At a time when Britain's permanent seat on the UN Security Council is under question from the Clinton administration in the United States, Mr Hurd, in a speech to the Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House, London, vigorously defended the role Britain plays on the world stage.
But he warned that Britain would 'have to say 'no' more often than 'yes' ' to UN requests for peace-keeping troops. Despite an urgent appeal, no troops were sent to Somalia and a request for more troops in Bosnia - if the Geneva conference is successful - may have to be rejected. 'Obviously we cannot be everywhere and we cannot do everything,' he said, bemoaning the fact that 'our diplomacy is now undermanned compared to that of our main colleagues and competitors.' Britain and France - both nervously protective of their council seats - now have 'increasingly similar and intertwined' interests abroad, Mr Hurd said, while constitutional problems will continue to deny Germany a combat role overseas for the next few years.
Britain has more than 3,700 troops in UN service and France just over 6,000. On Tuesday both countries sent aircraft carriers, the Clemenceau and the Ark Royal, to the Adriatic.
Mr Hurd's spirited defence of British foreign policy came when the Foreign Office is under pressure to close important overseas missions because of budget cuts. Unlike the Gulf war period, Mr Hurd said, the new demands on the country's resources are being made at a time when the reasons for 'the great effort and sacrifice abroad' do not enjoy overwhelming public support.
'We are now entering a different phase in the relationship of peoples and states,' Mr Hurd noted. He warned that 'there is no argument for dismantling collective security', when Russia still bristles with nuclear weapons and the risks of proliferation abound elsewhere.
Disorder is spreading as nationalist struggles grow uglier in Yugoslavia and the Transcaucasus, as well as Somalia, Angola and Cambodia - dramas and tragedies, which 'do not directly affect these islands' but which 'contain the danger of wider conflict'.
None the less, Britain and its allies and partners in the European Community, have an interest in making 'a safer and more decent world,' he said.
'Chaos and anarchy are the enemies of commerce' and 'they are often accompanied by grotesque abuse of human rights,' Mr Hurd said. The case for a continued high-profile world role was an economic necessity for an island nation such as Britain.
'We live by international trade. Our exports account for 18 per cent of our GDP, compared with just 9 per cent for Japan and 7 per cent for the United States,' he said. 'Our exporters need a stable and predictable world in which to trade.'
Once-fashionable talk of a 'New World Order' dawning was utopian folly, Mr Hurd suggested, because 'the phrase promised more than we shall ever be able to perform'.
With 25 substantial conflicts raging around the world, the best that could be expected of the international community was action 'to avert the continuing slide into disorder'.
The sort of tasks the UN was facing in Somalia, where government had broken down, were akin to 'the traditional imperial role' played by Britain, Mr Hurd said. The difference was that the UN was taking on an imperial role for purely humanitarian objectives rather than to attain power or privilege.
Defending Britain's position as a veto- holding permanent member of the Security Council, Mr Hurd said: 'The Americans have a saying, 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it.' And I think there is something to be said for that.' In a statement that dismayed the Foreign Office, the US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, said on Monday that changes should be made to the composition of the council to include Germany and Japan as permanent members.
Britain could veto any change to the membership, but, facing the reality that changes will eventually have to be made to a UN Charter which describes Germany and Japan as 'enemy states', Mr Hurd did not rule out some reform. But he warned that expanding membership to reflect the new international realities would be a complex task.
'This is a huge debate and it will go on for a long time,' he said. 'An outcome will be very hard and slow to reach and, meanwhile, the Security Council has to get on with its job.'
Britain pays its UN dues on time, Mr Hurd said, pointedly noting that the US, which is about dollars 400m in arrears, needs to find 'a remedy for past delays'.
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