Tag Archives: peacekeeping

Peacekeeping vs. Peacemaking in the DR Congo

UN Peacekeeping Forces in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

UN Peacekeeping Forces in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The United Nations Security Council last week took the unusual step of authorizing UN Peacekeepers in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo to “carry out targeted offensive operations” to “neutralize” armed rebel groups.  The new force, dubbed the Intervention Brigade, will be deployed by July and includes soldiers from South Africa, Tanzania, and Malawi.

Adoption of the new mandate was unanimous, meaning that the Rwandan government, which currently holds a nonpermanent seat on the UN Security Council, supported the measure. This is surprising because the government of the DR Congo has accused Rwanda of supporting rebel groups operating in that region. Much of the ongoing fighting and instability in that region is the direct result of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, which resulted in Hutu extremists fleeing across the DR Congo-Rwandan border to escape prosecution in Rwanda.

The move was also surprising in that it represents a considerable expansion of the UN mission in the Congo. Traditionally, United Nations peacekeepers have been authorized to use force only in self-defense. They generally observe and monitor existing agreements and provide a stabilizing force in the conflict. They have generally not been authorized to use force to end conflict or establish a peace. Indeed, there is considerable debate in the literature as to whether or not the United Nations either should be involved or can be effective in such a role. And since the dramatic failure of the UN mission in Somalia in the early 1990s, the United Nations has been incredibly hesitant to expand its peacekeeping role.

The expanded mission in the DR Congo thus represents in interesting development for the United Nations. It the mission proves successful, and the United Nations forces are able to establish stability in the region, successfully disarm rebel groups, and ensure the security of civilians in the area, then we might see greater use of the tool in the future. If the mission fails—as happened so dramatically in Mogadishu in 1993—then UN peacekeeping operations might be derailed for another decade.

What do you think? Should the United Nations be engaged in peacemaking operations? Or should UN forces keep within their narrow peacekeeping mandate? Will the mission in the DR Congo be a success? And what will be the effects of a successful (or unsuccessful?) operation there? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

The Global Politics of Sequestration

United Nations Headquarters, New York

United Nations Headquarters, New York

Blogging at the UN Dispatch, Mark Leon Goldberg last week raised some important questions about how the sequestration will affect the United Nations.

For those who have not been following domestic U.S. politics over the past few months, the sequestration is a series of automatic, across-the-board cuts to government spending. Republicans and Democrats agreed to the system last year in an attempt to force themselves to reach a compromise on debt reduction. The idea was to make the cuts so painful that both sides would prefer to negotiate more targeted cuts than allow the sequestration to take effect. But in a signal of the degree of dysfunction and political polarization in Washington, D.C., the sequestration went in to effect on Friday when the two parties could not reach agreement.

While there has been much discussion of the domestic impact of sequestration, less attention has been paid to the foreign policy effects. We know, for example, that the U.S. military will face more than $500 billion in cuts under sequestration, $46 billion of which would take effect this year. Outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta warned that the sequestration cuts would “seriously damage a fragile American economy and…would degrade our ability to respond to crisis precisely at a time of rising instability across the globe.” The self-made crisis, he added, “undermines the men and women in uniform who are willing to put their lives on the line in order to protect this country.”

Beyond the U.S. military, however, sequestration will affect our international efforts more broadly. The United States contributes about 27 percent of the cost of UN peacekeeping operations and about a quarter of the organizations regular budget. Sequestration will mean a cut to these contributions in the short term, with the U.S. withholding approximately $100 million in funding towards peacekeeping and a similar amount from the regular budget. However, as Goldberg notes, any savings would be illusory.

Those cuts won’t actually end up saving the USA any money in the long term because the USA is treaty-bound to pay its membership dues to the UN. So, rather than cutting UN spending, the real effects of the sequester will be the accrual of American arrears. Eventually, the USA will have to pay off those arrears so there will be no real saving.”

But the impact on UN operations would be very real indeed. As Goldberg describes it, “A $100 million cut to UN peacekeeping could mean that countries that have expressed willingness to contribute troops to an international mission in Mali may not be able to deploy. The preconditions necessary for a peacekeeping mission — food, fuel, equipment —  requires reliable funding.” Not a pretty picture.

What do you think? How will sequestration affect the ability of the United States to achieve its foreign policy goals? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

United Nations Intervention in Mali: The Changing Face of the “War on Terror”

Rebels in Northern Mali.

Rebels in Northern Mali.

The United Nations Security Council yesterday unanimously approved a resolution supporting an African-led military intervention in northern Mali intended to dislodge Islamic militants operating in the region. The resolution calls for nonmilitary measures, including political reconciliation, elections, and training of Mali’s military forces before as a precursor to deployment of a 3,330-strong force backed by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

The government of Mali has been struggling to counter the growing influence of al Qaeda-linked groups in the northern part of the country. Two groups, the National Movement of the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) heave been pushing for greater independence.

Blogging at Turtle Bay, Colum Lynch notes that the Security Council resolution provides broad authorization for foreign governments to “take all necessary measures” and provide “any necessary assistance” in support of Mali’s fight against Islamic extremists. Such measures could range from the deployment of military advisors and the provision of training and material support, to the use of drones or other forms of direct military intervention in northern Mali.

The Security Council’s decision was somewhat surprising, particularly given the fact that the organization had been so hesitant to consider the situation in Mali previously. However, the decision also reflects a new tactic in the war on terror. Rather than engaging directly in operations against Islamic extremists, the United States and other western nations are deferring to local and regional governments in the region to address the issue. This tactic raises an interesting question. What happens if the regional peacekeeping forces are unable to address the threat? How far should U.S. support go? At what point does the United States transition from “advice and support” to “direct intervention”? Would such a (revised) role require Congressional approval? Would Congress even support such an initiative? And more generally, would such a move transition the role of the United Nations from peacekeeping to peacemaking? Take the poll below or leave a comment and let us know what you think.

Can a UN Monitoring Mission Stop the Bloodshed in Syria?

Is a UN peacekeeping mission the answer to Syria's ongoing violence? Or are lightly-armed "blue helmets" the wrong tool to get the job done?

The news from Syria remained grim this week as President Bashar-al Assad agreed in principle to accept UN envoy Kofi Annan’s 6-point peace plan, but showed no signs of implementing the plan.  Violence between Syria’s security forces and rebels, which has claimed over 9,000 lives, continued unabated and was punctuated by gruesome video images of the crackdown.  Today’s “Friends of Syria” meetingin Istanbul, attended by leaders from 83 countries, produced a communique that urged Assad to implement the Annan plan but did not officially recognize the opposition Syrian National Council or provide aid to the rebel Free Syrian Army.

The UN Security Council is unlikely to support military action to aid the rebels or overthrow the Assad regime since Russia and China strongly oppose such actions and enjoy veto power on the Security Council.  (This entitles them to kill any proposed Security Council resolution simply by voting no).  In the absence of stronger measures, some leaders are calling for a UN monitoring mission that can observe the implementation of a ceasefire and report violations in an objective way.  Such a mission would fall within the category of UN peacekeeping, and in fact the UN’s peacekeeping department is currently “developing plans for a mission of about 250 unarmed, international observers to monitor the peace and hopefully to buy some time for political talks to forge a lasting settlement.”

An interesting post on Foreign Policy‘s Turtle Bay blog (which provides reporting from inside the UN by Colum Lynch) describes the planning for such a mission and assesses the likelihood that it will succeed.  Lynch notes that we must learn lessons from the failed Arab League monitoring mission that saw 150 “poorly equipped, ill-trained” monitors withdraw from Syria in January.  He cites Richard Gowan, an expert on U.N. peacekeeping at New York University’s Center for International Cooperation, who provides six operational criteria that must be met for a new UN monitoring mission to succeed.  These criteria are: 1) freedom of movement, 2) a secure HQ and communications, 3) access to Syrian artillery and armor, 4) satellites and drones, 5) special investigators, and 6) an emergency exit strategy.  Freedom of movement may be the most important criterion, and one that the Arab League mission sorely lacked:

“The Arab League observer mission was under constant supervision by Syrian security personnel, and could not travel to trouble-spots without their minders. To have even minimal credibility, the U.N. mission would need to be able to make monitoring visits on their own initiative. The team would need their own vehicles (probably armored 4x4s) and independent close-protection officers. The Syrian authorities will argue that the observers should notify them in advance of trips for safety’s sake. Nonetheless, the U.N, should insist on the right on to make spot-checks with 2-3 hours notice at most.”

Another crucial requirement that the Arab League mission lacked is a secure headquarters and communications:

“The Arab observers were headquartered in a hotel, and had [to] use Syrian communications systems to contact the Arab League in Cairo, inevitably compromising their reporting. A credible U.N. mission would need an independent base — off-limits to Syrian authorities — and the ability to send encrypted communications to New York. A neutral government such as Switzerland could provide military communications experts to support the mission. It might not take long for the Syrians (with Russian and Iranian help) to crack the codes, but this would at least signal the observers’ autonomy.”

What do you think?  Is there any chance that these six requirements will be met, given that they require the acquiescence of the Syrian government?  Is peacekeeping simply an inappropriate tool to consider in Syria today given the lack of a ceasefire and the inherent weakness of unarmed observers?  Or is a UN observer mission the best hope we have for achieving peace in Syria?

Peacekeeping or Peacemaking in the Ivory Coast

The conflict in the Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire) appears to be reaching its zenith this week, as supporters of president-elect Alassane Ouattara are moving on Abidjan, the center of incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo’s support. The current fighting is the recent developing in a longstanding conflict in the Ivory Coast, which divides the country, in part, along sectarian lines between northern Muslims and southern Christians.

Abidjan, the Ivory Coast's largest city.

Abidjan, the Ivory Coast's largest city.

The decline of the Ivory Coast marks the tragic end of what was once a promising African success story. After independence, the Ivory Coast was able to martial its cocoa exports—accounting for approximately 40 percent of the world’s total production—into dramatic economic development in the 1960s and 70s. However, beginning in the 1980s, the Ivory Coast’s economy entered a sharp decline, prompted in part by sharp declines in markets for its major export commodities—coffee and cocoa. A military coup in 1999 was followed by an outbreak of civil war in 2002. French peacekeeping forces, authorized to operate on behalf of the United Nations and referred to as UNOCI, or the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire, entered the country in 2003 in order to keep parties separated and to help oversee national elections. Those elections, which had been postponed by the Gbagbo government several times, were finally held in October, 2010. The results were sharply disputed, as the government of the Ivory Coast declaring Gbagbo the winner while international elections monitors declared Ouattara the winner. The standoff soon devolved into direct military conflict, sparking widespread concerns about a humanitarian disaster and raising the specter of genocide. (The BBC offers a good overview of the history of the conflict).

UN forces in the Ivory Coast.

UN forces in the Ivory Coast.

On Monday, French forces participating in the UN mission launched a series of attacks intended to destabilize Gbagbo’s regime. This move marks a dramatic shift in the role of the international community in the Ivory Coast as well as a dramatic departure from the traditional role of United Nations peacekeeping forces more generally. The first point is relatively straightforward. While the international community has been actively involved in promoting regime change in some countries (read: Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan), it has maintained a wait-and-see approach in others (read: Egypt, Bahrain, and Ivory Coast). The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart and John Oliver combined to offer an incredibly insightful analysis of the differences last week.

But more broadly, the decision of French peacekeeping forces to directly engage Gbagbo’s military marks a dramatic shift in the nature of UN intervention more generally. Historically, UN peacekeeping forces were precisely that—forces intended to monitor a peace already established by combatants. After the fiasco of United Nations Operation in Somalia II in 1993, when the United States intervened to support aid distribution in Mogadishu only to be rebuffed by militias loyal to Mohamed Farrah Aidid. Since that time, the United States has resisted efforts by the United Nations to cross the fuzzy line that separates peacekeeping and peacemaking. Does the Ivory Coast mark a change in that position? Probably not. It’s a risky strategy, as Peter Gowan, blogging at the Global Dashboard notes. But it is worthwhile noting that the French policy appears to have been at least partially successful. Since those engagements, several high-ranking officials previously loyal to Gbagbo have stepped down, and Gbagbo himself seems to be willing to negotiate a cease-fire.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

President Barack Obama has been busy on the diplomatic front this week. On Thursday, Obama announced his administration would cancel President George Bush’s proposed deployment of a missile defense system to Eastern Europe.  The missile defense system would have involved deployment of radar systems to Poland and the Czech Republic, a move which the Russian government insisted undermined its own national security and necessitated the expansion of its missile systems into Eastern Europe. Although the Russian government denied there was a quid-pro-quo agreement for the U.S. move, the Obama administration is hoping that the change in U.S. policy will help improve relations with Russia and lead to greater cooperation in other areas, including addressing the situation in Iran. However, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin responded to the announcement with a demand for greater U.S. concessions, including support for Russian membership in the World Trade Organization, leading some analysts to speculate that the United States had miscalculated if it believed that its policy change in missile defense would result in a dramatic shift in Russian policy.

On Saturday, the White House announced that President Obama would hold a joint meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abba on Tuesday. Obama hopes that the meeting will restart peace talks, which reached an impasse last year. U.S. Special Envoy for the Middle East, George Mitchell, has been engaged in shuttle diplomacy to address the stalled talks for more than a week, but Netanyahu remains under domestic political pressure not to make any concessions on the expansion of Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank, a key obstacle for the Palestinians.

In other news from the past week:

1. Last week’s meeting of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party raised questions about who will succeed Hu Jintao as the country’s leader. Most analysts had believed that Vice President Xi Jinping was Hu’s heir apparent, poised to take control of the party (and the country) after Hu steps down in 2012. When Xi was named to the Politburo in 2009, it was assumed that his elevation would follow the same path as Hu’s. Hu’s political power rests in his control of three offices: Secretary General of the Communist Party, President of China, and Chairman of the Central Military Commission. Xi was expected to be nominated to succeed Hu as Chairman of the Central Military Commission on Friday, but no announcement from the Central Committee was forthcoming. Although some analysts believe that Xi’s appointment may be announced at a later date, others believe that Hu may be trying to retain control of key positions, including head of the military, after his 2012 retirement.

2. Efforts to resolve the political crisis in Afghanistan continued over the weekend, as closed-door meetings between foreign envoys, opposition leaders, and representatives of President Hamid Karzai discussed the future of the country. Although President Karzai was declared the winner of last month’s presidential elections by the Afghan elections commission, most observers believe that the vote was badly flawed, with the European Union suggesting that as many as 1 million of Karzai’s votes (which would represent more than ¼ of all votes cast in the election) should be viewed as suspect. Seeking to address the political standoff, the West is pushing for a power-sharing agreement in Afghanistan that would see Karzai claim the presidency but would considerably weaken the office, transferring significant political authority to appointed technocrats.

3. On Thursday, Islamic insurgents launched a suicide bomb attack against African Union peacekeeping forces in Somalia, in a move retaliating against a U.S. strike that killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nebhan, a suspected al-Qaeda leader. The African Union force, comprised primarily of Ugandan and Burundian soldiers, remains understaffed despite being responsible for addressing the threat posed by Islamic radicals intent on toppling the fragile government.

4. The government of Venezuela has been busy courting foreign assistance in developing its oil production facilities. The Venezulan government last week announced the discovery of a “very large” pocket of natural gas offshore, following a similar announcement by the government of Brazil. The Venezulean government announced that it had signed a $20 billion deal with the Russian government and a $16 billion with the Chinese government to expand oil production in the country by as much as 1.35 million barrels per day.

5. The campaign around the Irish ratification vote on the Treaty of Lisbon, scheduled for October 2, has entered full swing. Charlie McCreevy, Ireland’s European Commissioner, delivered a strongly-worded speech to the business community in Dublin suggesting that “international investors would take flight” from the country if it rejected the Treaty. The Treaty, viewed as vital to the continued growth and expansion of the European Union, was rejected by Irish voters in 2008, sparking a furious round of diplomacy to get the Treaty passed. But many observers are forecasting another no vote by Ireland in October could lead to the defeat of the Treaty in other Euroskeptic countries, including Poland and the Czech Republic.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

The terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India’s financial center and most populous city, has dominated recent headlines.  The attacks claimed at least 192 lives and have the potential to undermine both Indian economic development and the warming of Indian-Pakistani relations. The political fallout is also likely to be steep.  Already, Shivraj Patil, India’s Home Minister, has resigned, and many are speculating that the attacks may cost India’s ruling Congress Party dearly at the polls.

Here are five other important stories from the past week:

1.  Barbara Hogan, the new Minister of Health in South Africa, has announced a new program to address the HIV/AIDS crisis.  Under the program, the South African government will expand its support for its anti-HIV program with the help of the British government.  South Africa has the highest rate of HIV inflection in the world; an estimated 1 out of every 8 Sought Africans is HIV positive.  But the administration of previous President Thabo Mbeki had refused to acknowledge the connection between HIV and AIDS, choosing to treat HIV with traditional healers rather than conventional medicine.  South African AIDS activists are celebrating the new program.

2.  Ethiopia has announced its intention to withdraw its troops from Somalia by the end of the year.  Ethiopia has maintained a force of 2,000 to 3,000 soldiers in Somalia since 2006, when it invaded in order to oust Islamic militants who had seized power.  But the interim government of Somalia has been unable to assert authority outside of a small region in the capital, and the African Union has not fully funded its peacekeeping operation in the country.  Somalia has become a failed state, home to piracy which threatens shipping through the Suez Canal.  Some have speculated that the announcement of the Ethiopian withdrawal is intended to put pressure on the United Nations to establish a new peacekeeping operation in Somalia.

3.  Flooding near the Port of Itajai, one of Brazil’s most important ports, threatens to undermine Brazil’s agricultural exports.  The River Itajai broke its banks, flooding the port and killing at least 100 people.  The flooding threatens to close the port for as long as two weeks, undermining exports from Santa Catarina state, a major exporter of meat and chicken.  The flooding could affect global food prices, potentially rekindling concerns of a global food crisis.

4.  A French program intended to address the global financial crisis has been blocked by European Union officials.  The European Commission, the bureaucracy of the European Union, has refused to permit France to proceed with its plan to recapitalize its banks through a $13.3 billion support package.  The French government has reacted angrily to the veto, calling the decision “stupid” and “ridiculous.”

5.  A European Union probe has concluded that pharmaceutical manufacturers have engaged in unfair practices intended to delay or block the release of generic drugsadding billions to the cost of healthcare.  The investigation involved raids on several of Europe’s leading drug producers leading some to believe that the EU may pursue criminal and civil cases against the largest offenders.