But it also points to a growing reluctance by states to supply U.N. peacekeeping missions with costly combat aircraft and other advanced logistical and communications equipment needed to fulfill complex mandates in places such as Congo and Sudan.
As the United States and other Western powers have retreated from U.N. peacekeeping over the past decade, India and a handful of other developing and emerging powers have filled the gap, supplying the United Nations with the bulk of its more than 100,000 peacekeepers needed to run the world’s second-largest expeditionary force, after the U.S. military. India’s efforts have been particularly notable because of its capacity to deploy combat helicopters and other advanced military gear in Africa and the political will to use them.
This month, India rejected a request by the United Nations to extend the helicopter contract in Congo when it expires July 4. “India cannot be the only place in the world with attack helicopters,” Manjeev Singh Puri, India’s deputy ambassador, said in an interview. “We have capacity restraints.”
Indian officials say they need the helicopters to fight Maoist insurgents, who originated in West Bengal and are active in several areas.
Its decision to scale back its military commitment in Congo comes as France is preparing to introduce a Security Council resolution calling on the U.N. peacekeeping mission there to play a greater role in ensuring the protection of civilians in the months leading up to the November election. The absence of combat helicopters will limit the mission’s ability to carry out such responsibilities and might even force the United Nations to close some of its more remote outposts in eastern Congo, according to human rights activists and U.N. officials.
“I am obliged to note that [the United Nations’] military operations are being negatively impacted by the shortage of military helicopters,” Roger Meece, the U.N. special representative, warned the Security Council last week. “This problem will become worse absent new contributions.”
India’s international identity has long been shaped by its role in U.N. peacekeeping. More than 100,000 Indian troops have served in missions in the past 50 years. Today, India has more than 8,500 peacekeepers in the field, more than twice as many as the United Nations’ five big powers combined. In supporting India’s bid for a permanent seat on an enlarged Security Council last November, President Obama cited “India’s long history as a leading contributor to United Nations peacekeeping missions.”