Warning that more reliance on stronger peacekeeping operations will not bring peace or protect peacekeepers in high-risk environments, India has urged the UN to scale up strategies for political resolution of conflicts in the face of mounting fatalities among its personnel.
“Peacekeepers cannot be substitutes for efforts to resolve conflict,” India’s Permanent Representative Syed Akbaruddin told the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations on Monday. “This requires sustained political engagement. Such engagement needs to be addressed by the UN leadership at all levels and not by the troops alone.”
Peacekeeping operations now deal with situations within a country, often involving non-state actors rather than conflicts between nations, he pointed out. “In such circumstances, it is often proposed that a more ‘robust’ UN peacekeeping approach can deliver better,” he said. “With little international investment in conflict resolution, this is tantamount to ‘arming without aiming’.”
Military capabilities and posture alone will not be enough to respond to high-risk environments, he said. “Implementation of ‘robust’ mandates is a much more complex task with serious inherent risks and less than certain outcomes, while possibly impacting the perceived impartiality of the UN.”
As historically the highest contributor of personnel to peacekeeping operations and currently having 6,697 under the UN’s blue flag, India has a special interest in ensuring the safety of peacekeepers at a time of growing attacks on them. “Tragically, the level of casualties among peacekeepers, in the last five years, is the highest in any five-year period since the UN began keeping the peace,” Akbaruddin said.
“As a country which has sacrificed perhaps the largest number of its nationals in support of international peace and security, we view this with concern.” India has suffered 163 fatalities since the peacekeeping operations began in 1948, the most by any country.
Between 2013 to 2017, at total of 594 peacekeepers of all nationalities have died in UN operations. Of them, 195 peacekeepers – seven of them Indian – were killed in violent actions.
While the lack of clarity of mandates, inadequate resources for peacekeepers and lack of focus on political solutions in dealing with conflict situations are acknowledged, Akbaruddin said, “a coherent approach to jointly address these continues to elude us, even as we tend to focus on concepts for enhancing efficiency, effecting savings, improving logistics, expanding availability of troops and their rapid deployment.”
General Assembly President Miroslav Lajcak said that there should be a “stronger focus” on conflict prevention and it should be approached as comprehensive action involving the entire UN, including peacekeeping, and not isolated in certain forums.
“Our focus is often on Special Political Missions, mediation teams, or the UN’s good offices,” he said. “And peacekeepers play a crucial role. They often work in support of political, or mediation processes. They have key relationships with national actors. They can help to flag early warning signs of conflict.”
“We need a stronger prevention focus throughout all missions,” he added. “This will mean ensuring that they can rapidly deploy, and adapt, in response to warning signs of conflict. It will mean developing tools for conflict mapping and analysis, including at the local-level. And it will mean strengthening capacity for prevention and mediation, across the board.”