Posts Tagged ‘Carvalho’

This article is co-written with Randi Solhjell and Dr. Benjamin de Carvalho. It was a comment in the Guardian in May 2010.

A proud nation of peace, Norway has traditionally been one of the staunchest supporters of UN peacekeeping. But this is now turning, as Norway may pull the plug on the entire UN peacekeeping commitment in Chad. By recalling the entire Norwegian medical contingent starting on 15 May, the fate of nearly a 250,000 refugees – many from the Darfur region – will be left uncertain.

The UN force in Chad is essential for the stability of the Darfur region. In eastern Chad on the border with Darfur, the famine would be greater and the violence no doubt more extensive without the many escorts and patrols of UN peacekeepers. Refugees and the internally displaced would suffer if the myriad rebel groups were allowed to further deteriorate the precarious humanitarian situation. While Minurcat, the UN peacekeeping force in Chad and the Central African Republic, may not be sufficient to guarantee the full safety of the region, there is no doubt that it is highly necessary. In that sense, compared to many other peacekeeping operations, Minurcat is a success.

The UN operation has been supported by a Norwegian field hospital deployed to protect UN personnel, and its withdrawal may jeopardise the entire UN peace effort in the region. Other western countries such as Finland and the sizeable Irish contingent have already started to pack their bags as news of the Norwegian withdrawal hits Dublin and Helsinki. Their continued participation in the UN operation hinged upon adequate medical support from a modern western hospital facility.

A small state with a decreasing amount of soldiers, Norway cannot solve the staffing crisis endemic in UN peacekeeping. But what a small technologically advanced country can do is to provide enabling forces for other states to take part in UN peacekeeping. It is a paradox that Norway’s enabling force is pulling out of Chad after just one year. Traditionally such a vocal supporter of UN peacekeeping, the Norwegian government has yet to coherently explain its withdrawal.

The fact that the Norwegian defence minister, Grete Faremo, and the foreign minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, are withdrawing the Norwegian hospital in spite of direct pressure from UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon, gives good reason to question Norway’s commitment to peacekeeping. Commentators, politicians and the public have questioned why the government is pulling out without the UN having any replacement hospital in sight. Accusations of political opportunism are no surprise given the amount of time Norway has been in Afghanistan.

Indeed, the contrast is stunning between the vocal rhetoric of so-called “concerned” states and their practice. Norway contributes 199 troops to UN peacekeeping in Africa, and approximately 700 to the International Security Assistance Force. This pattern goes for most concerned western countries. As such, Norway’s withdrawal is symptomatic of the worrying trend of concerned states’ lack of commitment to peacekeeping in Africa.

The backdrop of UN peacekeeping is thus a choir of western states loudly and merrily chanting the merits of peacekeeping in Africa, while refusing to be on the ground. Minurcat has until now been something of an oddity on the African continent: a UN operation in Africa without western troops.

It is a worrying trend if the slogan of “African solutions to African problems” is becoming an excuse for lack of western commitment to peacekeeping. In Chad, the dire predicament of UN peacekeeping without western troops seemed to be turning. The Norwegian withdrawal heralds that it is now back to business as usual. Western states will talk about peacekeeping – even pay for it – but not touch it as long as the US is in Afghanistan. But just as his western colleagues, President Barack Obama – recently home from his Nobel accolade in Oslo – has also stressed the importance of UN peacekeeping in Africa. Short of engaging his own troops under UN command, it may be high time the US president gave someone in Europe a call.

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