India doesn't get enough honour for its role in UN peacekeeping missions

Many unsung heroes have lost their lives in conflicts not of their making.

 |  4-minute read |   28-05-2016
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The International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers falls on May 29, a day when the world solemnly remembers the blue berets who have made the supreme sacrifice for the cause of world peace — there have been 3,471 such bravehearts by last count.

These bravehearts of different nationalities and cultures, donning different uniforms, were bound with a singular vision of dousing the fires in a land alien to them.

They were unsung heroes in conflicts not of their making, where the sanctity and territorial integrity of their own motherland were not at stake — and hence the anonymity of their departure.

unbd_052816104149.jpg Indian soldiers from the UN Peacekeeping mission in DR Congo. 


156 Indians have been among these unheralded, the largest sacrifice by any troop-contributing nation; as India pushes for restructuring the Security Council to make it more representative, it is time that its role in UN peacekeeping is revisited. Isn’t it ironical that uniformed personnel trained to kill, use their arms to maintain peace?

As Dag Hammarskjöld, the first UN Secretary General, succinctly put it, "Peacekeeping is not a job for soldiers, but only soldiers can do it." 

India, a founding member of the UN, has been in the vanguard of peacekeeping right from 1950 when it contributed medical personnel and troops to the UN Repatriation Commission in Korea. There has been no looking back since and more than 2,08,000 Indian troops have donned the blue beret over the years.

The Indian Army and the Air Force have been in the forefront and while the Army has participated in 49 missions since then, IAF contingents have won laurels in Somalia, Sierra Leone, Congo and the Sudan. In fact, Op Khukri, a joint air and ground mission launched in Sierra Leone in 2000 by contingents of the Indian Army and the IAF to free almost 250 UN troops held prisoner for months, is the stuff of legend and used as a model case study in UN training centres.

Is the loss of human lives and expense of material worth the effort? Does India gain any tangible or intangible benefits from its contribution in the world of power politics? In yesteryears, by the theory of international relations, a country would be regarded as a "power" based on its military capability; thus, the British Empire had its sea power and the Prussians their Army.


The modern day has seen an expansion of the concept of "power" to include soft power and an intelligent combination of the two, termed "smart" power. As American diplomat Chester Crocker put it, smart power "involves the strategic use of diplomacy, persuasion, capacity building, and the projection of power and influence in ways that are cost-effective and have political and social legitimacy." 

While the US has hard military power and soft technological power in abundance, it has not succeeded in combining it smartly so as to be "accepted" politically and socially as a benefactor in the comity of nations. The same possibly holds good for other western nations too.

India, on the other hand, lacks military power beyond a level but has an abundance of soft power capability. All these are in-built in a UN peacekeeping assignment and India’s active involvement, besides being an indicator of the nation’s altruistic intent, enhances its efforts to be accepted as an important player on the world stage.


Indian troops are model peacekeepers and accepted as being neutral in their handling of warring factions. Peacekeeping missions have generally been in ex-colonial states where the legacy of their shackled past fosters a feeling of solidarity with Indian peacekeepers and enables amicable solutions through a combination of humane understanding and display of subtle power.

This writer was in the IAF’s first UN mission to Sudan and was astonished to see how the mere mention of the word "Inde" or just the sight of the tricolour on the shirt sleeve patch would sweep away so many barriers. A number of Indian Force commanders of UN Missions and military advisers at UN Headquarters in New York have been integral elements of our international military diplomacy and embedded the Indian viewpoint in driving worldwide agenda.

Besides the goodwill that has been generated, Indian troops have got international field experience that is invaluable as they progress to positions of higher responsibility, both within the country and abroad.

Stalin had reportedly questioned the relevance of "soft power" by asking, "How many troops does the Pope have?" In the present world, "power" has moved beyond being a binary term, so amply exemplified by the blue berets trying to bring peace to troubled lands.

Indian jawans are leading the pack, living up to the national ethos of peace for everyone.

They deserve the world’s undiluted gratitude.

(Courtesy of Mail Today.)


AVM Manmohan Bahadur AVM Manmohan Bahadur @bahadurmanmohan

The writer is a retired Air Vice Marshal and is a Distinguished Fellow at the Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi.

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