When the United Nations peacekeeping forces face a violent conflict, as they did in South Sudan this week, odds are high that a South Asian soldier will be among the injured or killed.
That’s because Bangladesh, Pakistan and India, in order, are the top three countries supplying troops to the 93,368-strong peacekeeping force. Soldiers from these countries, together with Nepal, make up one-third of the total force. The other main contributors to the force are countries in Africa.
In marked contrast, the countries that foot the over $7 billion annual bill for the United Nations peacekeeping forces are overwhelmingly Western nations, led by the United States, Japan and Britain.
The division is rooted in history and economic necessity, defense analysts say.
Member states of the United Nations provide troops to the peacekeeping force on a voluntary basis, and the
governments of these states are reimbursed for each soldier they provide at the rate of $1,028 per soldier per month. In addition, countries get payments for the equipment they send, whether it is personnel carriers or tanks.
“The fact of the matter is, if you send forces for U.N. peacekeeping, you get a lot of revenues,” said Satish Mishra, a senior fellow specializing in politics and governance at the Observer Research Foundation in Mumbai.
India’s troops in the United Nations force are mostly from the 1.1 million-soldier Indian Army. The peacekeepers draw their usual army salary, plus additional payments from the Indian government that can more than double that salary.
The Indian government, meanwhile, receives payments from the United Nations in United States dollars, but pays soldiers in rupees, which helps increase foreign currency inflows.
For countries like India that are eager to secure a United Nations Security Council seat, sending troops is seen as a show of goodwill.
“Whether you call it peacekeeping or peacemaking, it all adds to India’s case for a permanent seat on the Security Council, as perhaps one of the strongest enforcers of the U.N. writ and a responsible state,” said Bharat Karnad, research professor in national security studies at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi.
Western nations are more wary of sending their troops to conflict-stricken areas that they don’t view as a crucial part of their foreign policy, while developing countries appear to be more willing to bear the human loss of life in these areas, other analysts said.
“There is a lesser emphasis in developing countries on the human cost of sending peacekeeping forces,” said Mr. Mishra. “But whenever developed countries such as the United States have sent troops to foreign countries, the deaths of soldiers have led to a lot of popular resentment against the government.”
At the same time, Western countries with seats in the United Nations Security Council may be pursuing their own agenda in a volatile area when they send in their own troops, said Neelam Deo, director of Gateway House, a research institution in Mumbai, and a former ambassador to Denmark and Côte d’Ivoire. Traditionally, “the Security Council member troops follow their own foreign policy agenda,” she said.
Still, the bifurcated setup has created some friction, defense experts said. “There is some discontent brewing, for the reasons that the third world countries put their soldiers in harm’s way” and Western countries are seen as not willing to do so, said Mr. Karnad . “Sometimes, as it happened in South Sudan, peacekeeping is a difficult business.”
Five Indian soldiers were killed on Tuesday while protecting civilians in South Sudan.
“About 30 peacekeepers were escorting a civilian convoy when they were ambushed by some 200 armed, unidentified men near the settlement of Gumuruk in Jonglei,” the United Nations said in a statement.
“A firefight erupted as the Indian peacekeepers tried to protect the civilians,” the statement said, and Indian peacekeepers “fought courageously.” The attack was “a deliberate targeting of the United Nations.”
The incident in South Sudan was “extremely tragic and unfortunate,” Ms. Deo said, but added that “such incidents are highly uncommon.” Generally, she said, sending troops to the United Nations peacekeeping forces allows India to “gain a lot of goodwill” in the countries where they are present, without much loss of life.