Neil MacFarquahar scratches us where we itch.
Many feel that peacekeeping has become a panacea, with the deployment of United Nations forces considered proof that the Security Council is paying attention to a crisis, whether the troops are effective or not. The Council has a tendency to just keep extending missions once approved.
As a result, the number of personnel on peacekeeping missions has grown to 113,000 soldiers, police officers and civilians assigned to 18 missions, from 40,000 in 2000.
In the past few months alone, the Security Council has voted to take over a European mission deployed in Chad, to beef up the force in eastern Congo and to contemplate deploying a new force in Somalia. The peacekeeping budget has ballooned to $8 billion.
That’s pretty much the fundamental dynamic that is squeezing UN Peacekeeping at the moment. Making matters worse is that fact that so few P-5 members have troops committed to peacekeeping missions. For example, if you look at the Darfur mission, which is arguably the highest profile peacekeeping mission today, you’ll hardly see any troops from the P-5. This creates a vicious cycle of sorts: because P-5 members don’t have their own troops in harms way, they have less of a stake in the mission’s success. And because they don’t have a direct stake in the success of the mission, they are less willing to do the heavy diplomatic lifting that is often required to shepherd through a lasting peace agreement.
Fortunately, it seems that the crisis in UN peacekeeping is getting far greater attention these days. Susan Rice even listed fixing peacekeeping as her top priority during her Senate confirmation hearing. Whether or not this means we can see greater US participation in UN peacekeeping (beyond, that is, funding the bulk of the missions) is still up in the air.
This seems like a good idea.
A club for youth to exchange ideas on peace, to be established in all schools of secondary and above levels in Sudan’s strife-torn Darfur region, was launched this weekend, the African Union-United Nations joint peacekeeping operation there (UNAMID) said today.
Over 100 new members attended the opening of the first UNAMID Peace Club, sponsored by UNAMID’s Community Outreach Unit, at the Model Secondary School for Girls in El Fasher – the headquarters city for the mission.
While skeptics might characterize this step as “fluffy” — and there’s no expectation that a “peace club” will end the violence in Darfur — the reality is that thousands of children have now grown up in sprawling displaced persons camps, relying on international humanitarian aid and unable to venture far out of the camps. And as the tumultuous case of the Kalma camp demonstrates, radicalism thrives where disillusioned and displaced young people have been clustered for years. So rather than nurse resentment, Darfuris now have an opportunity to talk about peace in an open way. It won’t quell the very real dangers that a reconstituted Darfuri society will face, but at least it’s a start.
And even though the club has been organized by UNAMID, it seems to me a little self-indulgent that the first meetings featured a quiz game “in which the students showed off their knowledge of UNAMID and its activities in Darfur.”
Any day now, the International Criminal Court will issue an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Bashir. In preparation, Sudanese Government troops are massing outside of a town in south Darfur.
The only thing standing between 20,000 civilians and the government troops are 196 lightly armed UN/AU peacekeepers.
I know people’s eyes sometimes glaze over when they see some combination of the terms “humanitarian catastrophe in Darfur.” But there is real urgency to what is unfolding. It could easily turn into a blood bath in the coming days–which in turn can call into question the credibility of the entire UN/AU peacekeeping effort in Darfur.
Here’s the backstory: Muhajiriya is a town in south Dafur which is located at a strategic crossroads that connects some of western Sudan’s main thoroughfares. Until Wednesday the town was held by a Darfur rebel group called the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). The UN, though, negotiated the withdrawal of JEM forces from the town (which were, in any case, no match against the government forces.) By securing the JEM withdrawal, the UN took away the government’s ostensible reason for sacking the town. The peacekeeping mission, UNAMID, is now trying to negotiate a no-fire zone around Muhajiriya.
There is a ticking time bomb, though. In the coming days, the International Criminal Court is expected to issue an arrest warrant for Sudanese president Omar al Bashir. When this happens, the town–peacekeepers, civilians and all–may come under attack. The Sudanese troops outside of Muhajiriya are essentially holding 20,000 people in the town hostage; if the ICC warrant comes, the hammer will drop.
This is an incredibly tense situation. UN Ambassador Susan Rice had strong words for the Sudanese government yesterday. But advocacy groups like the Enough Project are warning that unless the United States sends Khartoum the clear message that reprisal attacks will not be tolerated, a Srebrenica like situation may unfold.
I agree. 20,000 lives hang in the balance.
To recap what’s going on in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo right now: a Rwandan military force has joined forces with the Congolese army to root out the Hutu militias (many former Interahamwe genocidaires in Rwanda, and now known as the FDLR) in Congo, and in the process arrested Laurent Nkunda, a rebel previously supported by Rwanda. The UN peacekeeping mission, MONUC, was caught unawares by both the incursion and the arrest, and, after first distancing itself from the proceedings, has scrambled to tie together its role as civilian protector and the UN’s contribution to peacekeepingmaking efforts in Congo by stipulating that it will not be taking part in the offensive, but will be assisting in planning and providing technical assistance.
The problem is, the Rwandan-Congolese anti-FDLR operation is pretty much bound to affect civilians — and not in the happy liberating kind of way. (It doesn’t help, of course, that one faction participating in the hunt is led by the indicted war criminal known as “The Terminator,” even though the UN has pledged not to work with him.) This frustrating dynamic has put MONUC in a tight spot. Still, it was a shock for me to read this candid statement from Alan Doss, the UN’s head of mission in DR Congo:
“There will be collateral damage, to use that horrible phrase,” Doss said. “But again, the international community has pressed for this for a long time now.”
Doss is right on both counts. Eliminating FDLR rebels — the ostensible purpose of the Rwandan-led venture — is not only something “the international community has pressed for;” it is a necessary step toward securing peace in eastern Congo. But the truth of his first admission — the reality of the “collateral damage” that is already harming ordinary civilians — sharply enunciates the awkwardness of MONUC’s position. By providing technical assistance to a mission that is necessary but bound to result in civilian death and displacement, yet remaining under its responsibility to protect civilians, MONUC is wavering on an impossible balancing act. There were really no other options available; MONUC could not have stopped Rwanda’s advance, even if it had known about it, nor could it not take part in the mission. Unfortunately, no options have led to a not particularly good one.
(image of Alan Doss, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in DR Congo)
This is surprising news. Congolese Rebel leader Laurent Nkunda was apparently arrested by Rwandan troops on the Rwandan side of the DRC border yesterday. Jeffrey Gettleman has the story:
Gen. Laurent Nkunda, the fearsome Congolese rebel leader whose national ambitions and brutal tactics threatened to destabilize eastern Congo, was arrested Thursday night along the Congolese-Rwandan border, United Nations officials said on Friday.
According to the U.N. officials and statements made by the Congolese military, General Nkunda was trying to escape a joint Congolese-Rwandan military offensive that was intended to wipe out several rebel groups terrorizing eastern Congo.
He was captured at a small border town called Bunagana after trying to resist Rwandan troops. “He’s going to Kigali,” said Lt. Col. Jean-Paul Dietrich, a U.N. spokesman, referring to Rwanda’s capital.
On Thursday evening, hundreds of Rwandan troops converged on Bunagana, one of General Nkunda’s mountain strongholds. Congolese officials said he refused to be arrested and crossed over into Rwanda, where he was surrounded and taken into custody, apparently without violence.
What makes this all the more surprising is that last month a no-nonsense Security Council “panel of experts” report showed that Nkunda was essentially a front for Rwandan business interests in Eastern Congo. Now, it seems Kigali has turned against him–and rightfully so. Nkunda is quite possibly responsible for war crimes in eastern Congo, including, most recently events surrounding the sacking of Kiwanja.
Yet another interesting wrinkle is that earlier this week, Rwandan forces were invited into Eastern Congo by the Congolese government to join in a common offensive against Hutu militias known as the FDLR. It would seem they had another target in mind…
France 24 reporter Arnaud Zajtman has more.
There is ample evidence that UN missions may actually prolong a conflict — if there is no peace to keep. With Somalia once again facing serious violence and humanitarian crisis, the members of the UN Security Council must remember that UN missions are not a substitute for genuine political will, effective diplomacy and a practical plan to end a conflict.
The question of whether there is something about the dynamic of the actual take-over itself of a mission — the process of transitioning from the African Union-led efforts in Darfur to the “re-hatted” hybrid operation under UN control, for example — that improves or diminishes chances of success is clearly subsumed by the broader one of whether any peacekeeping mission is feasible and potentially beneficial in a given conflict scenario. The expectation that the UN will do a “better” job than a regional organization is simply an extension of the misguided belief that cobbling together some sort of peacekeeping force will be a silver bullet for a problem.
In cases in which a peacekeeping operation cannot halt conflict on its own — which is to say, never, though the chart that Julia cites does show that conflicts in which peacekeepers are deployed do reignite less often and take longer to do so than those without — this perverse international response to crises sets up a predictable double-dip of disappointment. First the world sighs when a beleaguered regional cannot impose peace on a chaotic society (e.g. Somalia); then it chastises the UN when its blue helmets also cannot square the circle of keeping a peace that does not exist. It would save a lot of time, money, and lives to recognize this pattern before precipitously looking to peacekeepers as a one-size-fits-all panacea to any problem.
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.