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UN Missions: Peacekeepers, Do-Gooders, or Do-Nothings?

December 22, 2017

Recently, The Economist published an article entitled “Looking the Other Way” which conforms with the author’s experiences for many years in various parts of the world. Conflict areas in Africa provide the best example where the UN missions have turned a blind eye to egregious human rights violations despite a local UN peacekeeping force. Asia is a modern case in point as evidenced by the Rohingya situation in Myanmar which was in a blind spot of the local mission.

A startling example of the inability of UN Peacekeeping forces to maintain any semblance of order and control rebel guerilla groups is the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The author first visited the DRC ten years ago and two weeks following a successful shootout between President Kabilla representing the “elected government” and Jean-Pierre Bemba’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo. It is always good to be on the leading edge before the big guys feel safe to go visit. In any event, the Ministry of Energy’s office was missing half a floor from damage inflicted by Bemba’s forces. In actual fact, you had to look pretty closely to determine damage given the derelict nature of the building.

It is easy to shrug off a mishap such as that above as a simple attack on a government building by rebel forces. However, as shown below in the lower left corner, a 50-caliber machine gun hole through your hotel room with remaining shrapnel in the wall is a bit unnerving, particularly when you see the trajectory. As it occurred two weeks prior to the visit and our local staff had been warned to evacuate, we adopted a CEO corporate policy on the spot. In no uncertain terms, the policy is that if the CEO is killed in a mission, the local GM loses his job.

Seven years later on another visit to a conflict zone in eastern DRC, there were no blue hats to be seen as we made our way with folks retained for the trip with their own 50-caliber machine guns to transit M23 guerilla army territory.

It was good to arrive at the base camp and be among friends.

So where are all the blue hats in DRC? Many are riding in white Toyota Land Cruisers laying low and avoiding conflict. In fact, there are some 16,000 UN Peacekeeping forces in the DRC at an annual cost in excess of $1 billion per year. From a personal perspective, it is not working.

A more recent example is that of the dire Rohingya situation in Myanmar which the UN mission there not only failed to stop, but clearly ignored. In fact, the UN has a history of such blind ignorance in Asia as occurred during the civil war in 2009 between the government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tigers.

In Myanmar, some argue that the UN mission turned a blind eye to the genocide and mass migration of 600,000 Rohingya from Myanmar to nearby fetid camps in Bangladesh so as to promote their “capacity building” programs with the Government of Myanmar. As shown below, the Rohingya who fled are not faring well though a bit better than the genocide inflicted on those who could not escape.

There are several flaws in the UN charter: (1) the UN missions need the consent of the host country to operate; (2) they often suffer abusive relationships with those in power; (3) they are rewarded for not using their equipment as they are reimbursed for returning it in good condition; and (4) the local UN missions are often led by those whose greatest interest is to protect their humanitarian causes by not offending the local governments through flexing their weak military muscle. Accordingly, you might wonder what role the military side of the missions fulfill and the answer is pretty clear-feel good about it while you do nothing and ensure you can return all of your kit in good condition.

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