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Wednesday, 6 September, 2000, 18:01 GMT 19:01 UK
Blair calls for UN force shake-up
Tony Blair
Tony Blair calls for a professional military UN staff
Prime Minister Tony Blair has called for a radical overhaul of the United Nations' peacekeeping force, to turn it into a professional rapid-reaction unit.

Mr Blair wants the new force to be capable of entering the world's worst troublespots, backed by better planning, intelligence and analysis.


When the moment comes, a field headquarters must be ready to move, with an operational communications system up-and-running immediately rather than weeks into the deployment

Tony Blair
His appeal for change came as he addressed the Millennium Summit of the United Nations, billed as the biggest meeting of world leaders in history, with more than 150 heads of state and governments.

The prime minister also called for the creation of a professional military staff to supervise operations.

And he condemned the UN's record in peacekeeping as "dismal".

Fast-moving wars

The prime minister believes reform of the UN's peacekeeping role is essential if recent failures in Sierra Leone, the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda are to be avoided in future.

Mr Blair told fellow world leaders: "Today, the UN struggles to cope with the new types of peacekeeping operation which current conditions demand.


There is a dismal record of failure in Africa on the part of the developed world, that shocks and shames our civilisation

Tony Blair
"Whether in Africa, East Timor or the Balkans, it is no longer good enough to organise blue-helmet operations as if they were still largely geared to marking an agreed ceasefire line between two states that have consented to a UN presence.

"The typical case now is fast-moving and volatile.... locally-brokered agreements can be discarded overnight, and militias may be more than ready to pick a fight."

Mr Blair went on: "I am proud of the role British forces play, not least in Sierra Leone, where British soldiers are still held hostage today.

"As we work for their release, we should pay tribute to the courage and commitment of our forces on humanitarian missions around the world."

Planning shake-up

The prime minister implicitly criticised other nations for not being willing to commit troops to UN operations, saying: "We need UN forces composed of units appropriate for more robust peacekeeping that can be inserted quickly, rather than whatever the Secretary General's staff has been able to gather from reluctant member states."

He called for a new contract between the UN and member states.

"The UN must alter radically its planning, intelligence and analysis and develop a far more substantial professional military staff," he said.

"When the moment comes, a field headquarters must be ready to move, with an operational communications system up-and-running immediately rather than weeks into the deployment."

African failures condemned

The prime minister, one of 33 leaders to speak on Wednesday, also made an impassioned appeal for more help for Africa.

"There is a dismal record of failure in Africa on the part of the developed world, that shocks and shames our civilisation," he said.

He said people were dying needlessly from starvation, disease and conflict made worse by "bad governments, factional rivalries, state-sponsored theft and corruption."

He urged the conference to begin the process "of agreeing a way forward for Africa", asking all countries to think of ways of helping the continent.

Burmese 'disgrace'

But he said that for all its faults, the UN was still a force for good, adding: "If it did not exist, we would need to invent it."

Mr Blair rounded off his speech with a condemnation of the treatment of democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi by the Burmese regime, labelling it "a disgrace".

He said: "I call upon the Burmese government to let her go free and I call on fellow world leaders to back that call."

The prime minister is also using the summit to hold private talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

  • The prime ministers' wife, Cherie, is expected to take part in some of her first public engagements since the birth of the Blairs' new son Leo, when she appears with Hillary Clinton, who is running for a seat in the US senate.

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    See also:

    06 Sep 00 | Americas
    Plea for world peace
    05 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
    US regrets 'insult' to North Korea
    06 Sep 00 | Middle East
    Iran head's speech attracts Albright
    04 Sep 00 | UK Politics
    UK urges UN reform
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