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WANTED: UN Peacekeepers for Mali

By Marina Henke

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A MINUSMA peacekeeper from Benin patrols the grounds of the El Farouk Hotel in Bamako during a meeting of government officials and Tuareg separatist rebels, July 22, 2013. Photo by United Nations Photo.

In early June UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon made an urgent plea to increase the number of UN peacekeepers deployed in the UN mission to Mali (MINUSMA). The mission is on the verge of becoming one of the deadliest in UN history. In May alone 12 of its members died; in total the mission has suffered 86 fatalities in only three years. The UN Security Council is expected to approve the troop increase later this month.

Ban Ki-Moon’s recruitment call, however, is unlikely to produce any significant results – at least this is what past instances of UN force generation processes, in particular for risky UN missions, lead us to predict.

The Providing for Peacekeeping Project has examined in detail which factors motivate UN member states to contribute troops to UN missions. These factors relate to political, economic, security, institutional, and normative concerns of individual UN member states. Nevertheless, these five clusters of factors are best thought of as predispositions which states hold towards UN peacekeeping. They can rarely explain the whole spectrum of dynamics that undergird a particular deployment decision.

With regards to this latter question, my own research has shown that UN troop contributors often receive external ad hoc incentives from countries that are particularly interested in a specific UN deployment. These incentives go beyond the regular UN reimbursement scheme. I conducted an in-depth case study on the force generation process of the UN-AU mission that deployed to Darfur (UNAMID) in 2007, interviewing over 50 officials involved in the process. I found the following: Nigeria’s decision to provide the largest UNAMID contingent (approximately 4000 troops) was tightly linked to negotiations on Nigerian debt relief via the Paris Club. Only once the Paris Club – which includes powerful UN member states such as the United States, France, and the UK – agreed to a US$18 billion debt relief did Nigeria agree to commit the requested number of troops to UNAMID. Rwanda, the second largest UNAMID contributor (approximately 3500 troops), received deployment assistance from the United States in the amount of about US$20 million. Most of the money went toward equipment and transportation support items intended for use in Darfur. Already prior to this substantial support package, in 2006 the US government provided pre-deployment training to five Rwandan battalions slated for deployment to Darfur. The Darfur training and funding came in addition to the standard annual US$7 million in US military aid to Rwanda. Similarly, it appears that Thailand tied its UNAMID deployment of approximately 800 troops to a resumption of US-Thai military cooperation programs. Indeed, following the September 19, 2006, coup d’état in Thailand, the United States had suspended US–Thai military cooperation totaling over US$29 million. Once Thailand agreed to the UNAMID deployment, the US government resumed funding for all Thai military cooperation programs in February 2008.

While my own research focused on UNAMID, it appears that similar practices were also present in other UN force generation processes. Krishnasamy, for instance, argues that Pakistan’s deployment to Somalia in 1992 (UNOSOM) was tied to US sanction relief and Fearon and Laitin provide anecdotal evidence that Pakistan’s deployment to the UN mission in  Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) in 2000 followed a similar logic. Moreover, Berman and Sams report that the Dutch government supplied US$8.5 million worth of equipment – including vehicles, generators, kitchen trailers, and ambulances – to enable the Zambian battalion to participate in the UN operation in Rwanda (UNAMIR). The United States did the same for the Ghanaian UNAMIR contingent, while Belgium supported the Malawian UNAMIR company by supplying vehicles, ambulances, a field kitchen, radios, spare parts, transportation, and training.

All this suggests that successful troop recruitment for MINUSMA will require more than a mere call for contributions from Ban Ki-Moon; rather, one or a couple of countries need to step up and provide these ‘external’ incentives. France might be a likely candidate – it is certainly the ‘most interested’ country in seeing MINUSMA succeed. France intervened in Mali in 2013 and is the penholder of the Mali file at the UN Security Council. Nevertheless, the Netherlands and Germany have also invested in MINUSMA. The Netherlands have already deployed over 500 troops to Mali while the German government approved a possible deployment of 650 troops to Mali in January 2016. As such, the burden of incentivizing UN peacekeeping contributions could potentially be shared among these three countries. At any rate, given the high-risk environment in which MINUSMA operates, it seems highly unlikely that UN force contributions will be forthcoming if the Secretary General’s call for contributions is not coupled with external incentives from key UN member states.

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