The United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, known as MONUC, announced today that it has freed nearly two dozen children from the ranks of the country’s armed forces this week.
For a mission that is catching some flak right now for allegedly working with an indicted war criminal, it’s worth remembering that these peacekeepers do all sorts of good stuff. Such as rescuing child soldiers. Rescuing a lot of child soldiers.
(image of former child soldier, from United Nations Photo)
Bruce Jones and Michael O’Hanlon call attention to what they call the “world’s deadliest spot” — the Democratic Republic of Congo. It’s not exactly news, but you know that if O’Hanlon — who found a niche, during the throes of the Iraq insurgency, in penning op-eds in major papers consistently asserting that the situation was improving — thinks things are going badly, then they really must be.
One major problem: the additional contingent of peacekeepers that the Security Council requested five months ago still have not been deployed. This, in turn, is because the UN still has not received enough offers for these troops. O’Hanlon and Jones:
The United Nations has called for precisely that [increased peacekeeping capability], requesting 3,000 more foreign troops on top of the 17,000 already in the country. But war-weary nations in the West are ignoring the request, leaving it to Egypt, Bangladesh and Jordan to volunteer troops.
None of these nations, alas, has the requisite airlift to deploy the troops, so the mission is still understaffed. And at just this moment, a dispute between President Joseph Kabila of Congo and India’s military command threatens to cause the departure of Indian troops from the U.N. mission, which would hobble the mission at a critical time. [emphasis mine]
The authors go on to advocate a more robust U.S. footprint in providing military assistance to MONUC and in lobbying Europe to offer troops. “Congo is not Darfur,” they argue, and the Congolese government has not objected fervently, as Sudan’s has, to the inclusion of European peacekeepers.
U.S. and European troops — and especially supplies and logistical assistance — would be welcome, of course, but we should not be picky in where MONUC peacekeepers come from. What we should be picky about is making sure that the force’s joint operations with the Congolese, Rwandan, and Ugandan governments follow established humanitarian principles. And just because it is facing a shortage of troops, that isn’t reason for MONUC to turn to an indicted war criminal; the involvement of Bosco “the Terminator” Ntaganda in these operations should be clarified and made public.
The deployment of a United Nations peacekeeping operation directly, at this stage, would be a high-risk option…Given the divergent views among the main Somali political players…such an operation could trigger opposition from substantial elements of Somali society opposed to international military intervention. It is highly likely that those opposed to the peace process would portray the mission as a new enemy, which would consequently add momentum to the insurgency and detract from the political process. This could result in attacks against peacekeepers, and in efforts to draw the United Nations force into the conflict. Equally important, the deployment of a United Nations peacekeeping operation would undermine the efforts of the new Government to continue its national reconciliation efforts. [emphasis mine]
Ban hits on all the right points here. The extremist Somali groups bent on undermining the country’s fledgling government would benefit from nothing more than an infusion of “foreign troops.” These groups have no short record, let’s remember, of attacking UNcompounds and personnel, and the blue helmets would be a bright new target for them.
As dangerous as such a mission would be for the peacekeepers, it would ultimately prove even more deleterious for Somalis. Increased violence, particularly of the indiscriminate kind, will only cause more suffering and displacement for civilians. And the country’s Transitional Federal Government is not exactly in a position to weather significant setbacks. If it falls, then one of Somalia’s best (but still faint) hopes for peace will dwindle.
For now, the best option in terms of peacekeeping is to do what the EU just did, and significantly bolster international commitments to the under-staffed and under-supplied African Union force currently operating in Somalia. The AU has already suffered numerous incidents of violence, and would be deeply unfair for UN Member States to ask it to hold the place of a UN mission without equipping it to do the job. The hypocrisy would be particularly acute because no Member State has volunteered to provide troops to a hypothetical UN mission in Somalia; when the Department of Peacekeeping Operations sent requests to 60 countries, only ten responded — all with a curt “no, thanks.”
The UN’s role for now, at least until the political and security situation in Somalia stabilizes somewhat will need to have, in Ban’s words, a “light footprint,” focusing on political reconciliation, good governance, and institution-building efforts. UN humanitarian operations — helping some 3.2 million people in need of aid — will continue, of course, but these too require a level of security that the Somali government is simply unable to provide right now.
Via the excellent Spencer Ackerman, pretty big news that President Obama will tap Peter W Galbraith as a deputy in the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). For the uninitiated, Galbraith is a diplomatic heavy weight. As a Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffer in the 1980s he uncovered Saddam Hussein’s genocide of the Kurds, and for that emerges as a hero in Samatha Power’s A Problem From Hell: American in the Age of Genocide. He is also known as a trouble-shooter. When Yugoslavia dissolved in the 1990s, President Clinton appointed him as the first United States ambassador to Croatia.
The point is, he is a star in the diplomatic world. And now President Obama has seen fit to send that expertise in support of a United Nations mission. The obvious deduction here is that the much heralded Afghanistan/Pakistan policy review, due very soon, will spell out an important role for the United Nations in the region.
Well, at least Greek and Turkish Cypriots can agree about something:
U.N. peacekeepers have upset traditional wild asparagus harvesters on the ethnically divided island of Cyprus by preventing them from entering a buffer zone to gather the tasty shoots.
U.N. soldiers, restricting access to the buffer zone which splits the island from east to west after Cyprus was divided in a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a Greek-inspired coup, say they are only doing their job, but residents are livid.
The peacekeepers are clearly “only doing their job” here, as maintaining the buffer zone is, after all, what they are stationed in Cyprus to do. On the other hand, maybe a little harmonious bout of asparagus-gathering would make it clear to the country’s multiple governments that reaching a solution to their 35-year impasse would eliminate the need for a buffer zone, and enable Cypriots from both sides to harvest as many “tasty shoots” as they’d like.
Yes, the world is in a financial crisis, and yes, valuable projects are losing funding the world over. Some priorities, though, aren’t going to diminish in urgency even if it’s hard to find the money to pay for them. Fighting is going to continue in Congo, Haiti is going to continue to build its nascent government, and Lebanon is going to continue to try to ward off destabilization, no matter how far the markets plummet. And UN peacekeepers, in these countries and a dozen others, are still going to be trying to do their jobs, in some of the hardest hit areas of the world, even if donor nations don’t scrounge up the money to pay them.
That’s why it is discouraging that the United States, by far the wealthiest country in the world, and the largest contributor to UN peacekeeping, is again going to fall behind in paying its dues. It’s extra frustrating because the Obama Administration, and its UN ambassador, Susan Rice, have stressed at great lengths the importance of supporting UN peacekeeping, of re-engaging with the rest of the world, and of ending conflicts in places like Congo and Sudan, where blue helmets are the only ones working to hold tenuous peace. Hell, the United States has even made noise (ill-advisedly) about creating new UN peacekeeping missions. If it’s going to vote for these missions in the Security Council, it’s going to get billed for them, plain and simple.
Despite this rhetorical support and the fact that the bills are going to come, even if the government keeps deferring payment, the U.S.’s 2009 budget request will shortchange UN peacekeeping by $669 million. That may seem like small potatoes in these days of $800 billion legislation, but when you’re talking about the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations, which runs on a shoestring yearly budget of just $7 billion, those missing U.S. funds will hit hard, in places that need them the most, to protect the people that most need protection.
Congress will have a chance to make up this funding gap later, through what’s called a supplemental funding bill, but it’s disheartening to see the U.S.’s long-standing policy of paying its UN dues late continue, with an administration so committed to improving America’s image and taking up a strong leadership position in the world. For the sake of peacekeeping missions everywhere, struggling with the rest of the world in this economic downturn, and to live up to the administration’s own commitments, the United States will have to provide this crucial funding as soon as possible.
The SG: In Ethiopia over the weekend, the SG is now in the United Arab Emirates. Today he met with Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashed Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, where the two discussed developments in the region, including Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan, and in the Middle East Peace Process.