Why Is Bangladesh a Leading Force in the United Nations Peace Operations?

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The world observed the 22nd anniversary of the International Day of the United Nations Peacekeepers on 29 May 2024. While celebrating the Day, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina uttered, “Bangladesh is a dependable and responsible name in the efforts of protecting peace and safety alongside establishing global peace. We are acknowledged by all and have become a role model on the global stage.” Bangladesh entered in the second generation of the UN peacekeeping operations in 1988 and very quickly created a global image as the most trusted and reliable contributor to the emerging role of this global body. Since the United Nations (UN) started its journey, peace support operations have been one of the major initiatives that the UN has taken to make the world more peaceful and secure from conflicts. The very first Peacekeeping Operations (PKO) started in 1948 when the UN deployed its first batch of peacekeepers during the Arab–Israeli War. Bangladesh has been accoladed internationally due to playing its continued role in creating a world order that is peaceful and secure. Bangladesh’s ability in maintaining global standards, following the UNPKO mandates, maintaining discipline, carrying out given duties impartially, and being professional all contributed to its ability to earn credibility and recognition on a global scale.

Peacekeeping is always a challenging engagement of the UN. It sends peacekeepers to the terrains of war ravaged, conflict ridden, and acutely hostile atmosphere in the most unstable regions on earth. As the UN expanded its mandate and its role to protect human beings in endangered and humanitarian situations, there had been a crisis of mobilizing peacekeepers. Bangladeshi peacekeepers had come forward to fill the vacuum and proved to be an invaluable partner of the UN for maintaining global security through its peace operations. Currently, 6092 Bangladeshi peacekeepers including 493 women have been working with reputation in 13 places of the UN peacekeeping missions. Bangladeshi missions in the UNPKOs have earned a reputation for being the best in the world for several key reasons.

Firstly, we could see no gap in Bangladeshi commitment and delivery when it comes to playing a role in conditioning world peace and security. Even though many nations in the global West have proactively created and conditioned the UNPKO, however, some of their interests diminished and we can see that the Western countries are not playing significant roles once they did. This commitment-capability vs delivery gap has increased over time and countries like Bangladesh have come forward to address such a gap due to the lack of interests from the original contributors of the UNPKO.

Secondly, this drive is constitutional and ideational as well. Bangladesh, by joining the UNPKO in the late 1980s, has constantly maintained a top position and thus earning distinct fame for being a reliable force that delivered the twin tasks of promoting peace and ensuring security as assigned and aligned with the UN’s core two objectives. This clearly reflects Bangladesh being the credible actor that has fulfilled the commitment and capability prerequisites in promoting global peace and security. This drive is ideational as Bangladesh’s foreign policy and Constitution convey a commitment to creating a peaceful and secure world where war, nuclear proliferation, crime against humanity, genocide etc. human frailties are always a possibility and practically these are ravaging global peace and security.

Thirdly, the number of troops and police received by the UNPKO speaks for the goodwill of Bangladesh. Bangladesh consistently ranks as one of the largest contributors to the UNPKOs. According to one study, one-third of troops and police deployed in the UNPKO globally come from four South Asian countries, Bangladesh has been at the top of these nations. This commitment demonstrates the country’s dedication to global peace and stability. Such quantity of troops and police are contributed due to Bangladeshi peacekeepers’ track record in successfully completing the jobs they were assigned to.

Fourthly, the Bangladeshi missions in the UNPKO are best known for their work ethics, professionalism, resilience, and adaptability in fulfilling professed commitments in ever-changing and challenging environments. Their discipline and respect for local cultures and traditions help build trust and cooperation with local communities. Bangladeshi troops are praised for their ability to carry out the complex tasks of peace processes with utmost dedication. The sacrifices to promote world peace and security while upholding the national commitment did not go unnoticed by the concerned decision-makers to accept more troops and police from Bangladesh. Even on the basis of the UN assessment of the conduct of peacekeepers, Bangladesh falls on the lower end of the allegations on the spectrum of misconduct and abuse. Bangladesh follows a strict zero-tolerance policy for the perpetrators of sexual abuse and misconduct.

Fifthly, the plight of the destitute people in the missions motivate Bangladeshi troops and police to remain always ready for supreme sacrifices and that’s why they do not think twice about giving up their joys to save others. This is to be noted that the decision to contribute to the UNPKOs goes beyond the narrowed logic of financial gains. The lives of Bangladeshi troops and police members at the UNPKOs are as valued as the lives of any other Western soldiers who put the logic of sending the body bags back to their own country and use this logic to contribute less in terms of the number of sending troops. No financial logic can upset the heroic contributions of the Bangladeshi troops and police force members.

Sixthly, Bangladeshi troops and police members engage in humanitarian activities, such as providing medical care, supporting education, and assisting in disaster relief efforts to name a few. These assistances helped to improve the lives of local populations and build goodwill in favor of Bangladesh. Such additional roles played for the community also go beyond the narrowed and politicized logic of financial gains.

Seventhly, Bangladeshi peacekeepers include both military personnel, police, and civilian experts who have a diverse set of skills to peacekeeping missions. This is a unique skill set that has enabled Bangladesh to send more and the UN to accept more contributing troops in the UNPKOs. This diversity in training allows them to handle a wide range of challenging tasks, from maintaining security to rebuilding infrastructure and providing medical assistance and any other demanding tasks required to fulfill under the mandate. The training has enabled Bangladeshi peacekeepers to have a strong track record of success in various missions around the world, including in countries like Congo, Sudan, Mali, Yemen, Ethiopia, Lebanon, Libya, etc. other countries. The timely intervention and professionalism have made these countries more peaceful and secure.

Lastly, Bangladeshi peacekeepers have been acknowledged globally for their contributions with many honors and commendations, solidifying their standing as some of the greatest in the world. Bangladeshi peacekeepers who have distinguished themselves through valor, commitment, and exceptional service to promote and protect global peace and security have also received worldwide recognition.

Recently there has been a concerted global campaign to tarnish the image of Bangladesh as the leading force in the UN peace operations. The United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres has consistently termed Bangladesh as an important partner of the UN. He considers that Bangladesh is making significant contribution to international peace and security. Attempts to portray Bangladesh in the wrong light through spreading misinformation gives an example of politicization of UN peacekeeping operations and a cause to provocative entertainment. In the last 36 years, more than 1 lakh 88 thousand Bangladeshi peacekeepers have taken part in different UNPKOs in 40 different nations. Nothing can dilute the long-sustained effort of Bangladesh’s commitment towards global peace and security.

The combination of commitment, training, professionalism, successful mission history, diverse skills, international recognition, community engagement, and strong governmental support all contribute to making Bangladeshi peacekeepers some of the best in the world. Bangladesh prescribes to this idea that even though there may not be a perfect system of UNPKOs, where numerous challenges exist, it is still the best mechanism to avoid bloodshed and war, and Bangladesh thus supports the UN mechanisms proactively. Let’s the UN peace operations remain above politics and geostrategic game.

– Delwar Hossain is Professor of International Relations, University of Dhaka, and Md. Ali Siddiquee, is an Assistant Professor at the Department of International Relations, University of Dhaka.

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