External Affairs

Shabashi, But No Say for India as World Celebrates UN Peacekeepers Day

Despite being denied a say over how, why and where its personnel will be deployed, India continues to send the most number of personnel on UN peacekeeping missions



Five Indian peacekeepers were killed by unidentified attackers in Jonglei, South Sudan, in April 2013. Photo: UN

May 29 is International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers

New Delhi: By visiting 19 countries and receiving several world leaders in his first year in office, Prime Minister Narendra Modi may have attempted to project India as a global power. But as India’s participation in UN peacekeeping missions shows, on the ground, India continues to behave like a third world country eager to serve rich nations for a few extra dollars.

Article 44 of the UN Charter explicitly requires the 15-nation Security Council to invite states who are contributing troops but are not members, to participate in the decisions on peacekeeping and troop deployment:

“When the Security Council has decided to use force it shall, before calling upon a Member not represented on it to provide armed forces in fulfilment of the obligations assumed under Article 43, invite that Member, if the Member so desires, to participate in the decisions of the Security Council concerning the employment of contingents of that Member’s armed forces.”

However, despite sending the largest number of troops, military experts and police personnel for these peacekeeping missions, India continues to have no say over these decisions when they are made.

This is an old complaint reiterated recently by Army Chief General Dalbir Singh Suhag while attending the first ever “Chiefs of Defence” Conference of the UN in March this year:

“We also consider it is our right, as troop contributing countries, in terms of Article 44 of the Charter, to ‘participate in the decisions of the Security Council concerning the employment of contingents’ of the troop contributing country’s armed forces. This provision of the UN Charter has generally been neglected,” he said.

In his remarks, UN Secretary General also acknowledged the need for wider political consultation, saying “effective performance [in peacekeeping] demands broad consensus on why, where and how peacekeepers carry out their mandates.” But he made no mention of the UN Charter’s own requirements in this regard.

New risks to peacekeepers

General Suhag’s demands assume significance in the light of newer threats to UN peacekeeping operation (UNPKO) missions. According to a recent 144 page report of the Expert Panel on Technology and Innovation in U.N. Peacekeeping , UNPKO missions are “well behind the curve” when it comes to using technology to establish situational awareness, carry out mandates and protect themselves, thus resulting in greater risk to the peacekeepers.

The report notes that “when it comes to technological necessities – much less advantage – the gap between what the average peacekeeping mission does have and what it should have is so pronounced, that some of the countries with the world’s most capable military and police forces have been reluctant to participate in many of the more difficult and challenging peacekeeping operations.”

No wonder the developed and rich countries try to stay clear of these missions while the poor are lured because of tax-free dollar payments from the United Nations.

India has so far participated in 49 UN peacekeeping missions in which it has deployed over 180,000 troops and police personnel. It has also lost 158 personnel – the highest among all nations — in the line of UN duty. At present, India is participating in 12 out of the UN’s 16 active missions.

People to spare?

Although the Army Chief has expressed unhappiness over having no say in peacekeeping deployment, some defence analysts argue that India should carry on participating, because we have people to spare. Major General (Retd.) Dhruv C. Katoch, a former director of the Centre for Land Warfare Studies said, “It is true that those who fund the UN control it”, but when it comes to deployment, many of the developed countries do not have extra hands as their armies are “just the right size”, keeping in view their threat perceptions. “On the other hand, India and Pakistan have a common mutual threat perception due to which they keep big armies. We have 1.3 million personnel and so can easily spare 10,000. Likewise, Pakistan also has a nearly 700,000 strong force.”

He argued that apart from providing exposure to newer conflict situations, and widening the perspective of the soldiers, UN peacekeeping missions also help the Army improve the well-being of its soldiers through the tax-free money. “The soldiers get paid over and above their salary and even a year’s deployment can fetch them an extra Rs 15-20 lakh, which still is a significant amount in the sub-continent.”

General Katoch said while India would get a greater say in deployment and other issues with growth in its economic power, for the time being it needs to expand its role in these missions by using them as tools of military diplomacy. “Everywhere Indian troops have gone, they have managed to create goodwill. We should utilise this for furthering our economic and strategic goals.”

Shabashi, but no say

It is often alleged that UN peacekeeping missions are run according to the whims of the financiers. For the year July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015, UNPKOs require a funding of $ 7.06 billion. By paying just 28.38 % (nearly $ 2 billion) of this, the United States has managed a great say in the operations. Ironically, other nations like Japan (10.86%), France (7.22%), Germany (7.14%) and China (6.64%) – all of which Modi visited in the last year – have also contributed significantly to UN missions. It would have cost India only a few hundred million dollars to be among the top ten contributors. India’s foreign exchange reserves stand at over $ 350 billion, mid-May 2015.

Instead, India under Modi continues to compete with countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan and Ethiopia to earn money from the UN by sending its troops on difficult and dangerous peacekeeping missions. Among the 122 member countries of the UN, as on April 30, 2015, the Indian contingent was the largest with 8,112 personnel, followed closely by Bangladesh and Pakistan with over 8,000 personnel each and Ethiopia with a little under 7,000 personnel.

On the other hand developed countries send very few personnel for UN peacekeeping missions — United States has sent 140; Germany 268, Russia 140 and even China (which has the world’s largest Army) has sent only 2180  personnel.

Earlier this month, the new Indian Ambassador to the US, Arun Kumar Singh received an award from the Better World Campaign, the United Nations Association of the US and the US-India Business Council at Capitol Hill in Washington in recognition of India’s commitment to peacekeeping.

While the country has deservedly got shabashi, or accolades, for its peacekeeping role, the tone and tenor of this recognition often tends to be extremely patronising. UN peacekeeping missions play a crucial role in protecting civilians around the world from armed conflict and India can take legitimate pride in the role it has played by sending troops. During British rule, India won praise for the large number of Indian soldiers who were killed in the cause of empire but the country had no say in whether World War I or II should have been fought. The world – and India’s place in it –  is a different place today. So why does India still not have a say? The question the Army Chief raised has still not been answered.



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