Seeing Peacekeeping From Nepal’s Prism

The United Nations was founded in June 1945 in the aftermath of World War II primarily to avert another catastrophe of its kind. The horrifying memories of that war are unforgettable. Justifiably, the Charter of the UN has mentioned the safety of humanity from the scourge of war as one of the purposes of the world organization.

History testifies that the international community’s struggle to set up the League of Nations in the early 1920s, the purpose of which was to secure international peace and security, failed for understandable reasons. The disunity between then major powers adversely impacted on the working of the newly-found international organization leading to the latter’s premature death.

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, then victorious nations felt 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 victorious nations of the World War II such as the U.S., U.K., France, and Russia was translated into action in the shape of the United Nations in 1945. These founding nations under the American leadership have agreed in principle to play the roles of global policemen for securing world peace. They have also maneuvered in designing a mechanism that treats some members as more equal than others. The present composition of the UN Security Council providing veto powers to its five permanent members is the glaring example of this anomaly.

This privilege provided only to China, France, Russia, U.K., and the U.S. , which discriminates against the overwhelming majority of UN membership, becomes a crucial point of our discussion about UN peacekeeping later in this essay. This is because no peacekeeping missions can be deployed without being authorized by the UN Security Council.

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” is worth-quoting, he has 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 transboundary problems such as environmental degradation, contagious diseases, chronic starvation, human rights and human wrongs, mass illiteracy and mass displacement etc.

Such reality has been clearly echoed in Joseph E. Stiglitz’s essay “The Indispensable UN” which appears in Project Syndicate when he says, “Globalization has meant closer international integration, and that in turn has meant a greater need for collective action. The UN is the international institution created for that purpose, and as the world changes, the UN must change with it.”

Nepal Joins the UN:

After years of intense lobbying by the government, Nepal was granted membership of 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 independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.

How significant is international recognition to a particular nation, which is acquired from membership of a global institution like the UN is more illustratively demonstrated in years of statehood campaign launched by the Palestinian Authority. Their campaign has not yielded any concrete results is another question. UN’s membership is and will remain as attractive an incentive as ever for any entity to be recognized as a state internationally.

For Nepal, a least developed and a land-locked developing country but ironically carrying considerable geostrategic importance to world’s rising powers (one of them being an incumbent permanent member of the UN Security Council and another an aspirant for the big table) as her immediate neighbors, the acquisition of the UN membership was vital.

The UN enjoying 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 has been subjected to the constraints of international law. The Libyan intervention of March 2011, however, has alarmed small states like Nepal. Albeit, UN’s sacrosanct principles such as sovereign equality of Member States and inadmissibility of intervention in domestic affairs have been and will continue to be 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 provides that the UN Charter Principles will be the guidelines in the conduct of the foreign relations of the country. Nepal’s unhindered participation in UN peacekeeping missions even during decade-old (1996-2006) People’s War in the country and compliance with UN’s request to deploy her troops to the world’s notoriously-publicized conflicted zones illustrates her strict  adherence to the Charter Principles.

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. In this vein it would be appropriate to quote former Secretary-General of the UN, Kofi A. Annan, who once said, “The UN does not exist apart from its member states.” As one of the responsible members of the multilateral organization, Nepal had played a pro-active role during her chairmanship of the group of the Least Developed Countries. Little wonder that Nepal has been rewarded with a post of Under Secretary-General whose responsibility is to handle affairs related to LDCs (Least Developed Countries), LLDCs (Land-Locked Developing Countries) and SIDS, (Small Island Developing States). She has a history of successfully discharging the duties of the non-permanent member of the UN Security Council during the two terms (1969-70) and (1988-89). Then Nepal’s performance in the UN Security Council was highly applauded 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 longstanding and expanded participation in UN peacekeeping missions 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 forums.

In due recognition accorded by the international community to Nepal in view of her notable contributions, UN records reveal acclamation showering words of praise to Nepali peacekeepers, quite a number of whom have given up their lives to the cause of peace. Nepal’s agonizingly lengthened transition to peace has unfortunately loomed large on our persuasive power to convince the world community about our abilities to assume contributors’ obligations. The September 2012 report released by the Geneva-based Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, though rightly contested by the Government of Nepal, has given indications that alleged human rights violators would be barred from future participation in peacekeeping missions. We need to be seriously mulling over such warnings.

The United Mission in Nepal (UNMIN), which was invited in 2007 to Nepal for electoral assistance and help the country transit to peace was asked to leave even without peace process completed. This has not been a happy moment for us as Nepal has rendered valuable services through peacekeeping missions to establish peace in many trouble spots of the world.

“Trust goes hand in hand with respect” is well articulated by Elizabeth C. Economy of the Council on Foreign Relations in her classic essay “Xi’s Tour Won’t Fix the U.S.-Chinese Trust Deficit” carried by Foreign Affairs (February 15, 2012). This trust issue seems to have impacted on our recent chances to grab higher military positions in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) either in New York or in field missions in commensurate with Nepal’s remarkable and consistent contributions lends credence to this. Surprisingly, Nepal has not been offered the post of Force Commander of UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) despite her consistent participation in that mission since its deployment in 1978. Currently, 1018 troops from Nepal Army are serving as peacekeepers in that mission.

Peacekeeping; UN’s Invention

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. Joseph S. Nye says in his essay “Does the UN Still Matter?” that peacekeeping was invented by the second Secretary-General of the UN, Dag Hammerskjold, and Canadian Foreign Minister Lester Pearson after Britain and France invaded Egypt in the Suez crisis in 1956.

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 a sea change to conform to the demands of present day conflict. Undisputedly, today’s peacekeeping is more robust in mandates and more challenging for the peacekeepers to keep peace. Resource constraints and mandate gaps make current peacekeeping missions more complicated.

In this regard Anne-Marie Slaughter makes a critical remark writing for her essay “The UN’s Mandate Gap”. She has said, “Unfunded mandates- mean ordering results without providing the resources necessary to achieve them.” Elaborating on this she continues, “The mandate gap reflects the way the world has done business with the UN for decades-big promises, small pay outs, much scapegoating if the UN then fails.”

UN Peacekeeping Then and Now:

As preceding paragraphs show UN peacekeeping before the Cold War’s end (1989) was confined to ensuring the ceasefire agreements. 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 accomplish the mandates of the missions involving lesser costs.

In marked contrast to the traditional UN peacekeeping, missions now have become more complex, expensive and notably difficult to achieve the goals of the deployment. Today’s conflicts are largely between ethnic and tribal groups and majority of cases UN is constrained to perform the role of peacekeeper even when there is hardly any peace to keep.

Reinvigorating UN Peacekeeping:

At a time when the UN’s credibility is questioned against some failures in peacekeeping missions, in particular, in Rwanda and Srebrenica, analysts have raised a number of questions, the acceptable answers to which are not easily available.
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 be the only thing that can stop the villainous Foday Sankos of the world?

Against the backdrop of the NATO-led but UN-authorized military action against Libya in March 2011 and the series of the Chinese and the Russian vetoes of UN Security Council resolutions on Syria in 2012 with apprehensions about safeguarding state sovereignty, we are forced to deal with these questions.

Isn’t international humanitarian intervention impractical?

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

Regarding the possible role UN peacekeeping plays in securing global peace Richard N. Gardner through his essay “The Case for Practical Internationalism” provides a befitting answer to those who argue for military intervention to protect the American interests. Gardner has said, “Historical experience suggests that in some situations in some parts of the world, UN peacekeeping can serve the American interests better than the military intervention of American forces.”

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 rivalries.

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.  Similarly, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has been quoted by Joseph S. Nye, in his most recent book The Future of Power saying, “America cannot solve the most pressing problems on our own, and the world cannot solve them without America”.

Despite this reality as the U.S. government is facing increasing budgetary deficit, high unemployment and deepened global economic recession, some commentators have still doubted if Washington will prove any more willing to take on a regular role as the UN’s subcontractor as it did before as in Korea (1950-53), Kuwait (1990-91) and to a lesser extent in Libya (2011).

The clarion call made by some U.S. legislators in the recent past demanding reduction in America’s assessed annual contributions to UN peacekeeping budget gives a warning signal. Traditionally, the American government has been the largest donor to UN peacekeeping bearing 27% of the total budget. The fact is that UN peacekeeping is the cheapest option under the present circumstances compared to its alternative, which is war. The UN spends almost U.S. $8 billion per year on peacekeeping globally deploying more than 100000 peacekeepers. This is smaller than is spent annually on the budget of New York Police Department (NYPD).

Nepal’s Participation in UN Peacekeeping:

Nepal began its participation by sending a few military observers to United Nations Military Observation Group in Lebanon (UNMOGIL) in 1958. With an exception in Lebanon (UNIFIL) of a short interruption, Nepal has been continuously dispatching military personnel, observers, troops, civilian police and armed police as and when asked by the UN since then. Available statistics attest that by now she has already contributed more than 90,000 military and police 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. Her present contribution of 1018 troops to the UNIFIL (Status of Troop Contributions, September, 2012) is no less substantive.

Presently, Nepal has peacekeepers deployed in 12 UN missions i.e. MINURSO,MINUSTAH, MONUSCO,UNAMI,UNAMID,UNIFIL,UNISFA,UNMIL,UNMISS,UNMIT,UNOCO, and UNTSO. She has been ranked sixth in terms of troop contributions as per the UN statistics of September 2012. The total number of troops and police is 4651. No less than 62 proud and dutiful Nepali peacekeepers have sacrificed their lives on the line of UN duty.

Then domestic preoccupation of 1996-2006 People’s War was no barrier to Nepal’s compliance with 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 special meeting organized at the UN Headquarters, New York 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 as an alternative to peacekeeping. That military action, 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 with no annual budget being passed 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 reluctance 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 and outside is becoming tougher.

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 the government of Nepal 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 a credible source of income for the troop contributors.

Nepal has already deployed more than 90000 peacekeepers in different UN missions around the world. Thus it has considerable knowledge and expertise at its disposal. Nepal can bring peacekeepers who had been previously deployed and have them share their mission experience with prospective peacekeepers at the pre-deployment training. The experienced peacekeepers can shed light on the challenges and opportunities in various missions and how the prospective peacekeepers can be ready for their work.

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 can develop leverage 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. The prospective female armed personnel, once integration process is 100% 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 contingents.


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.

This is why Joseph S. Nye is quoted saying in his essay “Does the UN Still Matter”? “Rather than calling  the UN into question , States are likely to find that they need such a global institution, with its unique converging and legitimizing  powers.” There is no reason to dispute when Professor Nye says that “While the UN system is far from perfect, the world would be a poorer and more disorderly place without it.”

The UN peacekeeping is an extraordinary bargain and cost-effective. No military interventions can substitute it. Its indispensability has been established. Therefore, the wise counsel given by Joseph E. Stiglitz in strengthening the UN peacekeeping deserves serious consideration. He argues for setting up of a permanent peacekeeping fund to deny veto power to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council of deciding when, where, and how the UN acts. Maybe, it is opportune time to think over this novice proposal as peacekeeping missions are likely to increase in future.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Seeing Peacekeeping From Nepal’s Prism

  1. lkafle says:

    Reblogged this on lava kafle kathmandu nepal and commented:
    Add your thoughts here… (optional)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s