Monday, April 1, 2013

On that Intervention Brigade...

Is the proposed UN intervention brigade the proverbial camel's nose for the establishment of a de facto UN protectorate in eastern Congo?

The Key Facts:
Resolution 2098 (2013) passed last week by the UN Security Council provides for an intervention brigade to neutralize armed groups in the DRC. The brigade will comprise three infantry battalions, one artillery and one special force and reconnaissance company with headquarters in Goma. It is expected to be operational by July. Reuters says South Africa, Tanzania and Malawi are the most likely candidates to supply troops for the intervention unit. Projected troop strength will top out at either 2,500 or 3,069.

The resolution directs the force to act "in a robust, highly mobile and versatile manner ... to prevent the expansion of all armed groups, neutralize these groups, and to disarm them."

The Key Text:
Here is the most relevant section of Resolution 2098 (2013). For the full text, click here:

The Security Council...
“9.   Decides to extend the mandate of MONUSCO in the DRC until 31 March 2014, takes note of the recommendations of the Special Report of the Secretary-General on the DRC and in the Great Lakes Region regarding MONUSCO, and decides that MONUSCO shall, for an initial period of one year and within the authorized troop ceiling of 19,815, on an exceptional basis and without creating a precedent or any prejudice to the agreed principles of peacekeeping, include an “Intervention Brigade” consisting inter alia of three infantry battalions, one artillery and one Special force and Reconnaissance company with headquarters in Goma, under direct command of the MONUSCO Force Commander, with the responsibility of neutralizing armed groups 
International Reactions:
The resolution was approved unanimously by the Security Council, although several members voiced serious reservations about it.

  • Rwanda said the brigade should "help the Congolese Government focus on disrupting the activities of armed groups, including the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR)."
  • Guatemala said the brigade raised conceptual, operational and legal considerations that had not been sufficiently explored. It would have preferred the brigade to be a self-standing unit with specific duties distinguishable from those of MONUSCO’s other brigades.
  • The United Kingdom admitted that the UN had entered “new territory” with the authorization of the brigade, but boldly declared: “This is the recipe for success.”
  • Argentina said the idea of “enforcing peace rather than keeping it” required deep reflection, certainly more than the week of negotiations allotted to it. Together with Pakistan and China, it emphasized that the establishment of the brigade in no way constituted a precedent-setting move.
  • The USA said nothing explicit about the brigade; it did, however, commend the UN for setting Monusco up for success by streamlining the efforts of its military component.

Although not a member of the security council, DRCongo's foreign affairs minister, Raymond Tshibanda, was given the floor after the resolution passed. He said the resolution should lead to the "dawning of a new era ... of human rights, security and stability for all, as well as greater regional cooperation and sustainable development." So I'm guessing he was pleased.

One dissenting note came from the International Federation for Human Rights, which says that the brigade marks "an unprecedented change to the traditional United Nations peacekeeping model and [will] require stronger human rights protection’s mechanisms to avoid increased harm to civilians.”

Three Key Questions 
The establishment of this brigade raises all kinds of questions, some of which I'm sure will become the subject of masters' theses for decades to come. Here are three.

What, Exactly, is the Mission Supposed to Be?
It's not clear exactly what the new troops are expected to do. Actually, let me rephrase that. The language of the mission is perfectly clear: The forces are to pro-actively--kinetically, in military-speak--neutralize and disarm the armed groups operating in eastern Congo. They are, in other words, to do what the Congolese state has notoriously failed to do over the past decade: Re-impose order on the eastern fourth of the country.

The problem is that there are some 15 armed groups operating in eastern Congo, an area larger than the United Kingdom. Is the brigade really supposed to seek out the M23 rebels and either destroy or cause them to surrender? Should it arrest or kill Sultani Makenga? What about the remaining FDLR? Or the local mai mai groups?  Should it go after these groups even if they remain hunkered down in their own ethnic enclaves, or should it wait until they attack someone? And what if a FARDC company deserts or goes on a frolic of its own, as one did for example in October 2010?

A plain language reading of the resolution is that the answer to most of those questions is yes. Yes, the brigade should go after the FDLR. Yes, it should disarm the M23 and the various mai mai militia. Yes, in conjunction with FARDC and existing Monusco troops, it should become the de facto hegemon for the region. You see the problem: There's no way a few thousand additional forces can accomplish that ambitious a mandate. So questions arise. Which groups should the brigade target first? What exactly should its rules of engagement be? Who gets to make these decisions, when, and in conjunction with who else? The fact that we don't have answers to these (obvious) questions is why I say that the brigade's mission remains remarkably undefined.[1]

Why Now?
Eastern Congo has been in more or less continuous upheaval since 1994, when some one to two million Hutu refugees arrived in eastern then-Zaire after the Rwandan genocide. A few of us realized from the outset that these camps presented an untenable situation and proposed that we disaggregate the genuine refugees from the mass of genocidaires hiding among them, using western military forces if necessary.  A few more of us remember the proposed Canadian-led international force in 1996 that the Clinton administration shot down, in part by flat-out lying about the number of refugees that were left in Congo. And in 2002, there was talk of using western troops to enforce . The French did send troops to Bunia in 2003, for Operation Artemis, which by and large succeeded in putting a cork on that sub-region's inter-ethnic violence. But in November and December 2008, all the Belgian chocolate in the world couldn't convince the major powers--the US in particular--to pony up troops to protect civilians in eastern Congo from yet another outbreak of violence.

It's also been obvious, for a very long time, that the extant UN troops were largely inadequate to the task of protecting the civilian population. I remember in Bunia in 2003 prior to Artemis hearing civilians boo the Monuc convoys patrolling town because of the UN's obvious failures to protect them. In November 2008, refugees and civilians in Kibati in eastern Congo surrounded and stoned a UN convoy in anger at the same. I wrote a brief, canned history of Monuc at that time, bemoaning the UN's reliable history of coming in with too few troops too late in the game to matter. Their surrender of strategic locales, from Bukavu in June 2004 to Goma in 2012, cemented their reputation for fecklessness. So, too, did their failure to respond to occurrences of mass rape and killings in immediate proximity to their own forces, such as happened in the Walikali region in August 2010.

So the question is, Why now? Why, after nearly two decades of refusing to dispatch troops that would engage the bad guys with force of arms, is the international community finally sending this (albeit small and inadequate) interventionist brigade? I don't know the answer, but I'm guessing three things helped: 1) Rwanda's diminishing moral and political influence. Rwanda just doesn't enjoy the moral authority it once did, and policymakers feel less constrained by Rwandan demands to stay out of its backyard. 2) The realization after the 2011 election that the Kinshasa government was here to stay, and that it was going to remain hopelessly inadequate to the task of reestablishing state hegemony over eastern Congo for years to come. 3) A dawning awareness that the existing UN forces were becoming a laughingstock losing credibility, that Monusco's record was undermining the entire idea of UN peacekeeping. All of these ideas/perceptions have been obvious to Congo observers for years, but it takes a while for an awareness of the problems to percolate up the chain of command and lead to serious policy changes. This is speculation, mind you: we need more thorough reporting on the topic than we've gotten to date.

What Is the Broader Significance for Human Rights and the R2P Doctrine?
The resolution takes great pains to emphasize that this is a one-off operation: The brigade, it says, will be established "on an exceptional basis, and without creating a precedent or any prejudice to the agreed principles of peacekeeping." Indeed, not since Bush v. Gore have decision-makers taken such pains to emphasize the irrelevancy of their decision to posterity.

Except that, like Bush v. Gore, it is a big deal. I'm not a sufficiently well-versed student of UN peacekeeping operations to fully contextualize this, but the brigade clearly moves the UN into new territory, from peace keeping, in which it acts as a buffer between antagonists, to peace enforcing, in which it acts, in effect, as a state, neutralizing forces it deems negative or hostile. Among the questions this raises are the following:

  • The extent to which the UN has attempted such operations in the past, and their record of success or failure;
  • The legal framework and justification for the operation. Is this, in effect, a Chapter VII + operation? Does it fit within the UN's existing realm of peacekeeping practices--or does the UN need to develop new doctrine to codify it?
  • Does this brigade represent a step forward in the Responsibility to Protect, the emerging international norm that says that the international community has the right to intervene in countries that fail to protect their own civilian populations from mass atrocities?

What's Next?
While it's a welcome development, the insertion of a fighting force in the Kivus is fraught with peril. If they fail to engage negative forces, they'll be viewed as yet another UN failure. If they engage and suffer serious losses, there's a good chance they'll be yanked. (Think Clinton after Somalia, or Reagan after Lebanon.) Unfortunately, as currently envisioned, they're not nearly substantial enough to accomplish the mission assigned to them without putting themselves at serious risk. So where does that leave us?

The best case scenario, I guess, is that they win a couple of quick battles with minimal loss, build their credibility, and lobby for ever greater support. In that case, the special forces brigade would continue to grow, organically, just as UN troop levels in the country did during the period from 1999 to 2007, when they more or less leveled off at 18,000. [For more background on the growth of Monuc/sco, see below the fold.]  But think about what that means: The UN will, in effect, be running a protectorate in eastern Congo. It won't administer the state; it won't be responsible for getting the garbage picked up and the potholes filled, but it will, for all intents and purposes, have assumed the state's most vital function: the establishment of a monopoly of force.

Given the history of the region, worse things could happen.

[1] At least publicly. It could be that the relevant people have thought through all these questions and are, for good and proper military reasons, not sharing them publicly. I kind of doubt this, but it's possible.

From a November 2008 blog entry:

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:

No comments:

Post a Comment