On Point: Congo Complexity Will Test U.N. Offensive Peacekeeping

by Austin Bay
April 23, 2013

On March 28, the U.N. Security Council approved the creation of a war-making-peacekeeping unit, a "specialized intervention brigade" designed to destroy the vicious rogue militias that plague the Democratic Republic of Congo's chaotic eastern provinces.

You won't find the oxymoron "war-making-peacekeeping" in U.N. Security Council Resolution 2098's published text; the oxymoron's truth is much too blunt for gun-shy diplomats. Careful euphemisms like "neutralize" and "disarm" camouflage the order to rid poor and suffering Congo of paramilitary gangsters. The resolution avoids edgy but much more on-the-ground honest verbs like decimate, destroy and eliminate.

But the word games end and the commitment to openly wage war as an ally of the shaky national government in Kinshasa begins when 2098 authorizes the Intervention Brigade to conduct mobile and versatile "targeted offensive operations ... unilaterally or jointly" with the Congolese Army. Of course, offensive attacks will be conducted "in strict compliance with international law."

Resolution 2098 attempts to blunt criticism by declaring that the Intervention Brigade's Congo war does not set a precedent for any future operations. But this is at best a statement reflecting wish and hope. The "no precedent" Intervention Brigade is a profound precedent.

Two gangs 2098 targets for neutralization are utterly loathsome. Uganda's Lords Resistance Army (LRA) and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) have raped, murdered and tortured tens of thousands and displaced hundreds of thousands more. War criminal Joseph Kony, of KONY 2012 video infamy, commands the LRA. Extremist Hutus who committed the 1994 Rwandan genocide organized the FDLR. Their "no precedent' destruction is overdue.

The rogue militia that directly led to 2098's creation, the March 23 Movement (M23), has more complicated origins, however. M23 ostensibly sprang from a Congolese Tutsi tribal militia raised to combat the FDLR. The Tutsi force allied with the Rwandan government when it went to war with the Congolese national government in Kinshasa. In 2012, M23 established in North Kivu what 2098 calls "an illegitimate parallel administration." That is diplo-speak for a rebel government. In some circumstances, it is a step toward political legitimacy.

I doubt M23's legitimacy. U.N. investigators have evidence that it is a proxy for opaque interests in Rwanda and Uganda. In March, M23 split into warring factions. Rwanda and Uganda both back the Intervention Brigade. For now, there is little likelihood that the brigade will help Kinshasa's corrupt and tyrannical government defeat a legitimate eastern Congolese rebel movement. The Congolese government, however, is corrupt and tyrannical. Legitimate rebel movements do and ought to challenge corrupt tyrannies.

Resolution 2098 mentions "deteriorating security" in mineral-rich Katanga province (south Congo). Since the 1960 Katangan rebellion (it spurred the U.N. to deploy its first African peacekeeping mission, U.N. Operation in the Congo), Katanga has been Congo's most volatile region. Belgian colonialists backed that rebellion, which U.N. peacekeepers forcibly ended in late 1962. Katangan rebels invaded the province in 1977 and 1978; international military forces, supporting dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, defeated both invasions.

Resolution 2098 mentions two Katangan militias, suggesting they are brigade targets. The Gedeon militia is led by a mass murderer. But Kata-Katanga militiamen claim they are fighting for regional autonomy. Some Congolese sources assert the two militias are one and the same. Others are less certain. In March, Kata-Katanga raided Katanga's provincial capital. The poorly armed militiamen were unsophisticated but surprisingly courageous. Pro-government military and police units defeated them, quickly.

Then, on April 19, a Kata-Katangan political platform emerged. The group charged the Kinshasa government with stealing mineral royalties from Katangans. And does it ever, by the millions. Kata-Katanga has now tied its raid to a legitimate political issue. Is the rogue a rebel?

U.N. peacekeepers know graft, bribery and nepotism infest the Kinshasa government. It would love to eliminate regional political rivals, and subterfuge by Kinshasa is a certainty. Conceivably, the Intervention Brigade could destroy a crude, politically naive but potentially legitimate rebel faction. Avoiding that mistake requires superb military and political intelligence. U.N. peacekeepers acknowledge accurate intelligence is rare.

The U.N.'s no-precedent Intervention Brigade precedent exists for good reason. The trick will be to keep it from becoming a very bad precedent. 

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To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.


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