Author:Vesely, Milan

From Bosnia to Ethiopia, East Timor to Sierra Leone, participation in United Nations peacekeeping missions provides various African nations with a lucrative source of income.

UN Peacekeeping Missions can provide hard currency for Africa's cash starved central banks, can buttress military expenditures while at the same time ensuring that coup prone army units are otherwise occupied.

In the early 1990's, the bulk of UN peacekeeping battalions were comprised of US and European personnel. Cambodia, the Sinai Peninsular and the Balkans were the main theatres of operations. Of the 54 casualties suffered while serving under the 'blue helmet', 41 were American, Canadian and European soldiers.

The abortive Somali mission in 1993 changed all that. Sustaining its first multiple casualties in peace time operations, the US pulled back on its commitment to supply manpower and substituted this with cash. The vacuum was immediately filled by African countries supplying infantry units on extended contract to UN headquarters.

Developing nations now contribute more than 75% of the 30,000 troops involved in 15 missions world-wide while the US, Japan and the European countries - supplying scant numbers of ground troops - pay 85% of the UN's $3bn peacekeeping budget.

As ever riskier operations result in increasing casualties, this arrangement is now coming under critical scrutiny. "You can't have a situation where some nations contribute blood and others only money," Algeria' s former Foreign Minister Mr. Laked Brahimi said while heading a UN panel that studied the world body's peacekeeping operations, "That's not the UN we want"

The moral question

As the number of UN peacekeeping missions surged in the last decade, the composition of active duty units serving under the UN flag took a profound turn - less professionally trained Third World soldiers increasingly being the troops of choice. This has raised the question: "What brought about the change and can the use of Third World troops alone be sustained on a moral basis, particularly as casualties in future operations mount?"

Almost as important is the question of whether deaths of African and Asian soldiers are less high-profile, resulting in fewer political recriminations in their home countries. "Western governments would certainly lose elections should there be a Somali or Rwanda repeat," A US State Department official suggested to African Business, on condition of anonymity: "Certainly no US president...

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