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India and United Nations Peacekeeping Operations

January 26, 2014

By Lt Gen Satish Nambiar (Retd)

As one of the founding members of the UN, India’s contribution to the maintenance of international peace and security has been second to none. In no other field of activity has this been manifested more than in UN operations commencing with our participation in the operations in Korea in 1950. The operation in Korea, led by the USA, was a major military undertaking. India participated militarily with a medical unit and later provided a Custodian Force for the Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission. India also contributed significantly to the Indo-China Supervisory Commission deployed in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam from 1954 to 1970.

The use of armed military contingents was first authorised by the Security Council for deployment with the UN Emergency Force (UNEF 1) in the Gaza Strip and the Sinai after the Arab-Israeli war in 1956. From 15 November 1956 to 19 May 1967, eleven infantry battalions from India successively served with this force. The success of UNEF-1 led the Security Council to readily accept a request by the Congo in 1960 for intervention on attaining independence from Belgium. The UN accepted responsibility for ending secession and re-unifying the country. The rules of engagement were modified to cater for use of force in defence of the mandate, in carrying out humanitarian tasks, and in countering mercenaries. India’s contribution to this operation (ONUC) was not only substantial, but most vital. Between 14 July 1960 and 30 June 1964, two successive Indian brigades participated. 36 Indian personnel lost their lives in the operation, and 124 were wounded.

{The operations in Cyprus, launched in 1964, saw three Indian force commanders; Lieutenant General PS Gyani, General KS Thimayya, who died in harness on 18 December 1965, and Major General Diwan Prem Chand. Major General (later Lieutenant General) Prem Chand also distinguished himself as the force commander in the operations in Namibia in 1989, which oversaw that country’s transition to independence.}

With the increased commitment in peacekeeping assumed by the UN in the post Cold War era, India continued to provide commanders, armed military contingents, military observers, and staff officers, as also Indian Air Force attack and utility helicopters, to many of the UN missions deployed to keep the peace in various parts of the world. In Iran and Iraq in 1988/90 after the bloody conflict in the region; on the Iraqi-Kuwait border after the Gulf War in 1991; Angola in 1989/91, and again in 1995/99; Central America in 1990/92; El Salvador in 1991; Liberia in 1993; Rwanda in 1994/96; Sierra Leone in 1998/2001; Lebanon from 1998 to date; Ethiopia-Eritrea in 2001/2009; the Democratic Republic of the Congo from 1999 to date; Cote d’Ivoire from 2003 to date, Burundi in 2003/2006; Sudan/South Sudan from 2005 to date, and the Golan Heights from 2006 to date. India has also provided police personnel to a number of United Nations missions. As in Namibia, Western Sahara, Cambodia, Haiti, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Congo, Liberia (where it has created history by providing all-women formed police units that has drawn acclaim locally as well as internationally) and in Sudan/South Sudan. In so far as the former Yugoslavia was concerned, the Government of India had, at the request of the then UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali, deputed the author as the first Force Commander and Head of Mission, in which capacity I set up the operation (UNPROFOR) that comprised uniformed personnel from 36 countries, together with civil affairs and administrative personnel from many more (a total of over 28,000), and ran it from 03 March 1992 to 02 March 1993.

The current deployment of 7864 personnel as on 31 October 2013 reflects the commitment of troops, military observers and staff officers and civilian police from India in nine of the 15 current UN operations. (Which includes 4038 personnel with MONUSCO in the Congo, 2030 personnel with UNMISS in Southern Sudan, 895 military personnel with UNIFIL in Lebanon; and a contingent of 193 personnel with UNDOF in the Golan Heights. In addition, military observers and/or civilian police personnel are deployed with UNFICYP in Cyprus, UNOCI in Cote d’Ivoire, and MINUSTAH in Haiti).

India has provided eleven force commanders and five deputy commanders to date, and three military advisers at the Department of Peacekeeping Operations including the first one Major General I J Rikhye; later Lt Gen RS Mehta, and most recently, Lt Gen Guha. The country has also provided two Police Advisers at the UN HQ in Mr RS Rathore and Mrs Kiran Bedi.

India’s spontaneous and unreserved participation in UN peacekeeping operations over the years has been a clear demonstration of the country’s commitment to the objectives set out in the UN Charter. Not in terms of rhetoric and symbolism, but in real and practical terms, even to the extent of accepting casualties to personnel (about 150 fatalities to date). This commitment has been acknowledged by the international community, successive Secretaries General and the United Nations Secretariat. But even more significantly, the effectiveness of such participation and commitment to United Nations peacekeeping efforts has drawn respect and praise from fellow professionals of other countries and many others that have served jointly with our commanders, observers, police monitors and contingents, in various parts of the world. Hence, the image of the Indian forces in the international arena is that of highly competent and well-trained professionals.

In preparing ourselves for continued participation in United Nations peacekeeping operations, it would be appropriate to take stock of the changes that have taken place in the environment in which such operations are being increasingly mounted in recent years, and the manner in which they are being executed and take into account the radical changes in the nature of the peacekeeping commitment. UN peacekeepers are increasingly being sent to regions where civil-war type situations prevail; where there are no agreements, or if there are, these are rather tenuous, or broken without compunction; where the consent or cooperation of the belligerent parties cannot be relied upon; where constitutional authority does not exist in many cases, or if it does, has limited authority. In such situations, today’s peacekeepers are not only required to keep the warring parties apart to the extent they can, but are increasingly called upon to safeguard humanitarian relief operations, monitor human rights violations, assist in mine clearance, monitor state boundaries or borders, provide civilian police support, assist in rebuilding logistics infra-structure like roads, railways, bridges, and to support electoral processes. In much of this the Indian Armed Forces have practical experience based on the conduct of counter insurgency operations in some parts of our own country and thus have a marked advantage over most other forces from other parts of the world. This was more than amply demonstrated by the performance of our contingents in Cambodia, Somalia, Mozambique, Angola, Rwanda and Sierra Leone. And continues to be demonstrated by the contingents deployed in the Congo, South Sudan, and in Lebanon.

It was therefore most appropriate that in order to exploit our expertise and experience in this arena, a Centre for United Nations Peacekeeping was set up in September 2000 under the aegis of the United Service Institution of India in New Delhi, with the support of the Ministry of External Affairs of the Government of India. This Centre besides overseeing the training of contingents earmarked for peacekeeping operations, has undertaken conduct of training courses for our sub-unit commanders, military observers, officers earmarked for deputation on staff appointments, and police personnel. These courses, now formally endorsed by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations at UN HQ, are also being attended by officers from a number of friendly foreign countries. In addition, the Centre conducts national and international seminars and conferences on the subject of peacekeeping. As it matures, the Centre will also be a repository of our experiences in United Nations peacekeeping.

(Awarded Padma Bhushan by the President of India on the occasion of Republic Day 2009 for his contributions to National Security Affairs, Lt Gen Satish Nambiar (Retd) is currently a ‘Distinguished Fellow’ at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi and can be reached at

(This is special article commissioned by External Publicity Division of Ministry of External Affairs on the occasion of 65th Republic Day)


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