MONUC, the UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is typically — and accurately — described as, at over 17,000 uniformed personnel, the largest such mission currently deployed. What is less frequently considered, however, is the sheer size of the ground that these 17,000 peacekeepers have to cover. Just take a look at a map.
DR Congo is about the size of Western Europe. With that perspective, it’s easy to understand why the Secretary-General, in his most recent report on the mission, worries that it risks becoming “stretched to the limit” as it transitions almost entirely to the eastern part of the country. Indeed, at a press conference in New York yesterday, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative to MONUC, Alan Doss, confirmed that 92% of the mission’s forces were now deployed in eastern Congo — a crucial repositioning that will help the mission build on January’s ceasefire in the volatile region.
Even in just two of Congo’s smallest provinces, though, UN peacekeepers still have to patrol an area the size of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg combined. Speaking today at the Wilson Center, Mr. Doss made the telling analogy that MONUC’s task of patrolling one of these provinces, South Kivu, is equivalent to having one police officer cover all of Manhattan, plus a sizable chunk of Brooklyn.
We often don’t appreciate how tall of a task UN peacekeepers in remote, expansive , violent locations face. Give that statistic to a police officer in New York City, though, and I imagine s/he’ll appreciate it a whole lot more.