August 7, 2007 | National Interest Online

Providing Security While Peacekeepers Tarry

Last week the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1769, which authorizes a force of up to 26,000 peacekeepers to restore security to the Darfur region of Sudan where four years of ethnic violence by Sudanese troops and janjaweed militia backed by the Khartoum regime-a campaign described by the United States as “genocide” and by the European Parliament as “tantamount to genocide”-has left hundreds of thousands dead and millions of others displaced. The new peacekeeping force will subsume the largely ineffectual 7,000 African Union (AU) personnel already in place into a UN-AU “hybrid operation” to be dubbed UNAMID.

One can only hope that UNAMID will have more effect than its phantom predecessor, UNMIS. Passed in August 2006, Resolution 1706 promised an international peacekeeping force consisting of a 17,300 military personnel international peacekeeping force backed by 3,300 civilian personnel. Lacking the requisite consent of the Islamist regime in Khartoum, the force never materialized. However, that did not prevent the Security Council from further propagating the farce in October 2006 with Resolution 1714, which extended the mandate of the non-existent UNMIS until April 30, 2007, “with the intention to renew it for further periods”, while “encouraging the efforts of the Secretary-General” to deploy the force and instructing him to “report to the Council every three months on the implementation of the mandate of UNMIS.”

Even if the peacekeepers are really forthcoming this time, it is nonetheless likely that months will pass before the components of UNAMID can be assembled. The most recent UN resolution set October as the deadline for UNAMID to “complete preparations to assume operational command authority” (emphasis added) over the already-present AU force and December 31 as the target date for actually assuming authority “with a view to achieving full operational capability and force strength as soon as possible thereafter” (emphasis added). In short, it may be well into next year, if ever, before UNAMID is fully up and running.

So while the international community continues to dither, Mother Nature herself may seal the doom of many of the unfortunate victims in Darfur. The region is currently in the middle of the rainy season, on which the sedentary farmers among the African tribes of the harsh, landlocked region have long depended to grow the millet, sorghum and groundnuts that were their livelihood before the janjaweed attacks. Thus they have already lost an entire annual cycle which will not renew itself until next spring—when, hopefully, there might be an international peacekeeping force to permit them to return to their traditional patterns of life. Compounding the misery, the concentration of hunger-weakened individuals in crowded camps is a public health nightmare, especially as wet weather brings with it the threat of waterborne diseases.

Presently, the international community, having pledged itself to provide security and stability to Darfur, faces three primary tasks: (1) monitoring compliance with the hitherto ignored ceasefires, especially the Sudanese use of aerial bombings against civilian targets; (2) providing enough protection for humanitarian agencies and victims so that the former can deliver basic sustenance to the latter; and (3) equipping and deploying the actual UNAMID force to assume these responsibilities. The question is who is actually going to do this.

While the United States has often taken the lead in calling attention to the situation in Darfur, a significant humanitarian operation mounted by the U.S. military is not a realistic option. Even without the strain that continuing operations in Afghanistan and Iraq—to say nothing of the need to at least maintain at least the appearance of a credible military option on the table in the ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran and North Korea—the deployment of a U.S. force to Sudan would be fraught with peril. Not only have that country’s rulers—who, lest it be forgotten, once played host to Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda—had nearly two decades to build up a cadre of Islamist militants, but they have built up an infrastructure that could support the flood of jihadists that would pour over the country’s 7,687 kilometers of uncontrolled and virtually uncontrollable land borders to battle it out against the forces of the “Great Satan.” The ensuing conflict would hardly redound to the benefit of the hapless Darfuris.

Nor is it likely that any of our NATO allies are in much of a position to step in. Although undoubtedly some European countries will contribute to UNAMID, most are already stretched by their commitments to multinational operations in Afghanistan. And, if given the restiveness of some segments of their own Muslim populations, there is little stomach in the chanceries of Europe for peacekeeping duties, much less long-term stability operations, in Darfur.

The UN resolution itself promises, as a concession to Khartoum, that the “hybrid operation should have a predominantly African character and the troops should, as far as possible, be sourced from African countries.” The problem with this notion, as Dr. Wafula Okumu, head of the Security Analysis Programme at the Institute for Strategic Studies in Pretoria, told a U.S. congressional hearing on the proposed U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) last week, is:

One of the critical challenges facing Africa and the UN is training, equipping and sustaining troops in peace missions. African armies need training in peacekeeping. It is proposed that through AFRICOM, African troops will be trained and aided to keep the peace in African conflict zones. This should come in handy when it is considered that all African Union-led peacekeeping operations deployed so far have encountered monumental problems. The most recent deployment, African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), is on the verge of folding because of a lack of financial and logistical support, as well as trained troops to keep a peace that is not there.

The problem, however, is that while AFRICOM will eventually tackle this challenge, it still leaves unanswered the practical challenge of how to provide a modicum of security in Darfur now. Those members of the Security Council who have voted unanimously on repeated occasions to authorize peacekeepers for the troubled region should revisit their nearly exclusive reliance on the machineries of state to deliver relief. Clearly they are either incapable of so doing or can only do so after considerable delay that is costly in terms of both lives and resources. Some time back, Doug Brooks and Gaurav Laroia offered a possible solutionin The National Interest when they wrote:

Ultimately, if we in the West care about ensuring that the people we are trying to help actually receive benefits from our conflict-alleviation efforts, we need to be realistic about the limitations of international peacekeeping and pragmatic about addressing those limitations. The West is not prepared to send its own soldiers to carry out peace operations in non-strategic [conflict and post-conflict] situations. We must therefore better prepare the militaries from those less-developed countries that are willing to go. At the same time, we must support and facilitate these missions with the capable and robust services of the private sector. Finally, peacekeeping needs to be understood as a long-term exercise. We must expect some peacekeeping operations to be deployed for five, ten, twenty years or more. Short-term expectations, reliance on weak militaries and ideological bias against utilizing private-sector services have already resulted in the deaths of millions. This must change.

In the present case of Darfur, if we look at the three challenges faced by the international community, most of them could be addressed quite satisfactorily by the proven capacities of existing private contractors in the military service provider sector. An intelligence service firm, for example, could be tasked with real-time satellite and aerial surveillance of the security situation in Darfur, while contractors from a private military company (PMC) could be given take charge of on-the-ground monitoring of the ceasefire and violations thereof.

There is ample precedent for this sort of tender, including MPRI’s 1994 contract to put border monitors between Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina to prevent arms smuggling and DynCorp’s 1998 contract to provide weapons inspectors and verification experts to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission in Kosovo. Private security companies might be employed to secure the humanitarian space for relief agencies and displaced Darfuris seeking refuge in aid centers. Finally, private military firms can be used to provide logistical support for and, in fact, possibly accelerate the UNAMID deployment. The U.S. government and the UN itself have done so early this decade in Darfur and East Timor, respectively.

Despite this reality, the UN generally takes an uncompromisingly negative view of private military service providers, effectively equating all of them with rogue mercenaries. In an ideal world, perhaps resources for humanitarian missions like Darfur would be readily forthcoming from the same UN member states that vote to deploy them. However, in a real world where bureaucratic delays can mean the difference between life and death, the international community would do well to leverage all the resources at its disposal, including those offered by the private sector, to fill the security vacuum.

J. Peter Pham is director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University.

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