Nepal’s Participation In UN Peacekeeping

Nepal has been taking part in UN peacekeeping missions since three years after it became a member of the UN, and has contributed numerous peacekeepers in multiple missions. Nepal commemorated 50 years of participation in UN peace support operations in 2008 and was the fourth largest troop contributor to UN peacekeeping missions in 2004 and fifth largest in 2009. [1] Nepal considers its contribution to UN peacekeeping operations as a tool for implementing Nepalese foreign policy, which is guided by the principles of UN Charter. [2]

Historically, Nepal’s shift towards internalization was an effort to pursue foreign policy goals. The Nepalese Army’s peacekeeping participation was part and parcel of that effort. The UN has provided an important forum for smaller countries like Nepal to pursue its national interests and exercise foreign policy with dignity and sovereignty. [3] It has also provided small countries with moral and physical security from aggression, interference, and encroachment. [4]

Nepal’s major engagement in UN peacekeeping operations came during the second democratic period, 1990-2005. Nepal started sending troops under the provision of Chapter VII of UN Charter, when its troops participated in peace enforcement mission in Somalia in 1993. The Nepalese Army (NA) acquired some experience and professionalism by operating with other professional armies. Taking part in UN peacekeeping missions is also an opportunity to be operational in the field. [5] Before its involvement in counterinsurgency operations in Nepal in 2001, the NA had a very few opportunities to deploy its soldiers in the field to hone their skills. In addition, working with civilians during peacekeeping missions has considerably altered its approach to deal with different problems.

However, from 1990 through the end of 2000 was a decade characterized by policy inconsistencies between the military’s internationalism and the government’s internal orientation. The NA was solely focused on its international peacekeeping mission, while the political parties were entangled in domestic politics. There was a clear gap between the state’s approach and the functioning of one of the instrument of national power, the military. At the strategic level, Nepal lacked a coherent policy that would allow it to institutionalize the experience gained in international missions. Even after political change of 2005, this trend seems unceasing. My effort in this paper would be to analyze this divergence in Nepal. Before dwell upon the core issue, I attempt to give a brief account of the Nepalese peacekeeping participation in different political scenarios.

Nepalese Participation in UN Peacekeeping Missions in Different Periods

After becoming a member of the UN in 1955, Nepal participated in the 1958 peacekeeping mission in Lebanon, UNOGIL. Nepal has since contributed to UN missions in the Middle East, Africa, Europe and the Caribbean. The first Nepalese battalion-sized contingent, the Purano Gorakh Battalion, was deployed in Egypt with UNEF II in 1974. Throughout the whole Panchayat period, the NA participated in six different peacekeeping missions. [6] Nepalese peacekeepers have since made major contributions. There was a surge in NA participation in peacekeeping missions after the establishment of multiparty democracy and constitutional monarchy in 1990. [7] The establishment of a multiparty democratic system in Nepal was a result of the worldwide third wave of democratization. Other parts of the world saw similar political agitation, conflict and transformation. During this period, the majority of NA troops were deployed in peace enforcement and multidimensional peacekeeping operations in which internal armed conflicts constituted the major problems. When the Maoists launched an armed struggle against the government, the NA faced a challenge to continue participating in peacekeeping missions. However, with the gradual increase in the size of the NA after its involvement in counterinsurgency operations, participation in peacekeeping operations was no longer hindered.

Nepal has taken part in peacekeeping missions in various conflict zones, and some of the NA’s high ranking officers have filled key appointments in peacekeeping missions. Not only various force commanders and high-ranking officials who directly monitor and supervise international peacekeeping in the field say that the NA’s mission performance is commendable, but also UN Secretary General has praised Nepalese peacekeepers. [8] Its peacekeeping contributions allowed Nepal to become an organizational committee member of the UN Peace Building Commission for 2008/2009 in the category of troop-contributing countries. [9]

As of May 2010, Nepal has contributed 76,610 troops in 35 missions around the globe, and at present, the NA has deployed more than 4,420 peacekeepers in 12 different missions in the capacity of military observers, military liaison officers, staff officers in mission headquarters, and as contingent members. The government of Nepal has signed to make 5,000 troops available, as and when requested, to the UN Standby Arrangement System (UNSAS). [10]

There has been no change in the trend of Nepalese peacekeeping participation since its first involvement. However, Nepal faces some challenges in peacekeeping. Apart from some logistical and management difficulties, allegations of human rights violations are also causing some problems in recent years. [11] Despite these problems, peacekeeping participation has been continuing. The interim government led by the Nepali Congress party, the Maoist-led government, and the CPN (UML) government all emphasized and praised the Nepal’s peacekeeping participation wholeheartedly.

Most NA members have participated in a UN peacekeeping mission at least once in their military career. After serving for a few years in the army, almost all NA officers participate in UN peacekeeping missions more than once. Participating in UN peacekeeping is an opportunity for professional enhancement for many Nepalese soldiers. Apart from gaining experience, Nepalese Army personnel also receive monetary benefits that help raise their living standards and keep them motivated during peacekeeping activities and in their own country. The UN allowance is four to eight times higher than a standard salary in Nepal. At the institutional level, economic benefits from peacekeeping have become an important source for the welfare fund. At national level it has significantly contributed to national economy and foreign currency deposit. This shows that peacekeeping missions have become the NA’s one of the major roles. [12] The Nepalese Army’s uninterrupted participation in peacekeeping missions during two major political revolutions in 1990 and 2006 and during its active involvement in counterinsurgency operations indicate that the NA has been transforming into a “peacekeeper” military as described by Paul Shemella. [13]

In its many years of UN peacekeeping missions, Nepal has undergone through various experiences and evolution processes. The concept of peacekeeping missions emerged from the concept of collective security founded in the concept of collective defense that seeks to form alliances against any state which commits an act of aggression. During the Cold War, peacekeeping was limited to interposing troops between belligerent parties, supervising and verifying cease-fires, and observing, monitoring, and reporting. Peacekeeping duties were limited to maintaining the status quo, and emphasis was given on impartiality and minimum use of the force, in which neutral countries like Nepal, rather than the permanent members of the UN Security Council, played a crucial role. [14] These missions were mandated by Chapter VI of UN charter. Nepal contributed peacekeepers to missions under Chapter VI. The mere presence of blue helmets was enough to restrain the conflicting parties from further hostilities. Non-enforcement was the norm of traditional peacekeeping. Parties were deterred from relying on force; deployment of peacekeepers began after fighting halted; peacekeepers used to create buffers without seizing territory; and rather than taking territory, peacekeepers aimed to restore order or defend the territory. During those days national contingents did not have to make their own logistical arrangements, as the Wet Lease provision provided everything from toilet paper to tanks. Such arrangements made UN peacekeeping participation less challenging to developing countries like Nepal. Government and armed forces’ peacekeeping responsibilities were limited to making political or operational decisions to participate in particular missions.

The nature of conflict changed with the end of the Cold War, requiring a new approach to peacekeeping missions and the advent of the second and third generations of peacekeeping missions. [15] The new multidimensional peacekeeping operations focused on facilitating political processes; creating a secure and stable environment and strengthening state security apparatus; and providing a framework for ensuring that all UN and other actors pursue their activities with close civil and military cooperation as the key to success. Although Nepal participates in most of the multidimensional peacekeeping missions, the lack of civilian participation in the Nepalese Army’s peacekeeping efforts has impeded the most needed changes in the present context of multi-dimensional peacekeeping efforts.

The government treats Nepalese peacekeeping participation as the sole prerogative of the NA, showing a lack of enthusiasm to coordinate and supervise these activities. The Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Foreign Affairs have not been active enough in managing peacekeeping efforts. The process of selecting, training, equipping, projecting and maintaining peacekeepers in conflict zones has not been very effective in the changing context. [16] This is one of the reasons why, despite long and successful involvement in international missions and interactions with other professional armed forces, the NA could not become as efficient as it should have been. The inability to bring prompt synergic effect of peacekeeping and diplomatic efforts on the recent allegation of cholera outbreak in Haiti may have long term implications on Nepalese peacekeeping. These problems can cause a great setback in peacekeeping efforts by tarnishing the image of Nepal and the NA.

The inability to demonstrate the desirable competence of civilian and military institutions has resulted in inadequate performances in diplomatic as well as operational aspects of peacekeeping. [17] Also, lacking a symbiotic relationship between the military and civilians with regard to peacekeeping involvement, foreign policy and security, Nepal has not been able to achieve maximum output.

Foreign Policy Aspects of the Nepalese Peacekeeping

The Interim Constitution of Nepal (2007) states, “the Foreign Policy of Nepal shall be guided by the principles of UN Charter, nonalignment, the Panchasheel, International law and the norms of world peace.” [18] The previous Nepalese constitution, the Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal (1990), also states that the UN Charter shall be one of the five guiding principles of Nepalese foreign policy. [19] The Ministry of Foreign Affairs claims that Nepal has consistently supported UN efforts to maintain peace and security by its continued participation in the UN. [20]

The first democratic period from 1950 through 1960 was a time of political upheaval and transformation in Nepal. This was also the period of establishing national identity and preserving national integrity and sovereignty. The political parties and leaders considered the UN to be the protector and the guarantor of national identity, integrity, independence and sovereignty. [21] Thus, the decision to participate in UN peacekeeping missions in 1958 was a crucial one, a watershed moment in Nepalese foreign policy.

When Nepal sought UN membership in 1949, the Soviet Union raised the question of Nepalese sovereignty. Nonetheless, Nepal became a UN member in 1955. [22] The fluid domestic, regional and international political situation made Nepal’s survival as a nation state of primary importance during 1950s and 1960s. In an address to the 15th Session of the UN General Assembly, Prime Minister Bisheswar Prasad Koirala said:

The foreign policy of Nepal is wholly inspired by the purposes and principles of UN. We regard UN not only as a bulwark of our independence and security, but also as the protector of our rights and freedomaˆ¦We believe in the independent exercise of our judgment in considering international issuesaˆ¦While we welcome and are grateful for the help that is being given to us by friendly governments-those of India, the United States, China, the USSR, the United Kingdom and others-as well as by UN, we do not want any country to tell us how we should think, or how we should conduct our internal affairs. [23]

After the Rana rule and until 1960, the various governments in Nepal had different foreign policy preferences. [24] But the king wanted to have a balanced relationship between the two giant neighbors and to maintain the sovereignty of Nepal. While the king was searching for opportunities, he found that participating in international peacekeeping missions under the aegis of the UN was the best way to retain sovereignty and national independence.

From 1961 through 1971, King Mahendra played a key role in shaping and implementing foreign policy, seeking to achieve three main objectives: maximization, diversification and mobilization. He first tried to expand the playing field of foreign policy by exploiting the preferences and the clash of interests between India, China and other major powers. Then he sought to go beyond a limited reliance on a few resources. Finally, he utilized Nepal’s active participation in international forums like UN and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) to pressure and mobilize regional and international powers in Nepal’s favor. [25]

To utilize peacekeeping participation as a tool to protect Nepal’s sovereignty, the king dovetailed the army’s peacekeeping efforts with country’s foreign policy objectives, adopting an internationalist approach to foreign policy. [26] This internationalist approach produced a synergic outcome by effectively utilizing the NA’s peacekeeping participation to search for Nepal’s space in international forums. The internationalism came to fruition when Nepal was chosen for important responsibilities in the UN. For instance, Nepal led the Commission of Investigation into the Conditions and Circumstances resulting in the tragic death of then Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold, who was killed in a plane crash at Ndola in Lusaka in 1961. [27] The internationalist approach also helped Nepal to become a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in 1969-70 and in 1988-89 by an overwhelming majority. Nepal’s Zone of Peace Proposal, based on Panchasheel, was a reflection of Nepal’s aspiration to achieve and maintain its sovereignty, integrity and independence without interference from neighboring countries. [28] A total of 116 countries supported the proposal, including four permanent members of the UN Security Council. Additionally, this approach helped Nepal to project its image to the international community and to maintain its sovereignty, independence and national integrity.

The outcome of the internationalist approach during 1970s and 1980s was positive and significant. [29] But the democratic government formed after 1990 could not formulate any new policy or vision for employing the army in peacekeeping missions, nor did it wholeheartedly continue existing policies. Thus the internationalist approach became dormant. The NA’s profound contribution to UN peacekeeping missions could not be fully utilized to support foreign policy objectives and national interests. The Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Foreign Affairs also kept a low profile. Without a dedicated defense minister and without the Ministry playing an effective role in peacekeeping activities, peacekeeping remained solely the army’s private domain.

Since political attention to the internationalist approach was not sufficient, the NA’s participation in UN peacekeeping missions continued without meaningful political-diplomatic congruity. [30] This resulted in diplomatic setbacks. For instance, by eliminating Nepal, Indonesia was elected as the UN Security Council’s non-permanent member for a two years term starting in January 2007. [31] There could be many reasons for this failure including the weakening of Nepali diplomacy on various fronts. However, some posit that it also points to the ineffectiveness of recent Nepalese peacekeeping initiatives. Chiran Thapa writes, “Despite Nepal’s contribution to numerous UN led peace operations, the rejection of Nepal’s candidacy by an overwhelming majority at the General Assembly clearly suggests that the international community deems Nepal as less capable of serving global security interests.” [32] In the face of Nepal’s widely lauded participation in peacekeeping, why Nepal is “less capable” in international forums is a serious issue.

Conclusion

Over fifty years, the NA’s participation in UN peacekeeping has been remarkable. Although Nepal’s first democratic period (1950-1960) was full of chaos, the political forces in the country realized the necessity of taking an internationalist approach. Therefore, this period was a watershed in Nepal’s peacekeeping participation as well as its approach to foreign policy. Although an authoritative regime, the Panchayat period was an extension and consolidation of the same policies with enhanced participation. The positive outcome of the peacekeeping effort was seen during the 1970s and 1980s. After the reestablishment of democracy in 1990, Nepalese peacekeeping efforts increased tremendously, but foreign policy did not go along the peacekeeping contribution. The democratic forces could not fill in the authoritative vacuum created by the political change between the two instruments of national power, military and diplomacy. Despite some shortcomings, Nepal’s performance in peacekeeping missions has been very successful and widely acclaimed. Nepal could have benefitted highly, both diplomatically and politically, but did not.

Nepal’s peacekeeping participation is being continued in the same pace even after the establishment of republic system. Despite many political ups and downs and changes in political system, there is no difference in opinion in Nepal about its participation in peacekeeping operations. This clearly indicates that there is a consensus among the Nepalese political parties that peacekeeping participation contributes to Nepal’s vital interests. Therefore, the time has come to reassess the gap between the Nepalese peacekeeping participation and foreign policy goal and rectify existing inconsistencies and digressions before it becomes too late.