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Speech by Minister of State for External Affairs M.J. Akbar at the Inauguration of UN Peace Keeping Course for African Partners (UNPCAP-I)

July 25, 2016

Excellency Ambassadors and High Commissioners from the African Union
Vice Chief of Army Staff Lt Gen M.M.S. Rai,
Ambassador Richard Verma
UN Coordinator for India Yuri Afanasiev

Distinguished Guests,


It is a pleasure for me to be present here today evening for the inaugural session of the first UN Peace Keeping Course for African Partners (UNPCAP-I).

This course, the first of a series, is a unique training collaboration between India, Africa and the United States. This would not have been possible without the hard work by officials from the Centre for UN Peace Keeping New Delhi, the Global Peace Operations Initiative (GOPOI) program of the US Government, and Defence Ministry officials from Ghana, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Tanzania Uganda, Zambia and the African Union whose representatives are participating in the course.

India’s close ties with Africa are well known, our friendship and cooperation deepens every day. We are ‘neighbours’ across an ocean. We have together fought colonialism and apartheid; today we are working with even greater passion and commitment to liberate our peoples from a punishing legacy of poverty. Prosperity is our common purpose. It was a privilege for India to host all 54 members of the AU last October at the India-Africa Forum, which marked another major stride in this effort.

It has always been our firm conviction that a secure and prosperous African Continent holds the key to a safer, developed and prosperous international order.

Excellencies,

In 1945, the world’s statesmen, men and women who had endured the relentless and unimaginable horrors of the Second World War, a time that witnessed a collapse of moral order as much as political order, met to establish the United Nations - "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”. Such a powerful and historic vision could not be sustained in its entirety, but it did succeed substantially. We have expanded that commitment to cover conflict zones on smaller scales. For several years, the United Nations has been sending out military personnel under its command as ‘peacekeepers’. Over the years the nature of this "peacekeeping” has also changed. What started out as a tool to prevent inter-state wars, has now also been deployed to solve intra-state conflicts, often in environments that also involve terrorism and criminal networks.

The present generation of men and women who serve in uniform under UN command confront security challenges that are far more dangerous and complicated than faced by their immediate predecessors. Experience has taught us that the effectiveness of UN "peace keepers” depends critically on the consent that exists for their presence on the ground. It also depends on the perception that UN peacekeepers will always act in an impartial and neutral manner; they will not use military force to change the "facts on the ground” in favour of one or the other but, if attacked, will respond with the full collective force of the international community.

At the same time, our resolve has extended: peacekeeping makes little sense if we fail to protect civilians from the "untold sorrows” of conflict. After the historic tragedy in Rwanda in 1994 we promised ourselves "never again”. The determination to make good on this promise has only grown with the passage of time. But the bitter lessons of South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and other UN Missions also teach us that this is a path fraught with risk and complexity. There is also the real possibility of UN civilian and military personnel being specifically targeted.

As an international community we need to be frank and honest in acknowledging these complexities and continue our efforts to resolve contradictions and minimize the dangers in dilemma.

As a leading Troop Contributing Country (TCC), India has searched for practical ideas that will help bridge the gap between our promise of "never again” and levels of effectiveness.

Our answer lies in the way we train our peace keepers. Better training for UN peace keepers will almost always ensure better outcomes, no matter how difficult or complex the peace operation. Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced at the Peace Keeping Summit last September at the United Nations, and also at the India Africa Forum last October, that India will do whatever it can to share its peace keeping experience with others and in particular with countries in Africa. The CUNPK [Centre for UN Peacekeeping] was established for this purpose. Today’s unique training collaboration between India, Africa and the United States mirrors this commitment.

As a country that has participated in close to 50 peacekeeping operations, and which values this opportunity to serve, we believe there is need for greater consultation between the Security Council and Troop Contributing Countries. This is no longer an option; it is an urgent imperative. Troop Contributing Countries should and must be consulted, not just because Article 44 of the UN Charter says so, but because TCCs with their commanders and personnel deployed on the ground can provide valuable inputs to the Security Council when it draws up mandates, or when it translates mandates into implementable peacekeeping objectives.

It is also time to pay more attention to the manner in which we draw up UN Security Council mandates. Mandates must recognize ground realities. A Peacekeeping Mission’s strategic goals must be laid down in clear and precise terms, and only after taking realistic stock of the resources should we make a commitment. Overly ambitious or robust mandates, without the required diplomatic preparation or necessary resources, are a sure recipe for failure, which, in turn, will undermine the UN’s long term credibility.

Credibility is the core necessity; take it away and any institution, however large, however well-intentioned, becomes nothing more than a skeleton without a living heartbeat. The United Nations represents one of the great concepts of human history. The world needs it today as much as it did in 1945. It is our historic responsibility to keep the UN safe and strong for future generations. We have gathered here today to do precisely that. When we serve today with courage and integrity, we preserve our tomorrows.

Thank you.

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