Hurd 'imperial role' idea divides UN

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DOUGLAS HURD'S controversial proposal that the United Nations should adopt an 'imperial role', taking over as controlling power in Third-World countries afflicted by famine and civil war, is expected to be sharply challenged in the General Assembly debate to be opened by President George Bush today.

The Foreign Secretary's remarks, in an interview with the Independent at the weekend, have focused the debate over the UN's role in a world without conflicting superpowers. Mr Hurd's talk of 'putting blue on the map', to help countries that have lapsed into anarchy, will be welcomed by many who are appalled at how atrocious human-rights abuses by despots and warlords are shielded by the sacred cow of national sovereignty.

His views may be echoed by other foreign ministers and heads of state during the general debate, when they respond to the call by the UN Secretary- General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, for the creation of a UN 'foreign legion' of standby forces ready to intercede to prevent international tragedies at as little as 48 hours' notice.

For many others, though, Mr Hurd's comments will be confirmation of the Third World's widely held view of Western ambitions for the UN, which is now firmly under the control of the big three Security Council members, the United States, Britain and France.

He may also be accused of 'political grandstanding' at a time when it has become popular to look to the UN as a panacea for the problems caused by Third-World poverty, an unfair world trade system and underdevelopment. The slide into anarchy in Somalia could have been halted much earlier if Britain and the US had used their influence on the Security Council to allow the UN to send troops and security personel in a timely fashion, diplomats point out.

Britain and the US were initially unenthusiastic, even hostile, over the proposals to send peace-keepers to Somalia, believing it to be a hopeless case of no strategic value, which would soak up limited aid resources. As disease and starvation affected millions of Somalis, the international community is only now focusing on the country's famine and civil war, more than a year after warning bells were first sounded in the country.

Indeed, the West only stepped up UN intervention after Mr Boutros-Ghali lambasted it for paying too much attention to Yugoslavia's 'rich man's war' at the expense of destitute Somalia. The remarks stung, and 60 of the first 500 international troops began arriving last week. US Air Force planes are to make 21 flights into Mogadishu in the next week, starting today, to bring in the remaining 440 Pakistani 'blue helmets'.

Britain, with its privileged permanent seat on the Security Council, has the ability to block or impede UN action - such as that in Somalia - during informal consultations of ambassadors. The position can also be used to further Britain's national interest, as was seen in the successful effort to isolate and slap sanctions on Libya for its alleged role in the Lockerbie atrocity. Britain and the US are also to the forefront in promoting a legally dubious initiative to permit countries to 'borrow' from seized Iraqi oil assets abroad to help with compensation after the Gulf war. International lawyers say this would mean an extension of the powers of the Council beyond the remit of the UN charter.

The new imperialism Mr Hurd has sketched out, and on which he may elaborate in his address to the General Assembly tomorrow, will be viewed with deep cynicism in the Third World, which feels increasingly marginalised in international relations. The Non-Aligned Movement tried to reassert itself at its recent summit in Indonesia; but at a time of global economic recession, with many Third-World countries holding out the begging bowl to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, it is seen as a spent force in international affairs.

(Photograph omitted)