Involvement in UN operations provides an opportunity for countries across the region to work together and develop skills to enhance peace and stability.
By Ivana Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 10/10/12
Serbia recently committed troops to UN peacekeeping missions in Lebanon and Cyprus, and nine other nations in the region also are providing personnel for UN operations. [Reuters]
Serbia has deepened its commitment to playing a role in the international community by sending soldiers to join UN peacekeeping operations in Lebanon and Cyprus.
The move marked the first time Serbian troops have joined the UN force in Lebanon and raised the number of Serbian soldiers deployed in UN operations to 67. Missions in Congo, Liberia, Ivory Cost and the UN Truce Supervision Organisation in the Middle East also include Serbian personnel.
Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Montenegro, Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, Moldova, Romania and Turkey also have made the choice to provide personnel for UN operations. Military officials and political analysts said involvement with UN missions creates an avenue for regional co-operation between Balkan nations.
"Serbian Army participation in United Nations multinational operations is an important element of its foreign policy, which greatly contributes to the Republic of Serbia to be treated as an equal partner in relations with other member states of the UN and the Partnership for Peace, as a partner who, also, actively contributes to the maintenance of peace and stability in the world," Major Igor Filipovic, from the Serbian Army's Centre of Peacekeeping Operations, told SETimes.
Among the former Yugoslav countries, Croatia participates most significantly in UN missions.
Vlatko Cvrtila, a professor at the University of Zagreb's Faculty of Political Sciences and a member of the Atlantic Council of Croatia, said being active in international operations helps Croatia expand the knowledge and skills necessary to promote peace.
"Participation in UN missions has positive effects on the development of national security by creating the ability to have an important role in peace-building, which has an indirect impact on regional security, as well," Cvrtila told SETimes.
Among the former Yugoslav countries, Croatia participates most significantly in UN missions. The Croatian Army currently has 118 members deployed in seven different UN peacekeeping missions, including 96 in the Golan Heights. In Cyprus, Liberia and Lebanon, Croatian and Serbian soldiers are serving together.
Two soldiers from Montenegro also are serving in Liberia, and five members of the BiH Army are serving in Congo.
For any country that sends soldiers to serve with UN peacekeeping operations, preparation is crucial. Filipovic said candidates are selected based on a wide range of criteria, including expertise in specific duties, physical and psychological test results and English language skills.
Most UN peacekeeping forces are infantry soldiers, but personnel with specialised training in engineering, medicine and helicopter operations also are in demand.
Natasa Nikokic, 17, from Nis, is planning to join the Serbian Army, and said she is eager for the chance to serve in a UN peacekeeping operation.
"It is the biggest thing one person could do for their country, people, region and world," Nikokic said. "It is not only … about doing good deeds and helping people, it is something much much bigger. It has global meaning and it is a great honor to be a part."
Cvrtila said that participating in UN missions allows military personnel from different nations to work together, creating a framework for regional co-operation that could help improve safety and security.
"States with more experience could assist in preparation process of those which do not have it," Cvrtila said. "Also, states could think about joint logistical support in cases where teams from the region are in the same UN mission. So there is a lot of space for progress."