Inside the glass house: by Thalif Deen

5th November 2000

Third world soldiers dying for world peace

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NEW YORK— General George S. Patton, the flamboyant American commander in World War II, once remarked that "no bastard ever died fighting for his country". "He got the other poor bastard to die for HIS country."

Patton's sentiments, expressed with such remarkable force by George C. Scott in a 1970 Hollywood movie, seem to be reverberating through the chambers of the UN Security Council.

The five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council, namely the US, UK, France, China and Russia, have been quick to create peacekeeping missions where mostly Third World soldiers are dying, not for their country, but for world peace.

The five big powers who are holding back their soldiers from key UN peacekeeping missions seem to be saying, in effect: Let the poor Third World bastards die for the cause of world peace because our soldiers are not dispensable.

Ambassador Anwarul Karim Chowdhury of Bangladesh puts it bluntly: "You cannot allow only Third World soldiers to spill their blood in the cause of UN peacekeeping. The big powers should take their share too." But they are not.

Since 1948, about 1,654 UN soldiers, mostly from developing nations, have died in the line of duty: primarily in the Congo (250), in Lebanon (239), in the former Yugoslavia (211) and in Somalia (239).

Chowdhury has proposed that each of the five permament members, who are the only UN members armed with powers to declare war and peace, should be asked to provide five percent of the troops in every peacekeeping mission they help create. The remaining 75 percent, he says, can be constituted from troops from developing nations.

But the proposal for a peacekeeping quota for the five big powers will, in all probability, be shot down, even before it could take off.

At present, the total number of soldiers serving in 15 peacekeeping missions is about 37,940. The top 10 troop contributors are: India (4,507), Nigeria (3,439), Jordan (3,400), Bangladesh (2,362), Ghana (1,906), Australia (1,710), Pakistan (1,209), Kenya (1,197), Poland (1,077), and Nepal (1,037).

The only developed nation in the top 10 is Australia — primarily because of its political commitment to a peacekeeping force in its neighbourhood: the UN Mission in East Timor.

Of the five big powers in the Security Council, the US is providing only about 901 troops for peacekeeping operations, mostly civilian police and military observers for non-UN missions, the UK (561), France (490), Russia (302) and China (95).

As he looks at the numbers, even Secretary-General Kofi Annan is critical of the big powers, and also of most Western nations with well-equipped, well-trained armies who do not contribute troops to UN operations.

Annan says that member states in the Security Council with "significant military capacity", and who vote for UN peacekeeping missions, have to be prepared to back up those votes with troops.

"They can't leave us in the lurch if it is to be a viable peacekeeping mission. We need strong, viable military units and someone has got to contribute," he complains.

As most Western nations continue to distance themselves from African conflicts and UN peacekeeping missions, Jordan became the second Third World country to pull out of the troubled UN peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone.

The Jordanians honoured a threat they made last month: if Western European nations don't provide troops for the Sierra Leone mission, Jordan would withdraw its forces. And last week, it decided to withdraw all of its 1,830 troops.

Annan told reporters that Jordan's decision raised "a very serious question": "Can the Security Council adopt resolutions that require us to deploy troops, and those in the Council do nothing, particularly those major league countries with large armed forces?" Jordan's troop withdrawal came exactly a month after India decided to pull out its 3,000-strong contingent in Sierra Leone.

The Indian withdrawal was prompted by infighting between the Indians and the Nigerians who were accused of colluding with rebel forces in smuggling diamonds.

In an article titled "Pulling out of Skulduggery" published in the Calcutta Telegraph last month, a former Indian Foreign Secretary J.N. Dixit criticised India's "misplaced enthusiasm" to be part of UN peacekeeping operations.

"Our armed forces have enough concerns to deal with at home," said Dixit, who accused the UN of playing regional politics in peacekeeping missions.

"There is no need for Indian soldiers to die or be embarrassed when none of India's vital interests is involved."

The post-Cold War peacekeeping operations, he pointed out, have lost the characteristics of impartiality, strict adherence to the UN charter and the capacity to play a role rising above local and regional politics.

"The (UN) Secretariat has become subjected to strategic motivations of important world and regional powers and the narrower political and regional influence of countries in areas of crisis," he argued.

The lingering fear is that the examples set by India and Jordan may be followed by other developing nations sparking a manpower crisis for UN peacekeeping.

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