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Lord Cobbold: My Lords, I also wish to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, not only on instigating this debate but also on his part in the creation of this excellent and well-written report on the strengths and weaknesses of the United Nations, with recommendations for reform—or should I say regeneration?

The report itself was the work of a panel of representatives from 16 countries and demonstrates that it is possible to reach agreement among nations and that the United Nations, for all its problems, is the world's best hope for long-term peace and security. As the report states:

In the 60 years since 1945 the world has changed. The threat of war between nations has been reduced and replaced by the threat of disproportionate damage achievable by an individual or a group of terrorists.

The United Nations has had its successes and its failures, and in the process has lost some of the prestige and certainties of those early years. A review of its role is therefore timely and even overdue. As the report says:


 
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The report has many important recommendations. However, in the time available I wish to focus on just one crucial area of reform which is both urgent and I hope achievable, and indeed which seems to me to be an essential prerequisite for the longer-term achievement of many of the report's other recommendations. I refer to reform of the Security Council, which has been mentioned already by a number of speakers this afternoon. As the report says:

The Security Council was designed to enable the world body to act decisively. As the report says:

The report continues that, with the passage of time,

We have heard today from several noble Lords about the Security Council's failures of recent years. To be effective the Security Council must command universal respect, including from those committed to the path of terror.

Although unanimously agreed on the need for reform, it is significant that Security Council reform was the one area in the whole of the report on which the panel was unable to reach unanimity on the detail. Two alternative models for a revised council are put forward. They vary as to the number, type and geographical distribution of seats recommended. It is clear that agreement as between these two models, or indeed on a variation of either, will require serious and politically sensitive debate among the membership and may involve some modification of the existing veto arrangements.

I hope that national governments will rise to the challenge. This important report must not be allowed to be filed away and forgotten. The detailed arrangements for the reformed Security Council must be negotiated and agreed without delay. I hope that the Minister will be able to assure us this afternoon that reform of the Security Council, together with implementation of the other valuable recommendations in the report, will be treated as a government priority in the coming months, particularly in the context of the Government's presidency of the G8 and of the EU.

6.8 p.m.

Lord Desai: My Lords, I echo the praise given by other noble Lords to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, for the report and for his lucid introduction.

I immediately pass on to making criticisms rather than give any more praise. I think that while the United Nations is a good idea it is an abysmal reality. Unless we face up to the fact that it has problems, we will not advance. One problem for any high-level panel with people from government on it is that it is always restrained from calling a spade a spade. You cannot actually name the culprits who cause the major problems. When on a committee you have members of
 
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two nations who recently defied the doctrine on nuclear arms—India and Pakistan—I do not know how much credence you can give to a committee which says that nuclear proliferation is a bad thing. Okay, it is a bad thing, so how are you going to prevent it?

The UN faces three deficits. The first is a democratic deficit. I shall not say very much about that because I think that the General Assembly is an inadequate body and that it should contain some people's representation. I shall say no more about that.

There is a legitimacy deficit, which is the most serious deficit. That is that the United Nations members have routinely violated the UN charter. The Security Council members—even the permanent members—have themselves indulged in actions that, if they were not veto powers, would have been condemned by the United Nations.

I take my stand with the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf. Like him, I supported the Iraq war and thought that the behaviour of some Security Council members in not allowing the implementation of a United Nations Security Council resolution was appalling. Had we gone down that path, we would not have had elections in Iraq last Sunday. We would have had still more mass graves all the time, while people mouthed pieties about how we should have more inspectors and a longer time for inspection for weapons of mass destruction. Like the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, I am on record as saying that in Iraq I was worried not about WMD or Iraq's threat to us but the fact that Saddam Hussein was the enemy of his own people.

There are two sorts of failed states. The first is where authority does not exist, such as occurred in Somalia. The other is where authority exists and is very powerful but is completely destructive of its people's rights. The United Nations has failed to handle either of those state failures. It cannot take a stand firmly enough to prevent human rights violations by a government. It must dither and delay and rub its hands in dismay. It is only when it is far too late, if at all, that the international community has acted. When it has acted, as in the cases of Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, the United Nations has often been the slowest member in the brigade defending human rights.

So we cannot just say that it is a great thing that we are more multilateral. Because of the respect that it gives to sovereignty of nation states, the United Nations has a fundamental defect in that it will not be able to react as rapidly as it can. Many members of the United Nations think of legitimacy narrowly in terms of whether the Security Council has a representative character. The whole debate about the Security Council and expansion of its membership has to do with that sort of urge. I have been in India for a month and you would have thought that there was no other problem with the United Nations than that India is not a member of the Security Council. But if India is to be a member, it wants veto power. Because it does not want to be treated as a second-rate country, it wants veto power.
 
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I have said to your Lordships before that we ought to have qualified majority voting. That would be a much better way to run the Security Council than we have right now. My small experience of the United Nations is through a peripheral organisation in a very minor capacity, but I have witnessed enormous hypocrisy about human rights. As part of the UNDP human development report, many years ago, I was part of constructing a human rights index. We ranked countries. Although everyone was very encouraging to us when we explained our methodology, when the actual ranking was issued, we were prevented from publishing. We were told that only regional averages of the human rights index could be published, making it totally and utterly meaningless. Then it was said not only that our results were methodologically flawed but that the UNDP had no mandate in human rights.

That is how the UN approaches its problems: by procedural legalities ignoring facts on the ground. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, graphically described how the failure in Rwanda was shocking to everyone concerned. I believe that there will be more failures. Although in the economic sphere, we have given up the notion of economic sovereignty of a country, we somehow still insist on it in the political sphere. The World Trade Organisation does not admit countries that do not follow certain practices, dismantle certain barriers and create a market. Again, as the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, said, why can we not have conditions of membership and expel countries from the United Nations? What is the problem? If you cannot expel anyone, the United Nations will always lack legitimacy.

I shall talk for a minute about the efficiency deficit. Appointments in the United Nations from the bottom up to the Secretary-General are not made on merit but on the basis of "Buggins' turn". Even concerning recommendations for the Human Rights Commission, the high-level panel says that there should be three experts from each region. Why? Why not have 15 experts from one or two countries? Why not pick the best people, not those who make us think that we are somehow represented? The issue is quality. That may make us feel good, but it creates an organisation that fails people. It is time to think and perhaps the high-level panel will exert some force in the matter. I therefore welcome it.

6.15 p.m.


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