International rescue

Why are Balkan states with foreign troops on their own soil now joining peacekeeping missions abroad?

Philip Cunliffe

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The states that once made up the former Yugoslavia are queuing up to support Western ‘peacekeeping’ missions around the globe. Croatia and Macedonia have troops with the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul, while Macedonia and Slovenia have sent troops to Iraq (1). Slovenia has peacekeepers in its former sister republics of Macedonia, Bosnia Herzegovina and Serbia (Kosovo) (2).

During his official visit to the USA in July 2003, Serbian prime minister Zoran Živkovic aired the idea of Serbian participation in peacekeeping missions, possibly including Iraq (3). Bosnian foreign minister Mladen Ivanic announced in mid-August that Bosnia was also considering sending troops to Iraq, and that a Bosnian Serb Army contingent had already undergone training for such operations (4).

The practice of supplementing Western-led peacekeeping armies does not exclusively rely on military forces drawn from the Balkans. Poland will supply the 2300-strong core of a multi-national ‘stabilisation force’ for south-central Iraq, which will encompass troops from as far afield as Ukraine and Nicaragua (5). For Liberia, the USA only deployed ground forces after the capital Monrovia had been occupied by Nigerian troops (6).

The provision of peacekeeping troops is something of a third world tradition. The United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF), set up to monitor Israeli-Egyptian ceasefire lines following the 1956 Suez War, drew on peacekeepers from India, Yugoslavia, Indonesia and Brazil (7). Even today, the top 10 contributors of military forces to UN peacekeeping operations are all developing countries, supplying up to 60 per cent of peacekeeping personnel between them (8).

Today’s increased enthusiasm for peacekeeping operations among third world nations is not restricted to the republics of the former Yugoslavia. The New York Times reports that ‘Africa has adopted a new activist approach toward its trouble spots…. Africans are taking the lead in the peace efforts under way in Congo, Burundi, Somalia and Sudan. African peacekeeping forces are serving throughout the continent’ (9).

Yet the former Yugoslav republics’ renewed enthusiasm for peacekeeping is the most striking example of a wider trend – for few countries have the dubious distinction of taking part in multi-national peacekeeping operations while their own soil is under occupation by those same armies. SFOR, occupying Bosnia Herzegovina, is 13,000-strong (10); KFOR, occupying Serbia’s Kosovo province, is 29,000-strong (11); and under the terms of the more unassuming ‘Operation Concordia’, Macedonia is occupied by a 350-strong EU-led force (12).

Ukraine and Serbia rank among the most enthusiastic of the third world peacekeepers. The Serbian defence ministry is keen to deploy as many as 1000 Serbian peacekeepers abroad – a contribution that would dwarf the tiny peacekeeping contingents currently deployed by the other former Yugoslav republics (13). Similarly, even though Ukraine is already the tenth largest contributor to UN peacekeeping operations (with 1058 troops deployed), it is offering another 1600 for the Iraq stabilisation force (14).

You could almost make an analogy with the devsirme, or blood levy, one of the more notorious institutions of Ottoman rule in the Balkans – where Christian boys were taken from their families with the aim of training them for an elite caste of slave-troops, the janissaries. These troops would often return to the Balkans as enforcers of the Sultan’s rule over their own people.

Justifying the increase in Serb peacekeeping troops abroad, Serbia’s deputy prime minister Žarko Korac voiced his hope that such operations would help to rehabilitate Serbia’s international image, which was tarnished during Yugoslavia’s civil wars (15). In Ukraine’s case, analysts believe that the government is attempting to recompense the USA, after Washington accused it earlier this year of supplying Saddam with a sophisticated aircraft detection system (16).

As both still have lingering reputations as pariah states, Serbia and Ukraine’s zeal for peacekeeping appears to be driven by a desire to reintegrate into the international community. Ukrainian defence minister Yevhen Marchuk has justified troop deployments to Iraq by arguing that ‘Ukraine is a major European country and it cannot stand aloof from international developments’ (17). In short, proper states – upstanding members of the international community – deploy peacekeeping troops. Why is the deployment of peacekeepers now regarded as an essential part of rehabilitation into the international community?

In the past, ‘peacekeeping’ generally referred to UNEF-style missions, where armed intervention was restricted to monitoring ceasefire compliance and separating the belligerents’ armies. As the third world was once united by its hostility to colonialism and by its autonomous position outside the Soviet and American camps, this conferred third world countries with the moral authority to mount armed interventions across borders, without being suspected of interfering in other states’ affairs.

Since the end of the Cold War, the rise of humanitarianism in international affairs has raised expectations of UN responsibilities that go beyond mere ceasefire monitoring, to the defence, and even the forceful implantation, of human rights in to third world societies. The demands imposed by this ‘nation-building’ have led to a growth in the UN’s appetite for military resources and firepower. The UN has responded to this need by increasingly authorising ‘coalitions of the willing’ to implement its operations.

In practice, these ‘coalitions’ have been dominated by powerful states – frequently the only ones with the firepower necessary to defend populations’ human rights. Nigeria, for example, currently leading the UN-authorised coalition in Liberia, is the most powerful state in West Africa. As peacekeeping has shifted from passive ceasefire monitoring to defending human rights, the net result has been twofold: peacekeeping has been made dependent on military might; and the Cold War definition of peacekeeping as a politically neutral activity has been obliterated.

This new, militaristic attitude to peacekeeping is as evident in UN operations as among the ‘coalitions of the willing’. On 1 September 2003, the 2500-strong United Nations Observer Mission for Congo (MONUC) was granted ‘Chapter VII’ powers under the UN Charter to use force beyond the requirements of self-defence (powers traditionally bestowed on ‘coalitions of the willing’).

MONUC, composed entirely of third world peacekeepers from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, India and Uruguay, has used the Chapter VII opportunity to deploy combat helicopters in order ‘to intimidate…militiamen who are still active in the bush…’ (18). ‘Peacekeeping’ has now become a generic term referring to any military intervention in third world societies, whether executed by Nigeria, America or the UN. The term has assumed an Orwellian aspect.

It is this post-Cold War transformation of peacekeeping by the human rights agenda that has placed such a high premium on the deployment of peacekeepers as a de facto criterion of ‘proper’ statehood. As the demands of peacekeeping have become dependent on military might rather than political neutrality, so the moral authority of statehood has increasingly become intertwined with militarism.

The aspirations of developing countries reveal as much about the West as they do about the developing world. In their zeal to join peacekeeping operations, developing countries hold a mirror to the West, revealing a sinister innovation to the criteria of ‘proper’ statehood: military occupation of foreign soil. To qualify for membership of today’s international community, it is no longer sufficient to possess an army that merely defends national borders – that army has to be actively engaged in defending human rights.

By supplementing and supporting Western militarism around the globe, third world peacekeepers serve as the West’s janissaries for the post-Cold War world. This is most conspicuous in the case of the former Yugoslav republics. These republics once comprised the pioneering state of the third world, the Federal Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia, in an era when the term ‘third world’ conveyed anti-colonialism and political neutrality, rather than simply connoting backwardness. Today, Yugoslavia’s fragmented remnants compete with each other to occupy other third world countries, while they themselves languish under military occupation or decline to the status of NATO client states.

The pragmatist might object that today’s impoverished and weakened developing countries owe no loyalty to the outdated anti-interventionism of the Non-Aligned Movement. As noted by the New York Times’ Marc Lacey, ‘[t]here was a time when Africa might have condemned [Nigerian intervention in] Liberia…as inappropriate outside meddling’ (19). But playing the role of janissaries to Western militarism is an equally self-defeating enterprise for third world countries. Whatever respite they hope to gain from the attentions of the great and the good by deploying peacekeepers, the reprieve can only be a temporary one.

If participation in peacekeeping armies now serves as a trapping of statehood, whatever symbolic authority such militarism confers, it can ultimately offer no more guarantee against Western domination than any other trapping of statehood – such as a national anthem or set of postage stamps. Rather, it shows that ours is a world where the strong prey on the weak – and developing countries only stand to lose out in such a world order.

(1) See the International Security Assistance Force structure section of the International Security Assistance Force website for nations contributing to the force. See the map in ‘Poles take over in central Iraq’, BBC News, 4 September 2003, regarding the multinational force in Iraq.

(2) See the Kosovo Force and Stabilisation Force sections of the NATO website, and the Concordia section of the Council of the European Union website, for nations contributing to these multi-national forces.

(3) Report by RTS Television, Belgrade/BBC Monitoring. See South East European Security Monitor, 7 August 2003, published by the Centre for South East European Studies

(4) See South East European Security Monitor, 14 August 2003, published by the Centre for South East European Studies

(5) See Planned multinational force for Iraq, in ‘UN considers Iraq Force’, BBC News, 28 August 2003

(6) See The perils of Liberian peacekeeping, BBC News, 4 August 2003

(7) See Yearbook of the United Nations, 1956; Brazilian Blue Berets veterans website

(8) See Monthly Summary of Military and Civilian Police Contribution to United Nations Operations, United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations, July 2003

(9) ‘New Activism by African Nations: Joining Forces to Referee Their Own Disputes’, Marc Lacey, New York Times, 12 August 2003

(10) See the Stabilisation Force section of the NATO website

(11) See KFOR set to cut numbers by 9,000 troops, Frank Benjaminsen, Kosovo Force Chronicle, 19 June 2002

(12) See the Concordia section of the Council of the European Union website

(13) Radio B92 text website, Belgrade/BBC Monitoring. See South East European Security Monitor, 9 August 2003, published by the Centre for South East European Studies

(14) See Monthly Summary of Military and Civilian Police Contribution to United Nations Operations, United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations, July 2003; Ukraine troops leave for Iraq, BBC News, 7 August 2003

(15) Radio B92 text website, Belgrade/BBC Monitoring. See South East European Security Monitor, 9 August 2003, published by the Centre for South East European Studies

(16) See Ukraine troops leave for Iraq, BBC News, 7 August 2003

(17) See Ukraine troops leave for Iraq, BBC News, 7 August 2003

(18) See New troops for DR Congo flashpoint, BBC News, 1 September 2003

(19) ‘New Activism by African Nations: Joining Forces to Referee Their Own Disputes’, Marc Lacey, New York Times, 12 August 2003

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