Why are we involved in UN peacekeeping?

The unasked question

Omair Ahmad’s article on the ugly business of Indian blue helmets in the Congo is titled “rotten olives”. He raises the most important point:

That shining reputation will be in tatters if the current charges of misconduct by Indian peacekeepers in the Congo are proved. The Indian government has assigned Lt Gen Rajinder Singh to investigate the charges, but nobody seems to be taking a look at the purpose of India’s role in UN peacekeeping operations today. Without a clear reason to be participating in such operations, India runs the risk of being lumped together with other developing nations who join these UN missions only for the money and perks. [Outlook]

It’s time for India to stop contributing troops to the UN.

13 thoughts on “Why are we involved in UN peacekeeping?”

  1. Nitin,

    The deployment of Indian military in UNPKO raises many important questions that the government, at the highest levels, has to answer. The parochial and vested interests of the services preclude them from proffering any sane advise to the government on the subject.

  2. Nitin,

    India is a rising world power. With a rising power, there are certian duties that we must perform to take our place in the world order. UN peacekeeping is one of them.

    Some soldiers may be corrupt and they must be dealt with severely, but that should not affect our suport to peacekeeping.

  3. rishi

    The powers doing the ‘duties’ you suggest are Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nigeria and Nepal. And Fiji. Rising powers? If at all there is a duty it is to maintain a global balance of power, not play policeman in godforsaken streetfights.

  4. You forgot to add China, Brazil and France. India’s numbers may be higher, but the other countries do contribute a significant number of troops.

    Also most the Indian peacekeepers are in the Congo and Sudan. Both regions have seen huge deaths over the past years. They are definitely not street fights.

  5. Rishi,

    I’m surprised that you look down the list of countries contributing troops to the UN before you find some big names. What you should do is rank the great powers of the world, and rank the UNPKO troop contributors and look for a correlation. If you do it, you’ll find that there is no correlation, perhaps there’s a negative one.

    Btw, India’s numbers are way higher than those of the countries you mention. China has more troops guarding its oil fields in Sudan than it sends to the UN worldwide. And China began sending troops to Sudan only to fend off criticism that it is coddling a genocidal regime.

    It is painful to explain analogies, just like it is to explain a joke. Policeman and streetfights are analogies.

  6. Nitin,

    The conflict in the Congo cost the lives of 5.4 million people from 1998 to 2008. The Darfur conflict in Sudan is thought to have killed 200,000 to 400,000 people with as many as 2.5 million displaced since 2004. They are the defining genocides of our decade. Please do not dehumanise them by calling them streetfights.

    India does not perform many international duties. One of the things that we do perform is UN peacekeeping. Granted, we should do more. That does not make a case for cutting our current duties.

    The case for withdrawing has not been shown, in this article or in the previous one.

    However a case for not withdrawing can be made. If we withdraw, it will look as if we are shirking in our international duties and will lower the standing of the country internationally.

  7. Rishi

    The conflict in the Congo cost the lives of 5.4 million people from 1998 to 2008. The Darfur conflict in Sudan is thought to have killed 200,000 to 400,000 people with as many as 2.5 million displaced since 2004. They are the defining genocides of our decade. Please do not dehumanise them by calling them streetfights.

    I suppose you still didn’t get the point about analogies and metaphors. Nobody is contesting the human tragedy these conflicts represent.

    India does not perform many international duties. One of the things that we do perform is UN peacekeeping. Granted, we should do more. That does not make a case for cutting our current duties.

    That’s a lot of bunkum. Whose ships were the first to respond during the Indian Ocean tsunami, or the recent cyclone in Burma? Whose ships patrol the Bay of Bengal and ensure the security of the international shipping lines? Who’s building roads in Afghanistan? UN peacekeeping is probably the most irrelevant of the things we do.

    Oh and by the way, which country is unique in modern history as the only country to have intervened in a genocidal situation and prevented it from becoming a Rwanda? India—in Bangladesh 1971. So if a economically broke India could do that in 1971, against the wishes of the US and the international community, why can’t Congo’s and Sudan’s neighbours intervene to prevent what we agree are human tragedies? If they can’t be bothered, why should India?

    But what’s this business of “we should do more”? Why should we do at all? To the extent doing “international duties” is in our national interest, we should do it. Otherwise, let those who are affected do what is necessary. The government of India and its armed forces are not the Red Cross or some humanitarian relief agency.

    If we withdraw, it will look as if we are shirking in our international duties and will lower the standing of the country internationally.

    Expecting a pat on the back from the international community doesn’t square with your earlier point about India being a rising global power. India has no international duty, so the question of shirking doesn’t arise. A country’s standing is a function of its national power, not the number of troops it sends to the UN. Otherwise, Bangladesh would be counted as a superpower. Btw, did you do the correlation between the power ranking and UN troop contributions?

    If the “international community” complains too loudly, perhaps it should be asked why it was that it didn’t show the same enthusiasm when India’s bid for a permanent seat at the UNSC came up?

  8. Nitin,

    I agree again. There’s no justification for sending our troops where there are no national security issues.

    And you keep getting burned by analogies 😛

  9. Nitin,
    I suppose you still didn’t get the point about analogies and metaphors.

    One one hand there is a genocide in Congo and a genocide in Darfur with millions dead. How, does it, by any stretch of the imagination, analogise to a streetfight?

    Expecting a pat on the back from the international community doesn’t square with your earlier point about India being a rising global power.

    I made basically two points.
    1. The UN peacekeeping is a part of our international duties as a rising power.
    2. If we stop now, we will loose face.

    You can judge if the argument is coherent.

    But what’s this business of “we should do more”? Why should we do at all? To the extent doing “international duties” is in our national interest, we should do it. Otherwise, let those who are affected do what is necessary.

    You haven’t yet made the case as to why we should not send troops to the UN peacekeepers. Why is it against our national interest?

  10. Rishi,

    The onus is on those who argue that we must send troops to prove that it is in the national interest. Your argument is that (a) India has international duties (b) that it will be bad publicity.

    I contend that India has no such ‘duties’. The only duty it has is to ensure the welfare of its own citizens. But the duty argument is incomplete—you still need to prove that doing this duty is in the national interest. You also need to argue why such major powers as the US, Japan and EU don’t seem to send many troops to the UN, certainly not in keeping with their power. (Unless you say that bigger powers have lesser duties, please show why India should have bigger duties than the United States and Japan)

    Ditto for publicity. Why should India care about negative publicity? Did negative publicity stop us from (a) conducting nuclear tests (b) fighting Kargil (c) Operation Parakram (d) Operation Poomalai (e) intervening in Bangladesh (f) keeping mum about Myanmar’s dictators?

    Talk about duties and losing face is inconsistent with the claim that India is an emerging power. The faster you shed those vain, self-defeating notions, the faster India will actually become an emerging power.

  11. Nitin,

    The onus is on those who argue that we must send troops to prove that it is in the national interest.

    We have been sending troops for some time now. So, to stop now, the argument must be made that sending troops is not in the national interest.

    You also need to argue why such major powers as the US, Japan and EU don’t seem to send many troops to the UN, certainly not in keeping with their power. (Unless you say that bigger powers have lesser duties, please show why India should have bigger duties than the United States and Japan)

    The US, Japan and Britain may not send as many troops to the UN peacekeepers. That does not mean that they do not perform international duties.

    a) They contribute to the budget of the UN. (US is the largest contributor at 22%, Japan at 19%). In fact there is a separate budget for the UN peacekeepers and the US is again the largest contributor to this budget at 27%.

    b) They come to the aid of countries in need, e.g. Burma cyclone, Tsunami, J&K earthquake. (Agreed India also does some of this)

    c) The do international police actions. The most prominent of them being Kosovo.

    d) They contribute to international funds like the World Bank, ADF, IMF etc. The relevance of these funds may have declined in recent years, but they were of huge importance before.

    e) The US hosts the UN Headquarters… and much more.

    I contend that India has no such ‘duties’.

    As you can see from the list above, the biggest and most influential countries are the ones who perform the most international duties. Looking at this correlation, we should perform more international duties, not less.

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