report of the High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change. In the FCO Command Paper on the report, the Prime Minister described it as,

“an outstanding contribution to tackling the threats to security which the world faces”.

The report provided important momentum to the ongoing UN reform process, which included the world summit outcome agreed by world leaders in September 2005. As a strong supporter of UN reform, we are pleased that the summit formally agreed many of the high-level panel’s recommendations, including the creation of the Peacebuilding Commission and the endorsement of the concept of “responsibility to protect”.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. I entirely agree that it is an outstanding report and provides a very sound political and moral framework for military intervention in the 21st century. However, I want to probe the Minister on Recommendation 60, which says:

“States with advanced military capacities should establish standby high readiness, self-efficient battalions at up to brigade level that can reinforce United Nations missions, and should place them at the disposal of the United Nations”.

I understand that at the millennium review last September that was accepted in theory, but what practical steps are being taken to implement it?

My Lords, the UK Government would consider each request on a case-by-case basis. However, the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations is currently considering three options to provide timely additional support to UN missions at times of crisis: the provision of a rapid deployment capability to regional organisations; the provision of a short-term capability by one or more individual countries; and providing co-operation arrangements between UN missions in the same region. We fully support its efforts in this arena.

My Lords, the establishment of the Peacebuilding Commission is a very welcome innovation, but does the Minister agree that it presents us with both a danger and an opportunity? The danger is that the Peacebuilding Commission gets involved in direct executive action and duplicates the capability of other multinational and, indeed, individual nation activity in the area of peacemaking and post-conflict reconstruction; the opportunity is that it acts as a co-ordinator to create more cohesive action. Do the Government agree that the latter is a more appropriate role for the Peacebuilding Commission than the former?

My Lords, what is the Government’s attitude to the high-level panel's recommendation that where the UN supports a peace operation being undertaken by a regional organisation the UN membership as a whole should be prepared to finance it? Does she agree that if the 2005 summit had endorsed, rather than ignored, that recommendation, many of the problems that have arisen over the African Union’s mission in Darfur could have been avoided? What are Her Majesty's Government now doing to pursue that recommendation?

My Lords, it is with regret that that part of the proposal was not adopted. The Government continue to press ahead within the UN with the many reforms that they favour and we continue to discuss these issues with our UN partners.

My Lords, is a study being made of the Canadian proposal for a duty to protect, which would set up machinery whereby, in situations like Darfur where the Government concerned are unhelpful or unco-operative, it might be possible to bypass the procedure by getting General Assembly support for intervention to prevent genocide and other crimes against humanity of the kind that we now see unfolding tragically in southern Sudan?

My Lords, I shall have to look into that for the noble Baroness. I shall write to her with an informed response.

My Lords, is not the problem here that the General Assembly tends to will the end but not the means? Does it not go back to the Peacebuilding Commission and the need for regional structures which, as the noble Lord said a few moments ago, are necessary to underpin a co-ordinating role for the Peacebuilding Commission?

Yes, my Lords, there are many problems associated with that. We fully support the Peacebuilding Commission which we see as a new type of body for the UN; it reports both to the Security Council and to the General Assembly. In that very fact we see that it has great strengths. We must ensure that it really works as it has been set up to work: to encourage both longer-term international attention to countries emerging from violent conflict and more effective and coherent international efforts in post-conflict countries. Sadly, those efforts are needed more and more.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that if, in the years ahead, the United Nations is to have credibility, the Security Council has to reflect the realities of the world as it is now and not the world as it was in 1945? What progress is being made in that respect?

My Lords, as noble Lords are aware, we are supportive of the candidature of the G4—Germany, Japan, India and Brazil—for permanent seats on an enlarged council and for permanent African representation. We continue to press those discussions with our partners within the UN. As noble Lords may be aware, the Prime Minister has suggested that it might be necessary for us to agree some form of interim change that can be a bridge to future settlements. We believe it is urgent that the Security Council should reform itself and reflect properly the nations of the world and their preoccupations.

My Lords, that matter was left aside by the high-level panel. On the other reform areas, are the Government really happy with the pace of reform in the UN, which seems to be very slow?

My Lords, it is fair to say that the Government are frustrated by the pace of reform, but with a body of 192 members, it is entirely understandable why it takes so long to reach consensus.

My Lords, this is a good report and the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, played a leading part in producing it. One of the key elements of the report is how on Earth we, or the United Nations, should deal with nuclear proliferation in a world in which obviously there is going to be a large expansion of civil nuclear power of one sort or another. The other day, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, raised the issue of an independent international nuclear fuel bank of a kind that is now being studied by the UN and by the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, which I visited the other day. What contribution is the UK making to the thinking on that new idea, which might be a way through the maze of the terrifying proliferation which seems about to explode onto the world?

My Lords, as noble Lords will recall, that point was raised with my noble friend Lord Triesman the other day. He indicated that we support the idea of an independent nuclear fuel bank. We are doing everything we can to progress that idea because we see it as a solution to many of the problems being discussed.

My Lords, further to the supplementary question of the noble Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, about ready forces, does the Minister accept that one of the great achievements of the progress in closer defence co-operation among European Union member states is that the provision of ready forces is one of the main aims of the SDP? Indeed, was not Operation Concordia in summer 2004, in which European Governments managed to put 1,500 troops into eastern Congo within 14 days of a request from the UN Secretary-General, a useful step in that direction?

Does the Minister also accept that, as the demand for peacekeeping forces rises, we need to bring more countries into their provision? In that respect, is not the arrival of 1,000 Chinese troops as part of the extended UN force in Lebanon a quite healthy development?

My Lords, the situation as outlined by the noble Lord was a useful step forward. We welcome the Chinese contribution to the forces in Lebanon. In the area of regional rapid reaction, it is important that the EU and UN continue to discuss how the EU battle groups could be used in appropriate circumstances in support of UN missions. We look forward to building on that.

My Lords, the Minister said that Her Majesty’s Government support an increase in the number of permanent members of the Security Council. Do Her Majesty’s Government support any change in the number of veto members?

My Lords, as I understand it, the Government do not support any change in the number of veto members. I will seek to clarify that, however, and write to the noble Lord.