The Liberal Democrats in Harrogate: Steel calls for widening of UN's world peace role

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UNITED NATIONS forces should move from a peacekeeping role to peacemaking, the Liberal Democrats agreed yesterday, backing proposals that would make it easier for UN troops to intervene in trouble spots like Bosnia at an early stage.

Sir David Steel, the party's foreign affairs spokesman, told the Harrogate conference: 'We need less fire fighting and more fire prevention in the world.'

By an overwhelming majority, the party endorsed an interim policy statement, Beyond the Nation State, which proposes a significant change to the principle of non-intervention in domestic affairs enshrined in Article 2.7 of the UN Charter in 1946.

'We should now accept that this principle should not exclude international oversight of domestic brutality and gross violations of human rights to minorities,' Sir David said. In early news broadcasts yesterday he had supported the sending of extra UN troops to Bosnia and repeated his call for an air exclusion zone.

'We need the same supra-national inspection facilities on human rights as has the International Atomic Energy Agency. Election monitoring should itself become a supra-national activity,' Sir David said.

William Wallace, chairman of the international institutions working group which drafted the policy paper, said if the UN was not given responsibility for global order in the post-Cold War era it was going to be an extremely disorderly world. 'Is it wrong to support armed intervention in Croatia and Bosnia? No, I say we have to do that,' Dr Wallace said.

But Eduardo Reyes, of the Student Liberal Democrats, warned that changing the sovereignty principle could threaten the UN's social achievements in combating disease and hunger and turn it into 'a political gameboard where the stakes are staggeringly high'.

Criteria under which the party agreed the UN and its agencies would be justified in challenging the sovereignty of a member state should include gross and persistent denials of the provisions of the UN Declaration of Human Rights; denial of the right to peaceful co-existence of nations and communities; and lasting damage to the global and regional environment.

Action against countries in breach of the criteria could range from selective trade constraints to sanctions, cutting off investment capital and, 'in the last resort', military intervention.

Sir David specifically backed the proposal of Dr Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the UN Secretary General, for forces to be permanently assigned to UN authority. Peacekeeping and peacemaking operations should be paid for through a replenishable peace fund. The party agreed.

'The foundation of our new policy is that we have to look beyond the nation state to the building of the UN organisation as a supra-national authority able, with the full support of its members, to tackle the main global problems,' Sir David said.

The UN should be given authority to achieve the sustainable environment sketched out at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro by levying the richer nations for the sums suggested. A UN information agency would oversee all satellite surveillance and information services for both military and environmental purposes.

Britain, for its part, should close down arms exporting agencies and abolish export credit guarantees for arms sales, Sir David said to loud applause.

(Photograph omitted)