India’s Approach to UN peace-keeping

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Members of an United Nations Peacekeeping mission from the CRPF. (file photo)   –  The Hindu/ Monica Tiwari

Dr. Manoj Kumar Mishra, 4 July 2019

The meaning of peace cannot be uniform across the globe and problems specific to developing countries propel them to consider peace and development as complementary to each other. Therefore, peace implies a continuous process of developing positive societal conditions to meet socio-economic needs of people rather than putting an end to conflicts or ensure that conflicts do not occur. The developing countries not only need financial and technological assistance from the developed world for their development under normal circumstances, certain specific characteristics pertaining to their societies make it imperative that emphasis has to be laid on socio-economic factors during civil wars as well. The definition of peace and security from the perspective of developing world was first articulated by Ramaswami Mudaliar, the Indian representative to the deliberations on economic and social matters at San Francisco. Making insightful observations as regards the powerful countries’ approach to peace and security during the World Wars, he argued that while much emphasis had been laid on security and armed strength to prevent aggression, the real focus should have been on the causes that lead to war such as economic and social injustices. His alternative perspective on security seems to have influenced the articulation of unanimous support that elected him as the first President of Economic and Social Council in its first session of the UN General Assembly. Mudaliar’s approach to peace and security seems to have reflected the general mood of India’s foreign policy makers and particularly that of its first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.  

Predicaments peculiar to developing countries underscore the fact that the division between North and South is not merely geographical. It rather represents a bifurcation of the world on the basis levels of economic development, industrialization, differences in history and culture which ultimately lead to the differences in understanding of peace and security across the dividing line. James Patrick, in this context, observes: “perceptions of threat, time and pressure, and probability of military hostilities pervade these various western definitions of crisis. But developing states have different definition of security as they face the crisis of underdevelopment and this problem is intertwined with their concerns about security” (P. James (1990), “International Crisis: A View from the South” in Shreesh Juyal and B. Ramesh Babu (eds) The United Nations and the World Peace, Sterling Publication, New Delhi).

Underlining the importance of non-militaristic dimensions of security and India’s contribution to the  changing role of peacekeeping, Lieutenant General, Government of India, Chenicheri Satish Nambiar observes: “today’s peacekeepers are not only required to keep the warring parties apart to the extent they can, but are increasingly called upon to safeguard humanitarian relief operations, monitor human rights violations, assist in mine clearance, monitor state boundaries or borders, provide civilian police support, assist in rebuilding logistics infra-structure like roads, railways, bridges, and to support electoral processes. In much of this the Indian Armed Forces have practical experience based on the conduct of counter insurgency operations in some parts of our own country and thus have a marked advantage over most other forces from other parts of the world. This was more than amply demonstrated by the performance of our contingents in Cambodia, Somalia, Mozambique, Angola, Rwanda and Sierra Leone and continues to be demonstrated by the contingents deployed in the Congo, South Sudan, and in Lebanon (India and United Nations Peacekeeping Operations, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India,, January 26, 2014).

India’s contribution to non-militaristic definitions of security is vital as most of the conflicts around the world are not only intra-state by character; these continue to afflict the rickety socio-economic and political institutions of the developing world. Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) report on the pattern of armed conflict, out of the 49 active conflicts in 2016, 47 were fought within states and over government (22), territory (24) or both (1) indicating  a clear trend toward sharp rise in the number of intrastate conflicts compared to inter-state ones. The report further noted that Africa was the region with the highest number of conflicts in 2016 (19 active conflicts) followed by Asia (15 conflicts).

India’s contribution to UN peacekeeping  

Ethiopia and Rwanda from the African continent and Bangladesh, India and Nepal from the Asian continent have been the largest troop contributors to various UN peacekeeping missions and these countries contribute around a third of the total troops mandated by the UN. India has sent troops to 49 of the 71 peacekeeping missions established around the world since 1948 and there are around 6,700 uniformed peacekeepers from India, the vast majority of them in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in South Sudan. India has also provided 15 Force Commanders to various missions and was the first country to contribute to the Trust Fund on sexual exploitation and abuse, which was set up in 2016. India sent the first-ever all-female force to restore peace in civil war-affected Liberia. India’s continued support to the UN peacekeeping mission is also explained by its countenance of highest number of fatalities (164 out of 6,593 personnel) among countries that have sent forces to the missions since 1948 as well as by the sum of $38 million that the world body owes to India (the highest it has to pay to any country) for its peacekeeping operations as of March 2019 as per the statistics put out by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

However, certain developments pertaining to peacekeeping have blunted India’s interests in maintaining a larger profile in peacekeeping which has contributed to its international image as well. New Delhi expressed its concerns over the paltry resources committed to missions’ open-ended mandates which plagued UN peacekeeping.  It is evident that the US and European countries have been showing less interest in contributing troops and police  forces to UN peacekeeping leaving a vacuum which has been filled in by India and other developing countries. Ironically, these countries have been denied crucial decision making role pertaining to peacekeeping. Therefore, India argued for “establishment, conduct, review and termination of peacekeeping operations, including the extension and change of mandates, as well as for specific operational issues” during its two-year-term as non-permanent member of the UN Security Council from January 2011 till December 2012. Indicating its reluctance to remain entangled in complicated peacekeeping exercise, India decided to withdraw its four remaining Mi-35 attack helicopters from the UN mission in Congo. Killing of five of its peacekeepers in South Sudan in an ambush stoked fire to a cynical approach among some India’s military officials who maintained that the country’s commitments to UN peacekeeping missions needed serious rethinking. While some of India’s strategic experts and diplomats deplore the fact that the country’s continued as well as large-scale participation in peacekeeping has not earned it a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, many consider that the country is not taken seriously as space to participate in the decision-making exercise pertaining to peacekeeping has been very limited.

India participated in almost all UN peacekeeping operations in Africa. During the heydays of the Cold War, New Delhi’s nuanced understanding of peace and security was also reflected in its role in Congo. During operations in Congo (1960 to 1963), India used force as the last resort after the situation went out of control which proved to be very useful in putting an end to the civil war there. The Indian battalion was the largest single unit under the UN command of the peace-keeping operation in Congo and India’s contribution to the operation ensured the cohesion of the newly emerged nation-state. However, the militarized mission equipped with light bombers dispatched by India although ensured the unity of Congo; the casualties suffered were nonetheless very high. Similarly, India successfully brought two warring camps to negotiating tables and conducted elections in places such as Mozambique and helped prepare grounds for better and secured living of people there.

The exacerbation of the situation and the eventual withdrawal of the US and Western troops from Somalia- an African country ripped apart by civil war while indicated their incapability and impatience to study the socio-economic conditions of the country and their overemphasis on conventional understanding of security, India’s role during the civil war brought forth the imperative to understand and address the changing definition of security. It was evident that the militaristic turn in the US spearheaded Operation Restore Hope led to the labeling of the UN forces in Somalia as new warlords, imperialists and occupation army. In this larger context, India decided to take part in UN operation. After the withdrawal of the American and Western troops, the UN operation became largely a Third World effort. There was an increasing pressure from media warning India to pull out of the country after many Indian soldiers lost their lives during the operation. However, many clan leaders like Aidid, Ali Mahdi and General Morgan wrote to Boutros Ghali, the UN Secretary General urging that the Indian contingent be retained. The political leaders expressed their desire to seek assistance specifically from India in reconstructing Somalia. The Radio Mogadishu appreciated the Indian Navy’s patrol vessel INS Sukanya’s commendable support to the UNICEF in carrying basic drugs and medicines, high energy food, vaccines and immunization equipment and blankets to the civil war affected people.

India’s stress on supplying of essential commodities like water was admirable from the perspective of changing definitions of security. It was the Indian contingent which drilled two high-capacity water wells in Boidoa and Bardela using indigenous equipment which later led to the use of Indian equipments in boring hundreds of tube-wells to supply water to the villagers in remote areas. The Indian Brigade revived the Bonkai Orphanage and the Indian soldiers played the role of teachers for the orphans. The Indian army engineers built mosques in Oddur and Wajid in deference to the religious beliefs of the local people. India’s 66 Infantry Brigade took effective measures to rehabilitate a large number of refugees. Aidid’s remarks underlined India’s contribution to non-militaristic aspects of security when he said: “It is well known to Somalis that Indians would not be trigger-happy like Americans. Coming from a developing country, they understand the problems of another developing country”. Bigadier Bhagat underplaying the need of military power said: “We will open fire only when the situation is out of control. Minimum force will be used with all caution and warning that is what we are preaching”. D.P Merchant said: “Security does not come only by rifles and bullets…We want to demonstrate that peace can be brought by cultural exchange” (S. Paranjape (1995), “UN Peace-keeping in Civil Strfe Situations of Somalia and Yugoslavia (with special reference to Indian Role)”, in B. Mody Nawaz, B.N Meherish (eds), India’s role in the United Nations, Allied Publication, Bombay.

Conforming to the need of addressing multiple facets of security, the female officers played a vital role in restoring security in Liberia – a West African country (2007-2016) and the members of the women Indian Formed Police Unit could distinguish themselves through humanitarian service, including organizing medical camps for Liberians, many of whom have limited access to health care services. Similarly, Indian veterinarians serving with the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), extended their assistance to cattle herders who were losing much of their stock to malnutrition and disease in the war-ravaged nation. This support was of immense value to the people of South Sudan where cattle are not only a valuable source of food but also a commodity for bartering. The Indian veterinarians ran a mobile clinic traversing remote and dangerous locations with a view to treating sick cattle and educating their owners about disease prevention.

India’s approach to international peace and security is shaped by its national interests

Lt Gen Nambiar notes that India’s participation in UN peace-keeping operations significantly relates to its national interests. The country’s participation in the Korean and Cambodian operations demonstrated its stakes in the stability of East and Southeast Asia. With Cambodia, India shared traditional cultural bonding and the operation strengthened this further and cemented political links as well. India’s vital energy interests and traditional relationships with West Asia have been more than adequately demonstrated by India’s participation in the UN peace-keeping operations in the Gaza strip and Sinai, Iran/Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen. India had a stake in the stability and well-being of the people of West Asia. Nambiar argues that it is unlikely that any other single country could have contributed so much towards UN peace-keeping in West Asia. India’s interests in the well-being and stability of newly emerged nation-states of Africa were demonstrated by UN peace-keeping operations in Congo, Namibia, Angola, Mozambique, Somalia, Liberia, and Rwanda. In Afghanistan, India confined its role to socio-economic restructuring and shunned large-scale military role and the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed its willingness to supply four Russian-made helicopters to the Afghan army and preferred a limited assisting role in the field of military. It continued to express its willingness to train the Afghan National Army as part of its conscious avoidance of big military role in Afghanistan.

A shared colonial past influenced India’s peace-keeping operations in the developing world as New Delhi found common interests and stakes in the stability of many Asian and African countries. India shared healthy cultural relationships with many Asian states historically because of its rich cultural heritage which spanned many parts of the continent and shaped its participation and role in peace-keeping operations. Being a developing country, India’s increasing energy requirements along with healthy traditional relationships shaped its will to contribute to peace-keeping operations in energy-rich areas including West Asia. Being a developing country itself, India could not afford to adopt a power-centric approach to realizing its energy needs. In sum, its traditional cultural relationships, common anti-colonial struggle, sharing of common platforms such as NAM based on common views on the impacts of the militarization of the Cold War and sharing of similar socio-economic problems defined India’s interest and approach to peace-keeping in developing world. Therefore, India’s national interests converged with the maintenance of peace and security in the developing world and as a developing country; India understood the socio-economic problems of other developing countries and took concerted efforts at contributing to the UN peace-keeping operations from a non-militaristic security perspective. However, factors such as meager resources committed to UN peacekeeping, absence of democratic reforms of the UN Security Council and denial of space to decision-making commensurate to troop participation may dent India’s interests and participation in the long-run.