New types of UN peacekeeping brigades could compromise the United Nations’ basic principle of impartiality and put UN personnel, their families, and other organizations at risk, said Major General Patrick Cammaert, the former military advisor to the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations and former Eastern Division Commander to the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Mr. Cammaert said that although the UN’s first “intervention brigade” helped the Congolese army defeat the M23 rebel group in early November, “there are a lot of questions to be raised before we can say this is now the recipe for the future.”
“We first had a transition from traditional peacekeeping under Chapter VI of the [UN] charter to multidimensional peacekeeping under Chapter VII of the charter. Are we now going one step further where we have a kind of blurring of one of the principles, the consent of the parties? Or, are we now calling in first coalitions of the willing multinational forces with a non-consent attitude sanctioned by the [Security] Council?”
Mr. Cammaert said the first priority should be to develop a political consensus between the Security Council, DPKO, and the troop-contributing countries of what “robust” peacekeeping is from a tactical standpoint.
“And maybe with all of this blurring of consent and impartiality, the principles of peacekeeping, maybe it’s time that we have another Brahimi report,” he said, referring to the landmark report published in 2000.
Mr. Cammaert said UN peacekeepers are running up against “a threat that has never been seen in Africa before.” He cited new weaponry such as improvised explosive devices (IEDs), suicide bombs, and car bombs that are changing the game in Africa.
Mr. Cammaert discussed the use of drones, known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), in UN peacekeeping, and described three hurdles. One is that UAVs can only fly with the consent of the parties in that country. The second is that neighboring countries get very nervous when drones are being used just across their borders. And the third is the question of who is controlling, interpreting, consuming, and transforming the data.
“In general terms, the discussion on drones has opened a debate on using more technology in peacekeeping,” he said. “I think there are now technologies available that should be used by peacekeepers, concepts developed by UN headquarters, the office of military affairs.” He said what is needed now is not stereotypical peacekeeping units, but tailor-made forces for each country.
Bianca Selway: Today, I welcome Major General Patrick Cammaert to the Global Observatory. He’s the former military advisor to the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations and former Eastern Division Commander to the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
My first question is: Earlier this month, the M23 rebel group in the Democratic Republic of the Congo surrendered following a military defeat by the Congolese armed forces and UN troops. What was the role of the UN intervention brigade in this defeat?
Patrick Cammaert: Before I really give an answer on the role of UN intervention brigade in the defeat, I would like to mention that the FARDC, the Congolese army, did play a significant role in this operation, which was a little bit unexpected because the reputation of the FARDC was not that good, to say it mildly, and certainly not when we remember November-December last year when the M23 managed to have the FARDC on the run and have the United Nations peacekeepers in a very passive role, and then march into Goma. That was still the perception when the whole thing developed recently.
So, the FARDC did a tremendous role, and the role of the United Nations mission—and the intervention brigade in particular—was very much a support of the operations of the FARDC. And support means providing fire support, providing advice by their force commander, the brigade commanders, providing logistic support, and working in joint operations quite closely with the FARDC in all sorts of blocking positions, and, in the end, using the attack helicopters to further bring the M23 on their retreat and on their surrender. So, the intervention brigade did a good job, and I also think that the FARDC did a very, very, very good job.
BS: What do you think is next for the brigade and the broader UN peacekeeping mission in the Congo, MONUSCO?
PC: Again, let’s start with the FARDC. I mean, they have now recovered the ground that was previously occupied by the M23, so it’s very important that state authority will be restored in the North Kivu province in particular, and that the ground that has been recovered will be held by the Congolese authorities, by the army and the police, because MONUSCO has no capacity to do that because the forces are used and needed somewhere else. And we should not forget that the mandate of the protections of civilians under imminent threat of physical violence, including sexual violence, is still a priority in the mandate of MONUSCO, including the intervention brigade.
So, the intervention brigade and the regular forces of MONUSCO are very much needed somewhere else because there are still a lot of armed groups left—the ADF-Nalu, FDLR/Interahamwe, you have the LRA, you have also the various Mai-Mai groups—there are still a lot of spoilers of the process of sustainable peace and stability in the Congo, and, in particular, in the eastern part of the Congo.
So, there is still a lot of work to be done, and, as I understand it from the force commander, General Carlos Santos-Cruz—who did an outstanding job in bringing all the military noses, but also the civilian noses, pointing in the same direction and saying we have one mandate, we are one mission, we are one force—it’s now looking at how and when to point the attention to the other armed groups, and working again closely with the FARDC, because the FARDC in principle are the ones who have the first responsibility to protect their own civilians of imminent threat. So, that is now in the planning phase, and there is a consolidating phase in where and how to position troops, FARDC and MONUSCO troops, on the ground that had been recovered from the M23.
BS: Given that the military defeat of the M23 has largely been hailed as a success, are we likely to see this kind of more aggressive intervention brigade used in other UN peace operations?
PC: Well, that’s a very interesting question, because this intervention brigade was mandated and invented by the Security Council because of sheer frustration of the passivity of MONUSCO in November-December, and the Council said, well, this should stop, we should restore the reputation of MONUSCO, we should restore the credibility of MONUSCO in the eyes of the international community and the local population.
So, with that, on an exceptional basis, this intervention brigade was mandated. And the mandate as such was only adjusted to give an extra line for the intervention brigade to neutralize and target armed groups. The rest of the mandate and the rules of engagement were unchanged.
So, we have here an interesting situation that the regular forces—i.e., everybody minus the intervention brigade—still have a protection of civilian mandate, are still authorized to use force beyond self defense. And how are they now—when they were passive in November and December of last year—are they now going to be active—proactive in particular—to prevent atrocities from happening? That has to be seen.
And this exceptional basis that the Council brought in their mandate—it has a little bit of a resemblance to 2011. If I’m not mistaken, Security Council resolution 1975 in Cote d’Ivoire, where the Council was also frustrated by a sort of passivity of the UN forces in Cote d’Ivoire and said in the mandate that was launched then to prevent heavy weapons to be used by armed groups, which was also inviting or underlining a more proactive posture than before.
So, it has to be seen if this is a kind of a pattern, and it has to be seen what is required in the future. Because we are seeing now something coming over the horizon like the Central African Republic, we have seen things in Mali—which are extraordinary situations with a threat of spoilers of a process, if I may say it mildly, using weaponry like IEDs—improvised explosive devices, suicide bombs, car bombs, you name it. A threat that has never been seen in Africa before.
So, are we now in a transition? We had first a transition from traditional peacekeeping under Chapter VI of the [UN] charter to multidimensional peacekeeping under Chapter VII of the charter. Are we now going one step further where we have a kind of blurring of the principles of peacekeeping such as the consent of the parties, or impartiality? Or, are we now calling in first coalitions of the willing multinational forces with a non-consent attitude sanctioned by the Council? There are a lot of questions to be raised before we can say this is now the recipe for the future.
Because we should not forget that, yes, we had in this case a handful of countries who were willing to provide troops for this intervention brigade—South Africa, Tanzania, Mali—but what about all the others? And if every mission, when faced with a serious security problem, people said, well, that’s not my problem, we should call in an intervention brigade? We have to be proactive. We don’t want to go that track. Well, you will probably not find the troops to do that, you see? So, in my view, the first priority to look at is that political consensus should be obtained between the Security Council, DPKO, and the troop-contributing countries of what is robust peacekeeping. And robust peacekeeping is the use of force under Chapter VII of the charter at the tactical level.
On the tactical level—not on the strategic level, the strategic level is in the Council—there should be clarity. Because if we don’t have that political consensus, you stumble from one problem to the other, forcing the Council to act out of frustration and coming up with these kind of new concepts, which have a lot of dangers as well. You have a risk of being drawn into the conflict as one of parties of the conflict—your impartiality is at stake. Humanitarian colleagues, UN family, and NGOs are not very happy with that because they could be seen as part of the United Nations intervention brigade. There are a number of risks there that have to be addressed.
And maybe with all of this blurring of consent and impartiality, the principles of peacekeeping, maybe it’s time that we consider to update the Brahimi report. Maybe you have somebody who might be the right person to lead a group of people who conceptually, doctrinally look at this: How and in which direction are we going with peacekeeping? Because the United Nations headquarters is not a multinational force headquarters or a coalition of the willing headquarters—is not an operational headquarters, as NATO has in Afghanistan. The UN headquarters is a strategic, political headquarters. And the authority is invested and delegated to the force commander and the SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary-General].
Now, if you go steps further in using force, that command-and-control arrangement might change as well. Is the United Nations ready for that? Are the member states ready for that? I don’t know, but it is something that has to be addressed and has to be addressed soon, before we have another problem on our doorstep, like the Central African Republic, or another one coming in Syria or Somalia. One can also see also a change from multidimensional peacekeeping to transnational organized crime. How are we going to deal with that in peacekeeping operations? All these things have to be addressed in a new way of thinking or an updated/adjusted Brahimi.
BS: The Congo mission has also been the first to mandate the use of unarmed drones. What are some of the challenges that peacekeeping missions are likely to face in using drones?
PC: It’s very interesting. We live now in 2013. I just looked it up, when I was military advisor in 2003 and one of the missions established in, if I’m not mistaken, August 2003, was Liberia. I went there as a military advisor to help set up the mission. And to cut a very long story short, we came up with a plan to use aerial surveillance and unarmed vehicle drones.
When I left, that was put into plans, and when I left to go to the eastern part of the Congo as a division commander, the mission managed at that time to get six million dollars in the budget to get this kind of equipment. And all the specifications in terms of reference, all the plans and requirements were written, but in UN headquarters, I think the time was not ripe. Now, ten years later, 2013, the first UAVs are drawn in and brought to the Congo.
There are positive and negative sides to this. And, as I said, we were already studying that in 2003. UAVs can only fly with the consent of the parties in that country, because if the United Nations is not controlling the air space and the host country says you will not fly those UAVs. If you want to use them in Sudan or Darfur, there’s a great possibility that they will never enter the country, let alone that you can use them, because the government is already making life very difficult for helicopters to fly, let alone UAVs. So, that is a precondition. You must have a host government who is willing to fly them or let them fly and let them be used by the United Nations.
Two, the neighbors of the area where you are going to use them might feel uncomfortable. That is something that you cannot totally ignore. Let me put it this way: there are sensitivities there which you have to take into account.
Another thing that plays here is who is controlling, interpreting, consuming, transforming the data. You must have analysts who are skilled to do that. Are those civilians who come with the equipment that they are using? I don’t know. Or are they from a member state that’s providing those people because they are skilled to do that, are they civilian, are they military? I don’t know. That is something that has to be looked at.
In general terms, the discussion on drones has opened a debate on using more technology in peacekeeping. I think there are now technologies available that should be used by peacekeepers, concepts developed by UN headquarters, the office of military affairs. We need, in my view, not stereotypical units—so many vehicles, so many of this, so many of that. You need tailor-made forces. You need tailor-made forces for Mali. You need tailor-made forces for Sudan. You need tailor-made forces for the Congo.
For instance, in the Congo, you have huge lakes. In my time, there was a smuggling of weapons and ammunition from the neighbors over the lakes into the eastern part of the Congo. We used our naval forces, riverine units, to patrol the lakes and to intercept those kinds of smugglers. Sometimes we were successful, sometimes we were not.
But you have technology in the form of radar that could very easily point out where people are sailing and where their courses are, etc. Member states might be willing to provide the UN with this kind of equipment. You have nowadays ground radar that you can put on certain routes, you have infrared sensors. You have RAVEN systems—those are small drones; you throw them in the air, a little plane, you control them with your iPad, and you can see over the horizon of what’s going on, and you can adjust your plans and your tactics and all the rest. It is a very technical piece of equipment
So, there are a lot of technologies nowadays available with member states in particular with the armed forces of developed countries. Maybe it provides an opening for those countries to come back in UN peacekeeping. When you talk about tailor-made forces, that is something in the force requirements that the mission of the office of military affairs should ask member states to provide, and equip a mission with, so that the force commander and the senior management team can use that in their effort to have the joint mission analysis cell, the JMAC, to provide them with better documents, policy papers assessments for decisions to be made and strategic planning to be made.
And finally, you have also what we call the infusion cells. It has to do with the consuming of the data, etc. So you need specialists who can put the whole thing together and together with the JMAC provide an intel picture of the battlefield of the area of the operations.
BS: Thank you so much for your time. It’s been an absolute pleasure meeting with you this morning.
The interview was conducted by Bianca Selway, research assistant in the peacekeeping program at the International Peace Institute.
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