Nepal-UN Relations & UNPKOS

UN’s Founding:

The establishment of the United Nations in June, 1945 is, in one sense the consequence of the horrors of World War II, which resulted in the significant loss of human lives and material. History is testimony to the fact that the world community had struggled to set up the League of Nations in the aftermath of World War I, in the early 1920s the purpose of which was to secure international peace and security. For understandable reasons i.e. the growing animosity between major powers created disunity and adversely impacted on the working of the newly-found international organization leading to the utter collapse of the League of Nations.

Following the untimely demise of the League of Nations, the world situation remained fragile and it even worsened as global economic depression brought about untold sufferings for the nations slowly paving the way for confrontation among the powerful countries. As mistrust among the nations heightened with growing resentment and feeling of injustice fueled by the painful memories of the defeated powers in the World War I, another devastating war (1939-1945) recurred. Paradoxically, though this war convinced then militarily stronger nations that an international organization needs to be founded based on universally-accepted norms and principles for maintaining world peace and security as well as for promoting socio-economic development to enhance global prosperity.

The political commitment of the so-called victorious nations of the World War II such as the U.S., U.K., France, and Russia was translated into action for creating a new international organization in the form of United Nations in 1945. These founding nations under the American leadership agreed in principle to play the roles of global policemen for the purpose of securing world peace. They also decided that some member countries of the UN would be treated as more than equal for the sake of shouldering their special responsibilities of maintaining international peace and security.

Whether this privilege provided only to five countries (China, France, Russia, U.K., and the U.S.) out of 193 members, commonly known as veto power, is really smoothening or impeding the functioning of the world body, in particular the UN Security Council, has not been incontestable issue especially viewed against the February 4, 2012 vote when a Security Council resolution on ending violence in Syria was vetoed by China and Russia blocking an action by the UN.

In this regard the commentary By Shashi Tharoor, India’s former State Minister for External Affairs, as carried by Foreign Affairs entitled “Why America Still Needs the UN” seems relevant when he said, “UN Security Council’s record has been mixed. It has acted unwisely at times and failed to act altogether at others”.

The UN is an indispensable global organization for a globalizing world as it is essential not only to maintain world peace but also to successfully cope with Problems Without Passports such as environmental degradation, contagious diseases, chronic starvation, human rights and human wrongs, mass illiteracy and mass displacement etc.

Nepal’s Membership of the UN:

After years of intense lobbying by the government, Nepal was granted membership by the United Nations in 1955 when the world organization had completed its first decade of its establishment. Truly speaking Nepal’s opening to the outside world started with her assumption of UN membership, which conferred the country a special position in terms of recognizing national sovereignty and territorial integrity.

How significant is international recognition to a particular nation which is acquired from membership of the UN is nowhere illustrated than in months of membership campaign launched in the recent months by the Palestinian Authority. It is an example to show how the veto-wielding and the permanent members of the UN Security Council exercise their overwhelming dominance over the membership decision. Indeed the threat of veto announced by the Obama administration in advance with regard to UN membership bid was decisive in killing the Palestinian Authority’s aspirations for becoming a full-fledged member of the United Nations.

More importantly, for Nepal, a least developed country but with geostrategic importance to world’s emerging powers as her immediate neighbors, the acquisition of the UN membership was vital. The UN with universal membership is meant to help create an ordered world in which the member states would overcome their vulnerabilities by embedding themselves in international institutions, where the use of force is subjected to the constraints of international law. UN’s sacrosanct principles such as “Sovereign Equality of Member States and Inadmissibility of Intervention in Internal Affairs” have been more appealing to Nepal.

Nepal-UN Relations:

Ever since Nepal joined as a full-fledged member of the United Nations in 1955, she has been steadfast in her commitment to the Principles and Purposes of the world organization. She is one of the very few member states whose constitution makes reference to UN Charter as the underlying guidelines in the conduct of the foreign relations of the country. Nepal’s uninterrupted participation in UN peacekeeping operations even during decade-old People’s War in the country and sending her troops to world’s notoriously-publicized conflicted zones at UN’s request reinforces this fact.

Nepal has always been guided by the fact the world organization can flourish only when all of its member states offer it the necessary support. As one of the responsible members of the multilateral organization, it has been playing an active role in her current capacity as the chairman of the group of the Least Developed Countries. In the past when she assumed the non-permanent membership of the UN Security Council in the late 1970s and 1980s, her performance was appreciated by the global community.

When it comes to shouldering the core responsibilities of establishing international peace and security, which the UN Charter assigns to the Security Council, Nepal’s contributions through her deepened and expanded participation in UN peacekeeping have received due commendation. Her membership of the Economic and Social Council in the early 2000s was crucial to enhancing Nepal’s international standing. Nepal has been persistently working to invoke the legitimate transit rights of the landlocked developing countries to ensure their unimpeded access to the sea at appropriate UN forum.

While acknowledging the recognition Nepal has been accorded by the international community in view of her past contributions, it may sound unfair to completely ignore the recent setbacks she was forced to suffer for myriad reasons. Nepal’s struggled transition to peace since the successful elections to a Constituent Assembly in 2008 has loomed large on our capacity to convince the world community about our abilities to fulfill stated commitments.

The United Mission in Nepal (UNMIN), which stayed in Nepal for almost four years with our consent for electoral assistance and to assist us transition to peace has now left the country even without peace process completed. This has not given a good message to the outside world. More worryingly there used to be a tug of war between the government of Nepal and the UNMIN whenever the deadline of mandate expired and the UN expected extension as its mission was incomplete.

The most immediate diplomatic impact of this trust deficit between Nepal and the UN due to stalemated peace process was visible in Nepal’s humiliating defeat in important elections at UN bodies, notably the prestigious post of the President of the UN General Assembly for the sixty-sixth session. Hopefully, Nepal’s peace process will end logically in the near future.

“Trust goes hand in hand with respect” is well articulated by Elizabeth C. Economy of the Council on Foreign Relations in her brilliant essay “Xi’s Tour Won’t Fix the U.S.-Chinese Trust Deficit” carried by Foreign Affairs (February 15, 2012). Had we been trustful practicing what we have been preaching, we would not have faced the challenges, which we are experiencing at the UN failing in one endeavor after another. Our unsuccessful lobbying to grab higher military positions in the Department of Peace-Keeping Operations (DPKO) either in New York or in field missions substantiates this.

Peacekeeping; UN’s Innovation

Not exactly provided for in the Charter, UN peacekeeping is a unique tool of international peace and security. It is UN’s novel concept, which is implemented with consensus, if not unanimity of the member states.

When its founding fathers conceptualized this idea, they believed that peacekeeping matters were not wholly based on Chapters VI and VII of the Charter of the United Nations. It is because the invocation of traditional peacekeeping i.e. keeping parties to conflict apart by helping to prevent the violation of ceasefire is not one of the suggested means of establishing peace as enumerated under Chapter VI. Peacekeeping, as understood in its original dimension, does not find space either under Chapter VII, which embodies provisions for the use of the military force to maintain peace.

Over the years since 1948 when United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) was deployed in the Middle East following the Arab-Israeli war, peacekeeping has undergone tremendous transformation in tune with the demands of present day conflict. Obviously, today’s peacekeeping is more robust in mandates and more challenging for the peacekeepers to keep peace. Resource constraints make missions further complicated.


UN Peacekeeping Then and Now:

As mentioned in the previous paragraphs UN peacekeeping before the Cold War’s end (1989) was confined to ensuring the ceasefire. The peacekeepers were then assigned to maintain peace which was consequent upon the agreement between the enemies. Such conflicts were between states such as the Arabs and the Israelis in the 1940s and in succeeding decades. The deployment of UN peacekeepers was always preceded by the conclusion of negotiations leading to a peace agreement. Judged from this standpoint traditional peacekeeping was comparatively easier to complete the mandates of the missions.

In marked contrast to the above post-Cold War UN peacekeeping operations have become complex and resultantly difficult to achieve the set goals of the deployed missions. Today’s conflicts are largely between ethnic and tribal groups and most of the times UN is constrained to perform the role of peacekeeper even when there is hardly any peace to keep. A majority of current missions in Africa fit in this category, which are larger in terms of peacekeeping personnel including police and the civilian components. Troublingly, such missions have been characterized by fatalities exacting a heavy price from the poor developing countries, which offer 77% of the peacekeepers as more resourceful and developed countries show hesitancy to participate in harm’s way like in Congo, Haiti etc.

Reinvigorated Debate on UN Peacekeeping:

Questions have arisen as follows:

Can UN peacekeeping be made to work at long last, or are such efforts doomed to failure?

Are international norms effective, or is raw military might the only thing that can stop the villainous Foday Sankos of the world?

More recently against the backdrop of the NATO-led UN-authorized military action against Libya and the Chinese and the Russian vetoes of a resolution on Syria  with apprehensions about state sovereignty, a compelling question has again been raised.

Isn’t international humanitarian intervention impractical?

Should we not look for other ways to balance both sovereign rights and global values?

The above questions have reasonably attracted the attention of academicians and political pundits ever since the mandates of UN peacekeeping operations have changed from the simple and uncontroversial roles the UN was required to play during the Cold War world of inter-state conflicts into today’s maelstrom of ethnic, tribal, and religious bloodshed.

In this connection Michael Hirsh through his thoughtful essay “Calling All-Regio Cops; Peacekeeping’s Hybrid Future” has argued in favor of a hybrid system dependent on both UN legitimation and local muscle. Considering complexities involved in current missions, this system is gaining ground as evidenced in the Sudan. UNAMID fits in this example

The much-quoted Brahimi report on UN peacekeeping issued in 2000 has been an eye opener as it has exposed inherent flaws in peacekeeping and consequently recommended strong prescriptions for strengthening UNPKOS. Buoyed by this report former President Clinton was enthusiastic in calling for a greater UN role in humanitarian intervention and incumbent U.S. President Obama toed his line last year in approving the Libyan model in which a regional organization like NATO was authorized to use military force with UN backing (UNSCR 1973). Whether post-intervention Libya is becoming any more peaceful is an open question. Mike Mazzar in his latest blog piece “Meet the New Imperialism” has said, “The new post-Gaddafi state, far from coalescing into meaningful institutions, is becoming even more fractured”.

Taking into account the post conflict situation in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, where durable peace  is no more in sight, Shashi Tharoor rightly observes that” The U.S. is better at winning wars than constructing peace”.

Emphasizing on realism about prospects of UN peacekeeping, Michael Hirsh believes that the U.S. as the world’s sole superpower, has a greater stake in a peaceful global system than any other country. Conforming to this Shashi Tharoor has quoted from National Security Strategy (NSS) of 2003, which says “No nation can build a safer, better world alone”. Similarly, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as mentioned by Joseph S. Nye, Jr. in his most recent book “The Future of Power” has said, “America cannot solve the most pressing problems on our own, and the world cannot solve them without America”.

Despite this reality at a time of increasing budgetary deficit and deepened global economic recession, some commentators have questioned if Washington will prove any more willing to take on a regular role as the UN’s subcontractor as it has done before as in Korea, Kuwait and to a lesser extent in Libya.

To lend credence to such anxieties one may recall some U.S. legislators in the recent past demanding reduction in America’s assessed annual contributions to UN peacekeeping budget, which is the highest among the membership i.e. 27% of total budget. The lawmakers have their own arguments to justify reduction demand but the fact is that UN peacekeeping is the cheapest option under the present circumstances compared to its alternative, which is war. UN spends less per year (approx. U.S. $8 billion) on peacekeeping globally than is spent on the budget of New York Fire and Police Department (NYPD).

Nepal’s Participation in UNPKOS and Its Future:

Nepal began its participation by sending a few military observers to United Nations Military Observation Group in Lebanon (UNMOGIL) in 1958. With a small exception in Lebanon (UNIFIL) of a short interruption, Nepal has been continuously dispatching military personnel, observers and troops as and when asked by the UN since then. Available statistics attest that by now she has already contributed about 90,000 military personnel who have been deployed as UN peacekeepers around the world. She was one of the largest contributors of troops to UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) until the force reduction took place in the early 2000s as warranted by the situation on the ground.

At the moment Nepal has peacekeepers deployed by the UN in 12 missions and until recently she had been ranked fifth in terms of troop contributions. By now Nepal has lost the lives of 62 peacekeepers on the line of UN duty. Notwithstanding the domestic preoccupation as in 1996-2006 when People’s War was waged, Nepal always responded positively to the call of the United Nations for troop contribution. The sheer dedication and professionalism displayed by our peacekeepers have earned accolade from the international community, which was publicly acknowledged during the 1988 special meeting organized at the UN Headquarters celebrating the winning of Nobel Peace Prize by the DPKO.

The UN peacekeeping is going to stay here for long as conflicts are emerging no less frequently and its alternative is too expensive. The UN had blessed an enterprise of military action from the coalition of the willing in 1991 against Saddam Hussain to oust him from Kuwait. The coalition-launched military action codenamed “Operation Desert Storm” which lasted for only two days cost the international community more than the entire UN peacekeeping budget of that year.

While our experience of UN peacekeeping stretching over more than a half century is in our advantage, Nepal’s financial limitations place a heavy burden on her abilities to send troops with required logistics especially transport vehicles and helicopters etc. In the changed context of some resourceful developed countries’ growing unwillingness to provide extra financial resources to fund the equipment needed in the field, Nepal is increasingly constrained to dispatch her uniformed troops on time, which impacts our participation at a time when competition from within the region is becoming fierce. In fact many of the first five largest contributors of troops to UN peacekeeping for the last few years have been the South Asian countries, including Nepal.

Tackling Challenges Ahead:

Enhancing our capabilities as peacekeepers through persistent training is a must because our professionalism is put to a severe test on a regular basis not only that we have increased competitors but also because we are asked to fulfill more complex and multidimensional mandates as required by new missions.

Language proficiency need not be confined to English only as most of the missions now in operation are spread over the Francophone countries demanding French-speaking skills. Our peacekeepers will be preferable to others if we can provide them opportunities to acquire such additional skills, which is doable without investing huge resources.

Nepal has had bitter experience of being left out from peacekeeping opportunities for lack of logistics. The UN has started giving priority to those Troop Contributing Countries (TCC) and Police Contributing Countries (PCC), which can be dispatched with necessary equipment accompanying them. Promptness in deployment is dependent on how quickly we can procure necessary equipment to be supplied to the missions. Therefore, gradually we should go for buying such equipment which the UN reimburses later. Contingent-Owned Equipment has been an enviable source of income for the troop contributors.

Last but not the least should be our focus on gender balance in composing the troops being sent on UN missions. The UN has over the years been insisting on gender balance not only in recruitment in secretariat but it also equally emphasizes that troop contributors send adequate number of female peacekeepers. Nepal government may have an edge over its competitors if it can prepare female peacekeepers for peacekeeping duties sooner rather than later. Understandably, our strength in this regard is limited at the moment, however, for foreseeable future Nepal can reap the benefits if it makes desirable progress in army integration when a large chunk of female warriors will have been the part of our armed force. The prospective female armed personnel, once integration process is completed, will have to be trained for years, but once they are provided necessary training, they might continue to be an essential component of our future peacekeeping troops.


The UN functions both as a stage and an actor. Its member states use it as a stage declaiming their differences and convergences and simultaneously the UN, as an actor, executes the policies made on its stage. As aptly remarked by Shashi Tharoor, the sins of omissions and commissions committed by individual governments are thus routinely blamed on the UN itself. Viewed from this prism the UN peacekeeping has faced criticism intermittently, the most noteworthy examples of which are 1995 Srebrenica massacre and 1994 Rwanda genocide. Nevertheless, UN peacekeeping is an extraordinary bargain and cost-effective. War can never substitute it.

The remarks by Dag Hammaerskjold, the second Secretary-General of the UN, who said “The UN was not created to take humanity to heaven but to save it from hell” will be no less contextual in this analysis.






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