2017 was a year of many global events that unleashed waves and waves of global disruptions; their repercussions will be felt for many years to come. The unrivalled change agent probably would be the emergence of brand ‘Trump’ as a major disruptor of global governance. The fundamental problem with such grand narratives is that they miss certain vital developments in the world that may cause serious ramifications to countries like Sri Lanka.
- 150 selected members of SL Army left for Mali
- SL Army trying hard to fill UN peace keeping positions
- SL military would immensely benefit from such deployments
Stratsight would focus on such a development as the curtain raiser for 2018, instead of pursuing as many global affairs columns do prophesying what is to come in 2018. As Christmas was dawning last week, 150 members of the Sri Lankan Army selected from ten regiments left to Mali as part of a United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). The Sri Lanka army identified the contingent as part of a Combat Convoy Company (CCC).
Sri Lankan Military has been trying hard to fill UN peace keeping positions, currently there are 15 ongoing peacekeeping operations conducted by the United Nations across the globe. The majority of them, nine to be precise is conducted in various parts of Africa. Bangladesh, Pakistan and India apart from many other African Nations provide bulk of the peacekeepers to the United Nations. Yet Sri Lankan military contributed fraction of its troops to the above mentioned missions apart from the mission in Haiti.
Sri Lankan military has gone through significant transformations, modernization and expertise on counter terror and counter insurgency operations yet consistently overlooked for UN peace missions. A fundamental but controversial change is taking place in how future UN peacekeeping operations, are designed and implemented.This may tilt in the favour of the Sri Lankan armed forces The three key UN peace missions in Africa focusing on the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and Mali are founded and expanded on cross-cutting issues from human rights protection, gender abuse mitigation, intelligence gathering working across regional and international forces combatting terrorism to establishing governance and reconciliation mechanisms.
SL military has gone through significant transformations, modernization and expertise on counter terror and insurgency operations yet consistently overlooked for UN peace missions
The key in these transformations are increasing demand for sophisticated skill sets to facilitate the role required to be played by peacekeepers. What is more relevant to the Sri Lankan forces is the primacy given to developing offensive units among UN peacekeeping missions. Which is technically integrating offensive mission priorities to UN peace operations as contributing to the overall objective of civilian and state protection.
This is an extremely controversial transformation within the UN peacekeeping paradigm as UN peacekeeping traditionally entailed three key pillars: they were, consent, impartiality and non-use of force. The recent developments are seen as a radical shift from peacekeeping to peace-enforcement. Thus UN peacekeeping missions are now reliant on tactical assets that could bolster its capabilities in areas such as counter terrorism and counter insurgency.
The big break came with UN Resolution 2098 that was adopted by the United Nations Security Council on March 28, 2013 regarding the deteriorating security situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The resolution was on the premise that peacekeepers main role was to act as stabilization agents, thus they were raised as a stabilization force, further to this the UN security council for the first time in the history of peacekeeping integrated an offensive unit into the DRC peace mission.
The unit went by the name of Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) a pioneering experiment which was to integrate an ‘offensive’ combat force” - to undertake military operations against armed groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for stabilization purposes. They were in charge of taking on the Rwandan backed March 23 (M23) insurgents, thus making the operation not just offensive but taking on transnational and non-state elements for the purpose of peacekeeping.
The brigade was authorized to carry out targeted offensive operations, work towards preventing expansion of armed groups thus in the process neutralize armed groups that threatened the overall UN mission. Whilst the FIB is limited to the DRC mission, the principal of peace enforcement has already being expanded to missions in Central African Republic and Mali. Both missions are named as United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilizations Missions, MINUSCA and MINUSMA.
Both these missions have a complex built architecture which makes the mission function across myriad structures, actors for the purpose of stabilizing the security environment of the two countries. Thus it puts them in direct conflict with a multitude of threat actors and some of them are named in their respective UN mandates. Groups identified in Mali include, Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Al Mourabitoune, Ansar Eddine, and associated individuals and groups such as Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims) and Islamic State in Greater Sahara and Ansaroul Islam.
Critics of these missions argue that peace enforcement is dangerous and strategically misguided. They do not see the viability of militarising peacekeeping for the sake of the protection of civilians. Thus by naming adversaries in UN peacekeeping mandates it is similar to the UN going to war against these entities thus putting the peacekeeping mission in a perpetual state of counter insurgency, a key argument brought by renowned German scholar, Peter Rudolf.
The focus of this article is not on the controversy over the new generation of peacekeeping missions that the United Nations Security council has authorized instead the potential the Sri Lankan military would have to further deployments given the experience and expertise that they have gained through the counter terrorism operations conducted in Sri Lanka over three decades. The Sri Lanka military would immensely benefit from such deployments and help sort some burning human resources management challenges of the Sri Lankan security establishment. Thus the first deployments to the Mali mission is important but they will come at a cost.
Since the inception of the enforcement peace operations there is a significant increase of casualties among blue helmets. The simple theory is that the moment you have offensive authorization you become an immediate adversary to the multiple groups operating within the region and across the region. Since the inception of peace operations from 1948 according to United Nations statistics, 3644 peace keepers have laid down their lives in various missions. The last two years data point to an increased number of casualties from the new stabilization missions in Africa. Last two years’ top casualties are from Mali and Central African regions.Mission in Mali where Sri Lankan forces are heading suffered the largest casualties with 78 peace enforcer deaths 2016/2017, which is a high number for any UN mission.
Developments in Africa are increasingly linked to the larger geo political contestations of established and emerging global powers. It also will be the focus of international security and counter terrorism concerns as Sahel region remains a hot bed of Islamic radicalism and allied terror movements. At the same time, Africa as a continent is going through rapid transformations and significant economic boom. Development projects aided by China are big in most regions of East Africa, military interests of Western powers from United States to France have increased Western presence in the region. French troop presence in Mali, US operations and Chinese military presence in Djibouti and nearly 200 technological hubs all over Africa is a sure sign of a region in transition. It is a region to be watched in the coming years. A major concern amidst all this progress is the security threats that are acting as a major spoilers, thus the UN’s new aggressive way of fighting is ambitious yet generates ambivalence.
The writer is the Director, Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies (BCIS)