The art of peacekeeping in the DR Congo
"Peacekeeping is an art. It's harder than fighting a war…. Sometimes I feel that my hands are bound behind my back and I'm dragging a ball and chain from my leg." --Maj. Gen. Patrick Cammaert, head of the UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The Los Angeles Times ran an an instructive article on the problems faced by United Nations' peackeepers in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). They are charged with surveying an uneasy pseudo-peace in an area considered by some as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
The UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC (known as MONUC) comprises some 16,000 troops which sounds like a lot until you consider that the DRC is the size of western Europe; by contrast, there are about 150,000 coalition forces in Iraq, which is about 1/5 the size of the DRC... and even they're having problems providing stability.
One of the main problems with UN peacekeeping missions is their voluntary nature. The Security Council may authorize a huge peacekeeping force but it's up to member states to supply troops to that mission. If the mission only draws a fraction of the troops it needs and is authorized, it has to make due.
The other main difficulty faced by MONUC is also common to many UN missions: a weak and sometimes ambiguous mandate. The Security Council is often hesitant to authorize a strong mandate that might actually allow the mission to function properly. Security Council members sometimes fear that an aggressive mandate might endanger a fragile peace... though often, it's a weak mandate that does exactly that. Sometimes, Security Council members oppose a strong mandate on principle; some don't oppose on principle the idea of a UN mission having a strong mandate, while others may not want friendly regimes or rebel groups to face consequences.
If they are given a strong mandate and try to take strong action to enforce peace treaty terms, UN missions are accused of 'taking sides.' If they don't take strong action, they are accused of negligence, of being useless, of allowing another Rwanda. (The UN mission in Rwanda was shackled by a mandate of non-action imposed by the US, Belgium and France)
MONUC's particular mission is complicated by a sex scandal that rocked some of their peacekeepers from Nepal and elsewhere. Sexual violence is a tragic fact of war in all places, but it's even worse when done by so-called peacekeepers. The UN has issued stringent new guidelines on peacekeeper conduct; some of the Nepalese soldiers have already been convicted in a court martial. But the damage to trust in MONUC by civilians in some parts of the country will be hard to reverse. Just like in Abu Ghraib, a few bad apples can spoil the pot.
In reality, the main problem is that MONUC is a mission for peacekeeping, not peacemaking. It can not impose peace and stability any better than, say, the US military in Afghanistan... even though the latter has carte blanche to do pretty much whatever it wants without the nuisance of a 'mandate.'
It's even trickier when you consider the fact that most Congolese do want peace, stability and security and therefore resent that fact that maybe 30,000 militia members can ruin the lives of millions of civilians.
Update: The link to the LA Times article has expired but it was reprinted here in The Boston Globe.