The U.N. Security Council has unanimously approved the creation and deployment of an ‘intervention brigade’, in Congo. Such a ‘intervention brigade’, under Resolution 2098(2013) “Enables ‘Offensive’ Combat Force to ‘Neutralize and Disarm’ Congolese Rebels, Foreign Armed Groups.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been under upheaval and conflict since its independence, and continuous attempts to stabilize the country have failed. More recently, peace negotiations broke down between the 23 March Movement – most commonly known as M23 rebels – , who have been making important advances in Eastern Congo, threatening to go all the way to the country’s capital and overthrow the regime, and the Congolese Government, resulting in renewed hostilities.
This Resolution may be said to come at a time of despair and hopelessness. For the first time in the history of the United Nations, the Security Council has authorized an offensive force to be deployed, breaking up with the usual ‘normal’ of establishing peace-keeping forces. This force is free, under the mandate extension, to carry out “offensive operations, either unilaterally or jointly with the Congolese armed forces”.
Furthermore, the mandate of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) was extended until March 31 2014. Bearing this in consideration, the Resolution establishes that the Council could extend it, depending on its performance, and also depending on the DRC’s progress in implementing the Peace and Security Framework for the region (February 24, 2013):
- “To continue, and deepen security sector reform, particularly with respect to the Army and Police;
- – To consolidate State authority, particularly in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, including to prevent armed groups from destabilizing neighbouring countries;
- – To make progress with regard to decentralization;
- – To further economic development, including with respect to the expansion of infrastructure and basic social service delivery;
- – To further structural reform of Government institutions, including financial reform; and
- – To further the agenda of reconciliation, tolerance and democratization.”
The Resolution also states that it will not create a precedent. Some speakers expressed their reservations during the vote, regarding this issue. Other reservations, namely related to the UN’s impartial stance, were also expressed. Nevertheless, the Resolution was passed unanimously.
Furthermore, the Congolese Representative, Raymond Tshibanda N’tungamulongon, Minister of Foreign Affairs, expressed his countries’ gratitude for the UN’s efforts in helping to protect Congolese territorial integrity.
Should we applaud such a decision by the United Nations Security Council?
Let us start with the brigade’s composition. It is official protocol for the U.N. Peacekeeping Department to ask U.N. Member states to contribute troops. It is at the same time a most difficult task, since not every U.N. Member has the financial and human availability for such enterprises. Notwithstanding, the DRC is a country that, due to its vast natural wealth, has been ravaged by its neighbours’ interests – Angola, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, among others. Rwanda is the most relevant one, bearing in mind the conflict – and genocide – that took place between Hutus and Tutsis. The government of Rwanda – post-genocide – played a major role on Mobutu’s, and later Laurent-Desiré Kabila, overthrow from power. In addition, there has been speculation that the Rwanda regime has been profiting from illegal mineral extraction in Eastern Congo – also used to sponsor Congolese rebels. As a result of the attractiveness the DRC presents, it might not be so hard a task to fulfil the requirements for the “intervention brigade”.
Moreover, we will likely see non-western countries, and exclusively African ones being part of the new force in the DRC under the U.N. auspices. This has been the trend lately in Africa, and the AU is deeply committed in guaranteeing its own security. In the end, following this logic, it will probably be relatively easy to gather the required amount of troops and resources, since having a military contingent within a country’s border is a gateway for in the near future to play a part in its ‘reconstruction’.
There is one recent example which shows exactly that: Kenyan and Ethiopian troops have been in Somalia for the past years in order to help tackle al-Shabaab and allow for a Somali Government to be installed. Such a military intervention was later ‘blessed’ by the U.N. However, even after the first Somali government in 20 years was installed, Kenyan and Ethiopian troops are still very present in Somalia and it is widely known that they are playing an influential role in Somali politics (as they historically have done for the last century). Therefore, to allow for a country to establish ‘legal’ presence in one other, is the same as someone giving a slice of your cake to someone else without even asking you, nor expecting one in return.
Second of all, and linked to the previous paragraph, is the time length. The mandate is supposed to last until March 31 2014, and is susceptible to be extended, depending on the force’s and government’s performance. If I understood it right, if the offensive force successfully targets the rebels, and the DRC government shows progress in extending its authority across the country, decentralizing its power, promoting economic development and providing welfare, and also if it implements political, economic and financial reforms, the mandate will be over within the timeline proposed. How likely is it that such goals will be achieved?
The Congo is roughly the size of Western Europe, it is mainly constituted of tropical jungles, with sparse road accesses. The DRC has an estimated population of 71 million, whereas Western Europe has close to 400 million. The majority of Congolese population is poorly educated, 65% live in rural areas, and are under widespread poverty. In the East, where the conflict is going on between government forces and rebels, thousands of people are displaced and have nowhere to go. Furthermore, the M23 rebels, based in the East, are allegedly supported by Rwanda and Uganda. Such a circumstance may define the relations the “intervention brigade’ might develop with M23’s leadership.
An ‘intervention brigade’ consisting of “three infantry battalions, one artillery and one special forces and reconnaissance company head-quartered in Goma” will have to juggle with the warm tropical weather, the thick jungle, and lack of decent roads for transport purposes. On the other side of the battlefield they will have groupings which know the field, something which gives a tremendous advantage to the rebels. Adding to this, the alleged support – in financial and military equipment terms – by other regional powers (Uganda and Rwanda), might guarantee a discreet and steady flow of resources onto rebel hands. Furthermore, the low population density in turn provides the rebels with more space to act and base their operations. Countering the international public perception of the events, the rebels are not gathered under one umbrella. There are other rebel groups acting across Eastern Congo – not all of them are part nor swear allegiance to M23 -, making it more difficult for the intervention force to operate. As a result, it is highly unlikely that the “intervention brigade’ will manage to give an instantaneous blow on the rebels. Thus, the U.N. force seems to be doomed to fail in accomplishing its immediate goals, making an extension all the more likely.
In what concerns to the DRC government, is it going to manage to abide by its commitments under the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework? Well, let’s see.
The DRC government faces the same difficulties the new intervention force will face. The territory is too large, too empty of people and too rough in order to effectively tackle rebel groups, as well to provide services. The population is uneducated and lives under a self-sufficiency base, with little knowledge of how politics work, or even who is holding power. Regarding decentralization, under the calamitous and dangerous situation the DRC is experiencing, decentralization would be seen as a gift to rebel groups. Decentralization without development, accountability and growth, does only spur self-determination feelings. Such self-determination feelings might be fed (and feed) by rebels who intend to implement an alternative to the DRC’s current regime.
As a result, the mandate might be extended for at least another year, or more if it goes accordingly other wars waged by an association of nations against one country.
Third, the ‘danger of precedent-creation’. This is probably the point which has the most implication for International Relations. By intervening in the DRC, with the goal to promote government’s sovereignty across the country and to end the atrocities and human rights violations, the United Nations are opening the way by calls for further help by other countries. Is the United Nations Security Council prepare to act once again unanimously regarding an international security issue?
The United Nations Security Council has now to choose which path to follow. Will it risk approving every single request for help? Will it risk initiating offensive military operations in every corner of the world? Moreover, what is the Criteria for intervening? Is there going to be established two kinds of human right violations – the tolerable and the intolerable? What will happen when one other nation which is witnessing human rights violations being committed within its border, sees help denied? Wouldn’t the U.N. be labelled biased? Wouldn’t the U.N. see its credibility weakened even further?
In sum, the U.N.’s new mandate to the MONUSCO might turn out to be a great mistake in the long-term. The great war for Congo that has lasted for decades – despite few interruptions – will go up a level, meaning that the great war will give place to a new Scramble for the heart of Africa – and with it a massive increase in casualties -, as the ‘intervention brigade’ establishes itself within the territory. Regional forces will take the chance and attempt to entrench their influence and power under the auspices of the United Nations – and paradoxically legitimized by it.
This new Scramble has every chance to result in a mass scale regional war, which the U.N. Security Council will have to face, and with it think on other solutions to the conflict. And why not consider some kind of Congolese partition into smaller units? It might be extremely complex, risky and conflict prone, but it would for sure settle some issues – and give rise to others – and, probably, lead to less conflict in the region. Nonetheless this is an issue to be further assessed in some other time.