The women keep the peace. The men carry the luggage.

Messing with Indian women is a bad idea. Liberian thugs may be the latest ones to find this out.

If there was any need to make a statement about women’s equality, then the UN could not have chosen a better one. It’s first all-female peacekeeping police force has been deployed to one of the most lawless places—Liberia.

Commander Seema Dhundiya, who will head the Formed Police Unit (FPU), arrived in the capital Monrovia on Sunday along with logistics and engineering specialists who will prepare for the rest of her unit, which is expected to arrive around 29 January, said UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) spokesman Ben Dotsei Malor.

The FPU contingent will consist of 125 personnel, made up of 103 female officers and 22 male staff serving in logistics roles. The women will be formed into three platoons of 30 women each, comprising one platoon leader and 29 officers, and while the contingent will be based in Monrovia they may be deployed anywhere in the country. [AllAfrica]

The ladies, of course, are likely to discharge their duties with professionalism. But India must ask itself why it must risk the lives of its troops—men and women—for the United Nations. India does not need UN peacekeeping jobs. It is not strapped for hard currency, and has no shortage of opportunities for combat experience. Unless the UN Security Council is restructured to include India, there is very little reason to dispatch troops into conflicts that the UN deems as important.

Related Posts: Blue helmets in Congo; and Blue Turbans in Lebanon.

20 thoughts on “The women keep the peace. The men carry the luggage.”

  1. Nitin,

    The issue is not whether India needs those UN peace keeping jobs. The issue is that our security forces need them. I have a close relative in the army who will be deployed to Congo in the near future and he is happy about it – just because he will make more money in one year that he will make in 10 years on his normal army pay.

    We have an officer shortage in the army because it just does not pay well – even with all the amenities an officer has.

    Regards,

    Prasanth

  2. Prasanth,

    The issue is not whether India needs those UN peace keeping jobs. The issue is that our security forces need them.

    That’s upside down.

    There is a real need to make the armed forces more attractive as a career; but by no stretch of logic can it be argued that India must send troops on UN missions just so that some of its soldiers can make good money. If this were to be the case, for example, should the army hire out its soldiers as private security guards if it paid better?

    In fact, the use of UN missions as a “perk” shifts attention from the real problem: of attracting and retaining good people in the armed forces.

  3. @ Nitin Pai

    You cite only two reasons that India is involved in the peacekeeping operations. Cash flow and combat experience. I believe neither of them holds true. As you rightly said, there is no dearth of combat experience and thus the govt would never make such a decision if the only reason was experience-gain. Also, until the very recent past, India was owed $180 million by the UN for peacekeeping operations, while the US owes the US billions in back fees. Thus, the cash-flow theory also would not guide the Govt’s decision.

    Frankly speaking, I was a little surprised that you raised this issue, specially when you are very well versed with the strategic compulsions based on geopolitics. My response to this post and the compulsion behind it, right here.

  4. Opinionated Indian,

    Indian troops under the UN flag represent the UN—what goodwill arises (and what criticism they receive) will accrue to the UN, not India.

    It is naive to believe that sending Indian peacekeepers will turn into geopolitical leverage for India. For instance, did African nations support India’s bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security council?

    We might dislike China’s strategy to build influence in Africa. But can we argue that it is ineffective? How does China’s strategy compare with say, India sending blue helmets?

    So you are right that geopolitics should motivate India’s policy. It is geopolitics that suggests that blue helmets may create a warm fuzzy feeling, but does little to advance India’s national interests.

  5. @ Nitin

    That is not entirely true. When the Belgian and French peace keepers acted in an unprofessional manner in Rwanda, the Rwandans identified them as being French and Belgian and not a reflection of UN standards. I admit that France and Belgium have a wretched history of colonial repression in Rwanda, but India isn’t viewed with the same prism.

    And India is not just sending blue helmets, it is involved in various other capacities as well. India’s participation in the UN ops is usually looked upon quite favorably by much of the south block in the world. India is looked upon as one of their own by many of those countries with Indian peace keeping contingents. We might not see the immediate and very tangible benefits for India from the geopolitical sense but it is not fair to say that there are no benefits at all.

    As this article states:

    In recent years, African sensitivities have been routinely ignored by India as it single-mindedly seeks a power profile.

    &

    the Chinese government had used its considerable diplomatic leverage in Africa to arrest the diplomatic momentum the G-4 had gained.

    Also, you are saying that: Unless the UN Security Council is restructured to include India, there is very little reason to dispatch troops into conflicts that the UN deems as important.

    I don’t understand the premise of such a decision. Does it mean that if we stop getting involved in UN peace keeping operations, we will get a nod to be on the SC seat? No. However, if we continue to get involved like a major power who wishes to be treated as a major power, then there is all the more chance that we might get the elusive nod.

  6. Opinionated Indian,

    Thanks for continuing this discussion.

    Also, you are saying that: Unless the UN Security Council is restructured to include India, there is very little reason to dispatch troops into conflicts that the UN deems as important.

    The point here is that India has very little influence on which conflicts (and at what time) are deemed serious enough to warrant sending peacekeepers. The connection between troops and the seat is one where India has a much higher degree of influence on where, when and why blue helmets are dispatched. (Of course, India does have an option today – to send or not send troops to a particular conflict. But it does not have the option to choose which conflicts (and when) to send peacekeepers to)

    However, if we continue to get involved like a major power who wishes to be treated as a major power, then there is all the more chance that we might get the elusive nod.

    I agree entirely. Very few of the major powers rely on peacekeeping credentials to reflect their strength. The most recent case is of France, who agreed to send one soldier, the commanding general, to Lebanon as part of its peacekeeping responsibility.

    As I wrote in a comment on your blog, the connection between seat and peacekeeping itself is not the real issue. It is important to the extent that it is a proxy for India’s national interests in the context of Africa.

    Does it mean that if we stop getting involved in UN peace keeping operations, we will get a nod to be on the SC seat? No.

    Perhaps you are right. But has sending troops for five decades convinced African nations to support India’s bid? No. Will African regimes favour India (over China and Western powers) while handing out energy or mining contracts? Bleak. Will African people be freed from repression and enjoy democracy, because India sends troops, argues on behalf of democracy? Also bleak. So yes, we get bragging rights showing off our superior morality (vis a via China, or the Western powers). It might make a tiny difference to some Africans. Certainly not to India. It does benefit China and the Western powers.

  7. Few quick points, probably obvious to UN observers: P5, by and large, doesn’t send peacekeepers (boots on ground) under blue helmets – they offer infrastructure and transport and wear their country uniforms. So if India does become part of SC, it will probably stop sending peacekeepers.

    Most peacekeepers are from poor Asian countries with men to spare. Also, as already noted, India has been doing this for five decades and it gets nothing in return beyound increased pay to deployed and bragging rights for babus in UN. The rest of soft power stuff is hocus pocus because UN never solves a civil war or border problem (except may be East Timor – which is increasingly becoming arguable case) and because the helmets are blue.

  8. Interesting debate.

    OI,

    I think the point is exactly what India gains from sending troops to such places. If you notice, the countries which commit the highest number of troops for UN operations are (apart from India) Bangladesh and Pakistan-hardly the most important or influential countries. It would make sense of India could exert enough influence to decide the areas in which UN troops are deployed for example if such an intervention was contemplated in Nepal. But as Nitin pointed out, India doesn’t exercise such influence. India must commit troops only if it enhances her geo-political interests and not because it’s the correct thing to do or even because people are dying.

  9. Nitin,
    “In fact, the use of UN missions as a “perk” shifts attention from the real problem: of attracting and retaining good people in the armed forces.”

    Absolutely agree. Retaining and attracting people is a different issue altogether.I was not arguing that India needs to send troops on U.N missions. Just pointing out the fact that many in our armed forces consider it “lucky” to be part of U.N missions because of increased pay. From what i know, every regiment in the army exerts pressure on the powers that be for being selected for a UN mission. In fact, if i remember correctly, there is a “rotation system” wherein a unit that already has been on a U.N mission does not get selected until other units had a chance to go.

  10. @ Nitin

    At the risk of sounding repetitive, argumentative and obtuse, I’d still like to make a few more points.

    So yes, we get bragging rights showing off our superior morality (vis a via China, or the Western powers).

    I read another post which you directed me to, regarding the considerations India should take into account with regards to its foreign policy. There you say, and I quote:

    •Project the Indian model as an example for other countries to emulate.

    •Develop capacities, capabilities and contingency plans to provide relief and rehabilitation in the region in the event of natural or man-made disasters.

    •Participate in multilateral and bilateral military co-operation relationships. Secure visiting and basing rights at geostrategic locations in the region.

    On the other hand you quote the examples of the major powers who follow completely self-serving foreign policies with regards to UN interventions. Prime examples being France and the United States. Blowback is the result, as the current world climate shows. Completely self-serving policy is not in India’s best interests as well in the long run.

    Projecting Indian model of involvement in countries where help is needed is a very good example to set for others to emulate, rather than self-serving unilateralism. UN’s aims are noble and the only way to achieve those aims are for countries to occasionally put their interest of humanity as a whole behind their often (not always) petty self-interests. I am not asking for India to take the lead and go it alone, but when countries like America, France, UK, Germany etc don’t lift a finger, it doesn’t mean we should adopt the same immoral standards. When all we have is bad benchmarks, we should be looking to set new benchmarks rather than adopt the faulty ones.

    Your second point as quoted above, asks us to provide relief and rehabilitation. Isn’t that the primary objective during UN peacekeeping missions. Relief from violence in case of man-made disasters like civil wars and strife.

    Participation in multilateral military co-operation could also fall under the UN peacekeeping missions. Can’t it?

    @ Chandra

    With all respect, I don’t think it is fair to say that UN never solves anything. As a recent issue of Economist shows quite clearly, UN needs more involvement from others, if the so-called Major Powers don’t deem it important enough to get involved and create other offshoots like NATO. UN has noble aims and I’d surely like India to be involved rather than follow a completely self-serving policy. Also, as Economist’s special on UN shows, UN has done quite a lot. Darfur in Sudan is often talked about, but southern Sudan is a peaceful place which is largely responsible for the UN mission over there. Liberia has also been helped.

    If my memory serves me right, UN wasn’t involved in Aceh, at least not primarily.

    @ Confused

    My point of view largely differs from your’s especially when you say:

    India must commit troops only if it enhances her geo-political interests and not because it’s the correct thing to do or even because people are dying.

    @ ALL

    Thank you for your comments and allowing me to express mine. It was indeed interesting.

  11. OI,

    I never tire of intelligent debate! Tenaciousness is part of being opinionated, after all.

    I’m glad you quoted from that post on foreign policy objectives. That post had a follow-up discussion in which the UN and the “Indian model” came up. It has the answer to some of the points you have raised.

    Do note that the argument is against India sending peacekeepers under the UN flag, not against sending peacekeepers or humanitarian relief missions in general. This blog remains a supporter of Indian peacekeeping intervention in Sri Lanka and Operation Cactus. Similarly, it supported dispatching the navy to tsunami hit regions. It has even argued (in Sep 2003) that Indian troops must be sent to Iraq, and more recently, to Afghanistan. Sending troops for peacekeeping, or even active combat, is justified and called for where there is a clear link to India’s security or when projecting power brings about stability in a region of strategic importance to India.

  12. @ Nitin

    Thanks. Appreciate it. Considering the obstinacy and rudeness I encounter rather often because of my “tenaciousness”, this is a welcome change.

    I just read the mentioned post. Fair enough.

    I haven’t been a reader of this blog for that long (nowhere close to since 2003), and might misconstrue your intentions based on the current/recent posts. I apologize.

    However, how will you justify unilateral military interventions by India? One of the warring factions in any conflict is sure to bear the brunt of our intervention. Multilateralism is a need of today, and hell, even Bush is looking to the UN now after his epic misadventure in Iraq. If we are looking to legitimize our involvement in any conflict, UN flag is a must unless the scenario is quite like 1971. In case of Sri-Lanka and the countries around us, if the elected government requests our intervention, then unilateral intervention might be justified. But you can’t do that when you are talking of far off countries in the African continent. No?

    Also, as I said before, I’d like India to set an example of sacrificing its brave troops *occasionally* in the interest of humanity as a whole rather than only our self interests. Of course, it should be closely monitored and in case of a complete stalemate or our inability to bring the situation under control, I would no longer advocate that.

  13. OI,

    However, how will you justify unilateral military interventions by India? One of the warring factions in any conflict is sure to bear the brunt of our intervention.

    Well, if the outcome or the conflict itself works against India’s interests, that is the justification. Sure one or more parties will take the heat…that’s intrinsic, and that party will take it even if the UN is involved.

    There is a moral problem with sacrificing just for the sake of humanity. It is one of discrimination. We can’t send troops to all conflicts, so we have to choose. Choice without any additional criteria other than humanity will discriminate, arbitrarily perhaps, against someone in need. Now, the primary moral responsibility of the government is towards the governed. If that is a guide, we can take a moral position that Indian intervention will be determined only by its own interests.

  14. “UN has noble aims and I’d surely like India to be involved rather than follow a completely self-serving policy. Also, as Economist’s special on UN shows, UN has done quite a lot. Darfur in Sudan is often talked about, but southern Sudan is a peaceful place which is largely responsible for the UN mission over there. Liberia has also been helped.”

    It’s not enough to have noble aims and be corrupt. Our Indian government is the noblest government on the planet, since independence. But it’s also the most corrupt and a burden on its people then probably any country on the planet. Despite the damage UN has done to India over the years, India should get involved in UN only when its interests are involved, as Nitin says, because we can’t be all things to all people and because we don’t get anything back – soft power stuff.

    Also UN itself is decent at moping up after the fact when the parties have agreed on a deal – that’s not the same being a positive force. Usually the other so-called powers arm-twist and coddle the parties to make the deal. UN normally favours staus quo irrespective of cost, people or otherwise, involved.

  15. @ Nitin

    Well, if the outcome or the conflict itself works against India’s interests, that is the justification.

    Agree to it wholeheartedly. Just as I said, we had to get involved in 1971 because of the enormous burden put on our meagre resources by at least 10 million refugees and more in the event we didn’t. A unilateral intervention. I’m all for it. Maybe even in Nepal, had the situation got out of hand. But I am thinking more of places like Rwanda. Sorry to keep going back to that area, but I’ve read a lot about it and was appalled and ashamed at how the world community paid absolutely no heed to the plight of the close to 1 million people who were slaughtered in less than a 100 days. US govt officials met with the UN force commander and told him, without mincing words:

    We will go back and tell our government not to get involved because all there is in Rwanda is a sea of black Africans.

    I do not want India to be identified or act in this manner. Obviously we can’t do it all the time, but we should be making exceptions at least sometimes. There might not be any tangible benefits for India for getting involved in Rwanda except for the fact that our intervention, under the UN of course, would be able to save hundreds of thousands of lives. That, to me, is morally motivating enough.

    @ Chandra

    Which countries are the most responsible for the decay of the UN as a noble organization? There can’t be any other answers than the P5. I would not want India to be a part of that list. UN is decent only at moping up. No question about it. The reason, no country wants to get their hands dirty. And UN is powerless unless the P5 agree to anything at all. The fault doesn’t lie with the UN but with the self-serving policies of the nations involved.

  16. Will somebody tell me if this report is true ( and if it is true is quite disturbing )-

    four Indian soldiers that were part of a UN peace-keeping force were bribed by Hezbollah; they helped Hezbollah get close to a kidnapping spot and find Israeli soldiers, and then the Hezbollah members kidnapped the Israeli soldiers and later killed them. Other UN forces watched the kidnapping happen and didn’t try to stop it. The UN then tried to cover up what happened.

    Full report here-
    http://volokh.com/posts/1153581422.shtml

  17. OI,

    I am moved as anyone else by people’s suffering or killing-Darfur would be a prime example where hundreds of thousands have been literally slaughtered. However, nation states cannot be constrained by the morality angle. Their actions should be directed by national interest and not by moral outrage felt by a section of their population.

    However, I would concede that in cases like Darfur, India should have no connection with the genocidal regime in Sudan, however, I won’t make the same argument for Burmese government-India stands to benefit if they take action against ULFA and other assorted groups which have sought shelter there.

    In passing, I will make another point: the primary obligation of nation states is enhancing the security of her own citizens and there can be no trade offs in that regard. As Nitin pointed out, it is well nigh impossible for any state to intervene in all conflicts, infact, it’s very selectivity can come under the scanner and be criticized. Hence, it is infinitely better if they choose to intervene only in those conflicts which impinge on their own self interest.

  18. @ Confused

    I am moved as anyone else by people’s suffering or killing-Darfur would be a prime example where hundreds of thousands have been literally slaughtered. However, nation states cannot be constrained by the morality angle.

    So what do we do except feeling appalled? Should every nation only follow a policy that serves their self interests, what happens to UN and what happens to people in Darfur or Aceh? Is being appalled and ashamed or moved enough?

    As the recent case suggests Ethiopia intervened in Somalia which was for their own strategic benefits, which I have no qualms with. However in certain situations like Rwanda (sorry again) there were no strategic benefits to anyone and thus they let the killing continue for 100 days and until 1 million people were wiped off. Children were made to line up and their parents were slaughtered right before their eyes. Pregnant women were cut up and their embryos waved on machetes. And no one intervened because it wasn’t in their self interest. I am sorry Sirs, I don’t see it. I am by no means advocating our involvement in each and every conflict but exceptions can surely be made, can’t they? And such exceptions, when it is very evident that there is nothing else except the interest of humanity behind the decision, will never be criticised.

    This will be my last comment. I see that we have all laid out our view points and continuing would just feel like going around in circles. It was an interesting discussion though. Thanks everyone!

  19. Sorry for yet another comment, but something interesting I found regarding UN reform and why it is in fact in India’s interest to continue being involved in Peace-keeping operations:

    A Security Council That Looks Like the World of 2005: The U.S. Approach
    The United States is open to UN Security Council reform and expansion, as one element of an overall agenda for UN reform. We advocate a criteria-based approach under which potential members must be supremely well qualified, based on factors such as: economic size, population, military capacity, commitment to democracy and human rights, financial contributions to the UN, contributions to UN peacekeeping, and record on counter-terrorism and nonproliferation. We have to look, of course, at the overall geographic balance of the Council, but effectiveness remains the benchmark for any reform.

    [Source]

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