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Between Peacekeeping and War

October 24, 2006


Despite the international community’s lack of action in Darfur, there are few people who haven’t heard about the plight of those living (and dying) there. A Washington Post editorial described the situation this way:

For the past three years, the United States and Europe have sent millions of dollars in aid to the Sudanese territory of Darfur. African countries, for their part, have come forward with some 7,000 peacekeepers. Americans, Europeans and Africans have all tried to bring about a political settlement between Sudan’s government and Darfur’s rebels. These various efforts have combined to slow the killing, though they have failed to halt it.

According to an Associated Press reporter Alfred de Montesquiou, those 7,000 African peacekeepers have been mostly ineffective [“African Union Force Ineffective, Complain Refugees in Darfur,” Washington Post, 16 Oct 2006].

“You have been here for three years now, and what have you done for us?” a tribal leader bitterly asked a delegation of African Union soldiers and police that visited the Kassab refugee camp last week. As they often must, the peacekeepers explained to camp delegates that they were in Darfur only to monitor the violence and had no mandate to fight it.

Peacekeeping is often misunderstood. Many believe that the arrival of troops means that criminals, insurgents, or terrorists will be routed. Such is not the case. Peacekeepers act under a specific mandate and true “peacekeeping” includes the use of force only in self-defense. This is especially true for operations conducted a United Nations mandate. You really can’t blame the UN. Peacekeeping is an activity invented by Dag Hammarskjold when he was Secretary General. You can’t find peacekeeping in the UN’s establishing articles. Because it has such a shaky provenance, the UN has been careful in its application — which has always been determined by the Security Council. If you want to lay blame anywhere, look to nations who sit on that Council. There are seven basic rules of engagement by which peacekeepers operate. They are:

  • Peacekeepers function under the command and control of the secretary general.
  • They represent moral authority rather than force of arms.
  • They reflect the universality of the United Nations in their composition.
  • They deploy with the consent and cooperation of the parties and do not seek to impose their will. [This has been one of the sticking points in Darfur. The Sudanese government has not given consent for a more robust force.]
  • They are impartial and function without prejudice to the rights and aspirations of any side.
  • They do not use or threaten force except in self-defense.
  • They take few risks and keep casualties to a minimum.

In the case of Darfur, the African peacekeepers are not under UN but African Union mandate and they are facing determined opposition.

The Sudanese army, backed by an Arab militia called the Janjaweed, and Darfur rebel groups began fighting in 2003. Since then, as many as 450,000 people have died in violence and from disease, and 2.5 million have been displaced. The African Union mission came in 2004, but anger over its perceived ineffectiveness is strong. “If there is nothing you can do, then you might as well go home, so that the United Nations” can come, said Adem, referring to the hope by many in Darfur that a U.N. Security Council resolution to send about 20,000 U.N. peacekeepers to the region will be implemented. The mandate of the African Union force expires at the end of the year. Sudan’s president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, fiercely opposes the U.N. proposal, saying it would breach the country’s sovereignty.

In the unlikely event that al-Bashir consents to a UN peacekeeping force, they will be only slightly less effective than the African force unless they operate using different rules of engagement. Donald Daniel, Bradd Hayes and Chantal de Jonge Oudraat, recommend seven “coercive inducement” rules that correspond to the seven rules mentioned above [Coercive Inducement and the Containment of International Crises (Washington, DC: USIP, 1999].

  • Absent an effective UN system for command and control, inducement contingents should function under the aegis of a leading state or coalition in operations endorsed by the United Nations.
  • Coercive inducement personnel should represent both moral authority and credible force.
  • While aspiring for as much universality as possible, inducement contingents primarily reflect the capabilities that make for an immediately effective crisis response.
  • Deployed personnel assume no better than provisional consent and act to impose the will of the international community on recalcitrant parties.
  • While not intending to harm anyone’s interests, an inducement force must implement mandates even when doing so prejudices those of one or more of the sides.
  • If necessary, force may be used for other than self-defense, but any use should not exceed the minimum required to bring about the desired behavior.
  • Anticipating risks, inducement contingents must plan to minimize casualties while preparing for the worst.

The next step beyond coercive inducement is enforcement, where the rules become closer to the rules of war than peacekeeping. Things are so bad in Darfur that such a mandate may be necessary.

The Janjaweed militia has been blamed for much of the bloodshed. But rebel violence and hostility to aid workers has escalated since May, when one rebel faction signed a shaky peace agreement with the government. Humanitarian groups and African Union police say they withdrew from Kassab in September mostly because of the rebel violence. The camp’s clinic closed, so refugees in need of treatment trudge to the nearest town. Women say taking that road, or even collecting firewood around the camp, exposes them to robbery and rape.

The Washington Post editorial mentioned above notes that the Arab League may send a contingent of troops to Darfur to replace or reinforce the Africa troops.

Recently the Arab League … offered to dispatch a force of Arab and Muslim troops as peacekeepers to Darfur, replacing or preferably reinforcing the underpowered African contingent whose mandate is set to expire soon. Under the terms of a Security Council resolution passed in August, the African force is supposed to be replaced by a 20,000-strong United Nations one. But Sudan’s government has described a U.N. deployment as a “prelude to an invasion” of an Islamic country. However infuriating this claim, the fact is that the United Nations is not going to fight its way into Darfur. Depending on the details of its design, an Arab force could be an acceptable alternative.

Post editors are rightfully concerned about the details and they all begin with a proper mandate. Any new contingent must be armed and authorized to use force. Anything less means that the killing will continue.

The ineffectiveness of the African Union force proves that peacekeeping in Darfur is no easy task: The Arabs would need to arrive with more troops and better equipment. But if Arab governments did deploy a robust force, they might succeed in quelling militia violence. That would solve the credibility problem. It’s hard to see how Sudan’s government could resist an Arab and Muslim peacekeeping force by calling it a threat to Islam. Arab leaders have a good chance of deploying their proposed force if they press for it seriously. So the important question will be: Are the Arabs in fact serious?

Let’s hope they are serious and that the Arabs equip their troops with a proper mandate as well as proper military gear.

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