Peacekeeping: Not Enough of the Best Peacekeepers

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April 28, 2007: Some 40 percent of UN peacekeeping troops come from South Asia, and the UN wishes it could get more. Currently India, Pakistan and Bangladesh each contribute about 10,000 troops to UN peacekeeping efforts. Nepal, a much smaller nation, provides a few thousand, and is, in proportion to its population, making a much larger contribution. The South Asian troops are noted for their discipline and skill in combat, and talent for the less violent aspects of peacekeeping.

Each peacekeeper costs the UN about $51,000 a year. The money comes from the wealthier countries, which the UN solicits to pay for these operations. Most of the troops come from less wealthy nations, where the troops are happy to serve for about a thousand dollars a month. This is usually much more than the troops normally make. There's also bonuses like new equipment they will likely get, again, paid for by wealthier countries. The troops also get to travel. OK, not to a tourist spot, but usually to an exotic, and somewhat dangerous, one. The UN usually provides better living conditions than the troops get at home.

The wealthier nations don't like to send their own troops, because such missions are not politically popular. Sometimes they do anyway, but the politicians pay the price, and often pull the plug on the effort if it causes too much negative feedback from the voters. But for the South Asian nations, the peacekeeping is a source of national pride. Even the losses (123 Indians, 95 Pakistanis, 80 Bangladeshis and 56 Nepalis killed so far) do not discourage the folks back home, but simply reinforce the honorable and courageous nature of the service.

The South Asians troops are also exceptional in that they are intensively trained for peacekeeping, as well as combat tasks. This is not the case with most nations providing peacekeepers. For these less-prepared troops, the UN then must try and provide some on-the-job training, which doesn't always take. The United States has tried to help by sending trainers to prepare troops for peacekeeping duty. But you never have to worry about the South Asian troops. They are always ready. One reason for that is a competitive spirit. The three nations have mutual antagonisms, and sporting rivalries (especially cricket), so none of them wants to be accused of making a poor showing while on peacekeeping duty.

Thus UN peacekeeping has had a positive impact on the nations sending the troops. For career soldiers, one or more tours of peacekeeping duty is seen as essential for future promotion prospects. For the UN, South Asia has become a major source of experienced officials for civilian positions in the peacekeeping bureaucracy. Thus is should come as no surprise when more and more South Asians show up as peacekeepers, and those supervising the peacekeeping operations themselves.

 


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