Nigeria-India diplomatic punches at the UN -By Tunji Ajibade

Filed under: Global Issues |
Tunji Ajibade

Tunji Ajibade


Nigeria and India exchanged punches on the highest global stage mid-August. The manner our own Prof. Joy Ogwu had handled the matter in the course of a debate at the UN Security Council however showed how nations could throw diplomatic punches meant to draw no blood. Well, everyone had been welcomed that time to contribute to the debate on how to improve UN’s peacekeeping operations around the world. And it was just as well that Nigeria was the African country that opened the debate. The role the most populous black nation had played in UN peacekeeping operations qualified it to express itself so strongly each time the matter came up for discussion. Also, it had successfully led operations on the platform of West Africa’s regional body, ECOWAS, in troubled spots in the region. All of these had been acknowledged around the world. India too did. It was against such a background that Ogwu stepped forward and made a case for regional organisation to be better factored into the processes of UN’s peacekeeping operations during the debate. India, however, had reasons to raise a few objections.

The debate on how to better keep the peace wasn’t holding at the UNSC for the first time. Its July, 2014 version had held with a special focus on the importance of regional partnerships and its evolution. That debate highlighted the idea that international, regional and sub-regional organisations must create partnerships which enabled the international community to respond more quickly and efficiently to violent conflicts. In line with this focus, resolution SCR 2167 was adopted affirming the critical role of regional cooperation in international peacekeeping. The debate had also addressed a variety of topics including strengthening and maximising the effectiveness of UN’s relationships with both the African Union and the European Union. The debate featured 44 statements. A total of eight speakers had addressed the necessity of integrating a gender perspective in peacekeeping operations. When in August, 2015, debate on peacekeeping operations came up though, it was with the theme, ‘Regional Organisations and Contemporary Challenges of Global Security’.

In the course of making his opening remarks, the UN Chief, Ban Ki-Moon, said since the UN increasingly shared responsibility for peace and security with regional organisations, everything possible should be done to help them resolve regional problems and to include the States concerned in solutions. But at the same time, he said, regional organisations should continue contributing to UN peace and security efforts. Moon said his UN counted on regional organisations for political leverage as well as civilian and military capacities. He noted further that cooperation with regional and sub-regional organisations had gained greater influence in recent years, partly because of the changing nature of conflicts, and a number of aggravating factors all of which had prompted him to request for a review of UN peace operations. In that speech, where Moon wanted the power to direct peace keeping operations to be was clear. A few other nations saw it that way too.

The US Alternate Representative was one of them. While the nature of the threats to global security had become more complex and challenging over the course of the United Nations’ 70-year history, the partnership between the United Nations and regional organisations had become truly indispensable, David Pressman had stated. He noted that mankind had made much progress in strengthening these partnerships, and all must collectively recommit to same. For him, part of that effort would have to grapple with two increasingly relevant phenomena in the evolving relationship between regional organisations, sub-regional organisations, and the United Nations: overlapping responsibilities and equities, and the need to improve support provided by the international community to support the work of regional organisations.

Though he recognised regional organisations, Pressman however pointed out that peacemaking and peacekeeping were not, and never should become, something that only concerned them. Indeed, the United Nations system – and UN peacekeeping especially – he stated were premised on the idea that sometimes those further removed from deeply ingrained challenges – strangers even, rather than neighbours – were in a unique position to neutrally and effectively engage to protect people endangered by their neighbours. That was why the United Nations Charter envisioned a robust partnership between those closest to conflict and the United Nations itself, he asserted, further pointing out that both roles were essential. Pressman added that just as the Security Council needed to remain involved when political processes were being carried out by regional actors, so too did the Security Council have to retain accountability and oversight when it authorised regional or sub-regional organisations to undertake peace operations. In particular, he felt the UN needed to ensure that all operations carried out under Security Council authority operated with the same respect for human rights and zero tolerance for sexual exploitation and abuse. He believed the stakes for getting the relationship between regional and sub-regional organisations and the United Nations right could not be higher. For as neighbours (regional organisations) close to a conflict, or strangers far from it, all concerned must do more to work cooperatively and effectively to support everyone involved in the important work of advancing peace.

All of these provided a background for understanding what the 2015 debate was about, the issues involved as well as how Nigeria and India came to the centre stage to exchange punches. What India’s representative was saying that time wasn’t far from the view that the UN and the US expressed. The only thing was that he was blunt, saying it as it was. While Nigeria wouldn’t mind taking on more responsibility and leading other firefighters each time any of the nations in West Africa sets its house on fire, India wasn’t convinced Africa or regional bodies in Africa could effectively handle so much without the need for the UN to breath down their necks. India didn’t think it was time yet for the UN to sit and fold arms in New York, assured that member states had learnt well from it and so could keep the peace in their regions without the UN exercising the traditional supervisory role. India wanted UN’s involvement to continue at the known rate no matter how well regional bodies had performed. So, it said the UN “cannot disengage” with Africa by “sub-contracting peacekeeping” to regional arrangements.

“No purpose would be served by having regional organisations struggle to manage conflict with military tools while political processes are either not underway or have not been concluded,” India’s representative said. “Talking of Africa, the United Nations cannot disengage with the continent by sub-contracting peacekeeping to regional arrangements. We would need to start worrying if the impartiality of peacekeeping was called into questions. This, however, is a possibility that cannot be ruled out with the regionalisation and sub-regionalisation of peacekeeping,” he said. He stressed that organisations formed on the basis of language, religion or historical coincidence did not have any role under the UN Charter. Nigeria didn’t have in mind the violation of UN charter. What Ogwu stated in favour of regional bodies was what other African countries wanted. When she opened the debate, she had stated the resolve by African leaders for regional bodies to lead peace building and peacekeeping in their areas. Ogwu listed her evidence in favour of this argument, and one of them was the role Nigeria under the multilateral instrument of ECOWAS had played and what it had achieved in the West African region thus far. She also mentioned the achievements of other regional organisations across the continent, pointing out why the regional bodies should be accorded more room in the UN peacekeeping arrangement.

In the disagreement between Nigeria and India, a few points stood out for me. It was good the debate came up as part of UN’s objective to continuously improve one of its key instruments for the maintenance of global peace. The position of Nigeria was also good, even as what India was saying equally made sense, considering the complexities in Africa. To me, since Africa was keen to play the kind of role it suggested in the course of the UNSC debate, it should pay attention to improving on the core areas over which other nations had expressed reservations. For the need to improve on such areas seemed to be the focus of the skeptics, rather than belittle the good work Nigeria and Africa’s regional organisations had done in keeping regional peace.