Need to build capacity and experience of troops

UN: While Bhutan will gradually expand its peacekeeping contribution, there are currently no plans to deploy armed troops under the UN flag.

Bhutan began contributing to UN peacekeeping in September, last year. There are currently nine Bhutanese deployed with three peacekeeping missions.

One is serving as a military observer in the Middle East, two as staff officers in the Central African Republic, and six as UN police in Liberia.

On whether Bhutan plans to expand its role and contribute armed troops as peacekeepers like neigbouring countries, the foreign affairs ministry said that there are currently no such plans.

“Bhutan does not have the capacity to deploy troops on a large scale similar to India, Bangladesh or Nepal who are among the top troop contributing countries to UN peacekeeping missions,” the foreign affairs ministry responded in a statement.

Bangladesh was contributing 9,400 military and police personnel combined, India was contributing 8,139, and Nepal, 5,089, as of December, last year.

Bhutan’s participation will progress in a gradual manner. “What we hope to achieve is to make a modest contribution to the United Nations peacekeeping missions commensurate with our own capacity and wherewithal,” the foreign affairs ministry said in its statement. “Bhutan’s contribution to UN peacekeeping missions is being pursued in a gradual manner, as we need to build our capacity and experience before we decide to contribute troops.”

The ministry pointed out that while Bhutan already possesses a “well-trained and professional army”, deployment for peacekeeping missions will require more training and equipment to ensure that Bhutanese troops are prepared and well equipped to fulfill the mandate of the mission they are deployed to.

It was also highlighted that Royal Bhutan Army (RBA) officers and troops undergo various military training courses in India like the Centre for UN peacekeeping in New Delhi, the National Defence Academy, the Indian Military Academy, and the Defence Services Staff College. This collaboration between the RBA, and the Indian government and army has strengthened the professional capacity of the RBA for which the country is grateful, the ministry pointed out.

India has been participating in UN peacekeeping missions since 1950.

“Our current peacekeeping engagement with the UN is being pursued incrementally through the deployment of individual officers from our armed forces including police as Military Observers and Staff Officers who are unarmed and carry out non-combatant roles,” it added. “Such officers will be able to acquire experience and knowledge of peacekeeping operations and help build our capacity.”

The foreign ministry clarified that the financial benefits of UN peacekeeping would not be a primary incentive for Bhutan to expand its UN peacekeeping contribution. The UN pays at least USD 1,028 per soldier a month.

However, UN does not pay military observers and staff officers a monthly salary. They are paid a mission subsistence allowance similar to UN personnel on the ground to meet expenses relating to accommodation, food, and incidental expenses, the foreign affairs ministry explained. They also continue to receive their monthly remuneration from the government.

“Peacekeepers have to operate in very harsh, demanding and challenging conditions, particularly in many parts of Africa,” the ministry states. “At the same time, operating in a conflict situation carries with it a lot of risks too. Considering these factors, the financial package is modest.”

The ministry points out that the primary reason for Bhutan’s participation in UN peacekeeping is to play a constructive role in addressing UN issues, and that conflict prevention, peacekeeping, and peace building is a key objective of the UN.

“The UN and its agencies have contributed immensely to Bhutan’s socio-economic development. Therefore, Bhutan would like to, in a small way show its appreciation by contributing to international peace and security,” it is pointed out by the ministry.

Meanwhile, the prime minister has received feedback from the UN secretary general that the Bhutanese peacekeepers have been performing very well. The secretary has in fact encouraged Bhutan to send more peacekeepers, particularly women officers.

Of the nine peacekeepers deployed, one is a women officer of the Royal Bhutan Police.

There were almost 103,800 peacekeepers deployed for 16 UN peacekeeping missions as of December, last year. A total of 128 countries were contributing personnel.

Statistics maintained by the UN also show that there were a total of 1,543 fatalities recorded in current UN missions.

By Gyalsten K Dorji