Tuesday, November 18, 2008

MONUC Ramps up to Eleven

The Reuters Foundation reports that the U.N. Security Council hopes to vote this week on a French-drafted resolution that would boost the number of U.N. peacekeepers in the Congo by 2,750 military personnel and 300 police. The draft resolution calls on MONUC to protect civilians and follow robust rules of engagement, and is based on UN Sec Gen Ban Ki-moon's call for a "troop surge."
Several questions come to mind: What countries will the additional troops come from? Will they be sufficiently equipped to do their job? Precisely what is that job: To protect civilians caught in the middle of firefights--as they failed so notably to do in Kiwandja earlier this month? To take, hold, and protect city centers and townships on a broader basis than they've been doing so far? To work alongside DRC troops in putting down the rebellion? Will they seek to regain control of the many tin, gold, and coltan mines in the region whose earnings finance the rebellion? If so, what will they do with those mines?

A (very) Short History of MONUC
The UN has a history of coming in with too few troops too late in the game to matter. Time and again, additional troops have arrived only after some crisis precipitates renewed international concern. But with each incremental addition of troops, MONUC's capacity and engagement have increased. What began with a small contingent of observers and liaison officers in 1999 was transformed by a Security Council resolution in February 2000 into a proposed Chapter VI peacekeeping force of 5,500. These troops were slow to materialize, however, and by December 2000 there were only 224 military personnel deployed; by July 2001 they numbered 2,366.
After the July 2002 Pretoria Agreement promised an end to the civil wars and the holding of national elections, MONUC's mission focused on putting down violence in the east, helping with the demobilization and repatriation of foreign troops, and establishing security conditions for a national election.
A series of battlefield embarrassments--such as Bunia in 2003 and Bukavu in 2004--prompted the UN to pass a succession of resolutions increasing the number of military personnel in MONUC and broadening its mandate. Resolution 1493 of 2003 authorized an increase in military personnel to 10,800, imposed an arms embargo, and authorized MONUC to use all necessary means to fulfill its mandate in the Ituri district and--as it deemed it within its capabilities--in North and South Kivu. By November 2003 a total of 10,415 peacekeepers were in place in the DRC.
In June 2004, Bukavu was briefly occupied by rebel generals Laurent Nkunda and Jules Mutebutsi. Despite deployments in the city and nearby airport, MONUC troops could only protect their own installations. Their failure to defend the city led to nationwide demonstrations, and in one unfortunate case, forced blue helmets to open fire on looters in Kinshasa. In October 2004, Security Council Resolution 1565 authorized a reinforcement of 5,900 military personnel and defined MONUC's mandate and strategic military objectives:
* proactively contributing to the pacification and general improvement of security in the country;
* providing support for conflict resolution in politically volatile areas;
* improving border security through regional confidence-building mechanisms, such as the Joint Verification Mechanism, and effective patrolling and monitoring of the arms embargo;
* gathering and analyzing military and other information on spoilers.

The Force reached a strength of more than 16,000 peacekeepers, split between two brigades in the east and west of the country, in early 2005. That number has slowly crept up to 17,500 troops today, of which the largest contingents come from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Uruguay, South Africa, and Nepal. The cost of the mission was $1.2 billion in FY 07-08, of which the United States contributes the largest share, at $285 million.

Scandals Notwithstanding
Along the way, MONUC has had its share of scandals. An internal UN investigation in 2004 found that MONUC troops had committed 68 confirmed incidents of rape, prostitution, and pedophilia. A draft of the report, leaked to the Washington Post, said that "sexual exploitation and abuse, particularly prostitution of minors, is widespread and long-standing. Moreover, all of the major contingents appear to be implicated."
In 2005, the BBC alleged that Pakistani MONUC peacekeepers in Mongbwalu traded for for gold with Nationalist and Integrationist Front (FNI) militia leaders, and even returned to FNI leaders the weapons that had been confiscated from them for human rights violations in exchange for gold. A UN team sent to investigate these allegations was physically intimidated by Pakistani troops; the investigation was eventually buried to avoid alienating the Pakistanis, who are MONUC's largest contributor of troops. Similar allegations have more recently arisen against Indian troops involving trade in gold and ivory.
Nevertheless, Virtually every serious observer of the situation affirms MONUC's vital necessity to the peace process. Even at the height of the scandal over sexual abuses in 2004, Human Rights Watch Congo specialist Anneke Van Woudenberg testified before Congress:
While it is shocking that U.N. peacekeepers have been engaged in acts of sexual abuse, far more women and girls have suffered rape at the hands of armed groups and armies on all sides in the DRC. According to aid agencies figures, over forty thousand women and girls have been systematically raped, mutilated and enslaved during the conflict, abuses that continue today. This is the real tragedy of the Congo and one which rarely grabs the headlines. When I recently interviewed women about sexual abuse committed by U.N. peacekeepers, one woman said to me, “Yes it is true that some girls have been raped by U.N. soldiers, but so many more have been brutally raped by other armed groups. Please focus on stopping this as it brings us so much more pain and suffering."

More recently, Anthony Gambino writes that "MONUC’s presence remains the single most important factor preventing the full collapse of state authority in the east."

Never Enough
Although it is the largest peacekeeping mission in the UN's history, MONUC remains vastly underfunded compared to the scale of the challenge. The following three slides from a 2006 presentation by William Swing at the U.S. Institute of Peace give some indication of the scale of the problem:

Although these slides represent troop and funding levels from early 2006, and are not entirely current, they do indicate that MONUC has historically never received the resources it needs to adequately do its job. Nor should it be omitted from any reckoning of MONUC's mission that it has lost 116 men and women in the operation.

P.S. About the title: American readers of a certain age will recognize the reference to the 1984 mockumentary, Spinal Tap. For others: Spinal Tap is a "documentary" about a fictitious heavy metal band touring the United States. At one point, the "filmmaker" Marty interviews band leader Nigel about his amplification equipment:
Nigel: The numbers all go to eleven. Look, right across the board, eleven, eleven, eleven and...
Marty: Oh, I see. And most amps go up to ten?
Nigel: Exactly.
Marty: Does that mean it's louder? Is it any louder?
Nigel: Well, it's one louder, isn't it? It's not ten. You see, most blokes, you know, will be playing at ten. You're on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you're on ten on your guitar. Where can you go from there? Where?
Marty: I don't know.
Nigel: Nowhere. Exactly. What we do is, if we need that extra push over the cliff, you know what we do?
Marty: Put it up to eleven.
Nigel: Eleven. Exactly. One louder.
Marty: Why don't you just make ten louder and make ten be the top number and make that a little louder?
Nigel: [pause] These go to eleven.

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