Thursday, 31 May 2012


UN Peacekeeping: Thinking 'out of the box'

IssueNet Edition| Date : 13 Feb , 2012

The story of India’s peacekeeping engagement is too well known to recount. However, less known is the fact that India numbers among the five top UN troop contributing countries. In effect, India ranks alongside Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan. As a regional power and with aspirations as a global player, it bears examining if India’s peacekeeping commitment can be upgraded, quantitatively and qualitatively, to set it apart in a category of its own as a TCC. Three illustrations of hypothetical directions are set out in this article to elucidate the directions India’s peacekeeping engagement could take in order to advocate enhancing India’s peacekeeping commitment.
First is a counterfactual in the case of Libya. Although the UNSC authorised the NATO mission with intent to preserve the population of Benghazi from an apprehended atrocity, in the event the NATO wilfully carried the mission into a terrain not countenanced by the UN: that of regime displacement. In case the UN had resources readily at hand for rapid insertion into Benghazi, it could have fulfilled a ‘responsibility to protect’ (R2P) obligation in a preventive deployment mode. This could have pre-empted the NATO operation.
The capability would require deployment and managing in conjunction with regional organisations, in Africa in particular, lest it seem yet another version of shouldering the “˜white mans burden
This counterfactual suggests that such a capability if made available to the UN timely could prove useful in addressing emergent problem areas. The capability would require deployment and managing in conjunction with regional organisations, in Africa in particular, lest it seem yet another version of shouldering the ‘white man’s burden’. An Indian Rapid Deployment Force (RDF), of perhaps up to a brigade group strength, could prove invaluable resource in such circumstances. India also has lately acquired an integral deployment capability, both by air and sea as necessary. The force could be used for peacekeeping in addition to its defence related primary tasks.
In the instant counterfactual case, an Indian Rapid Deployment Force could be inserted into Benghazi for protection of the population. This could well have been done with host nation consent, in that Gaddafi’s Libya could have been prevailed upon to see Indian peacekeepers as a better alternative to NATO operations. The crisis having stabilised, India’s brigade could either have been substituted with blue helmets deploying in due course. The two sides had arrived at a mutually agreeable internal settlement.
The problem of resource scarcity combined with Afghanistan not being attractive enough for countries to volunteer troops, there is a peacekeeping vacuum that could be filled.
The second illustration is more ambitious, but equal to India’s stature and capabilities. It is a hypothetical case of the end game in ‘AfPak’ requiring peacekeeping. Currently it is recognised that a military stalemate exists. An anticipated draw down in US forces is to witness the better prepared Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) taking on the degraded Taliban. Peace talks are reportedly simultaneously on behind the scenes. A negotiated end may entail a peacekeeping mission. The very ability to deploy a peacekeeping force would act as incentive for the talks to make progress, in that, given the more desirable alternative to civil war it could be progressed towards with greater singularity of purpose. The problem of resource scarcity combined with Afghanistan not being attractive enough for countries to volunteer troops, there is a peacekeeping vacuum that could be filled.
Additional peacekeeping resources at the UN resources would help. India cannot unilaterally be responsive in this case for obvious reasons. Therefore, India’s efforts to catalysing a UN peacekeeping mission can continue along the political and humanitarian route. But they can also be military but as part of a joint force under possibly the SAARC aegis. The obvious assumption is that with a negotiations yielding up a ceasefire over time in place, transforming the peace enforcement mission into a peacekeeping one may be desirable. Making this feasible is possible by visualising a ‘hybrid’ UN-SAARC peacekeeping mission. India’s national interests can then be preserved in a win-win arrangement. Under the peacekeeping rubric, India can engage in training the ANSF, protecting the minority ethnicities and demilitarising the Pukhtuns under a DDRRR program. It would be a case of ‘boots on the ground’, but through the ‘back door’. Since Pakistani blue helmets would be alongside, their interests would be protected too, making the idea a win-win one if operationalized.
The maritime domain of peacekeeping can in this case be extended to include land based peacekeeping, since the problem has roots ashore.
The third illustration is on anti-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa. Several navies are contributing in this, including those of the P5. Indian ships have been on patrol. From a reading of the situation on-shore, this international maritime commitment has portents of being a long term one. Vested interests that conflict environments invariably spawn would then perpetuate the stalemate. Ending the status quo may involve peace enforcement action in its initial phase under a multinational or regional (African Union) rubric, followed up early with transforming to a robust peacekeeping mission under a UN flag. The current situation, in which there is an AU force in the country, could eventuate in a UN operation covering both the maritime and continental domains. India can make this possible by supplementing the UN’s resources. In this case, the situation is in accord with India’s interests in the region. India could therefore examine such innovations in peacekeeping. The maritime domain of peacekeeping can in this case be extended to include land based peacekeeping, since the problem has roots ashore. India’s policy input lending tangible direction to an initiative such as this is in accord with its national interests, taken as extending from Suez to Shanghai.
The illustrations, one a counter-factual and the other two of future potentialities, indicate that India requires challenging itself in both thinking innovatively and in the delivery. Its current policy direction of the economic trajectory taking it to great power status eventually is a plausible one. However, there is a case for also enhancing and displaying its power credentials. Since its historical and cultural tradition does not look kindly on overt display of muscularity, its military felicity can instead be made visible and useful in the delicate domain of peacekeeping.
The pay-off for the UN would be in terms of availability of quality forces for coping with the enhanced role, stemming from its evolving ‘responsibility to protect’ obligation. The consequence for India would be an embellishing its credentials as a power of reckoning. For the military, it would be a professional opportunity welcome to any practitioner. But first the idea needs airing, and perhaps refining through ensuing debate.

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