The UN’s War for Peace: Three Years Later in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Posted By September 13, 2016 No Comments
Elements of FIB Malawi contingent patrol with DRC Governmental Forces during joint operations against FDLR near Tongo, the 19th of March 2014. © MONUSCO/Sylvain Liechti

Elements of FIB Malawi contingent patrol with DRC Governmental Forces during joint operations against FDLR near Tongo, the 19th of March 2014. © MONUSCO/Sylvain Liechti

As a revamped version of the 1999 mission, MONUSCO (United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) is one of the longest running and most resource intensive missions of the UN. As the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) faced rampant instability in the wake of the complex Congolese Civil War of the 1990s that claimed millions of lives, the UN has continually expanded the depth and scope of its footprint in the DRC.[1] The original 1999 United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), transitioned to MONUSCO in 2010. Though easily dismissed as a nominal difference between the 1999 and 2010 mission titles, the integration of “stabilization” in modern peacekeeping represents a significant shift across the UN system. This shift comprises of an increasingly robust security posture of UN missions, as well as a greater emphasis and integration of political priorities to peacekeeping missions.

This year, MONUSCO boasts a near $1.4 billion dollar budget and hosts over 22,000 uniformed personnel in order to achieve its multifaceted peace and security mandate.[2][3] In contrast, when created in 1999, MONUC was only provided with 500 military observers to provide assistance to a ceasefire agreement.[4] In addition to the marked difference in personnel and funding, the mandate of stability has ultimately led to perhaps the most substantive evolution in contemporary UN peacekeeping – the deliberate use of military force for peace.

In early 2013, the megalithic MONUSCO mission was humiliated during the seizure of Goma, the capital of the DRC’s North Kivu state, by rebels of the Movement of 23 May (M23). During the capture of Goma, 1,500 MONUSCO soldiers, and 7,000 DRC military troops (FARDC) failed to intervene, resulting in the displacement of tens of thousands and a litany of human rights abuses in the city. M23, which was widely considered to have covert backing by Rwanda, stood as one of the most powerful rebel groups. However, it is only one of several DRC rebel factions. Awash in armed rebel groups, and in light of the Goma crisis, the international community underwent a series of consultations and meetings that cumulated in the landmark UN Security Council Resolution 2098.

2098 and the Intervention Brigade

UNSC Resolution 2098 authorized “on an exceptional basis and without creating a precedent or any prejudice to the agreed principles of peacekeeping” the creation of an “intervention brigade” that would be directly commanded under MONUSCO, with the mandate to neutralize armed groups by all means necessary.[5] The Force Intervention Brigade (FIB), initially agreed upon under the UN’s Peace Security and Cooperation Framework for the DRC and region, had broad political support from 11 regional nations. This consortium of support also included the Chairs of the African Union, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, the Southern African Development Community, and the United Nations Secretary-General.[6] The brigade, which has the authority to act unilaterally or jointly with the FARDC, consists of three infantry battalions, one special forces and reconnaissance company, and one artillery division (initially headquartered in the besieged city of Goma).

The operationalization of the FIB led to a significant and decisive victory against the M23 rebel group. The victory triggered the group’s surrender in November 2013 following a call in August for the group to give up arms, as part of a 48-hour ultimatum.[7] At the advent of the FIB, Rwandan support (which was a significant component in M23’s success) quickly dissipated. MONUSCO also held a decisive military advantage against the group because it utilized superior weapons such as attack helicopters, long-range artillery, and special-forces.[8]

By December 2013, the Nairobi Declaration was signed between the DRC government and M23. The agreement entailed the Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) of the group.[9] Following this positive leap forward in the security situation emanating from the use of the FIB, the international community was given new hope in ending the decades-old DRC conflict. However, it is important to analyze the long-term outcomes of the operation and utilization of the FIB in 2013. Thusly, this piece will explore the question: How has the use of force in UN peacekeeping affected the security situation in the DRC, and what future does the FIB model have in contemporary peacekeeping?

After M23

The mandate of the FIB has since been renewed by the UNSC Resolution 2147,[10] in the hopes that it would have repeated success akin to the M23 campaign in 2013. The FIB now targets numerous other armed groups such as the the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), Forces démocratiques de liberation du Rwanda (FDLR), Mai Mai groups, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), Forces de résistance patriotiques de I’Ituri (FRPI) and other lower level militants. In a report dated November 26, 2014, by the United Nations’ Group of Experts on the DRC, it was noted “the momentum created by the defeat of the Movement of 23 March in November 2013 failed to translate into significant gains in security and stability in 2014 in eastern DRC”.[11] Regrettably, although M23 remained neutralized and did not re-form, DDR efforts eventually stagnated, making the future of ex-combatants “unclear.” Without a cohesive process for amnesty, these individuals are at risk of recidivism into a different armed group, further disincentivizing others in armed groups to surrender.

Despite some issues arising from the defeat of M23, its decisive military defeat is important in stabilizing the DRC, and has been matched by a series of high profile military endeavours in 2014 and 2015. Notably, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) has had numerous camps targeted, and has had hundreds of its members killed or captured by MONUSCO-supported operations led by the FARDC. However, the substantial weakening of the ADF also displayed the limits of military victory, as it was noted by the Group of Experts that despite sustaining major losses to FARDC, the leadership of the ADF remained intact, as did its recruitment, support, and finance networks. The ADF had also utilized its substantial eastern DRC network and illicit financing to re-emerge following military defeats in both 2005 and 2010. By mid-2015, the ADF sustained greater losses through a joint-operation by MONUSCO and FARDC.

The attempts to combat the Forces démocratiques de liberation du Rwanda (FDLR), which at local levels have been recognized as collaborating with the FARDC, are also complicated.[12] The FDLR, whose leaders and members include perpetrators of the 1994 Tutsi genocide in Rwanda, have consistently failed to meet disarmament deadlines – widely seen as a tactic to bide time and wait for FARDC and MONUSCO to become preoccupied elsewhere. Disagreements have periodically risen between the DRC government and the MONUSCO mission over launching combat operations against the FDLR. Though MONUSCO has the ability to act unilaterally under its mandate, it overwhelmingly operates in tandem with the FARDC, therefore MONUSCO’s mission is hindered when the DRC government disputes or objects to proposed combat operations.[13]

In a report by the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, dated June 26, 2015, the rebel group, Forces de résistance patriotiques de I’Ituri (FRPI), agreed to surrender on May 25th. The negotiations fell through however, and despite an extension of negotiations to June 2nd, the FARDC in conjunction with MONUSCO launched military operations utilizing MONUSCO ground forces and attack helicopters, as well as reconnaissance drones. As a result of this operation, the FRPI signaled the beginning of a full-scale surrender with 21 combatants laying down arms.

Due to the aforementioned FARDC-MONUSCO operations clearing FDLR and ADF elements, 35 police stations were established in the perpetually unstable eastern DRC, and officials made strides to implement broader stability strategies.

MONUSCO in 2016

In a statement by the President of the Security Council in April 2016,[14] the UN Security Council called for the resumption of joint military operations between FARDC and MONUSCO, underscoring negotiations that resulted in a January 2016 agreement.[15] Reports given by the UN Secretary General have indicated that MONUSCO is working towards an exit strategy, believed to be fueled by a worsening political climate and difficult relations between the UN and the DRC. In early 2015, the UN withdrew support for DRC operations against the FDLR after two generals  with known human rights abuses  were not removed from the FARDC.[16] Relations have also chilled due to President Joseph Kaliba’s apparent attempts to push for a third (and perhaps indefinite)  term in office, which is against the DRC’s constitution. Kaliba’s move has triggered mass protests in the DRC’s capital Kinshasa.[17] Kaliba’s government has also called for the reduction of MONUSCO’s footprint in the DRC by half, while also requesting a more expedient conclusion of the MONUSCO mission altogether. These measures appear to be linked to the government’s anxiety over a robust UN presence during the upcoming general election.[18]

Despite an increasingly complex political backdrop, FIB-joint operations with the FARDC have continued throughout the year by resuming the MONUSCO-supported neutralization process.[19] Joint operations primarily targeted the FDLR, ADF, and FRPI with varying levels of progress. Utilizing attack helicopters and artillery, MONUSCO targeted ADF positions, while the FARDC largely operated against the FDLR without MONUSCO support. To combat the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) three mobile operations bases were created, while the joint FARDC-MONUSCO’s operation called “Clean Sweep,” made consistent progress in dismantling FPRI camps. In the perpetually unstable Beni territory, MONUSCO was able to deploy to prevent ADF attacks, and through its joint policing strategy, was able to bolster patrols and police presence to counter looting, killings, and targeted attacks.

Measuring Success of the FIB

Measuring the effects of the FIB on the security situation in the DRC is difficult because although there is marked progress in gaining military victories, the circumstances of the UN’s operations in the DRC are precarious. Though the Group of Experts noted in 2015 that the defeat of M23 failed to result in the disarmament of other rebel groups, the potential consequence of leaving M23 intact could have made matters significantly worse. If the M23 remained a major DRC power broker, it is likely the group would have continued to perpetrate large-scale atrocities, which not only would have further exhausted FARDC forces, but may have also created the space for other rebel groups to expand. The opportunity cost of non-intervention will remain an unknown metric, but it is important to recognize that as a military actor, the UN has been effective in succeeding on the battlefield.

Military success is also complicated given that it has been reported these victories, in the case of the ADF, have not been matched with a strategy to fundamentally dismantle the ADF’s finance and recruitment network. Though how this exactly should be done is unclear, given the ADF’s continued ability to re-emerge from military defeats, The FIB remains militarily effective but also limited in its ability to substantively neutralize this armed group. Similarly, post-defeat, the M23 DDR process for ex-combatants has undergone substantial political challenges, further exemplifying the limits of military success if ex-combatants are left without a comprehensive DDR strategy. Another rebel group, Mai Mai Yakutumba, has managed to continue operations due to the DRC government’s failure to integrate Mai Mai’s dominantly Bembe ethnic group into the Congolese Army. Despite Mai Mai armed groups having an atrocious human rights record, this political failure remains a legitimate grievance for the population. The UN therefore has to gauge if its support to the FARDC in disarming these rebel groups is also providing the Government of the DRC with a platform to neutralize legitimate political dissent. With a UN force devoted to fighting on behalf of the Government of the DRC, the UN has placed itself in a difficult position where its security operations are essentially supporting a political establishment that may circumvent its own constitution, and also may fail to reflect the values of the UN itself. Similarly, the human rights abuses perpetuated by the FARDC, as well as accusations of natural resource pilfering and collaborating with rebel groups, presents a difficult scenario for the UN, which, through the FIB, has collaborated extensively with the FARDC.

In measuring the impacts or drawbacks of the UN’s mission there is a lack of metrics to show whether or not the UN’s security operations have improved the DRC. One of the few multidimensional metrics is the Fund for Peace’s (FFP) annual Fragile States Index. Within this index the DRC has made modest strides of stability since the initiation of the FIB. Countries listed in the Index are ranked from 1 (stable) to 10 (unstable) in the following categories;: demographic pressures, refugees and internationally displaced persons, group grievances, human flight, uneven development, poverty and economic decline, legitimacy of the state, public services, human rights, security apparatus, factionalized elites, and external intervention. Between 2013[20] and 2016[21] the DRC changed from an aggregate score of 111.9 to 110 stabilizing annually, despite a 0.3-point setback between 2015[22] and 2016. Notably, between 2013 and 2016, factionalized elites, human rights, and public services worsened by 0.3 and 0.2 points respectfully. Regarding the security apparatus of the DRC, it showed one of the best improvements, stabilizing by 0.8 since 2013. Though difficult to gauge the direct effects of the FIB on non-security related sectors within the FFP index (such as public services), there is evidence that the DRC stabilized by 1.7 points during the initial deployment of the FIB between 2013 and 2014.

In March 2016, the UN Security Council requested that the Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon give a report by December on the effectiveness of the FIB, based on the evolution of the situation on the ground, and its integration with MONUSCO.[23] Given the lack of existing metrics on the implementation of the FIB, this report will be critical in measuring the effects of the mandate. In shaping this report, the UN should focus on addressing the limitations of the FIB in combat successes, as evidenced by difficulties in neutralizing the ADF, and if there are impacts of the FIB on human rights abuses perpetrated by the FARDC. Additionally, the report should seek to provide possible linkage to other macro trends within the DRC, such as the fields measured by the aforementioned Fragile States Index. Furthermore, at the outset of the FIB, concerns were largely centered on the increasing threats to the UN and non-governmental organization (NGO) personnel within the country. Although the UN has reported the FIB has not resulted in increased attacks on UN personnel, data on this should be extended to NGOs operating within the region, as well as the local population’s opinion of the UN’s actions as a military actor.

As the UN considers its stance on the FIB, and begins to work out an exit strategy for MONUSCO, the coming months will be critical in establishing what role the UN will have within the DRC, and whether it will involve a military capability. Concerning the use of force in UN peacekeeping missions, the UN has ultimately created its most robust peace enforcement capacity to date, which, has shown the ability to achieve a series of military victories over armed groups. As a multitude of similar missions such as Mali or the Central African Republic integrate stabilization terminology, peacekeeping will be expected to become increasingly multidimensional and robust. Though Resolution 2098 was adamant in being a non-precedential resolution, the clause is a misnomer, as the results of MONUSCO’s FIB will inexorably be part of the conversation on the UN’s role as a peacekeeper or peacemaker.

Ultimately, the UN has proven it has the ability – and in the case of the DRC, the political will – to become a military actor. Moving forward, the UN must decide whether or not it believes the ability to deploy active combat capabilities is necessary to fulfilling its mandate for peace. In making this difficult decision, the UN should create new principles and doctrines to enshrine or disavow the use of force in its missions. In lieu of creating a strategic vision for the use of force, the UN could risk embroiling itself in tumultuous political scenarios, or entering perpetual states of war conducted on an ad hoc basis. This dialogue should begin with the coming FIB assessment report of the Secretary-General, but for now, it appears the use of force is here to stay.