Saving Congo: Whither the EU?
Foreign Policy in Focus
4 December 2008
Mark Burgess is the Director of the World Security Institute in Brussels.
The conflict in the DRC notionally ended in 2003 but continues to smolder. On occasion the violence erupts to levels sufficient to grab world headlines, even in a West otherwise obsessed with the incoming U.S. administration and the ongoing economic crisis. The DRC has suffered an estimated 5.4 million war-related deaths since 1998. It also has seen the deployment of the UN's largest peacekeeping operation, MONUC. However, as current developments show, this force is all but impotent in a place where there is often little peace to keep. Meanwhile, as before, the fighting in DRC is drawing in combatants from neighboring countries.
Underlying this is the lack of a robust mandate, rules of engagement, capabilities, and unified mindset for MONUC. Its a force patently underprepared for the task at hand, even if reasonably equipped for most other UN missions. The UN recently voted to increase the number of peacekeepers in DRC by 3,000, to just over 20,000 troops. However, it remains unclear where these troops will come from and how long it will take them to deploy. Its also far from certain that even an enlarged and empowered MONUC would prove up to the task at hand.
The EU's Added Value
() Two battle groups are maintained on rotation at any one time. Currently the on-call groups are French, German, and British. Deploying one of these on-call groups could greatly bolster MONUC, providing much needed protection for civilians and ensuring aid gets to those who need it. Such a dispatch of troops would also breathe life into the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine, endorsed by world leaders at a UN summit in 2005. This use of force would not solve the DRC's problems by any stretch. But it would save lives and buy time while diplomats address the political dimension, where the EU could also play a leading role.
That the EU has such a responsibility to protect is beyond argument. All its members signed on to the concept three years ago. Indeed, given their colonial history in Central Africa, EU members such as Belgium and France arguably have a greater moral responsibility than most to do something about the DRC's ongoing agonies. In fairness, both countries, together with Spain, have expressed some willingness to provide troops for any such action. The UK also suggested that EU military intervention (if not British) is a possibility. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, meanwhile, led calls for such a move and for strengthening MONUC's mandate, rules of engagement, and troop levels.
Beyond the EU
Other countries, such as the United States, can and should play a part. Indeed, with people like Susan Rice and Gayle Smith, strong advocates for an increased U.S. role in halting such atrocities, playing key roles in the incoming Obama administration, Washington will likely increase its engagement on the subject. () The EU's security strategy proclaims grandly that "Europe should be ready to share in the responsibility for global security and in building a better world." This noble sentiment rings false in the face of the continued failure to dispatch an EU battle group to the DRC. A Europe that will not act decisively to help ameliorate crises such as the one currently underway in Central Africa may encounter significant obstacles to being a major actor in international affairs. Conversely, a Europe that acts can burnish its credentials in this regard. If the moral imperative to intervene is insufficient on its own, perhaps this second consideration will force the matter. Those suffering and displaced in the DRC are unlikely to take exception to such impure motives.