- By David BoscoDavid Bosco is a Foreign Policy contributing editor and assistant professor at American University's School of International Service. He is at work on a book about the International Criminal Court's first decade.
Elements of the United Nations’ newly authorized "intervention brigade" have begun to arrive in Congo. The roughly 3,000-person force will include troops from India, Uruguay, and South Africa and has a mandate to neutralize–through force, if necessary–militia groups operating in eastern Congo. One of the largest militia groups, the M23 movement, has pledged to strike back if the UN brigade confronts it:
The rebels’ threat comes as peace talks appear to have reached a dead end between the Congolese government and the M23 rebels who seized the provincial capital of Goma late last year and held it for two weeks.
“We are waiting for the brigade; we are ready. Our men are on maximum alert,” said Stanislas Baleke, an official with the M23’s political branch.
The M23 already has issued threats to South Africa and Tanzania, both contributing troops to the U.N. intervention brigade, warning them that the M23 will not hesitate to fight back if the brigade attacks them.
This kind of rhetoric may not mean much and it’s far from certain that there will be direct clashes. The brigade’s presence may instead serve as an incentive for militia groups to negotiate and even eventually disarm. But if there are confrontations, this Voice of America account raises an important question: what happens if the M23 or other militias direct their ire not at the intervention brigade itself, but at the bulk of the UN force, which is spread out and has far fewer resources:
Several Congolese observers have asked whether MONUSCO can continue its existing mission if the brigade starts targeting rebels. They suggest the rebels might retaliate against the spread out groups of blue helmets from Asian countries, who could be vulnerable and might even be taken hostage.
The question for the United Nations in Congo is not only how ready the intervention brigade is to fight, but how able the rest of the large UN force is to defend itself.