As Indonesia is among the major contributors to United Nations peacekeeping operations (UN PKO), cynics may say we are only in it for the money.
However, on the International Day of UN Peacekeepers on May 29, Indonesia has every rights to commemorate its contributions to the global operations. Since the 1950s the country has deployed its defense and security personnel to UN peace missions, notably through the Indonesian Garuda Contingent (Konga).
The first Konga mission was in 1957 when the peacekeepers were assigned to assist the ending of the Suez Crisis in which Israel, the United Kingdom and France failed to regain control of the Suez Canal and to oust Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser. The 559-strong Konga was deployed to the border of Egypt and Israel and their mission finished successfully.
Despite being largely absent under president Soeharto because of that regime’s focus on internal security, Indonesia amplified its commitment, especially under sixth president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a former Blue Beret himself, when our contribution increased from less than 300 to more than 1,500 personnel.
Indonesia has come a long way from its first Konga to the recent posting of our 37th Konga to Central Africa, with additional individual military observers. Under President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, the government aims to deploy 4,000 peacekeepers by 2019. By then Indonesia would be among the top 10 countries contributing troops and personnel to UN PKOs, up from its current rank of 11th.
In the early 1990s, UN PKO missions were mostly filled by troops from developed countries such as France, the UK and Canada.
However, in the 2000s it became slowly dominated by Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. Arguably, there are three reasons behind this trend.
First, most developed countries, especially the Western countries, are occupied with their Atlantic defense treaty commitments to handle their immediate security threats, such as in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, and therefore have fewer personnel to deploy to UN PKOs. However Western countries still contribute funds to help maintain global peace.
UN peacekeepers are known as a most efficient and effective force, as the cost of putting a UN PKO personnel on the ground is a fifth of that of a NATO soldier.
Second, developing countries find it difficult to contribute money and are more willing to contribute by providing peacekeepers. Skeptics note that developing countries send they are paid more than US$1,000 per month (with $1,028 for pay and allowance; $68 for personal gear; $5 for personal weaponry and an additional $303 for specialists’ treatment) for each of their personnel, while each country decides how much of the reimbursement rate goes to individual soldiers.
While a relatively small amount for developed countries, the salaries could provide a significant subsidy for developing countries’ economies, especially those with a high number of defense and security personnel to maintain.
Third, due to the “peace” mandate of each UN mission, which therefore trains deployed personnel to be soldier-diplomats, rather than combat soldiers, impressions arise that countries wishing to be seen as having advanced military capability restrain themselves from deploying personnel for peace operations. The simple reason is they fear losing their perceived warfare abilities.
More often it is the developed countries that would like to be seen as having battle-ready personnel. For these reasons, developed countries become the donators to the UN PKO, while developing countries supply the boots on the ground.
Nevertheless, although Indonesia’s deployment of peacekeepers can easily be judged as fishing for the UN salaries, the nation’s commitment to world peace is clearly stated in the preamble of its Constitution.
Salaries may be substantial, but delays are also possible, meaning that the government needs a considerable seed budget to shoulder the costs. Furthermore, several countries have requested the UN to increase the amount to $1,700 considering the prevailing market prices.
Meanwhile, from the personnel perspective, Indonesian peacekeepers have cited other reasons aside from money. From interviews with former Indonesian peacekeepers, one respondent mentioned her aspiration was to represent Indonesia in the global arena, another stated his goal was to be a role model in creating peace and helping humankind. Another woman said she joined the UN PKO to make her son proud.
To date, 35 Indonesian peacekeepers have been killed on duty.
With the dedication and sacrifice of all its peacekeepers, Indonesia’s participation in global peacekeeping efforts should be honored and encouraged.
Fitri Bintang Timur, Researcher at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)
Published in Jakarta Post, 30 May 2017
Image courtesy of Jakarta Post