A Senseless and Ill-Timed Cut for MONUSCO

With appalling violence on the rise in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, U.S. support for a United Nations resolution to cut the organization’s peacekeeping mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) represents a tactical and moral retreat.

In remarks  before the Council on Foreign Relations March 30, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley was correct in asserting that the government of Joseph Kabila is “corrupt and preys on its citizens” but her analysis deviated from fact when she claimed the “the U.N. is aiding a government that is inflicting predatory behavior against its own people.”

However chaotic the DRC is at this moment, the UN is almost certainly not bolstering Kabila’s illegitimate presidency. Quite the opposite, the UN’s presence has helped prevent a far greater calamity from unfolding.  Increasingly, MONUSCO has seen Kabila as the problem and not a partner in peacekeeping operations. Violence rose last year as Kabila sabotaged elections that were supposed to take place last fall. Now that he has undermined an agreement facilitated by the country’s Roman Catholic bishops to hold elections by the end of this year, there has been even more bloodshed.

There are reports that 400 or more people have been killed in recent months. In the last week, 40 police officers were reportedly decapitated by militia in one province and a few days ago it was confirmed that UN workers Michael Sharp of the U.S. and Zaida Catalan of Sweden had been kidnapped and killed. These two heroic individuals were in the country investigating compliance with the terms of targeted UN sanctions imposed on the DRC. In the absence of a government chosen in free and fair elections, militias throughout the country will continue to use murder and fear to expand their power. That is why a robust UN presence is needed more than ever. Otherwise, the country could spiral back into a civil war that began in the 1990s that left millions of Congolese dead.

MONUSCO has a budget of $1.2 billion, which is the highest among 16 peacekeeping missions.  According to Reuters, diplomats say the United States wants the troop cap to be cut by a quarter to 15,000. In addition, despite a request by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to add two extra police units – 320 officers, the U.S. wants to maintain the current level of 1,050 officers.

In light of this rising instability and murder, the draft UN resolution to cut the number of military personnel in the country from 19,815 to 16,125 and reduce the 660 military advisors there by 100, it is hard to assume anything other than the UN is losing heart and so is the United States.

Up to now, the United States has taken a painfully tentative approach with regard to Kabila. There have been the requisite statements calling on Kabila to honor the country’s Constitution’s term limits and step aside. The Obama Administration imposed sanctions targeted on individuals identified as culprits in the violence and Congress has endorsed ramping up sanctions if Kabila refused to budge. However, the Obama Administration held back on imposing sanctions directly on Kabila and members of his family. Now, it appears the Trump Administration wants to go in the opposite direction and raise questions about the utility of multilateral operations in the DRC.

In her remarks linking the UN operations with Kabila’s government, Haley added, “We should have the decency and common sense to end this.”

What should end are half measures. The decent thing to do for the Congolese people is to increase international pressure on Kabila to vacate so the international community and stakeholders in the DRC can chose a new leader in a balloting process that is safe, free and fair.