Amid pressure from Washington to contribute more to international peacekeeping efforts, the United Kingdom will send hundreds of troops to Somalia and South Sudan in an effort to quell regional instability that has resulted from terrorism and civil war.
British Prime Minister David Cameron’s announcement came ahead of a U.N. summit on peacekeeping, which will be co-hosted by President Obama Monday afternoon, and is expected to result in new peacekeeping commitments from some 50 nations, whether by dispatching boots on the ground or with medical and intelligence support. Chinese President Xi Jinping said Monday that Beijing will prepare a permanent, peacekeeping police squad of 8,000 troops, and will underwrite African Union stabilization efforts to the tune of $100 million.
Britain will send about 70 troops to Somalia to reinforce African Union peacekeepers fighting al-Shabab, the Islamist extremist group operating there and in parts of Kenya. Another 250 to 300 will be sent to South Sudan to help with fallout from the young country’s civil war, which has displaced 2 million people and contributed to the growing refugee crisis in Europe.
“What happens in Somalia, if it’s a good outcome, it’s good for Britain, it means less terrorism, less migration, less piracy,” British Prime Minister David Cameron said ahead of the U.N summit. “Ditto South Sudan.”
The British troops will not go to the front line in either country, but will instead train AU forces in various areas, including medicine and engineering in Somalia. In South Sudan they will also help prepare troops for combat.
Although the U.K. has long provided financial support to international peacekeeping efforts, it does not have a record of sending significant numbers of troops abroad in recent years. There are currently fewer than 300 British peacekeeping troops deployed worldwide, with 280 based in Cyprus.
Monday’s summit comes after months of lobbying by Washington for European countries to do more to fight extremism, especially in Africa.
But Obama himself is not expected to commit any further troops to peacekeeping missions.
The U.S. has just over 100 personnel and soldiers involved directly in peacekeeping efforts under foreign command worldwide, but contributes more than $2 billion to the peacekeeping budget each year. For years, Obama has urged other world powers, including the U.K., to offer more support to U.N. missions.
In March, Samantha Power, Washington’s ambassador to the U.N., visited Brussels to urge European leaders to recommit to peacekeeping. European countries currently provide around 6,000 peacekeepers — less than seven percent of the world’s total. In her March speech, Power blamed “back-to-back catastrophes in Rwanda and Bosnia” for a “seismic shift” in peacekeeping efforts, citing two incidents when peacekeepers failed to protect civilians from mass slaughter.
In his address to the General Assembly ahead of the peacekeeping summit Monday, Obama urged greater participation.
“Together we must strengthen our collective capacity to establish security where order has broken down,” he said. “Later today, the United State will join with more than 50 countries to enlist new capabilities, infantry, intelligence, helicopters, hospitals and tens of thousands of troops to strengthen United Nations peacekeeping.”
Obama’s push to convince others to deploy more peacekeepers to the frontlines when the U.S. won’t do the same has irked India, the world’s largest contributor of peacekeeping forces. Officials in Delhi are wary of Obama’s demand for more troops to U.N. missions, especially if they will be have to take the offensive.
Asoke Kumar Mukerji, India’s ambassador to the U.N., told the Guardian this month that “if somebody wants soldiers to go in and fight they should hire mercenaries, not take UN soldiers.”