Peacekeeping: India And America Have A Plan For Africa


September 30, 2015: India and the United States have agreed to form a joint training operation to prepare African peacekeepers. The United States has long provided such training services for foreign nations and African nations have been eager users of these services (which often include new equipment and weapons). India trains its infantry to Western standards and is a major supplier of troops for peacekeeper missions. Thus the joint training effort seems a natural, especially since most of the Indian trainers speak English as do many of the African trainees. Many Indian soldiers are also Moslem, which can be useful when preparing peacekeepers for missions that must address religious disputes.

While South Asian nations (especially Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh) are most frequently seen operating as UN peacekeepers, and these three nations are indeed among the largest contributors of peacekeepers, there is another nation that is also a major contributor that rarely gets mentioned. That is Nigeria, which since 1960 has sent over 250,000 of its troops on UN peacekeeping missions. Nigeria has spent about $13 billion on that peacekeeping effort and been compensated for that, and then some, by the UN (using mostly money contributed by Western nations, who provide most of the cash that keeps the UN going). Nigeria is one of the few African countries able and willing to supply peacekeeping troops. The one problem with Nigerian troops is that they are often not as well trained and disciplined as South Asian peacekeepers. This is surprising to many people, as Nigeria and South Asia both spent a century or so as British colonies and the local armed forces were established on the British model. The subsequent quality differences can be attributed to historical factors more than anything else.

Currently about a third of the UN peacekeepers on duty come from nations that were formerly part of the British Empire (mostly from what used to be British India, which includes India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, as well as Nigeria.) To maintain and protect its empire, the British recruited lots of local troops and trained them as they would British soldiers. While most of the officers were British, most of the NCOs were locals. Britain also raised many troops in South Asia and Africa during World War II, and these men served as the leaders and trainers of the military after these nations became independent after World War II (from 1947 to the 1960s). Before the British relinquished its colonies after World War II, it also trained many locals as officers and continued helping with training after independence. Much of this Western training and military traditions took hold especially in South Asia and the African nations that were British colonies.

But there were major differences between South Asia and Africa. One is that the British encountered some formidable local armies when they moved into India in the 18th century and Africa in the 19th. The British had better technology and more advanced military doctrine, more so in Africa than in South Asia. The Indians noted this early on, before Britain had conquered all of South Asia. Some of the local rulers quickly, but not quickly enough, adopted the superior British practices. That was less the case in Africa because South Asia had advanced cultures at the same time as the Middle East and China. Thus the South Asians had an easier time absorbing British military practices than Africans. 

When the British left, the South Asian and African armies remained very British in the way they trained and operated. That meant well trained and well led troops but without all the gadgets that Western nations lavish on their soldiers. For peacekeeping operations the disciplined and reliable South Asian and African soldiers are excellent. Those troops from other less affluent nations often lack the discipline and good leadership and account for most of the peacekeeping scandals.

Meanwhile, corruption, casualties and lack of success are discouraging countries from contributing their troops for peacekeeping. The corruption angle is interesting, as it pertains both to the corruption within the UN bureaucracy and the corrupt atmosphere the peacekeepers operate in and often succumb to. While South Asia has problems with corruption their armed forces are seen as more reliable and less corrupt than other government employees.

India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan are also not happy with the lack of volunteers from other major nations. The chief reasons for that are the same ones annoying the current peacekeepers (corruption and restrictive rules of engagement). In addition, the major military powers (with the exception of China and Russia) feel they already contribute quite a lot in the form of money to pay the peacekeepers. And the contributors are also upset at the lack of results.

Currently the UN is spending about $7.5 billion a year to keep about 100,000 peacekeepers in service. For the last decade annual peacekeeping spending and the number of peacekeepers in action has remained pretty much the same. It's actually a pretty cheap way of keeping some conflicts under control. The causes of the unrest may not be resolved by peacekeepers but at least the problem is contained and doesn't bother the rest of the world too much. This is an increasingly unpopular approach to peacekeeping, except in the UN bureaucracy. Many UN members would rather send peacekeepers to where they are not wanted (by the government, usually a bad one that is often the cause of the trouble in the first place) and prefer to emphasize keeping peacekeeper casualties down and the situation quiet.

The United States and India agree that one solution for all these problems is better training for the peacekeepers from countries who supply troops that are the least prepared for this often difficult duty.





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