October 25, 2007

HARRISONBURG—In his weekly “Strategic Interests” column for the World Defense Review, Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, examines the increased participation of mainland China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in United Nations peacekeeping missions in Africa, a phenomenon he describes as the “one instrument of Chinese influence in Africa” that “has largely escaped notice in United States policy circles.”

Dr. Pham observes that “were it not for the deployment last year of more than 1,500 French troops to the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) following Israel’s war against Hezbollah, the PLA’s contribution of personnel to UN stability and security operations would exceed the combined total of the other four permanent members of the Security Council.” According to the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), as of the end of September, the majority of Chinese peacekeepers are deployed in Africa, where 1,300 PLA personnel are currently involved in seven African missions: the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC), the UN Integrated Office in Sierra Leone (UNIOSIL), the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE), the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), and the UN Mission in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI). Furthermore, as the article notes, these numbers do not include other Chinese armed forces in Africa, including as estimated 4,000 to 5,000 out-of-uniform troops guarding Chinese investments in Sudan.

The column argues that “the fact that U.S. military planners and political leaders need to appreciate is that, while American forces—bedeviled by the legacy of the Somalia debacle and the fallout in civilian Washington after the Battle of Mogadishu, especially as seared into popular imagination by the film Black Hawk Down—have largely abstained from the international interventions in Africa, the PLA has accrued significant tactical, operational, and strategic advantages from its engagements across the dark continent.”

Noting that among the advanced questions posed last month to Army General William E. “Kip” Ward by the Senate Armed Services Committee as it examined his nomination to be the first commander of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) was the query about “what effect has China’s engagement with African militaries had on those militaries and on U.S. security interests,” Dr. Pham concludes that “given both Beijing’s overall strategic calculus and the particular modus operandi of the regime’s significant inroads into Africa” Chinese peacekeepers will indeed be a strategic concern.

To read the full text of Dr. Pham’s article, “Pandas in the Heart of Darkness: Chinese Peacekeepers in Africa,” click here.