Military & Aerospace

Blue Helmets - 76 Years of UN Peacekeeping
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 10 Jun , 2024

In the last 76 years the UN peacekeepers nicknamed Blue Berets or Blue Helmets have bargained for peace, hope and stability – often at the risk of their lives in some of the worst conflict zones around the world. The UN has conducted over 70 peacekeeping missions till date in which over 4,000 peacekeepers have died due to war, accident or disease in some of the world’s most troubled regions since 1948.

The very first UN peacekeeping operation took place in 1948 when the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) was created to monitor the ceasefire agreement between Israel and its Arab neighbours. This historic event paved the way for UN peacekeeping to become a crucial instrument for international peace and security.

Since then, peacekeeping has evolved to address the changing nature of conflicts.  Peacekeeping mandates have become more complex and multifaceted, encompassing tasks like monitoring ceasefires, protecting civilians, disarming combatants, promoting human rights, and supporting democratic elections.

Today, over 70,000 peacekeepers serve tirelessly in 11 missions worldwide, helping countries navigate the path from war to peace.

The UN’s primary objective is maintaining global peace and security. Peacekeepers easily identified by their signature blue helmets and berets play a crucial role in the conflict zones to create a stable environment. Peacekeepers may be armed or unarmed – military, police or civilians.

They remain neutral in any conflict situation and endeavour to maintain peace without taking sides. The United Nations does not have its own army hence depends on the 193 UN member countries to contribute their military or police personnel on a voluntary basis. The UN Security Council is the only body to sanction a peacekeeping mission and allocate resources for it.

Peacekeeping missions today extend far beyond simply monitoring ceasefires. Peacekeepers represent a diverse group of personnel, each playing a critical role. The military personnel contributed by the member states provide security and deter violence, the police officers maintain law and order, train local forces, and investigate crimes while the unarmed civilian observers act as the eyes and ears of the mission, monitoring human rights abuses, supporting elections, and promoting civil society participation.

India’s contribution to UN peacekeeping

India is the second-largest contributor to UN peacekeeping operations. India has participated in various UN peacekeeping missions since 1950, contributing over 200,000 military, police, and other personnel – the largest number from any country.

India was among the first countries to contribute to UN peacekeeping operations. The first Indian contingent served in Korea in 1950. Over the years, India has participated in more than 50 of the 71 UN peacekeeping missions. Notable missions include operations in Congo (ONUC), Cyprus (UNFICYP), Lebanon (UNIFIL), Sudan (UNMIS), and South Sudan (UNMISS). India’s commitment to peacekeeping reflects its long-standing support for the principles of the UN and its dedication to global peace and security.

Indian peacekeepers have served in various capacities, including infantry battalions, medical teams, military observers, and police units. Indian peacekeepers have participated in more than 49 missions in which some 168 personnel made the supreme sacrifice while serving in UN missions. In the mid-60s 39 personnel of the Indian contingent laid down their lives while taking part in ONUC while Capt GS Salaria was posthumously awarded the country’s highest gallantry award the Param VirChakra for action in Katanga, Southern Congo. In addition to this Indian army personnel have been awarded six Mahavir Chakra, two Kirti Chakra, 20 Vir Chakra, nine Shaurya Chakra, four Yudh Seva Medal and 32 Sena Medal for their devotion to duty in UN Peacekeeping operations.

In the mid-50s during the Korean War, 60th Indian Field Ambulance, a Parachute-trained Medical Unit composed of 17 Officers, nine JCOs and 300 Other Ranks served the longest tenure by any Unit under the UN flag from November 1950 till July 1954. Besides the regular medical duties the Unit participated in Operation Tomahawk, a daring airborne operation on 21 March 1951 for which it was awarded citations by the Chiefs of the US 8th Army and the ROK Army, a special mention in the House of Lords in London. Apart from this it was awarded four US Bronze Stars, two Mahavir Chakras, six VirChakras and 25 Mention-in-Dispatches. The Unit was also awarded the President’s Trophy by the then President of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad on 10 March 1955, the only one to be awarded till date.

India was the first country to deploy an all-female Formed Police Unit (FPU) to a UN peacekeeping mission in Liberia in 2007 which precedent and highlighted the role of women in peacekeeping.

India has been actively involved in training peacekeepers from various countries. The Centre for UN Peacekeeping (CUNPK)(with the USI) in New Delhi is a premier training institute that offers courses for international peacekeepers.

Indian peacekeepers have often engaged in humanitarian activities, including providing medical aid, rebuilding infrastructure, and supporting local communities in conflict zones.

Indian military personnel have held key leadership positions in various UN peacekeeping missions. India has reportedly contributed at least 15 Force Commanders and five Police Commissioners in addition to other senior staff appointments.

Way back in 1953, India provided the Custodian Force of India comprising 231 Officers, 203 JCOs and 5696 Other Ranks under Major General S.P.P. Thorat while Lt-Gen. K S Thimayya was appointed Chairman of the Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission set up by the UN.

Lt Gen. Premindra Singh Bhagat, PVSM, VC was awarded Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy for his actions in the Sudan Theatre during World War II. Significantly then 2nd Lt. (King’s Commissioned Indian Officer) P. S. Bhagat from the Corps of Engineers was just 22 years old when he was decorated with the Victoria Cross and presented with the ribbon by Gen. Wavell (later Field Marshal the Earl Wavell), the Commander-in-Chief, India and formally invested with the decoration by Lord Linlithgow, the Governor-General of India, at Viceroy’s House in Delhi.

Some other notable examples of Indian officers who served as Force Commanders include Lt. Gen. Prem Chand (UN Operation in Congo ONUC), Lt. Gen. Satish Nambiar (United Nations Protection Force UNPROFOR in Yugoslavia), Lt. Gen. Kumar Mehta (United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus UNFICYP), Lt. Gen. J.S. Lidder, Lt. Gen. (later General)Bikram Singh and Lt. Gen. Chander Prakash (United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo MONUSCO), Maj. Gen. Jai Shanker Menon (United Nations Disengagement Observer Force UNDOF in Golan Heights), Maj. Gen. Iqbal Singh Singha (United Nations Mission in South Sudan UNMISS), Maj. Gen. Shailesh Tinaikar(United Nations Mission in South Sudan UNMISS), Lt. Gen. G.S. Rawat (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara MINURSO), Maj. Gen. Anil Kumar Suri (United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus UNFICYP), Lt. Gen. R. S. Mehta (United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea UNMEE), Lt. Gen. Vijay Kumar Jetley (United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone UNAMSIL), Maj. Gen. A. S. Narang (United Nations Observer Mission in Liberia UNOMIL), Maj. Gen. Ijaz Awan (United Nations Operation in Burundi ONUB), and Maj. Gen. T. P. S. Rawat (United Nations Mission in Haiti UNMIH)

In addition to these IPS officers who have served as Police Commissioners/ Police Advisor include Kiran Bedi (United Nations Police in the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus UNFICYP) Amitabh Ranjan (United Nations Mission in Kosovo UNMIK), Sanjay Virmani (United Nations Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina UNMIBH), H. S. Dhillon (United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone UNAMSIL) and M.A. Ansari (United Nations Mission in Sudan UNMIS).

Conclusion:

UN peacekeepers play a critical role in promoting global peace, stability, and security. By supporting countries in transition, peacekeepers help create an environment conducive to economic development, social justice, and human rights. Their efforts have saved countless lives, alleviated suffering, and offered hope to conflict-ravaged communities.

However, peacekeepers face numerous challenges, including violent attacks, accidents, and diseases. They often work in harsh environments, far from their loved ones. Despite these hardships, peacekeepers persevere, driven by their dedication to maintaining peace and security.

The 1988 Nobel Peace Prize awarded to UN peacekeeping forces stands as a testament to their vital role on the world stage.

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