United Nations Peacekeeping Forces Blessed are the peacemakers


“The heroes of the world community are not those who withdraw when difficulties ensue, not those who can envision neither the prospects of success nor the consequences of failure – but those who stand the heat of battle, the fight for world peace through the United Nations.” — (Hurbert Humphrey)

Conflicts are as old as humans themselves. Starting from Cane and Abel, conflicts have always been an integral part of human societies. Divergence of opinions between two individuals and hostilities and animosities between two tribes or countries mar the prospects of garnering peace and promoting a sense of fraternity. In order to resolve the disputes, sometimes an arbitrator was chosen and sometimes tribal jirgas were arranged, sometimes efforts were put in through diplomatic channels and sometimes reconciliation was sought through an impartial party. It manifests that humans have always used a third party that would mediate between two warring sides to resolve the disputes and end hostilities. Such a person or party would monitor peace overtures from both sides and would support and help a party in getting its rights. This thinking especially got momentum at a time when the horrors of World War I had engulfed the world. At that time, a strong need was felt to have a world organization that would play the role of a neutral and independent mediator to resolve disputes between nations and countries and would also promote mutual peace between, and among, them.

It was under this thinking that the League of Nations was established in 1919. But, despite all pomp and show, it miserably failed in achieving its objectives and instead of resolving international disputes, it fell prey to its own internal problems, plunging the world into chaos. Soon, the World War II ensued with all its horrors and destruction. When there was some respite from the WWII, a renewed thinking that wars and conflicts result only in devastation with grave social, economic and environmental consequences, started gaining ground across the globe. Then, in 1945, a multiparty, broad-based organization with the name the United Nations Organization was established. This organization became a unique platform where solutions to the social, economic and environmental problems would be found and efforts put in to prevent conflicts and wars, as well as to resolve international disputes. The UN began the practice of peacekeeping in 1948 when the first United Nations military observers – UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) – were deployed to the Middle East. And, since then, 71 operations have been undertaken by the UN peacekeeping missions in various parts of the world and currently there are 16 of them, led by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations are still doing their duties.

At present, 109,916 UN peacekeepers – often referred to as Blue Berets or Blue Helmets because of their light blue berets or helmets – are deployed in different regions to carry out UN peacekeeping missions. These missions consist of 9,787 civilian police personnel, 1,821 UN military observers, 82,580 troops, 4,787 international and 974 local civilians and 1,470 UN volunteers. In order to laud and appreciate the invaluable services these great men and women, have been, and still are, rendering for the establishment and restoration of peace in conflict zones, while risking their own lives in the process, the United Nations observes 29th May as International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers. The day was established through a UN resolution in 2002 and the first International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers was observed on 29th May 2003. The date, May 29, marks the anniversary of the creation of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) in 1948 to monitor the cease-fire after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War – the first-ever UN peacekeeping mission, as mentioned above.

Under the UN peacekeeping operations, diplomatic, political, and, to some extent, military assistance is provided for the restoration and protection of peace in the conflict zones. UN peacekeeping operations are deployed on the basis of a mandate from the United Nations Security Council. This was the traditional method; however, in early 1990s, some new domains were also introduced along with the traditional ones to make peacekeeping operations more wide-ranging and effective. These new domains included observance of elections, monitoring of human rights, training the police and supporting the civil administration, to name a few.

United Nations peacekeeping operations do not comprise only the military personnel; civilians too have been a part of these. It is also important to mention here that the personnel of UN military observer groups are largely unarmed and those in peace force are equipped with light weapons which they are allowed to use only when their own lives are in danger.

Experts believe that peacekeeping involves a lot of mental stress and it is the reason why the ratio of mental disorders is very high among the peacekeepers. In addition, the number of peacekeepers who lost their lives in incidents of violence is also very high. According to the Department of Peacekeeping Operations of the United Nations, as many as 3,549 peacekeepers have sacrificed their lives in the line of duty between May 29, 1948 and 28th February 2017. The year 1993 was the deadliest for the peacekeepers with the death toll recorded at 252. It is also worth mentioning here that 145 Pakistani peacekeepers have embraced martyrdom in different parts of the world.

When it comes to contribution in men and money, we see that in the past, main contributors to UN peace missions were Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, India, Ireland, Italy, Norway and Sweden with Canada’s contribution in men and money being the biggest. However, during the recent years countries like Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, Rwanda and Senegal are providing more and more personnel (both military and police) to the UN peacekeeping operations. Growing participation of these countries is giving a much-needed boost to peacekeeping and is proving to be an added impetus to the element of impartiality as it has been highlighted more and more. The contribution of these countries are in stark contrast to that of the countries whose role in this regard has been controversial, to say the least, as they, on the one hand, make tall claims of harnessing peace while with their actions devastate all its prospects, on the other.

The Western media do not lose even a single opportunity to malign Pakistan by trying to tarnish its image with a slew of unfounded, baseless and untrue allegations. But, while indulging in this vilification campaign, they intentionally ignore that Pakistan is the third largest contributor to UN peacekeeping operations in terms of personnel – and the third largest country to have offered most lives during peacekeeping operations. Currently, Pakistan alone provides 7.28% of UN’s total peacekeeping force (military, civilian police and military observers) that comes from 126 countries. And, by the end of February 2017, as many as 7,128 Pakistani peacekeepers – 278 civilian police officials, 96 military observers and 6,754 peace troops – are deployed in various parts of the world. Pakistan has been a part of 24 UN peace operations worldwide and it is still a member of 8 operations which means that Pakistan is a part of nearly half the operations being carried out in different regions. It manifests a responsible and prudent approach being followed by the Government of Pakistan and evidences the country’s positive efforts to bring about world peace. On the contrary, the United States and the United Kingdom, the countries that boast to be the champions of peace in the world, contribute merely 469 personnel to the UN’s peacekeeping operations which accounts for only 0.47 percent of the total force. And, if we have a look at that from the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), we find that only 4130 peacekeepers (troops, civilian police and military observers) belong to these powers – only 4.21 percent of the total force. On the other hand, a fleeting look at the contribution of South Asian countries reveals that collectively six countries of this region namely Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka share 28 percent of the global force and nearly 26 percent of 27,434 peacekeeping personnel belonging to South Asia are from Pakistan alone.

Interest of Saarc countries in, and contribution to, the UN peacekeeping missions, with huge number of their peacekeepers, bodes well for the future and is an encouraging trend. Five permanent UNSC members and the South Asian countries, in terms of their contribution to peacekeepers, are ranked as follows:

South Asian Countries: India (2nd), Pakistan (3rd), Bangladesh (4th), Nepal (6th), Sri Lanka (42nd) and Bhutan (83rd)

UNSC Permanent Members: China (12th), France (25th), United Kingdom (48th), Russia (68th) and the United States (76th).

The budget available for carrying out peacekeeping operations is clearly meager as compared with the military spending that sabotage these operations. For the current fiscal year, this budget is only US$7.87 billion – merely 0.46 percent of global spending on arms. The United States provides the biggest chunk of funding to the peacekeeping operations which accounts for 28.57 percent of the total budget, followed by China (10.29 percent), and Japan (9.68percent), at second and third places, respectively.

The costliest operation in terms of the loss of human lives was the one carried out by the interim force deployed in Lebanon (UN Interim Force in Lebanon – UNIFIL) where 312 peacekeepers have laid their lives in the line of duty. The biggest operation in terms of peacekeeping personnel is the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) where 22,397 troops (soldiers, military observers, civilian police, international civilian, UN volunteers) are endeavouring to maintain peace. The United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS), which was deployed in July 2011, has the contribution from largest number of countries – 15,767 peacekeepers from 63 countries. The most recent mission is the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) which started working in April 2014.

Due to a host of reasons, the number of UN peacekeepers keeps fluctuating from time to time. For instance, during 1995-99, a drastic fall in the number of peacekeepers was recorded – from 68,000 to 18,400 only. This decline was basically due to two fundamental reasons: (1) assuming of the responsibility of peacekeeping in Yugoslavia by NATO; and (2) the end of UN mission in Mozambique.

If UN peacekeeping operations have achieved a lot of successes, the failures too are galore. The biggest example in this regard is the failure of Dutch peacekeepers in Bosnia in turning a besieged enclave into a safe area under UN protection to save the Bosnians from Serbian aggression. They had no weapons or any other means to withstand the Serbian onslaught, making the safe area an unsafe one. They watched on, outgunned and outnumbered, as more than 7,000 Muslims were slaughtered in Srebrenica. Another big reason behind the failure of peace missions is the lack of impartiality and an unending incongruity between actions and words as some countries used peacekeeping missions to pursue their interests and to improve their image to the world. Countries like Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden were subjected to scathing criticism in this regard as they are the biggest arms suppliers to the countries where they, ironically, work to achieve peace.

The dubious and dubitable role of the United States has also been severely criticized. The country, on the one hand, wages destructive wars on the pretext of achieving peace and stability while, on the other, also takes pride in advocating and supporting human rights across the globe. The US preaches that every individual in the world must abide by the laws but when it comes to its own military personnel, it doesn’t give a damn to the Geneva Convention. Moreover, it has long been involved in arming militant groups in the insurgency-hit regions and sells it to the world that it is all done to achieve ‘long-lasting’ peace in the world. Due to its dubious policies, the US is not only getting exposed but such a controversial policy is also frustrating peace efforts being carried out by the United Nations.

Moreover, there are some serious question marks on UN’s own role in some matters. No sane person would deny that the objectives behind the establishment of the United Nations have largely remained unachieved. It has proved to be only a platform where long, ambitious speeches are delivered and resolutions passed but when it comes to their implementation, no tangible results, barring some domains, have been achieved. Although longstanding issues like Kashmir and Palestine are still lying unresolved on the UN agenda, the pace at which efforts have been made to resolve some other disputes like those of East Timor and Sudan raise many questions.

However, it does not, at all, mean that the UN has no successes to its credit. Its services to humanity cannot be undermined, especially, its role in Africa manifests the highest values of humanity but still there must be no compromise on the world body’s impartiality and independence.

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