Bhutan's first military United Nations Peacekeeping Force contingent to MINUSCA seen off by His Majesty last year

His Majesty’s gift to the armed forces

It is well known that Bhutan has been contributing soldiers and police personnel to the United Nations Peace Keeping (UNPK) missions since September 2014.

Other developing countries who contribute troops for such missions deduct 5 to 10 percent of the Mission Subsistence Allowance or Individual Reimbursement of their soldiers.

Some countries even deduct beyond that.

However, in the case of Bhutan, His Majesty The King has graciously commanded that the full entitlement from the UN shall be granted to the individuals without any deduction.

The Royal Command will come as a major financial incentive for the armed forces members.

After the UN makes deductions for housing, meals and miscellaneous items for the troops it gives an Individual Reimbursement of USD 1,448 or Nu 119,779 per month per soldier to the troop contributing government on a quarterly basis. This is pure savings for the soldiers as they do not have to spend this money.

Other governments of developing countries dip into this fund and make various deductions.

However, in the case of Bhutan each soldier will get the full amount and given that each deployment is for 12 months each soldier, regardless of rank, will save USD 17,376 a year or Nu 1.437 million (mn).

This is applicable for the first ever 180-member RBA contingent deployed since September 2022 in Central African Republic (CAR) with a 12-month tenure as part of the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission for the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). They will all have a combined savings of USD 3.127 mn or Nu 258.66 mn after their one year posting. The USD will be added to the reserves.

However, this is not the full story as a total of 487 army and police personnel have served or are are serving in the UNPK.

Of this, 261 peace keepers have finished their tenure with 181 from the army and 80 from the police.

There are currently 226 serving which includes the first ever 180-member military contingent mentioned above deployed as one group in CAR and 46 RBP personnel.

The savings can be even more for soldiers and police personnel who are not part of contingents as there are no deductions and they are given the whole allowance from which they have to manage rent and food.

For example, in CAR, the the allowance for one year is USD 53,406 or USD 4,450 per month, but the soldiers have to manage accommodation (around USD 500 per month), meals and other miscellaneous expenses from this. The scope to save is a little more.

In addition to the UN allowances, the soldiers get their full pay back home as well as rations for the family.

Some countries even cut from the pay of the soldiers who are deployed.

Bhutan has to invest when it comes to the vehicle, weapons, equipment and other gear for the soldiers.

Here it has been learnt that His Majesty wanted to ensure that the Bhutanese peace keepers have the best weapons and equipment available so that they can stay safe. It has been learnt that the best weapons, bullet proof vests, vehicles and other equipment was procured for the peacekeepers. His Majesty also personally saw off the first contingent to CAR from the Paro Airport.

A problem with peacekeepers from other countries that has the UN a bit frustrated is that they come with various conditions like not patrolling at night etc, however, in the case of the Bhutanese contingent they come without any conditions.

The soldiers are not only peacekeepers but also ambassadors for Bhutan through their conduct and values. People in the conflict zones know about Bhutan through these peacekeepers.

The primary goal of the peacekeepers is in keeping with His Majesty’s vision for Bhutan to tangibly contribute to international peace and security, and having greatly benefitted from our membership to the UN, Bhutan in 2014 consciously took the decision to start participating in UNPK missions.

Participation in the UNPK is a major foreign policy initiative for Bhutan.

It reflects and promotes national sovereignty, demonstrates the coming of age and growth of the nation to contribute tangibly towards international peace and security and it conveys returning international assistance that Bhutan continues to receive since becoming a member of the UN in 1971.

It exercises Bhutan’s soft power i.e. the nation’s will and commitment to constructively engage with the international community and contribute responsibly to global peace and security.

It also increases the country’s visibility and profile in the international arena.

Bhutan’s first participation in September 2014 was a military officer at UNTSO in the middle east and two staff officers at MINUSCA in CAR.

This was followed by deployments to Liberia, South Sudan, Mali, Darfur, Syria, Abyei, Western Sahara, Haiti and Democratic Republic of Congo.

Currently apart from the 180 deployed in CAR, Bhutanese soldiers and police personnel are serving in Democratic Republic of Congo, Israel, Mali, South Sudan, Sudan and Western Sahara.

In the past they were also deployed in Yemen, Lebanon and Liberia.

Despite the extensive deployment, no Bhutanese soldier has been killed or injured till date.

In the near future, it will not only be army contingents going out as a group like in CAR, but Bhutan is also preparing to send a 160 strong Formed Police Unit (FPU) and they have been undergoing pre-deployment training since May 2023. This unit could have been prepared earlier if not for COVID. This unit will also be equipped with the latest weapons and equipment that will be sent with them.

One additional advantage for Bhutan with such missions is that Bhutanese soldiers and police personnel gain international exposure. For example, CAR has soldiers from 52 countries posted there.

Bhutan’s aim is to gradually deepen the scope and level of its contributions to UN peacekeeping operations by pledging small units that are well equipped and well trained including in niche capabilities such as medical and engineering units in the future.

In keeping with Bhutan’s strong commitment to climate change and sustainability, the military and police contingents while deploying adopt the use of renewal solar energy, green certified back up generators to save energy and reduce the carbon footprint. Awareness and sensitization are also carried out in terms of trash management, conserving energy and water and other good environmental practices which the contingent can also share with the local community where they are deployed.

The deployments are also in line with Bhutan’s full commitment to promote gender mainstreaming in peacekeeping.

RBA took a significant step by starting to induct women soldiers from 2021 though the induction of women officers in select technical areas like medical, engineering, legal and ICT had started much earlier.

RBA now has 436 women with 138 officers and 298 other ranks.

It has met the gender parity target of 19 percent for 2022 in terms of UN Military Experts on Mission and Staff Officers. The reliever contingent for MINUSCA will have 18 women soldiers meeting the gender parity target of 10 percent for contingent for 2022. Further more 40 percent of the FPU platoons will comprise of women.

The army and police select the best with the requirement being age below 55, driving license, medically fit and ability to communicate electronically like using emails.

Though the UN will decide the deployments based on their needs Bhutan can send 180-member military contingent and 160-member police unit every year.

The Under Secretary General for Peace Operations of the United Nations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, visited Bhutan from 30 June – 3 July 2023. This visit marked the first high level visit to Bhutan from the Department of Peace Operations of the UN Secretariat which provides political and executive direction to UN peacekeeping operations around the world.

During the visit, the Under Secretary General was granted an audience with His Majesty the King and called on Prime Minister Dasho (Dr.) Lotay Tshering, Foreign Minister Dasho (Dr.) Tandi Dorji, Lt. General Batoo Tshering, the Chief Operations Officer of the Royal Bhutan Army and other senior officials of the Royal Government.

The Under Secretary General also visited the UN Peacekeeping Centre at Taba, Bhutan UN contingent location at Shaba and also places of historical and cultural interest during his three days in Bhutan. 

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