India- Africa Strategic Dialogue: Session II - UN Peacekeeping and Prospects of Conflict Resolution
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  • The second session was chaired by Amb. (Retd.) H.H.S. Viswanathan. The speakers were Mr. Festus K. Aubyn and Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Satish Nambiar. The session raised important issues such as preventive diplomacy, collaboration between the UN and regional bodies for peacekeeping and the question of state sovereignty.

    Viswanathan opened the session by highlighting some key points on peacekeeping in Africa. He noted that with the increase in intra-state conflicts in Africa in the post-Cold War era (between 1990 and 1997, 14 out of 16 conflicts in Africa were intra-state conflicts), the UN Peacekeeping Operations (PKOs) had to specialise to deal with such conflicts. The UN is suppose to act as an impartial broker where the consent of the host state becomes essential. However, it is unfortunate that when the UN completes its mandate, the situation reverts to square one and conflict persists. In such cases, follow-up action to sustain the peacekeeping efforts becomes essential. In this regard, he stressed on the need to ensure quick rehabilitation and reconstruction based on pardon and integration. India’s contribution to peacekeeping has been universally acclaimed as one of the best based on which the country makes a strong bid for permanent membership in the UN Security Council. He also added that the need to deal with every conflict in Africa on the basis of sui generis arises because success stories need not be necessarily replicable.

    The first speaker of the session, Festus K. Aubyn, remarked that the UN’s mandate in African countries has over-stretched its capacity and resources. However, with increased complexities and conflicts in Africa, the number of UN peacekeepers has also doubled. Still, such a scenario demands collaboration between the UN and the regional organisations of Africa, such as, the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). According to Aubyn, UN’s PKOs have seen mixed results in the continent. While cases like Liberia have been success stories, Rwanda and Somalia reveal the weaknesses of such operations. After 1993, UN was reluctant to venture into African conflicts as it was constrained in terms of logistics, capacity-building and funds. The complex and multi-faceted nature of African conflicts have thus proved to be a difficult terrain for the UN peacekeepers. These challenges prompted the much-needed cooperation between the UN and the regional bodies. Aubyn also pointed out that the African problems can be resolved only through African solutions. The Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and the ECOWAS have taken up the responsibility of conflict management, conflict resolution and peacekeeping in Africa. In 1999, the role of the UN in Africa was re-examined. The Brahimi Report (2000) made an assessment of the UN PKOs and called for more effective and robust missions in the future. Aubyn takes two cases, Liberia and Darfur, to analyse the effectiveness of the efforts of collaboration between the UN and the regional bodies. In both the cases, the role of the regional organisations, such as, the ECOWAS and the African Union (AU ) have paved the way for a larger UN presence in the countries and has thus proved successful.

    However, there are various constraints like funds, capacity, and the lack of political will that hinders PKOs. Aubyn stressed that it is necessary to ensure that the mission mandate is clear, coherent, flexible and sensitive to the security situation of the conflict. A shared vision between the UN and the regional bodies would ensure division of labour and effective use of resources. He stressed on the need for a more formalised system to deal with the sub-regional bodies. It was also suggested that countries like India and China could help these regional bodies by providing assistance in capacity-building and in creating African security force architecture. He concluded by stating that since the UN lacks the capacity, resources and funds to carry out a mission all by itself, the international community could contribute to peacekeeping by complementing the regional bodies rather than supplementing their efforts.

    The second speaker, Satish Nambiar, raised a number of issues that confronts UN PKOs today. He contended that till the late 1990s, since most of the UN’s funding for peacekeeping was directed towards Europe, Africa was neglected. He also criticised the ongoing funding for redundant and out-dated UN operations in various parts of the world. The withdrawal of the Western world from PKOs and insufficient funds demonstrate a serious deficiency in UN peacekeeping missions. India, for its part, has been a major contributor to peacekeeping and it was also the first country to send an all-women contingent to Liberia. Peacekeeping commitment has wider implications for stakeholders in terms of decision-making and allocation of resources. He contended that the international community has to change the ‘culture of post-conflict intervention’ into a ‘culture of conflict prevention’.

    Nambiar argued that the African countries must instead resort to ‘preventive diplomacy’ and it would be prudent for the developing countries to look into regional solutions to conflicts. It is without doubt that political problems need political solutions. Political action is needed before, during and after the conflict. It was also pointed out that it is not the PKOs that fail, but it is the lack of political will that fails to ensure the sustainability of these operations. He argued that international mediation either through the UN or the AU is needed to bring in legitimacy and impartiality to the resolution of a conflict. Humanitarian interventions must be put on reserve and negotiations have to be given prominence. Thus, it also becomes necessary that international actors are more sensitive to the issue of sovereignty.

    Arguing strongly for the case of protecting a nation’s sovereignty, Nambiar stated that robust military intervention must make way for robust diplomacy which is key to the reconciliation process. It is only through effective diplomacy and mediation that a conflictual situation can be immediately addressed. This will also ensure that the finger is on the pulse and the proximity to the problem, in terms of a regional solution, becomes essential to the successful resolution of a conflict. More ‘professionalised’ professionals who are well-trained also becomes critical. Nambiar also suggested that the AU could set up working groups on issues of power-sharing, ceasefires and the likes. Interaction between peacekeepers would also help evolve a common position to be taken in international fora.

    Further, elaborating on preventive diplomacy, the Chair stated that a conflict situation is studied in terms of conditions, catalysts and triggers that lead to instability. He stressed that it is at the stage of identification of the catalysts that preventive diplomacy should begin. In the discussion that followed, problems of keeping peace in African countries were highlighted. In the case of Somalia, it was observed that the lack of political will or commitment has deterred the sustainability of PKOs in the country. This is due to the fact that African nations are not democratic enough to ensure the sustainability of political will. In Darfur, the reason for failure was the lack of consensus among the AU members. It was also pointed out that regional bodies by themselves cannot intervene into any nation unless sanctioned by the UN Security Council. It was suggested that India for its part could work with the African countries to seek an international platform to voice their grievances. Additionally, India should have rapid reaction capabilities in place that are quick to respond to crisis situations in Africa. A possibility for evolving an Africa-India template for peacekeeping was also recommended.

    Report prepared by Keerti S. Kumar, Research Assistant, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi