July 13, 2008armyForeign Affairsforeign policygeopoliticsIndiamilitarypeacekeepingRealismrealpolitikSecurityUNUnited Nations

Debating UN peacekeeping

Addressing Anit Mukherjee’s rebuttal

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

Anit Mukherjee disagrees with the argument that India should reconsider its policy of contributing troops for UN peacekeeping operations. In addition to rebutting four arguments from the case Sushant Singh and I made in our op-ed in the Indian Express last week, he offers three arguments of his own in favour—-that involvement in UN peacekeeping contributes towards India’s soft power; that our arguments can be extended to justify pulling out from the UN as a whole; and that India need not demonstrate the same apathy towards UN peacekeeping as other great powers.

Let us, for a moment, accept the soft power argument. The question, then, comes back to asking what India has to show for it. India has been engaged in UN peacekeeping roles in Africa for decades—yet African states aligned with China and did not support India when it came to the UN Security Council reform. Indeed, African states have been more attracted by China’s non-interference in internal affairs” (also known as arm-the-dictator) policy. The more promising agent of India’s soft power in Africa is the Indian entrepreneur. As Harry Broadman’s book reveals, the Indian business influence in Africa has been a quiet win-win affair. [See the Indian difference]

But it is unwise to overstate the usefulness of soft power when it comes to its influence on foreign policies of states. [See soft power, hard reality & the second delusion]

Can our arguments against the UN peacekeeping be extended to call for our retreat from the UN as a whole? That’s entirely another debate, but why not? It would be wonderful if this debate over UN peacekeeping leads to a fundamental re-examination of India’s participation in the United Nations system. Starting with, perhaps, that rogue body—the UN human rights council.

Anit is on the strongest ground when he says that India need not demonstrate the same apathy as other established powers. But surely, when states that are richer, have greater military and economic resources, formally sit in the UN Security Council and have more at stake globally don’t see a need to contribute, the question remains why India?

Anit rejects four of our arguments:

First, the authors find it hard to justify the death of Indian peacekeepers in the service of an ideal’. On the contrary, an ideal justifies everything — from fighting for one’s country, exposing corruption in the badlands of Bihar or dying to bring peace in the Congo. If there are no ideals to serve, then no cause is worth fighting and dying for.

This is similar to a point made by Mihir in the discussion on this issue last week. But there are two issues here: first—are soldiers motivated by ideals, and second, should the Indian government use its armed forces in the service of idealism. Most soldiers, without doubt, are motivated by ideals. But it is entirely a different issue for the Indian government to use its resources (military power or public finances) in the service of ideals”. It is not for the Indian government to pursue universal ideals as an end in itself. The Indian government must pursue only the national interest—the well-being and development of its citizens.

Second, the authors contend that despite being one of the largest troop contributors to the UN, we have not been suitably rewarded with a UN Security Council seat. Participation in peacekeeping operations does not hurt the case for India. Exactly the opposite. The goodwill earned through the high rates of participation and sacrifices made by Indian soldiers will only help in securing India’s place on the high table. When—and not if—the Security Council does reform, India has a stronger case by virtue of participating in these missions.

This was what they used to say. But it didn’t turn out this way in 2006 when it came to the crunch. Why will things be different the next time? For the record, we do not believe India’s peacekeeping should be rewarded” with a UN Security Council seat. Rather, that all the goodwill from peacekeeping didn’t help India’s case.

Third, the authors advise that instead of gaining the sort of exposure that comes from UN missions, the Indian military would be better served by working on bilateral or multilateral exercises with the UK, Japan, ASEAN and others. However it need not be an either/or’ choice—India has the capability and the capacity to do both, as it is currently doing, and participating in one does not adversely impact participating in the other.

We addressed this in our op-ed: it is not at all about capabilities. Rather it is the quality of the UN peacekeeping operations. As the Congo controversy shows, putting Indian troops in poorly governed operations leads to unhappy results.

Fourth, the authors dismiss the enhanced pay for soldiers participating at UN missions as indicative of a mercenary force’. That is a little unfair, especially in this day and age in India, when money is emerging as one of the most powerful gods in our pantheon. A typical jawan serving in these missions earns, approximately, four times his monthly pay. Why should this opportunity be denied, especially since tenure with the UN does not come easily and involves a very strict selection process which makes it a much coveted posting. For instance, Col Kushar Thakur, Commanding Officer of 18 Grenadiers, after successfully capturing Tiger Hill during the Kargil war, asked for and obtained, a UN mission to Sierra Leone as a reward for his battalion.

Let’s take this argument further. Let’s say that the United States proposes an arrangement wherein the Indian Army will deploy its troops to Iraq, on much higher wages than what the UN pays. Would this be acceptable? If this sounds outrageous then why should a UN peacekeeping deployment be less so?

The issue of how much soldiers earn and how they are rewarded is an entirely different issue. It is an issue that Indian policymakers have to put much thought into. Should we be passing out lucrative assignments in to reward gallantry in battle? Would this lead to cases like that of the infamous ketchup colonel? The way we appoint, train, manage and pay our service personnel requires overhauling. At best, UN peacekeeping is not going to make a difference on this front. At worst, it will delay the much needed process.

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