China Leads the Peacekeeping Surge
Eight thousand more Chinese troops serving abroad is a big deal
This week, Chinese Pres. Xi Jinping announced that Beijing is putting together a rapid response force to support United Nations peacekeeping operations, and is helping fund African Union efforts to do the same. The news was lost in the midst of major, global crises — but the expansion of Chinese troops abroad is very important.
The revelation came after U.S. Pres. Barack Obama announced that U.N. member states have pledged 40,000 new troops to take part in peacekeeping operations — along with more money, equipment and training. Though the United States is largely the architect of this huge surge, China has positioned itself as its vanguard. The AP reports:
Chinese President Xi Jinping made perhaps the largest commitment, saying his country would establish a permanent 8,000-strong rapid deployment force to respond to crises anywhere in the world and to provide $100 million to fund a similar force under the African Union.
In addition, Xi said China would furnish more helicopters and other equipment and provide funding, training and equipment for 10 mine-clearing operations.
During the early 1990s, Western countries provided 40 percent of troops to U.N. peacekeeping operations around the world. But the deaths of American troops in Somalia and brutal executions of Belgian troops in Rwanda spurred America and Europe to reduce that number. Today fewer than 10 percent of peacekeepers come from developed nations.
In Europe and North America, countries are far more likely to send civilian bureaucrats and diplomats than military personnel or equipment. The United States provides about 25 percent of the U.N. peacekeeping budget but ultimately sends few troops of its own on blue-helmeted missions.
Instead, the world relies mostly on soldiers from developing countries — largely in Asia and Africa — to patrol towns and watch over refugee camps in the world’s most complex and dangerous war zones.
The quality of these soldiers varies. There have also been problems with discipline among some contingents including allegations of sexual abuse. Even soldiers that are well trained aren’t always well equipped.
Some of them come from incredibly poor countries that struggle to supply them with proper tools for military operations. Missions are often short on helicopters, logistics and medical personnel. That makes it challenging — and dangerous — for peacekeepers to confront better equipped military forces that may be attacking civilians.
The Chinese announcement is significant. It’s a major step for the rising power which is already deeply involved in peacekeeping in Africa. The United Nations has no standing military and relies on member nations for troops — which means it’s often very difficult to respond quickly.
It would be China’s first global response force. It’s possible that Beijing could use its capabilities for a wide range of missions which may or may not be peacekeeping related. It’s a major indicator of Xi’s desire for China to be seen as an active global player, as well as demonstrate the the capabilities of China’s rapidly modernizing army.
But it’s only a portion of the surprisingly large pledge by more than 50 U.N. member states:
Monday’s pledges of new troops and police significantly exceed the 10,000 goal that U.S. officials had mentioned. In addition, the dozens of leaders from India, Britain and China and elsewhere said they would contribute the kinds of more sophisticated equipment the U.N.’s 16 peacekeeping missions say they need: Special forces, intelligence units, engineering skills, airlift capacity, field hospitals and even unarmed drones.
Overall, countries pledged more than 40 helicopters, 15 engineering companies and 10 field hospitals, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, announced at the end of the meeting.
The world is currently facing its largest refugee crisis since World War II. The mass migration of displaced people — fueled by conflicts and failing states — is a major cause for the renewed interest in peacekeeping missions.
New troops, and perhaps more importantly more technology, could prove to be a major boost for struggling missions such as the constantly besieged force in South Sudan. It remains to be seen if nations will actually deliver on this pledge.