On July 26th 2022, UN Peacekeeping was in the Indian newspapers, and not for good reasons. Two BSF personnel, who were part of the UN Peacekeeping Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, were killed during a protest. This is not a first, as a total of 175 Indian peacekeepers have lost their lives serving the United Nations, making the number highest for any country.
UN Peacekeeping is the UN’s most visible and active aspect. It also forms a significant factor in India’s outreach to Africa and its global ambitions.
What is Peacekeeping
UN Peacekeeping was a spontaneous step taken to bring relief to the Israel-Palestine conflict in 1948 and was also extended to the Indo-Pakistan conflict the same year. Hence it is not mentioned in the UN Charter. It was believed that an impartial presence on the ground would bring down the hostility and pave the way for political negotiations. UN peacekeepers are supposed to provide security and help countries with the early transition from conflict to peace.
The operations, which started mainly as military based, have now become multidimensional, consisting of civilian police, political, civil affairs, the rule of law, human rights, humanitarian, reconstruction, public information and gender, apart from military tasks monitoring ceasefires and patrolling buffer zones between hostile parties.
UN Peacekeeping is guided by three basic principles: Consent of the parties, Impartiality, and Non-use of force except in self-defence and defence of the mandate.
Currently, 12 UN peacekeeping missions are operating in three continents.
Role of India in UN Peacekeeping
India has substantially contributed to the UN Peacekeeping mission and upheld the UN Charter. In the last 75 years, India has contributed more than 2,50,000 Peacekeepers who have served in 49 of the 71 UN Peacekeeping Missions. India’s journey with peacekeeping started with its participation in the UN operation in Korea in the 1950s, where India played a very significant role in the armistice. India also participated in the Suez Canal crisis of 1956.
Today, India is the fifth highest amongst the top contributing countries. It is also proud to be the first country that contributed a female Formed Police Unit for UN Mission in Liberia in 2007 which became an inspiration for Liberian women.
The UN Charter calls for all the members to contribute troops, but only 130 member states do so, which are generally poorer countries. Scholarship indicates that there is mixed motivation behind the contributions, which also includes economic incentives. But apart from smaller countries, big countries like Brazil and China have increased their contributions. This shows that politics also motivate participation in the UN Peacekeeping force.
Moreover, unlike other major contributors, India possesses a ‘standalone capacity’ to support a peacekeeping operation on its own. This comes from the national army possessing the appropriate military hardware as India is one of the leading arms buyers and is now rigorously developing its own technologies. This also means that Indian troops have better familiarity with the state-of-the-art equipment.
Indian Peacekeeping in Africa
India’s first major involvement in UN peacekeeping was in the UN Operation in Congo from 1960 to 1964. The conflict in Congo was also the first to be an intra-state and no inter-state conflict. During the cold war period, India’s primary concern was to develop the UN as a neutral institution so that the third world could have an equal claim. And it was also a way to improve the Indian military capacity and gain economic incentives. But post-1991, as the Indian economy grew, India’s role and motivation towards UN Peacekeeping also changed.
Besides the Congo, Indian troops have acted as peacekeepers in various African countries such as Egypt, Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, South Sudan, etc. The common thread between these conflicts is that they have emerged from the national movements in these countries. In most African countries, the general trend after independence was authoritarianism which gave birth to civil wars. India being the leader of the global south in the movement against imperialism and colonialism, made it obvious for India to participate in the peacekeeping.
Indian troops have provided support to the revolutionaries to resolve conflicts by peaceful means. India uses its commitment to peacekeeping to build stronger ties with African countries. In fact, it is believed that the capacity of India’s military makes it important to any African peacekeeping effort.
Currently, Indian troops are deployed in Liberia (since 2007), Ivory Coast (since 2004), the Democratic Republic of Congo (since 2005) and Sudan/South Sudan (since 2005). Today, 80 per cent of the Indian Peacekeepers are serving in Africa and 70 per cent of all the causalities happen there. Hence, UN missions are the bedrock of India’s military engagement and assistance to Africa, which also involves humanitarian activities through civil-military cooperation. But Indian troops have also been criticised for corruption and sexual misconduct in those countries, which tends to cancel out the lives given by our brave soldiers on foreign lands.
Challenges and way forward:
The biggest challenge that peacekeepers face is regarding their own security. The challenges include terror threats by non-states members. In 2019, India’s Former Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Syed Akbaruddin, called for new reforms in peacekeeping based on incentivisation, innovation, and institutionalisation. He implied that the UN should adopt newer response methods to the changing security environments.
Peacekeeping missions have become more expensive and the delay in the release of funds to the contributing countries hampers effective management and deployment of troops. This hindrance can be removed by taking an institutionalised approach with data-backed decisions.
It is necessary to provide the troops with appropriate training, which will also include managing information, making them better at realising and preventing the threat beforehand. This can be done with better use of technology and appropriate medical support.
The Minister of External Affairs, Mr Jaishankar, has announced a technical platform, ‘UNITE AWARE’ which would improve the safety and security of the peacekeeping forces.
Most importantly, countries like India, which carry the responsibility of the UN Peacekeeping, should have a decisive voice in the process of setting up the mission to resource mobilisation.
With the fast-changing dynamics of the conflicts today, the peacekeeper also plays the role of a peacebuilder. Adding more women contingents and observers would help make the process more diverse and consequential. Moreover, the peacekeepers themselves should be given enough psychological support as they are entering an alien terrain which is also conflict-ridden. Better training should also include making them familiar with the social structure of the host countries and removing their cultural bias as much as possible.
Peacekeeping is the only tool the global community has to mend various emerging cracks in the world. We will definitely come up with better tools, but until then, we will have to work on the ones we have to provide our fellow humans with a better environment.
Africa has long suffered, and the global community, especially the Global South, should come forward to bring better days to our mother continent.
The professionalism and expertise of the Indian troops have helped in the implementation of the UN Peacekeeping doctrine. India should now gear up its peacekeeping role by not just contributing troops but also deriving newer strategies and thinking from its long experience.