Following the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and the establishment of a new government (The Rwandan Patriotic Front supported by Uganda), some 1.2 million Rwandese Hutus — including elements who had taken part in the genocide — fled to the neighbouring Kivu regions of Eastern DRC. Simultaneously, aided by Rwanda and Uganda, a rebellion led by Laurent Désiré Kabila took over power from the existing dictator, Mobuto Sese Seko in the DRC. Since then, the Eastern part of DRC has been in constant turmoil due to continued presence of Congolese and foreign armed groups taking advantage of power and security vacuums in this part of the country; the illegal exploitation of resources; interference by neighbouring countries; pervasive impunity; intercommunal feuds; and the weak capacity of the national army and police to effectively protect civilians and the national territory and ensure law and order.1
The spiral of violence led to UN intervention and following the signing of the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement in July 1999 between the DRC and five regional States (Angola, Namibia, Rwanda, Uganda and Zimbabwe) in July 1999, the Security Council established the United Nations Organisation Mission in the DRC (MONUC). MONUC was tasked with the observation of the ceasefire and disengagement of forces and maintaining liaison with all parties to the ceasefire agreement and later with its implementation.
On July 1, 2010, the Security Council, renamed MONUC the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) to reflect the new phase the country had entered. The new mission was authorised to use all necessary meansto carry out its mandate relating, among other things, to the protection of civilians, humanitarian personnel and human rights defenders under imminent threat of physical violence and to support the Government of the DRC in its stabilisation and peace consolidation efforts. In March 2013, realising that the cycle of violence continued in spite of UN intervention, the UN created the Force Intervention Brigade of African countries and tasked the new brigade with carrying out offensive operations, either unilaterally or jointly with the Congolese armed forces, ‘in a robust, highly mobile and versatile manner’ to disrupt the activities of those groups2.
The basic principles of peacekeeping, namely consent of the parties, impartiality, non-use of force except in self-defence and defence of the mandate3, are the doctrinal precepts of the operational philosophy for the soldiers participating in United Nations (UN) peacekeeping and are an integral part of their pre-deployment training. These principles have been reiterated as ‘relevant and central to the respect and regard that the blue helmets have earned’ by the Hon’ble Minister for External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj in her foreword to the eBook on India and UN Peacekeeping4 The UN, particularly it’s Security Council (UNSC) however, seems to be gravitating towards more robust and aggressive roles for UN troops under Chapter VII of the UN Charter termed as peace enforcement5 as is evident from the increasingly aggressive mandates it has expected its force to execute in MONUSCO. The shift from MONUC to MONUSCO and the addition of the Intervention Brigade is indicative.
The Horta Panel which was recently constituted to review and strengthen peacekeeping operations, in its report to the UN Secretary General, summarizes the contradiction that inspires this view point. “Some Member States, including many leading troop contributors, (- ) have expressed to the Panel their strong view that the three core principles of peacekeeping, i.e., consent of the parties, impartiality and the non-use of force except in self-defence or defence of the mandate, should be upheld. Others, however, have suggested that they are outmoded and require adjustment.”6
A perfunctory scrutiny of this contradiction is revealing. It can safely be assumed that those that want UN Peacekeeping to continue in its traditional mould with peacekeepers deployed only as arbitrators between conflicting parties (Chapter VI) are the ones that contribute troops to the UN. The countries which want a more robust, effective and aggressive role (Chapter VII) are those paying for these missions without committing any substantial manpower. The troop contributing countries (TCC) would therefore be executing the so called robust mandates scripted by those funding them. It is obvious that these TCC are hesitant to bear the costs in terms of human lives which would be an obvious fall out of such aggressive mandates under Chapter VII while the financial contributors want more ‘bang for their bucks’ and an early closure to these conflicts and their contributions.
The TCC have been clamouring for a greater role in scripting the mandates of various missions, a call echoed by the Indian External Affairs Minister in her address to the UN General Assembly on October 01, 2015 where she stated in no uncertain terms that:
“At the same time, it is necessary that there be no dilution of the cardinal principles of peacekeeping. It is a matter of concern that there is no role of troop contributing countries in the formulation of mandates, which are often amended without consultations. This is a clear violation of Article 44 of the UN Charter”.7
However, these mandates tend to follow the diktats of the UN Security Council (primarily the big five) and have been getting more aggressive and demanding in their stated intents. It is also evident that the mission leadership responsible for the execution and interpretation of the mandates is rarely from the TCC and therefore favourable to the Security Council’s viewpoint rather than those of the TCC.
Robust mandates are being seen as a panacea to end or resolve conflicts especially in Africa. Hasty conclusions have been drawn on the belief that an aggressive intent and effective use of force will bring closure to these conflicts. There also seems to be a tearing hurry to declare victory and develop an exit strategy more out of financial constraints than improving situations. The lessons of the failures of such quick fix solutions in Afghanistan and Iraq seem to be forgotten and the same “drone strike mentality” seems to prevail. The problems in Africa are a labyrinth of layered complexities arising from colonial legacies, tribal, ethnic, historical, feudal, religious and land conflicts with social, economic, commercial, criminal, cultural and geographical overtones superimposed on volatile politics and lack of infrastructure, resources and governance to name a few. Armed conflict is merely a manifestation or symptom of this greater malaise. Aiming for elimination of armed groups, as seen in some recent mandates,8 without resolving all other issues would in all probability result in some new actors filling up the vacuum. The capacities and capabilities of the UN to achieve these aims is also questionable.
Having spent nearly 15 months as part of MONUSCO and using the UN mission in DRC as a case study, the author explains the dilemma and suggests a way ahead. The operative part of the mandate of MONUSCO renewed by an UNSC resolution 2277 is interesting and requires scrutiny:-
(a) Ensure, within its area of operations, effective protection of civilians under threat of physical violence, including by deterring, preventing and stopping armed groups from inflicting violence on the populations, ……………….
(b) Work with the Government of the DRC to identify threats to civilians and implement existing prevention and response plans and strengthen civil-military cooperation…
(c) Enhance its interaction with civilians to raise awareness and understanding about its mandate and activities through a comprehensive public outreach programme…
(d) Neutralize armed groups through the Intervention Brigade: in support of the authorities of the DRC, on the basis of information collection and analysis, and taking full account of the need to protect civilians and mitigate risk before, during and after any military operation, carry out targeted offensive operations through the Intervention Brigade in cooperation with the whole of MONUSCO, either unilaterally or jointly with the FARDC, in a robust, highly mobile and versatile manner and in strict compliance with international law….
The distinction between paragraphs (a) and (d) above, reflect the problem in its entirety. The former uses the terms deter, prevent and stop with reference to armed groups while the later specifies the neutralisation and targeted offensive action against armed groups, however with a caveat that these will be carried out by the Intervention Brigade. The provenance of these distinctions or dichotomy is due to the fact that the major TCC to this mission (Framework Brigades) were comfortable performing conventional tasks as mentioned in paragraph (a) but not with (d). This necessitated the creation of an Intervention Brigade of African Nations to perform the offensive / neutralisation tasks.
The distinction to suit the national caveats looks good on paper but is difficult to implement and execute. How does a coherent force operate with two fundamentally contradictory mandates stitched into one? This results in confusion, obstruction and sometimes chaos in execution .The boundaries of what can be done and by whom are blurred and open to interpretation. In a hostile environment with rapidly changing dynamics, such conceptual confusion is unnecessary and unwarranted as the subsequent effects at operational and tactical levels get further exaggerated. Two completely different set of reactions to a similar situation exemplify the difference in employment philosophy and ethos. An African contingent when confronted by a mob of unrelenting machete and shotgun wielding youth of one community, opened fire killing eight of them, mostly teenagers, while an Indian patrol elsewhere resolved the issue by threat of use of force and negotiations dispersing the violent mob.
The Indian psyche, even that of a soldier abjures violence. This is not only a cultural context but also a result of the institutional philosophy of maximum restraint and minimum force ingrained in him due to skills honed in internal security situations in his own country and amongst his own citizens. Kautilyan precepts of sama (conciliation), dana (gratification), bheda (division) and danda (force),with danda as an instrument of last resort and to be applied when everything fails may not be formally taught in schools of instruction but is a concept ingrained in doctrinal and operational philosophies related to use of force in a population centric conflict environment (which UN peacekeeping is). As opposed to this, the occidental mindset and those of their clients seems to look at an excuse to justify violence as the first response.Danda is not the final arbitrator but to be applied at the earliest justifiable moment. The belief that actual use of force is a more credible deterrent than its threat prevails. The jury is out on the effectiveness of both these approaches, however, the NATO led use of force in Iraq and Afghanistan seem to indicate that an outside force (not native to the country of conflict) has limited utility due to its inability to stay long, identify the complexities involved and aversion to casualties. The solution normally lies in the local government and its forces being empowered. The problem in DRC and in other countries in Africa needs an indigenous, African solution and not one forced through a western frame. The people centric, Indian approach is less intrusive and therefore more acceptable to the locals.
Though the TCC have articulated their stance very clearly and mandates like in DRC have been tailored to accommodate these caveats, their troops continue to operate as part of Chapter VII mandates in South Sudan and DRC. The mission leadership, governed by diktats of the UNSC, are pushing for aggressive and robust implementation of these mandates which translates to more action and violence. This is meant to achieve results and define exit strategies. Such a hasty and unilateral approach without the patience and resources to actually treat the disease instead of its symptoms is likely to have disastrous consequences. Irrespective of operating philosophies, the TCC will be a party to these consequences.
The option of shifting gears to a more violent approach or aligning with this occidental philosophy does not exist as this requires years of unlearning and relearning. Another reason why such a shift is unwarranted is that the UN forces particularly in MONUSCO are stretched over vast distances with unprotected lines of communication making them vulnerable to a counter strike. Even the world’s only super power (USA) could not sustain an UN operation (Somalia) when the price to be paid was body bags. The same is true for any democracy in the world, which majority of the TCC are. The political repercussions of losing precious lives for a perceived ‘lost cause’ are enormous.
The TCC have to shed their colonial legacies and participate in UN peacekeeping on equal terms rather than merely being service providers. It is necessary that the UNSC decisions are more inclusive and reflective of the new world order. The principal recommendation therefore is that in case the TCC are not in a position to influence mandates and reduce their scopes to Chapter VI levels, they should seriously reconsider their troop contributions to such missions.