There is little appetite in Britain for sending troops to dangerous parts of the world, whether it be to combat Islamism or provide assistance in times of civil war. Yet, quietly and with no audible objection thus far, such an expedition is going ahead; David Cameron has promised hundreds of British soldiers to UN and African Union peacekeeping missions in Somalia and South Sudan.
It may not be quite the same as sending ground troops to fight Isis in Iraq (where many are currently engaged in training), but it represents a softening of the reluctance to fly British soldiers into danger zones that has held sway since the 20th Armoured Brigade pulled out of Basra, ending British combat operations in Iraq, in 2009. Such as it is, and with appropriate caution, the move deserves to be welcomed.
First of all, the situation in Somalia, where 70 troops are to be dispatched, and South Sudan, where 300 will follow, is indeed dire. The terrorist group al-Shabaab has moved into Mogadishu once more and the African Union troops charged with combating it will need support, if the already dim prospect of a Somalian election in 2016 is not to be extinguished entirely. In South Sudan, civil war has led to a mass exodus.
Mr Cameron is right to justify sending the troops with reference to Britain’s own interests, in ensuring “less terrorism” and “less migration”. But joining UN-backed peacekeeping missions also shows a country willing to play a part in helping some of the world’s most vulnerable people. For too long, Britain has left the burden to others, with a mere 280 troops joining the hazard-free UN mission in Cyprus. For all the failures of its parent body, UN peacekeeping missions remain crucial for nations at risk of disintegration – and supplying British troops to them constitutes one of the most worthy uses of this nation’s military resources.Reuse content