by Editorial

“Unlike peacekeeping operations which occur after a situation has degenerated into a violent confrontation, ‘keeping the peace at sea’ operations would be intended to prevent the degeneration in the first place. This is what effective policing is all about. It is the constabulary role, and it is one which navies have been doing almost continuously for millennia. Giving navies a more precise set of tools, specific UN tools, can bring “a security for such as pass on the seas upon their lawful occasion” into the 21st century.”

— Hugh Williamson (2011)

75 years ago, the formation of the United Nations Organisation was the second major effort to evolve an institutional comity of nations that reflects among others an Indian ethos. On 26 September 2020, Indian Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, painted a picture of India as an outward-looking country, with a commitment to multilateralism, and fundamental philosophy that is aligned with that of the UN, declaring, “we treat the whole world as one family” [UN News : Sep 2020]. Few realise that while India will celebrate 75 years of political independence only on 15 August 2022, it is one of the four nations that became a founding member of the UN despite the wait for independent dominion status. Earlier in June this year, India was elected as non-permanent member of the powerful UN Security Council for a two-year term, winning a record 184 votes in the 193-member General Assembly. It is apt that this article looks at the Indian perspective of peace and good order on the global stage at large under the UN Charter and peace operations at sea as one of it core philosophies.

The evolving and turbulent world order, has been marked by transitions from bipolarity to multi-polarity and new scenarios of contemporary attempts towards economic and territorial hegemony. The Wuhan originated pandemic has further complicated the delicate balance of connectivity and contestations that become most visible in the maritime segment of geo-politics. Despite the innate desire for peace and good order, military forces and in particular naval assets remain a national contribution to international peace. Indian articulation of SAGAR or Security and Growth for All in the Region stems from the larger vision of collaboration and inclusive world order.

Naval forces play a vital role as maritime sinews in a unique environment like the sea, spelling out their wide spectrum of involvement on the international stage. Sea has more bridges that build international neighbourhoods as opposed to division by conflict. A key aspect of trade in an emerging multi-polar global order is the need to maintain good order at sea. Versatility of maritime military elements and ability to calibrate their posture highlights their enduring role in peace and order in the international arena.

Historically there is a credible record of maintaining peace at sea through deployment of naval forces. There have been several occasions in the past wherein maritime forces have undertaken operations albeit at a relatively low level, keeping peace and good order at sea. Under the concept of conventional UN peacekeeping operations, these were regarded as primarily a ground force function. In fact, most of UN peacekeeping operations have been conducted with ground forces and assets. However, maritime forces have contributed a significant portion to such operations. There are many tasks that United Nations peacekeeping forces are expected to play on the oceans. 

UN archives indicate that the first UN peacekeeping mission was established in 1948, when the Security Council authorised deployment of UN military observers to monitor the Armistice Agreement between Israel and its Arab neighbours. Since then, there have been a total of 72 UN peacekeeping operations around the world, with 14 operations in progress today. Rumki Basu [1993] mentions that UN Peacekeeping Operations have enabled military forces to be used not to wage war, establish dominion, serve the interests of any power or group of powers but rather to control and resolve conflicts between states or communities within states. Alex Bellamy [2004] highlighted that Article 1(1), of the UN Charter, states that one of its central purposes, is ‘to maintain international peace and security, and to that end take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace’.

India and United Nation Peacekeeping Operations

Commencing with its participation in the UN operation in 1950 where it supplied medical personnel and troops to the UN Repatriation Commission in Korea, India has a long and distinguished history of service in UN peacekeeping. Since 1950, India has participated in 50 missions sending more than 2,08,000 troops. 168 Indians have sacrificed their lives in these peacekeeping operations, the largest sacrifice by any troop-contributing nation. Pallav Agarwal [2018] states that India has developed a well-rounded policy for participation in UN peacekeeping operations. United Nations peacekeeping operated in increasingly complex environment to which India was always a steadfast partner and contented its commitment with UN peace operations for long years. Acknowledging India’s contribution, UN secretary general Antonio Guterres said that it would be an understatement to say that India’s contribution to global peace has been remarkable. Pallav Agarwal (2018) points out that India has expressed that the UNSC should decide peacekeeping operations within 30 days or within 90 days in order to avoid delays leading to further deterioration. India has advocated the involvement of experts from all fields in peacekeeping to better manage new challenges.  India was one of the original members of United Nations even before its independence in 1947. In principle, only sovereign states can become UN members. However, although today all UN members are fully sovereign states, four of the original members (Belarus, India, the Philippines, and Ukraine) were not independent at the time of their admission. India signed the Declaration by United Nations on 1 January 1942 and was represented by Girija Shankar Bajpai who was the Indian Agent-General at the time. Afterwards the Indian delegation led by Sir Arcot Ramasamy Mudaliar signed the United Nations Charter on behalf of India during the historic United Nations Conference on International Organization held in San Francisco, United States on 26 June 1945. Sir A. Ramaswamy Mudaliar later went on to serve as the first president of the United Nations Economic and Social Council. Technically, India was a founding member in October 1945, despite it being a British colony. India, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia were all British colonies but were given independent seats in the United Nations General Assembly.


Post independence, India has been dedicated to the maintaining international peace and security, as well as one of the leaders in the fight against colonialism and apartheid which marked the post-WWII environment in the world. The country was among the most outspoken critics of apartheid and racial discrimination in South Africa, being the first country to have raised the issue in the UN (in 1946). Its candidature was unanimously endorsed by the 55-member Asia-Pacific Group in June last year. This is the eighth time India has been elected a non-permanent member of the UNSC.

Trajectory of India’s Peacekeeping Contribution

For 70 years, the United Nations’ peacekeeping operations have stood as a beacon of multilateralism and international solidarity, the embodiment of the highest ideals of the UN. From Sierra Leone to Cambodia, Timor Leste, Namibia, El Salvador and elsewhere, UN peacekeeping has helped countries move from war to peace, proving to be one of the international community’s most effective investments in peace, security, and prosperity. India’s participation in this remarkable enterprise is perhaps without parallel. India has been and remains one of the largest contributors of troops to UN peacekeeping missions, with more than 2,00,000 personnel deployed in operations since 1950, the most of any country. This is an incredible demonstration of India’s deep commitment not only to maintaining peace and harmony across the world but also of its belief in the UN Charter.

Indian peacekeepers have been deployed in some of the UN’s most dangerous and challenging missions – in South Sudan, Congo, Somalia, Central African Republic and ten other UN mission across the globe. As the demand for UN peacekeepers has risen steadily, India has responded to the call for service, reaffirming the strength of its relationship with the UN. As of June 2018, India was the third largest troop contributor in the world, with over 6,000 personnel stationed around the world, helping save lives, protect people and setting the stage for a lasting peace.

India and UN Peace Operations at Sea

India had till the early 1990s, provided an infantry battalion, military observers and a field ambulance unit in UN peacekeeping operations. These included ONUCA (Central America) in 1990-92, ONUSAL (El Salvador) in 1991 and UNOMIL (Liberia) in 1994. Indian Navy in a period of maritime resurgence progressed operations for good order at sea in four types of naval operations — Humanitarian, Low Intensity Conflict (LIC) operations against illegal and undesirable elements, Anti-Piracy and Deterrent.

It is in Somalia, that the Indian Navy took an active part in the United Nations Operations in Somalia (UNOSOM) II, 1993-94. India contributed 5,000 personnel from all ranks and four Indian navy warships. Indian naval ships and personnel were involved in patrolling duties off the Somali coast, in humanitarian assistance onshore, and also in the transportation of men and material for the United Nations. They successfully combined the often conflicting roles of coercive disarmament and humanitarian relief to the civilian population. Indian personnel displayed considerable resilience in facing dangerous conditions in these missions. India was one of the few troop-contributing nations to maintain its original presence until the end of that operation, even resisting domestic political pressure to withdraw its troops.

Operation Muffet: The Somalia operation between December 1992 and December 1994 was the Indian Navy’s first ever overseas deployment in support of United Nations Humanitarian Relief Operations. Late Vice Admiral GM Hirandani (Retd) narrated that a task force was formed comprising three ships was dispatched to Somalia. IN Ships Deepak, Kuthar and Cheetah constituted the task group and was commanded by Commodore Sampath Pillai who was designated as Commodore Indian Naval Forces (COMINF).

Source: Indian Defence Review

Operation Restore Hope: A Task Force comprising IN Guided Missile Corvette, LST and Tanker was immediately deployed off Somalia once the US led coalition force launched ‘Operation Restore Hope‘ in Dec 92. This joint operation of the Indian Armed Forces as part of UN peacekeeping mission in the civil war ravaged Somalia continued to be backed up by one IN warship on constant surveillance and patrol task off the Somalia coast along with the warships of multinational forces till Oct 93. The Indian Navy spent a total of 347 ship days maintaining vigil along the Somali coast and ports during 1992-93. The last remaining units of the Indian contingent were repatriated from Somalia on board Indian naval ships from Kismayo port. India demonstrated its capacity to provide an integrated force, comprising land and naval forces as well as air support.

Source: Indian Defence Review

Additionally, major maritime nations have supported and contributed to the United Nations peacekeeping efforts. They have contributed ships and personnel to support the maritime portion of the blockade in support of UN mandated sanctions against Iraq and Maritime Interdiction Operations in Afghanistan through the 1990s and beyond. Those maritime forces operations, sanctioned or supported by the United Nations, clearly identify the growing demand for, and renewed role of, maritime forces in conducting a myriad of peacekeeping operation in areas where land conflicts have been extended to adjacent waters.

India’s Role in Mitigation of Piracy off the coast of Somalia

The scourge of piracy off Somalia posed a serious problem for safety of maritime traffic and the limited authority of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in Somalia became news of maritime concern by mid 2008. UNSC Resolution 1846 of 02 Dec 08 welcomed the initiatives of international navies (including India) for their pro-activeness in combating piracy and undertaking convoying operations. This resolution also authorised concerned naval forces to enter the Somalian territorial waters for repressing piracy and armed robbery at sea.

India deployed its naval assets under the UNSC mandate. Two interventions by the Indian Navy exemplify the naval role in peace and good order at sea. In the first ever deterrent action against Somali pirates undertaken by the navy of any country, INS Tabar destroyed a pirate ‘mother ship’ on 11 November 2008 285 nautical miles south west of Salalah Oman. The warship closed the vessel and asked her to stop for investigation. On repeated calls, the vessel’s threatening response was that she would blow up the warship if it closed her. Pirates were seen roaming on the upper deck of this vessel with guns and Rocket Propelled Grenade launchers. The vessel continued its threatening calls and subsequently fired upon INS Tabar and the warship retaliated, opening fire on the mother ship. After a fire and explosion due to stowed ammunition catching fire, the mother vessel sank. INS Tabar on the same day prevented hijacking attempt on a Saudi Arabian flagged merchant vessel also. In another direct action on 28 May 2009, INS Talwar was escorting the MV Maud, a Liberia-registered cargo ship with two other merchant vessels, Southern Independence and Arames, along the north of the Horn of Africa. The Maud sent a distress call around 12.50 in the afternoon. Its Indian captain reported sighting a skiff with eight armed men approaching the vessel at great speed. In response, INS Talwar, advised the Maud to increase speed and execute a sharp right turn in an evasive manoeuvre to avoid getting boarded. INS Talwar’s helicopter was launched with marine commandos embarked. The commandos sighted two men from the skiff attempting to board the vessel from the bow. They fired warning shots to deter the pirates.  The pirates were observed to disengage from the merchant ship. However two pirates who were in the process of climbing the vessel fell into the water. A boarding party from the warship, thereafter, boarded the skiff and confiscated various weapons as well as equipment used by the pirates.

Approximately US $ 110 billion of international trade passes through the erstwhile piracy infested waters off Somalia. India contributes around 7% of the world’s merchant mariners and thus has an abiding interest in their safety and security. In the UN and other multilateral forays, India has urged greater international cooperation in anti-piracy efforts, including welfare of the hostages. It was at India’s specific instance that the UN Security Council, vide resolution 1976 of April 11, 2011, for the first time strongly condemned the growing practice of hostage-taking by pirates operating off the coast of Somalia. India is a founder-member of the ‘Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia’ (CGPCS), established on 14 January 2009 pursuant to United Nations Security Council resolution 1851 (2008), is a voluntary, ad hoc international forum of approximately 70 countries, organizations and industry groups with a common interest in combating piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, and to facilitate the discussion and coordination of actions among  states and organizations to suppress piracy.

Typifying its commitment to use of naval resources to ensure good order at sea, Indian Navy has been fully engaged for a dozen years to stay engaged in the region. As a founding member of the CGPCS, India has actively contributed to the international efforts to combat maritime piracy Containment of same off the coast of Somalia is an example of successful international collaboration of UN and India in the area of maritime security.


Peacekeeping Operations (PKOs) have become one of the UN’s most important means of preserving peace and international security. Some of the greatest threats to international peace and security do not occur on ‘UN Member States territory’, but at sea. The internationally significant and long-standing phenomenon of maritime piracy initially led to international action off the coast of Somalia, but other regions affected by criminal acts at sea are reinforcing the need for international action.

The UN is likely to continue to conduct Traditional Peacekeeping operations and its most successful type of peacekeeping operation – Managing Transition – in cases where political settlements have been reached and outside assistance has been requested. However, the UN is likely to delegate significant military tasks to regional organisations and alliances in future. In such cases the UN will form only one pillar of a broader operation rather than enjoying overall control. India has played a detrimental and significant role with its constructive participation in International Peace keeping by bolstering the anti – piracy operations at the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of Somalia. As reported in 2018 by Indian Navy, having escorted over 3000 merchant marine during patrolling, not a single ship under the escort of Indian Navy since 2008 has been hijacked by the pirates. With proper naval systems, surveillance and maritime domain awareness India Navy had played commendable job in Peacekeeping operations carried out at International Seas.

The ability to shape India’s maritime security environment requires the development of a credible naval presence with adequate assets commensurate with our defence and security interests as well as those required to discharge the role and responsibility expected of India by the international community like the UN. As a diplomatic instrument, the Navy has key attributes- access, mobility, reach and versatility. We need to embed these attributes within the larger vision of India’s role in the global arena. A flexible but proactive maritime international presence is essential to safeguard and project our national interests overseas. India and UN@75 is a time to heed the international call to bring humane order and well being through UN mandated Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Yet, in light of continued threats to good order at sea, India and its Navy must remain mission deployed in a collaborative maritime synergy to see that the sea lanes remain open for the arteries of maritime connectivity and trade.

Commodore Odakkal Johnson is the Director and Head of Research at Maritime History Society, an academic initiative of Western Naval Command of Indian Navy.

You may also like