Too Risk-Averse, UN Peacekeepers in the DRC Get New Mandate and More Challenges

Interpreted by some as the UN’s first authorization for the use of offensive force, UN Security Council Resolution 2098 passed on March 29 and called for the deployment of an “intervention brigade” to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) that can use offensive combat operations to “neutralize and disarm” Congolese rebel groups, in particular the M23 rebels responsible for taking over Goma in the eastern DRC last year.

Despite the declaration by the UN that this breaks new ground, the UN Stabilization Mission in the Congo (MONUSCO) is already authorized to conduct offensive operations under its Chapter VII mandate, as are all other missions operating under Chapter VII. The Rules of Engagement (ROE) in these missions authorize the use of force beyond self-defense.

As MONUSCO, and its predecessor MONUC, already have this authorization, the Security Council and DPKO should instead analyze how and why the mission has failed on notable occasions to fulfill its priority of protecting civilians before prescribing the solution in the form of an intervention brigade.

Key Conclusions

  • This new authorization is not a step-change in peacekeeping operations, but an evolution in response to increasingly complex and high-risk operating environments. These changes have been underway for some time, but require a shift in the mindset of troop contributors.
  • The UN is authorized to take proactive military action under Chapter VII, but the articles are interpreted differently by troop contributors, some of whom are reluctant to acknowledge that Chapter VII supports the use of force beyond self defense. Peacekeepers can already take action to disrupt rebel activity through preemptive operations using surprise and tempo to pursue armed groups without needing to wait for attacks on civilians or on the mission, but it requires political will.
  • Offensive operations need not endanger civilians any more than defensive operations, but firm protection measures must be incorporated into operational planning.
  • Major General Patrick Cammaert, a former UN Force Divisional Commander for MONUC in the DRC, supports reinforcement of MONUSCO, but he questions how this new mandate will sit alongside the existing force, and is critical of the lack of analysis of the current MONUSCO requirements.
  • The deployment of an intervention brigade should not be used as a substitute for a longer-term strategy of security sector reform and a review of the force requirements of the mission.


The new intervention brigade in the DRC will be made up of contributions from South African Development Community (SADC) countries, notably South Africa, Tanzania, and Malawi, who will collectively supply 3,069 troops comprising three infantry battalions and their supporting elements. It will deploy for one year and will be under the command of the MONUSCO force commander.

The announcement of the intervention brigade in the DRC in Resolution 2098 was framed as the “first ever ‘offensive’ combat force;” however, offensive operations are already authorized under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. Chapter VII mandates typically permit the use of force beyond self-defense to ensure the freedom of movement of the mission, protect civilians, and for the protection of UN personnel and property. Previous field commanders have interpreted their mandates as such to allow UN forces to actively pursue rebel groups and to preempt and disrupt rebel movement ahead of time. Examples of this include the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (UNSTAMIH) and the United Nations Mission in Somalia II (UNISOM II).

This “robust” posture sits uneasily with many observers and contributors to UN peacekeeping operations. Concerns have been voiced as to whether the United Nations is the appropriate mechanism to resolve the crisis in the DRC, and if in fact increased offensive military operations will further endanger civilians who may become caught in the cross fire, or be deliberately targeted in response. Past attempts to launch offensive operations against rebel groups, such as those waged against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) by Ugandan forces in 2008, have resulted in violent reprisals against the civilian population, as the operations were conducted without adequate accompanying measures to protect civilians in the area of operations. The planning for any forthcoming escalation in offensive operations in the DRC must therefore meticulously plan for protection measures beyond the military engagements with the rebels.

In January 2013, a letter from the UN Secretary-General noted that consultations with the major troop contributors had identified the requirement for an increase in the number of attack and utility helicopters, the need for night-vision capabilities, and for additional information capabilities to enhance situational awareness and permit timely decision making. Also identified were more surveillance assets and greater riverine capabilities to enhance coverage on lakes and rivers in the Kivus. A systematic analysis of incidents since 2007 in the eastern part of the DRC culminating in the fall of Goma in November 2012 would provide a valuable framework to develop force requirements to prevent a recurrence of such incidents, and may indicate that more infantry battalions are not why the mission was unable to operate effectively.

The UN announced that the intervention brigade would carry out operations “in a robust, highly mobile and versatile manner” but it will require mobility assets (helicopters) to do that. Who will provide these extra supporting elements is unclear. Earlier this year, the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) announced the deployment of unarmed drones to the DRC in support of the mission. Along with community relations and existing early warning mechanisms, they could now be used in support of the intervention brigade’s operations, but the collection of information must be supported by analysis and dissemination support.

The request for the intervention brigade was, however, conceived by the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), supported by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), who requested “an intervention brigade [which] would have the peace-enforcement tasks.

Major General Patrick Cammaert, a former UN Force Divisional Commander for MONUC in the DRC, says he supports reinforcement of MONUSCO, but he questions how the new forces will sit alongside the existing force, and is critical of the lack of analysis of the current MONUSCO requirements.

Says Cammaert: “No one has conducted an analysis of why, over the last five years or so, MONUSCO has been unable or unwilling to fulfill its mandate of protecting civilians, and until we have the outcome of this analysis we cannot determine if the solution is an intervention brigade.”

In Cammaert’s opinion, “The issue is not that proactive operations are not already authorized, but that troop contributors are risk averse, and show time and again a lack of political will to employ a full reading of the mandate, leading to accusations that it lacks robustness.” In the end, “the mandate is only as strong as the will of the leadership and the TCCs to implement it.”

General Cammaert questions how this would operate on the ground alongside the existing MONUSCO troops.

“Is one brigade to be responsible for enforcing peace through the use of force and the other not? Is one set of rules of engagement to differ from the other, and if not, why deploy a new brigade with the same rules of engagement and force posture as the existing one?”

“The regular forces of the military component still have in the new Security Council resolution the mandate to protect civilians using force beyond self-defense. Will they now implement this as they previously did not, or will they call the intervention brigade?”

General Cammaert notes the confusion this would cause, not just among the troops responsible for deploying force, but among the local population who would have a greater reasonable expectation of action for their protection.

As actions against the LRA demonstrated, what happens after the withdrawal of the intervention brigade may be just as critical as the period of the operations. This short term “surge” may create more agile and proactive operations, but the longer-term requirement to build the capacity of an indigenous security force remains. Should the intervention brigade or the regular forces be successful in securing ground or clearing rebel-held territory, Congolese forces will be left to consolidate any gains and guard against reprisals. The formulation and implementation of this strategy should be addressed now to avoid a vacuum after the intervention or a loss of momentum following the “surge.”

Now that the intervention brigade has been authorized, operational planning should focus on robust control measures to protect civilians in the area of operations, and international efforts should shift to long-term capacity building to ensure sustainable security for the people of the DRC.

Fiona Blyth is a former military intelligence officer with the British Army who is a Research Assistant in the Africa program at the International Peace Institute.

About the photo: Troops of the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC)  in Kinshasa, March 22, 2007. UN Photo/Martine Perret