Diplomatic Fallout: U.N. Peacekeepers Pick a Fight Over Drones

Diplomatic Fallout: U.N. Peacekeepers Pick a Fight Over Drones

The United Nations Security Council has had a lot of rebellions to worry about since 2013 began. Islamist insurgents in Mali launched a new offensive, provoking a military response by France. Tentative negotiations in the Central African Republic have persuaded rebels to pause their advance on the capital, Bangui, at least for now. There have been more fierce battles in Syria, extinguishing hopes for U.N. mediation there.

While trying to keep track of these events, diplomats at the U.N. have also found time to debate military technology, peacekeeping and another unresolved rebellion in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Last week, U.N. officials briefed the Security Council on plans to deploy surveillance drones to back up its peacekeeping mission in the eastern DRC. Rebels in the region temporarily occupied the important city of Goma last November, despite the presence of 1,500 peacekeepers. U.N. planners believe that the drones would improve the operation’s ability to track, and possibly pre-empt, hostile militia movements in future. There are further plans to deploy drones to U.N. missions in West Africa.

This might sound like a sensible response to a pressing challenge. The use of drones has been raised by the U.N.’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) in the past, but never acted on. The DRC would be the first place that a U.N. force has had drones under its full control. (A few have been deployed independently by individual units in previous missions.) The proposal is part of a broader modernization drive by the DPKO. But this effort runs the risk of offending some of the states that currently deploy peacekeepers.

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