Lessons From a Study in Failure - The Force Intervention Brigade and the United Nations mission in Congo, 2012-2017
A light lunch will be provided at 12.50pm
In November 2012, the city of Goma in eastern Congo, whose population had recently swollen to nearly 1 million following the influx of refugees fleeing fighting and mass atrocities in neighbouring territory, fell to a Rwanda-backed armed group, the Mouvement du 23 mars (M-23). Some 1,500 UN peacekeepers were based in the city when it was overrun. The fall of Goma, more than a decade after the first arrival of blue helmets in the DRC and eerily reminiscent of earlier protection crises facing the organisation, cruelly exposed the bankruptcy of UN efforts to protect civilians and bring stability to the country. Responding to what was seen as humiliating ‘moment of truth’, the Security Council decided, in March 2013, to strengthen the UN mission with the creation of a Force Intervention Brigade (FIB), entrusting it with a mandate “to carry out targeted offensive operations … in a robust, highly mobile and versatile manner”. The Council insisted that such operations would, in principle, be directed against all armed groups in eastern DRC. The establishment of the FIB was described by the then Secretary-General, Ban Ki Moon, as a “milestone” in the evolution of UN peacekeeping. That view was widely shared and, in many quarters, warmly welcomed as evidence of a wholly different approach to the use of force and the protection of civilians by UN forces operating in conditions of civil war.
The presentation examines the actual record of the FIB and draws wider lessons from its experience. It is concerned, in particular, with the broader issues raised by the UN’s long-running mission in the DRC: to wit, what it tells us about the political economy of conflict in the DRC and, more generally, the dynamics of contemporary civil wars; about the inherent challenges of third-party intervention and the use of force in civil-war like situations; and, finally, about the deeper challenges facing the UN as it continues to grapple with civil war and protection crises in different parts of Africa.
Mats Berdal is Professor of Security and Development at the Department of War Studies, King’s College London, where he is also Director of the Conflict, Security and Development Research Programme (CSDRG). He joined the department in 2003, having previously been Director of Studies at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London from 2000 to 2003. From 2015 to 2016, Berdal served on the Commission of Inquiry set up by the Norwegian Government to examine Norway’s military, humanitarian and development contributions to allied operations in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2014. His publications include Building Peace after War and the jointly edited volumes The Peace in Between: Post-War Violence and Peacebuilding; and The Political Economy of Peacebuilding: Power after Peace. Recent publications include “The State of United Nations Peacebuilding: Lessons from Congo” (Journal of Strategic Studies, 2016).