The U.N. Security Council's mandate authorizing French military intervention in the Central African Republic's expanding civil war is one more indication that in sub-Saharan Africa's chaotic corners, "peacekeeping with teeth" has become bottom line U.N. policy.
Peacekeeping with teeth, hard peacekeeping and peace restoration are a few of the diplomatic euphemisms trotted out to camouflage offensive war waged by peacekeeping forces.
Authorizing offensive strikes on indigenous participants in a civil war is risky for the U.N. and the African Union. Both collective organizations are supposed to serve as reliable diplomatic facilitators and mediators. Armed "defensive" operations by the U.N. and A.U., such as inserting peacekeeping units into buffer zones between warring parties or deploying them to protect defenseless civilians are justifiable actions. Defensive operations like these, even when they result in heavy combat, can be, well, defended, morally and logically, as war on behalf of peace. Reducing bloodshed can reduce fear. Changing psychological conditions can forward negotiations to end a conflict by peaceful means.
But as for the U.N. ordering its well-equipped military units to destroy specific combatant factions? Critics of offensive mandates authorizing the "neutralization" of specific factions contend, with good reason, that, when this occurs, the Security Council has overtly chosen sides. When its peacekeepers enter a sovereign country with the mandate to attack a rebel faction, the U.N. loses more than credibility as a mediator. Come the next dirty war, the critics argue, peacekeeping forces will be met as invaders.
However, this year the U.N. did just that when it sent its Force Intervention Brigade to the Congo's North Kivu province with orders to "neutralize" rebel militias. Advocates of the offensive mandate convinced the U.N. that endless murder and mass rape by rogue militias does anything but promote peace. Everyone knew the order was aimed specifically at M23 rebels who controlled an enclave near the Congo-Uganda border. South African and Tanzanian infantry battalions gave the 3,000-troop brigade a professional punch. The IBDE also brought a crack field artillery battery and an armed helicopter detachment to the battlefield. In August, the IBDE hammered M23 forces in a series of brief but convincing firefights near the city of Goma. Among the convinced were Congolese Army forces, which M23 had routinely defeated. The IBDE's presence gave the Congolese Army new spine. In late October, when Congo government and M23 negotiations lapsed, the Congolese Army attacked and destroyed M23. According to my sources, IBDE artillery supported the Congolese offensive.
The offensive mandate got results. As for loss of U.N. mediation credibility? Following M23's defeat, ritually peacenik U.N. special representative and former president of Ireland, Mary Robinson, threatened an even more repugnant rebel group, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, with destruction unless it disarmed. Hutu extremists involved in the 1994 Rwandan genocide founded the FDLR.
The CAR, however, is the next dirty war of offensive peacekeeping. Low-information Americans inclined to go ho-hum should wake the hell up. France's U.N.-authorized offense involves U.S. forces. The Obama Administration ordered the USAF to provide the French with logistics support and to fly additional African peacekeepers to the CAR to aid the effort.
The militias currently savaging the CAR capital, Bangui, split along tribal and Muslim-Christian sectarian lines. A Christian militia loyal to the ousted President Francois Bozize triggered the latest round of fighting. However, Muslim militias formerly associated with the Seleka rebel group that toppled Bozize in April have committed verifiable atrocities throughout the country; many of the victims come from Christian tribes. International observers in Bangui report Seleka leader and interim president, Michel Djotodia, no longer commands many of the rebel fighters who put him in power.
To complete this complex mission, France's 1,600-troop contingent is authorized to use "all measures necessary" to help peacekeeping forces currently deployed in the CAR restore order. Teeth? That is peacekeeping with fangs.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
Be the first to read Austin Bay's column. Sign up today and receive Townhall.com delivered each morning to your inbox.