Can United Nations peacekeepers ever transform themselves into effective war-fighters? This question has dogged the organization since its failures in the Balkans, Somalia and Rwanda. But it has gained additional urgency over the past year as the U.N. has searched for new strategies to stabilize Mali and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The Security Council has wagered that blue helmeted troops can neuter determined rebel forces in both cases, if under very different strategic circumstances. Some U.N. officials fret that the council has placed too much faith in these military efforts. Yet there has been some good news for advocates of aggressive stabilization operations in recent weeks.
In the DRC, the Congolese army has scored apparently decisive victories over the main militia in the east of the country, the March 23 (M23) group. This comes just less than a year after the M23 overwhelmed the city of Goma, routing the army and marginalizing U.N. forces. While Congolese troops took the main battle honors last week, most commentators believe that the turnaround is partially attributable to the Security Council’s decision to authorize an “intervention brigade” to take the fight to the militia. This new force, consisting of African troops, has both helped restore the army’s confidence and soften up its opponents.
This does not mean that the DRC is now guaranteed stability. The unsteady Congolese army and its political masters in Kinshasa have thrown away successes before. A genuine diplomatic deal to resolve tensions between the DRC and its eastern neighbors, above all Rwanda, remains elusive. But credit is due to the force commander, Brazilian Gen. Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz, who carefully oversaw the buildup of the new brigade and resisted pressure from U.N. headquarters to launch premature offensives in the summer.