Tuesday, October 04, 2011

UN Peacekeeping Operations

(A talk on Akashavani, Thiruvananthapuram on the occasion of the UN Day 2011)

By T.P.Sreenivasan

As an international organization created at the end of a

devastating world war to rid the world of the scourge of

war, the United Nations gives the highest priority to peace.

While the UN has not been able to prevent wars altogether,

its peace operations--peacemaking, peace building and

peacekeeping have played a role in ending wars, keeping

the peace, alleviating the sufferings inflicted by war and

in rebuilding nations after external and internal conflicts.

Peacekeeping has emerged as a major activity of the UN

for which the UN was awarded the Noble Prize for Peace

In 1998. “The forces represent the manifest will of the

community of nations and have made a decisive contribution

to the resolution of conflict around the world”, it was stated

in a press release on the occasion.

The phrase, “peacekeeping operations” does not appear

in the UN Charter. But it envisages situations where

the UN Security Council can authorize military action to

restore international peace and security if sanctions and

other measures do not succeed. Members of the UN have

undertaken to make available to the Security Council armed

forces and other support services to take enforcement

action. Over the years, the UN has resorted to the use

of force, but it is in peacekeeping that the UN has made

an immense contribution. It has gained considerable

experience in this area and it has evolved a set of principles

and practices, which have come to be universally accepted.

Peacekeeping has been defined as the activity that aims

to create the conditions for lasting peace after a conflict.

Peacekeepers monitor and observe peace processes in post

conflict areas and assist ex-combatants in implementing the

peace agreements they may have signed. Such assistance

comes in many forms, including confidence-building

measures, power sharing arrangements, electoral support,

strengthening the role of law and economic and social

development. Accordingly, UN peacekeepers can include

soldiers, police officers and civilian personnel. Although

civilian personnel can perform many of these functions,

peacekeeping operations are invariably commanded by

military officers and conducted as military operations.

The training and experience of the armed forces and their

discipline are of immense value in conflict situations.

The Security Council alone can authorize peacekeeping

missions and most of the operations are established and

implemented by the UN itself, with troops serving under UN

operational control. The peacekeepers remain members of

their respective armed forces as the UN does not have a

standing army. In cases where direct UN involvement is not

considered appropriate or feasible, the Council authorizes

regional organizations such as NATO, the Economic

Community of West Africa or coalitions of willing states to

undertake peacekeeping tasks.

UN peacekeepers are not expected to fight as they are

generally deployed when the ceasefire is already in place,

with the consent of the parties concerned. But they are

provided with light weapons to deal with provocations or

law and order situations. There have been cases where

the peacekeepers had to use considerable force, with

the help of reinforcements; to end flare ups in volatile

situations. Casualties are also not uncommon among

peacekeepers. The differences between peacekeeping and

peace enforcement fade in these situations.

The procedure for establishing a peacekeeping force

has been clearly established. Once the peace treaty is

negotiated, the parties involved ask the UN Security Council

for a peacekeeping force to oversee the various elements

of the peace plan. After the Security Council approves the

creation of a mission, the Department of Peacekeeping

Operations begins planning to assemble, equip and deploy

the peacekeepers. Since a number of countries are involved

in each operation, setting up a mission is time consuming.

The exact size and strength of the force are agreed to

by the states concerned and the rules of engagement

have to be developed with the consent of all parties,

including the Security Council. Farther, the soldiers or

police officers come from diverse countries with diverse

training systems and it takes time for them to work under

a single commander. For the sake of a uniform doctrine,

NATO military doctrine is followed in most cases. The

peacekeepers find the practices in UN missions different

from national practices and become impatient. But, on the

whole, the UN peacekeeping missions have functioned

effectively in many different situations.

The cost of peacekeeping operations is shared among

member states on the basis of “capacity to pay”, a complex

formula agreed to by all members. The permanent members

bear a higher proportion of the cost. In 1993, peacekeeping

costs had peaked at some USD 3.6 billion. It dropped by

1998, but went up again by 2004. The troop contributing

countries are reimbursed the cost not only of travel and

equipment, but also salaries and other expenses. But

since many member states are not prompt in paying their

contributions, the troop contributing countries, which are

mostly developing countries, end up having huge arrears in


The first peacekeeping mission, launched in 1948 to enforce

a ceasefire reached between Israel and the Arab states,

remains in operation even today and the conflict has not yet

abated. The second mission, the United Nations Observer

Group on India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP), which was

established to monitor the situation in Jammu and Kashmir

is also still in existence. Following the Simla Agreement in

1972, which converted the ceasefire line into the Line of

Control, India has ceased to provide access to UNMOGIP to

the Indian side of Kashmir, but has not sought the removal

of the small UN force. Pakistan continues to insist on

maintaining this mission for political reasons and it remains

an anachronism. But many other missions have been wound

up after fulfilling their mandates.

The UN has so far completed 52 missions in different parts

of the globe, and now has 17 current missions, most of them

in Africa. The missions in Sudan, Darfur, Libya, Afghanistan

and Haiti are very active today, while those in Kashmir,

Cyprus and East Timor remain relics of the past.

Un peacekeeping operations have had spectacular

successes as well as abject failures. Complex missions

in Cambodia and Mozambique fulfilled their missions and

brought about lasting peace, while the missions failed in

Somalia, Rwanda and Bosnia. These missions were launched

without the consent of the parties concerned and without

sufficient manpower or equipment. The Rwandan genocide

of 1994 and the massacre in Serbrenica in 1995 remain blots

on the reputation of UN peacekeeping.

Developing countries contribute more troops to UN

peacekeeping operations than developed countries. The

United States has launched operations on behalf of the

UN, but they do not send troops to the forces commanded

by other nationals. NATO also prefers to operate on its

own, with or without a UN mandate. Other countries

claim operational commitments to decline invitations to

contribute troops to the UN. Some small countries like Fiji

use the opportunities of participating in UN peacekeeping

operations to train their forces in battle conditions. The

general public in Fiji complained to the UN when the Fiji

armed forces used their experience in peacekeeping to put

down protests by its own people, following a military coup in

that country.

UN peacekeeping operations are fraught with dangers

and they have suffered many casualties in the course of

their functioning. India alone has lost more than a hundred

soldiers in peacekeeping operations. Even while acting

within its mandate, peacekeepers become a target for

attacks by some of the parties in a conflict. At the same

time, UN peacekeepers have been charged with prostitution,

child abuse and other crimes against the very people they

protect. Certain studies have shown that the arrival of

UN peacekeepers has been associated with the rise of

such crimes. “The issue with the UN is that peacekeeping

operations unfortunately seem to be doing the same thing

that other militaries do. Even the guardians have to be

guarded”, observed a writer in 2004. But the UN has taken

strong action against the guilty and brought in reform to

prevent such crimes.

India is solidly committed to UN peacekeeping operations,

in which India has participated since the 1950s. We have

contributed nearly 100,000 troops and participated in more

than 40 missions. India has also provided eminent force

commanders to peacekeeping missions. Indian casualties

numbering 118 are one of the highest in the world, but there

have been no domestic criticism on this account. India’s

expertise in peacekeeping activities, such as demining,

has been put to good use in many situations. Indian forces

earned much praise in Somalia for their humanitarian

activities, while the operations themselves incurred the

wrath of the local public.

India has also been advocating reform of the peacekeeping

machinery to meet the challenges of the times and to

improve the image of UN peacekeepers. We are of the view

that the mandates given by the Security Council to the

missions are too broad and have very little correlation with

the ability of the organization to deliver. We have proposed

that the Security Council should invite non-Council

members, particularly troop contributing countries, to

participate in the decisions of the Security Council

concerning the deployment of the forces and related

matters. The field support provided to the forces needs to

be further expanded and strengthened. India fully supports

implementation of a policy of zero tolerance with regard to

conduct and discipline of troops, including sexual

exploitation and abuse. UN peacekeeping must be in

accordance with Chapter VIII and should not be

regionalized. India is also in favour of the induction of more

female peacekeepers. We also support identifying “sunset

missions”, which have fulfilled their mandates and

proceeding to wind them up. Some questions have been

asked whether India should participate in the UN missions,

which are of no particular relevance to India, in the context

of some allegations against Indian troops in the Congo. But

India remains one of the largest troop contributors, next

only to Bangladesh and Pakistan. India has also established

a centre for training of peacekeepers in New Delhi, which

attracts military officers from around the globe.

UN peacekeeping operations have been a major contribution

to the maintenance of international peace and security.

It has evolved over the years from a military exercise to

a composite operation involving not only enforcement

of peace agreements, but humanitarian assistance and

reconstruction to provide basic needs to the affected

people. It has become the human face of the United Nations

for millions of people who have become embroiled in war for

no fault of theirs. Humanity owes a debt of gratitude to the

UN as we celebrate another UN Day on October 24.

Thank you.

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