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House of Lords

Tuesday, 9th March 1999.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Oxford.

NATO Operations: Authorisation

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What will be their position at the April 1999 NATO summit in Washington towards United Nations Security Council authorisation for all future NATO operational missions other than territorial defence of the alliance itself.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, all NATO operations must have a basis in international law. Each case needs to be looked at on its own merits. In many cases a United Nations Security Council resolution would be needed to authorise the use of force. But force may be used also to defend a non-NATO state at its invitation or, in exceptional circumstances, to avert an immediate and overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe.

Lord Judd: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Does she not agree that until recently it has been held that for any operation by NATO, save for an operation dealing with a need within, or a threat to, the member countries of NATO, it would be necessary to have the explicit authorisation of the Security Council? Can she comment on the evolving doctrine that the situation is now changing to one in which NATO feels entitled to take action on its own authority when it feels that to be necessary, seeking, if possible, the support of the United Nations? Does she not agree that when the United States has such unchallenged ascendency in the world it has an unrivalled opportunity to build up global security institutions in the interests not only of its own future but also that of the world as a whole.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, cases have arisen, for example, in northern Iraq in 1991, when, in the light of all the circumstances, a limited use of force has been justifiable as the only means to avert an overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe in support of purposes laid down by the Security Council but without the Council's express authorisation. Such cases, by their very nature, must be exceptional and would depend on an objective assessment of the factual circumstances at the time and of the relevant decisions of the Security Council bearing on the situation. It is important to stress that all NATO decisions are taken by consensus. Not a single member of the alliance can force the other members to act if the allies are opposed. All our allies

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would not agree a NATO operation, I believe, unless they considered it was in accordance with international law.

The Earl of Lauderdale: My Lords, does the Minister agree that we are in danger of becoming involved in spurious moral judgments which have no relation whatever to our national interests?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: No, my Lords, I do not agree with that. The globe is becoming a smaller place and what happens in other countries has a direct effect on the United Kingdom and on our immediate allies.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, can the Minister comment on the problem of China's attitude to Macedonia where a member of the Security Council has reason to try to interrupt what would otherwise be a peacekeeping operation for reasons that are entirely territorial? Is there any mileage in the possibility of working out a code whereby those taking part in a NATO operation would know that the operation fell within certain guidelines. Can she say whether that would mean acting in accordance with international law?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, a number of cases could probably be adduced where particular members of the Security Council have, for reasons of their own, sought to block what was believed to be a perfectly sensible Security Council resolution by other members of that body. For that reason it is important that we pursue some flexibility. I stress that that flexibility must be within the bounds of international law, which is understood not by a small group in NATO but by a full consensus. Currently, there are 16 members, and, as from Friday, there will be 19, who must believe that they are acting within international law. The Secretary General of NATO made that clear this morning when he addressed the NATO conference in London.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that central to the question of NATO's out-of-area activity is Europe's ability to act in crises which are on Europe's own doorstep? Does she therefore agree that it is extremely important that there should be a European chain of command within NATO to enable Europe to act, using NATO assets, where the situation demands?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, it is important that we recognise the vital element of a proper consensus within NATO. If the noble Lord is implying that somehow the European members of NATO could act without that consensus, we may have a difficulty. I have difficulty with his idea of a specific European chain of command that would be outside that consensus. However, we believe it right that Europe should have a unified and coherent voice in the world. As a leading European member of NATO, the EU and the WEU, the United Kingdom has a stake in improving

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Europe's abilities to respond to crises. That is why my right honourable friend the Prime Minister raised certain ideas in St. Malo and why we are trying to develop those within NATO.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, will Her Majesty's Government bear in mind that Article 2, paragraph 7, of the United Nations Charter prevents the United Nations intervening in the domestic jurisdiction of states and that recent dangerous conflicts have been internal, within recognised individual states, so that the United Nations may not be able to act in such circumstances?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Yes, my Lords, that is why I pointed out in my initial Answer that on occasions non-NATO members may invite NATO in. I assume that the noble Lord is thinking of cases involving a degree of internal conflict which, sadly, we have seen all too recently and where the result of not taking any action would be an overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe. That is why it is so important that Her Majesty's Government and like-minded members continue to pursue the criterion of overwhelming humanitarian need.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that there is a difference between "authority to act" and "chain of command" and that whereas the authority to act must be reserved, in my view, to the United Nations, the chain of command can reasonably be devolved once the authority to act has been given?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, of course I agree that there is a difference. The authority to act must be taken by consensus. In case there is any misunderstanding between us, I was trying to point out to my noble friend Lord Ponsonby the importance of consensus in taking any decision to act.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, in the light of her replies, particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Judd, does the Minister agree that Article 5 of the NATO Treaty has no validity at all for the defence of NATO countries, particularly if the aggressor is another NATO country?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, operations under Article 5 of the NATO Treaty are in exercise of the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence, preserved under Article 51 of the UN Charter. Therefore, enforcement action by NATO under Article 53 of the UN Charter may require Security Council authorisation. I hope that I have been perfectly clear. I thought that the Question was about authorisation other than that relating to the territorial defence of the alliance and that the real question in my noble friend's mind related to out-of-area activity and to overwhelming humanitarian need, which your Lordships debated only last week. That was the point I was endeavouring to answer.

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Higher Education: Quality Assurance

2.46 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they intend to expand or contract the network of quality controls on British institutions of higher education which they inherited from the previous government.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, the report by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, and his colleagues in July 1997 proposed a range of new developments for quality assurance in higher education. We support the work of the Quality Assurance Agency in implementing the new arrangements.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, how much further does the Minister think that the new bureaucracy should go? The other week I saw a paper which proposed to apply to postgraduate education the same language of "key stages" and "levels of development" that was developed for the control of primary schools. That does not seem necessarily the best way to control or to examine PhDs. No doubt the Minister is fully familiar with all the jargon of QAA, QCA, TQAC, SACCA, SCQF, SCOTCAT, NICATS, InCCA and so on and so forth, which is rolling over us, but does she accept that the cost of imposing on universities all those new controls and procedures may become excessive?

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