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.

Time to stop contributing troops to the UN

The shame in Congo

What the ‘BBC’ found in its investigation of UN peacekeeping operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo is deeply disturbing. The accusations are serious:

Indian peacekeepers operating around the town of Goma had direct dealings with the militia responsible for the Rwandan genocide, now living in eastern DR Congo.

The Indians traded gold, bought drugs from the militias and flew a UN helicopter into the Virunga National Park, where they exchanged ammunition for ivory.[‘BBC‘]

The Indian High Commission in London has reflexively tried to put a brave face over the allegations, pointing out that the offences are trivial, and that disciplinary action will be taken against those found guilty. But this is not the time for the defence ministry to merely go through the routine of setting up panels of inquiry and acting against errant personnel. This is the time for a wholesale re-evaluation of the entire policy of contributing troops to the UN.

The main draw of a UN peacekeeping posting for army personnel is the financial reward. The point that it exposes troops to real conflict environments is bogus: there are too many conflict environments on India’s borders, certainly enough to give the armed forces the desired combat experience.

It would have been quite acceptable to allow Indian soldiers to derive financial benefits if only the UN peacekeeping operations had anything like the discipline, quality control and governance that are the practice in the Indian armed forces. Poorly defined rules of engagement, unclear chains of command, a hodge-podge of equipment and personnel from assorted ‘developing countries’ and great power apathy have bred a culture that allows and covers up errant behaviour.

Needless to say, the armed forces must act to investigate and deal exemplary punishment to those found guilty—not just troops and their immediate officers, but their commanders up the hierarchy as well. The organisational challenge for the armed forces headquarters is to root out the culture of corruption that has seeped in from the UN engagement. Without a complete cleanup, the risk to national security is immense.

While it is too early to conclude that the Indian troops are guilty, the accusations are serious enough. India should immediately suspend all further deployments under the UN flag. This should be followed by a phased withdrawal of all Indian troops currently carrying out UN peacekeeping duties around the world. [See this post on Pragmatic Euphony]. Overseas troop deployments must be seen in the context of promoting the national interest. But that is not the case today. Contribution to UN peacekeeping contingents is not part of any broad strategy: it continues to be done because it is something that has always done (and those that have to do it see it in their interests).

Related Posts: Regarding the troops in Congo; get the troops out of Lebanon;

And now, the Pope talks human rights at the UN

Intervention and sovereignty

Benedict XVI probably gets to address the United Nations by virtue of being the head of the Vatican state. Not because he is a Pope. But when he speaks of “the action of the international community and its institutions . . . should never be interpreted as an unwarranted imposition or a limitation of sovereignty” he sure is voicing the opinion of the leader of an international religious institution. For the history of Europe for over a millennium has been one of a contest between an ‘international institution’ and the sovereign state. So you would expect him to say what he did.

But the Pope is wrong. Foreign intervention is always a violation of sovereignty. Now, under the UN charter and international law, it is legitimate to violate sovereignty if authorised by the Security Council. The question of interpretation does not arise with respect to the violation, but arises with respect to its legitimacy. The Pope is right to criticise the UN Security Council for its failure to intervene to protect human rights. But to seek to justify foreign intervention while arguing that sovereignty is not being violated is like arguing that an omelette can be made without breaking the egg.

The Pope would have a perfectly sound moral argument if he had said that violating sovereignty is acceptable if basic human rights are at stake. But then he would have sounded like the leader of an international religious institution and not a head of the Vatican state. But such an argument is not too practical. The international community that the Pope puts so much faith in (if you pardon the pun) can’t possibly be counted on to even define what those human rights are.

The rogue UN Human Rights Council has already made insulting religion a violation of human rights. If the Pope’s argument is stretched to the extreme—as it will probably be—it will never be an unwarranted imposition or a limitation of sovereignty for the international community to intervene to protect people’s religious sensibilities from being hurt. That’s not a recipe for good things.

A rogue UN body

The UN Human Rights Council is out-of-control

If you thought that the UN Human Rights Council was a farce, think again. It is an out-of-control outfit that has come to become a handmaiden of states that are the worst abusers of human rights.

You have read about its upside down sense of priorities. You have seen how it has perverted even the definition of human rights. And you have seen how its special rapporteur stepped way out of line while ‘auditing’ India’s record.

Well, the latest outrage from the UNHRC is the appointment of Richard Falk as its special rapporteur on the Palestinian territories. The problem is that Professor Falk is far from level-headed: he is a person who sees little difference in the Jewish Holocaust in Nazi Germany and Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

As David Aaronovitch writes

The implication of this logic is simple. The UN Human Rights Council doesn’t give a toss about the human rights of the Palestinians in the sense of wanting them upheld. Its majority is far more interested in using Israel as a stick to beat the US with, or – in the case of Islamic states – as a bogeyman to dampen down domestic discontent. [Times]

Reason’s Michael Moynihan calls Professor Falk a ‘rogue rapporteur’. The problem lies deeper. The UNHRC is a rogue organisation. Instead of politically correct pussyfooting, the appropriate response for countries that do take their constitutional commitments to human rights seriously is not to dignify it by their continued participation.

A good woman in bad company

Asma Jehangir’s mistakes…and why India should not suffer the insult of being audited by the UN Human Rights Council

Asma Jehangir, the brave human rights activist from Pakistan, is the UN Human Rights Council’s special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief. She was in New Delhi recently to “study the situation with regard to freedom of religion or belief” in India. Now it would have been supremely ironic for a Pakistani to audit religious freedoms in India. But Ms Jehangir has distinguished herself by standing up to her country’s own dictators, and that makes her more than qualified for the job.

That’s not to say that the job itself should exist. As this blog has previously argued the UN’s human rights council is a farce. With countries like China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are among its members it has strayed from focusing on core rights like freedom, equality, free expression and protection against authoritarian states. In a world where genocide and brutal violence against citizens continues, the Human Rights Council deemed it necessary to focus on…religion. It ruled that defaming a religion is a violation of human rights. And one of the first countries it is auditing—and why Ms Jehangir was in New Delhi—is India. Saudi Arabia, Myanmar, Sudan and Zimbabwe will only be audited in 2011.

Notwithstanding Ms Jehangir’s personal credentials, the composition, priorities and actions of the UN Human Rights Council do not make it a credible body to comment on the human rights situation in India. A self-respecting government of India would have refused to subject the nation to this absurdity. But it suits the UPA government’s communally jaundiced perspective just fine.

Coming to Ms Jehangir’s speech itself, she made a valid point that the wheels of justice grind way too slowly in India. But she was wrong to single out the communal riots cases for speedy justice. The need for speedy justice is universal: rioters, terrorists and ‘ordinary’ criminals must be brought to book swiftly if justice is to be served. There is a danger in calling for “prioritisation” (or worse, “turns”) without calling for an overall increase in capacity and efficiency of the justice system.

Ms Jehangir praised the UPA government’s constitution of the Rajinder Sachar and Ranganath Mishra Committees to address the condition of minorities. Here she is way out of line. First, because religion is not the only factor determining who is a minority, but more importantly because social inequalities are firmly beyond the scope of human rights. The danger of enveloping religious, social and economic issues into the ambit of human rights runs the risk of ill-serving both.

The UNHRC must do only what it was set up to do. This blog had opposed India’s joining this outfit. When India did join, this blog had recommended that India drive an uncompromising agenda on protection of human rights, or quit. The agenda has already been compromised. India should disengage.

Related Links: Wikipedia entry; Brett Shaefer outlines the UN’s human rights failure; So is it just “lipstick on a caterpillar”?

Weekday Squib: Suicidal Donkeys

Indian Blue Helmets in Sudan have an asinine problem

Major Shambhu Saran Singh, posted at a UN peacekeeping mission in Sudan, wrote this in his report: “A donkey, who had decided to end his miserable and wretched life, ran towards the Nile. As he approached the banks, he plunged into the river and moved towards the current and the strong current of the mighty river swept it to a watery grave”. (via Bharat-Rakshak Forum).

Recognising Kosovo is a bad idea

Kosovo’s independence is a product of the lazy belief that multi-ethnic secular states won’t work

The manner in which Serbia treated its province of Kosovo, the argument goes, leaves it with little legitimacy to retain control over it. Ergo, independence.

Forget that such concern for wronged populations is highly selective and exceptional. Underlying the West’s support for Kosovo’s independence is the lazy surrender to the belief that secular, multi-ethnic, liberal states cannot be realised. The objective issue around Kosovo’s declaration of independence—with the West’s connivance—is whether it helps reconcile age-old Balkan enmities. Leaving Serbia with a sense of grievance is unlikely to help in its transition to a liberal state.

Now, Kosovar Albanians suffered immensely under the repressive rule of the Communist Yugoslavia, and under Slobodan Milosovic’s post-Yugoslav regime. But today’s Serbia is different. Kosovo’s separation will set liberal Serb politics back by strengthening the most chauvinistic elements.

Realists will find nothing surprising about selective application of laws and principles. But it is difficult to see what Kosovo’s promoters will gain from backing its independence. The US will have the gratitude of 1.84 million ethnic-Albanian Muslim citizens of Kosovo, and perhaps some more of their counterparts in neighbouring Albania. But is that worth escalating the confrontation with Russia? Even some EU states and American allies won’t condone an independent Kosovo—Spain, Greece and Turkey are against the idea. China is against it. In other words, Kosovo isn’t going to receive international recognition any time soon.

What of Kosovo itself? How likely is it that it will treat its own Serb minorities well? Its leaders have tried to reach out to the minorities. The new Kosovo flag is supposed to enshrine equal treatment of all its citizens. Yet, in a story that has been replayed over centuries, Kosovo’s Serb minority is declining in number. Popular sentiment is a very different thing:

But in a sign of how hard it will be to forge the kind of multiethnic, secular identity that foreign powers have urged, the distinctive two-headed eagle of the red and black Albanian flag, reviled by Serbs, was everywhere Sunday, held by revelers, draped on horses, flapping out of car windows and hanging outside homes and storefronts across the territory. [NYT]

Not all foreign countries though, will see the “multi-ethnic, secular” identity. Pakistan’s Daily Times heralds the announcement of its independence declaring “A Muslim Kosovo is born”. “Being a Muslim state”, it says, “— not yet Islamic — we hope that it survives”. It warns that the pan-Albanian movement could set off a regional scare, and “when Middle Eastern princes and kingdoms start knocking at the door with pots of money…may seduce the new state and cause its Muslim population to choose the wrong path”.

India must not recognise an independent Kosovo. In a narrow interpretation of its interests, good relations with Russia outweigh any gains from backing the breakway state. In the broadest sense, it is in India’s interests to see the emergence of secular, liberal, multi-ethnic democracies. India must not feed the defeatist logic of ethnic-religious nation states.

Update: In an op-ed in Mint, Bharat Karnad argues that “New Delhi should not only firmly decline to (recognise Kosovo), but it should wage a sustained diplomatic campaign to deny Kosovo international recognition and seating in the United Nations. The principle on which Kosovo is founded is antithetical to the concept of an inclusive democracy and India.”

Nuclear disarmament? Great idea…

But talk is cheap, but let’s see some credibility first

Some of America’s foremost strategic experts have proposed that nuclear weapons are a threat for the entire world, and it is time for everyone to get rid of them. Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, William Perry and Sam Nunn have gone beyond the vision thing and actually outlined policy directions to achieve nuclear disarmament. [More on this from Lawrence Wittner over at HNN]

As K Subrahmanyam reminds us, disarmament, non-use of nuclear weapons for warfighting and no-first use have been the longstanding hallmarks of India’s nuclear policy. Moreover last time universal disarmament was proposed seriously at the highest international level was by Rajiv Gandhi in 1988. Mr Subrahmanyam argues that it is in India’s interests to participate in discussions that might arise from this new American initiative.

And why not? Maintaining a dynamic minimum credible deterrent is not inconsistent with India being an active participant in international discussions aimed at universal disarmament.

Realists like Dr Kissinger would recognise, though, that the idea of getting states to proceed towards universal nuclear disarmament is contingent upon three things. First, not only the destination but the process of getting there should reflect geopolitical realities. It would be futile to expect nuclear disarmament when say, the UN Security Council and other international organisations remain reflective of geopolitics of the last century [Related post: The tragedy of climate change geopolitics]. Second, international fuel supply and energy markets must be made more competitive. Cartelisation of uranium or crude oil supplies and locking up of supplies at source has implications for the nuclear industry. Reforming the international civilian nuclear trade is therefore crucial.

Finally—and crucially—the call for the extraordinary goal of universal disarmament requires an extraordinary amount of credibility. India, for instance, won’t be misplaced in calling for the US, Russia, China and others to reduce their warhead and feedstock inventories to the same levels as India’s before taking any such steps of its own. For instance, India can commit that it will sign treaties banning nuclear tests or cutting off fissile materials after all states have reduced their arsenal to an equivalent level.

And let’s not forget that even the new Kissinger-Shultz-Perry-Nunn plan for universal disarmament applies only to states. Without overstating the risk of nuclear weapons and materials falling into the hands of non-state/quasi-state actors, it would be incorrect to assume that this is sufficient to protect the world from the risk of nuclear attack.

From the archives: Why the NPT is bunk, why it cannot prevent proliferation and what might.