Monday, February 28, 2011

The Unrest in Côte d'Ivoire, and Why it Matters

Last November, Côte d'Ivoire held its first presidential election in ten years. It was supposed to help unify a country that had suffered through more than a decade of unrest and civil war.

Instead, the election has done just the opposite. The current president, Laurent Gbagbo, nullified the victory – certified by independent international observers – of a longtime prominent opponent, Alassane Ouattara, and has vowed to stay in power by any means necessary, defying calls from the international community to step down. How the international community reacts to this flagrant abuse of power will have an impact throughout West Africa – a region only just beginning to emerge from civil war and political upheaval – and will speak volumes for how a rising Africa ranks as a global international issue in the 21st century.

With President Gbagbo still commanding the loyalty of the military and Mr. Ouattara backed by the rebellious Northern provinces and the leader of the rebel New Forces militia, Gulliame Soro, Côte d'Ivoire is on the brink of renewed civil war. Being one of the wealthier countries in West Africa and one of the largest sources of cocoa and coffee, an unstable Côte d'Ivoire would have negative repercussions throughout Africa and the world.

The situation has been deteriorating rapidly since the results were announced in December. Hundreds have died from clashes between President Gbagbo’s and Mr. Ouattara’s forces and between police and unarmed protestors. Thousands more have fled to neighboring countries, some of which, like Liberia and Sierra Leone, have only just recently emerged from their own civil wars and whose stability remains fragile at best. Moreover, the price of cocoa and other commodities have skyrocketed in light of the current unrest and the potential for future civil war.

Currently, President Gbagbo has the advantage on the ground, with thousands of Ivorian troops confining Mr. Ouattara and his rival government in a small section of Abidijan, the nation's largest city. Only an 1000 man contingent of UN peacekeepers stand in the way of Mr. Ouattara and several hundred of his trapped forces from being overwhelmed.

But despite having his opponent surrounded and outgunned, President Gbagbo’s hold on power is growing increasingly tenuous. The international community has universally recognized Mr. Ouattara as the new president and has strongly condemned President Gbagbo’s heavy-handed actions. The Central Bank of the West African Monetary Union has denied President Gbagbo access to Côte d'Ivoire’s state funds, and the World Bank has frozen $800 million in expected financing, both of which threaten to starve President Gbagbo of enough cash to pay the military and other loyal officials. UN forces refused to leave the country after being ordered to do so by President Gbagbo, and the UN continues to supply and reinforce its contingent protecting Mr. Ouattara’s position in Abidjan. Now, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a regional economic group with a military arm, is threatening to send an intervention force to remove President Gbagbo from power. Moreover, the New Forces remain at large and is poised to make a move should President Gbagbo escalate the situation further.

The international community likely hopes that, faced with dwindling cash reserves and the possibility of ECOWAS or rebel attack, the Ivorian army will abandon President Gbagbo, which would force him to step down. But this outcome is not so clear-cut. Past ECOWAS interventions in conflicts in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and elsewhere were never a decisive force on the ground. Nor did they bring about a quick victory, but rather got bogged down for years and caused significant collateral damage to property and civilians. Moreover, Nigeria, the most powerful member of ECOWAS, is nearing highly-charged elections of its own, and so may be reluctant to commit wholeheartedly to an intervention force.

An ineffectual ECOWAS intervention would produce a long, drawn-out stalemate at best and, if it doesn’t cause a full-fledged civil war, would exacerbate the divisions within Côte d'Ivoire that led to civil war in the first place.

The causes of Côte d'Ivoire’s troubles are rooted in the tensions between the rich, cocoa-growing, urban, Christian, and coastal southern regions and the poorer, Muslim, more rural, and more foreign northern regions. Throughout the late 1900s, Côte d'Ivoire experienced significant immigration, especially from neighboring West African countries, due to its economic prosperity from cocoa and coffee exports and the political stability imposed by longtime dictator Félix Houphouët-Boigny. The tensions between the “native” Ivorians and the immigrants (especially the Burkinabé from neighboring Burkina Faso) came to a head during the last elections, in 2000, when the very same Mr. Ouattara was barred from running due to suspicions of his nationality. President Gbagbo, following a chaotic disputed election, emerged as president. He did little to alleviate the ethnic tensions, which provoked a mutiny of hundreds of soldiers from the north across the country in 2002, leading to the formation of the New Forces and the beginning of civil war.

Whatever the outcome of the current standoff, such tensions have been stoked again. The situation is further exacerbated by the current economic woes the country is suffering as a result of the standoff, with movement in and out of the country hampered. The greatest fear of ECOWAS countries is for another civil war to break out, as that would mean reduced trade with and more refugees from Côte d'Ivoire. In addition, Liberia and Sierra Leone in particular are worried, rightfully so, that renewed civil war in Côte d'Ivoire could provide a haven for militants seeking to destabilize either country, both of which went through their own civil wars that only ended in the last decade.

For West Africa, then, the situation in Côte d'Ivoire is a looming disaster, but also an opportunity to demonstrate resolve and solidarity on the world stage. West Africa will need real leadership to transcend short-term considerations in order to collectively address a threat that will negatively impact all of the countries in the region. If it is able to make good on its word and send a sizeable, well-funded, and well-equipped ECOWAS force, it will be an impressive, even inspiring, culmination of a decade’s worth of progress in the region: to have gone from being awash in civil wars – with many countries even funding and arming rebels in neighboring countries – to being able to collectively police the region.

For the rest of the world, the situation in Côte d'Ivoire is an issue that must be addressed adequately to show that the international community, when acting collectively, still has the teeth to uphold its interests abroad. But if it wants to ensure success, the international community will have to take an additional sweeping measure: a boycott of Ivorian cocoa and possibly other exports. Taxing exports is how President Gbagbo is getting most of his revenue from at the moment. It would hurt world markets too, but it could prove the decisive blow to President Gbagbo’s finances. Perhaps then the threat of an ECOWAS invasion will be enough to dispel President Gbagbo of his remaining supporters and avert a full-fledged civil war.


Note: This article originally appeared in the January 2011 issue of American Foreign Policy, a Princeton monthly foreign policy publication.



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Sunday, January 2, 2011

Confronting Iran: An Intermediate Approach

For the United States and Israel, Iran’s nuclear program is reaching an especially critical phase. Eight years after Iranian dissidents in London publicly revealed information detailing Iran’s covert nuclear program, the rogue state shows no signs of backing down on its nuclear activities. Indeed, this August, with Russian help, Iran’s first nuclear power plant, Bushehr, became operational. While Iran insists that the plant is only for generating electricity, the plant will also reportedly produce plutonium, which can be used in a nuclear warhead, as a byproduct. This new development comes even as Iran utilizes facilities at Natanz, Qum, and elsewhere to enrich uranium, inching ever closer towards nuclear breakout.

This past July, the United Nations passed the toughest round of sanctions yet against Iran, and the United States and the European Union added sanctions of their own. The UN sanctions focus on targeting financial institutions doing business related to Iran’s nuclear weapons program or with certain branches of the Iranian ruling elite, particularly the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and the US and EU sanctions target additional areas, such as technological assistance.

Few expect the new sanctions to force change in Iran’s behavior, however. The UN sanctions, although stronger than previous ones, fall well short of being crippling, due to opposition from Russia and China, two of Iran’s main trading partners. US sanctions target shipments of gasoline – perhaps the commodity most vulnerable to sanctions due Iran’s extremely limited refining capacity. However, China and Russia have refused to take similar action, severely weakening any impact the US measures could have. Even many Obama administration officials are conceding that voiced pessimism; as CIA Director Leon Panetta remarked, “Will [the sanctions] deter them [Iran]from their ambitions with regards to nuclear capability? Probably not.”
As Iran’s nuclear program proceeds forward, the United States faces a set of difficult options. It could try to forcibly remove Iran’s nuclear program – both to ensure regional security and punish Iran for so long defying the international community – or work to contain Iran so as to counteract the additional regional leverage a nuclear weapons program would afford that nation. Neither is by any means a slam dunk, and both would fundamentally alter the Middle East. In addition, there is the very real prospect of Israel taking unilateral action against Iran – while a nuclear Iran would be problematic for the United States, for Israel it could be an existential threat – adding another dimension of complexity to this deepening crisis.

Large strategic decisions aside, however, the United States does have several intermediate options it can pursue to ratchet up pressure on Iran, particularly with regard to sanctions enforcement. While few disagree that past and current sanctions could and should have had more teeth, upon closer inspection, it is clear that enforcement of the sanctions has been lacking as well. The United States has taken surprisingly little action against violators of its sanctions, and it certainly could do more work searching for such violators. Part of this has to do with cost and bureaucratic inefficiency, but a lot also has to do with the inherent difficulties of enforcement. Nevertheless, the Obama administration could put more resources into enforcement as an intermediate way to ramp up pressure on Iran.

Doing so will not be easy: even the most stringent sanctions are hard to enforce. Penalizing offenders can be costly, especially as black markets for sanctioned goods often develop after bigger, legitimate offenders are punished. Moreover, even if a country like the United States were successfully to cripple trade of a certain good to another country, that country could still get that good from the United States through a middleman; for example, nuclear power plant material could leave a US port bound for a country in South Asia but, once in that country, could then be shipped to Iran. In the past, businesses evaded US and UN sanctions by doing business through Iran via businesses in nearby states, the UAE being a prominent example.

Tracking what businesses that receive initial shipments do with the material they receive is one of many challenges facing a host of export control agencies within the Defense, State, and Commerce Departments (among others). Certainly, beefing up these efforts would help strengthen the sanctions regime against Iran. Indeed, in recent months, the UAE and several other Arab nations have started cooperating more with the United States with export control efforts as the specter of a nuclear Iran grows more pronounced; Arab nations are threatened by a nuclear Iran too.

Should Iran, despite current efforts, reach breakout capacity, the United States has another card to play. The US could enact the ultimate enforcement mechanism: a naval blockade of Iran. Under such a blockade, the United States could forcibly stop ships and check cargo for sensitive material and barcodes or serial numbers that most companies put on their products to identify if such material was shipped from a US port. This would be necessary because, to enforce US sanctions, the United States can only stop US ships (though as a member of the UN Security Council, the United States could also enforce a blockade on behalf of the UN sanctions as well).

Such a blockade would be no easy feat. It would require a substantial number of ships and personnel to search every single commercial vessel going to Iran. Such an aggressive and debatably legal action might also provoke backlash from the international community, so the United States would do well to consult extensively with the Europeans, Russians, Chinese, and others before it undertakes such an action. Moreover, without cooperation from countries neighboring Iran, particularly Russia, there would be no way to enact a total blockade against Iran (though perhaps if President Obama’s “reset” diplomacy with Russia works as planned, the latter may be more willing to help with such an action). Nevertheless, if the United States were to undertake such a blockade, or simply threaten to do so, it would send a clear message to Iran that the United States would be willing to use force if necessary to thwart Iran’s nuclear program. Conveying this intention to Iran could cause it to rethink its options; faced with the likely prospect of U.S. military action, the Iranian government would be more likely to decide that abandoning its nuclear program to maintain its power would be better for it than trying to resist concerted U.S. military.

In this way, a US blockade would strengthen the sanctions regime against Iran while demonstrating that the United States would be willing to move beyond negotiations and diplomacy if necessary. A similar gambit worked against Cuba and may have prevented a Soviet-American WWIII; perhaps now such an intermediate move could resolve this current crisis.


Note: This article originally appeared in the October 2010 issue of American Foreign Policy, a Princeton monthly foreign policy publication.



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Monday, August 23, 2010

Congo's Forgotten Crisis, and How the United States should Address it: Introduction

Part 1 of a 7-part article about how the ongoing civil war in Congo is rooted in the poor state of the Congolese Army, why Congo matters to the United States, and what policies the United States should enact to address the situation.

Perhaps no modern nation has endured as much as Congo. Ever since there’s been a modern Congo, it has suffered, sometimes under ruthless authoritarian masters like King Leopold of Belgium and Mobutu Sese Seko, other times amidst periods of utter chaos, but always exploited and abused to the utmost.

The latest chapter in Congo’s tragic history – an ongoing 16-year civil war that continues to claim tens of thousands of lives each month (1) – may be its worst yet. Even still, the conflict has failed to attract significant outcry or even attention from the much of the world. In the United States in particular, the relentless violence in Congo is constantly overshadowed by headlines about Iraq, Afghanistan, and Israel, among other things.

This lack of popular attention is reflected at the policy level as well. Although U.S. agencies such as USAID have organized and sponsored numerous aid programs in Congo, such efforts have been consistently underfunded and understaffed. Despite the immense economic potential of Africa and the geopolitical importance of Congo in particular to Africa – it’s located right in the center of Africa, borders nine countries, is larger than Western Europe (2), and has bountiful natural resources – U.S. priorities in Europe and Asia have consistently redirected American resources and time away from more comprehensive attention and policies toward Africa, with Congo being no exception.

Moreover, the bulk of such efforts have focused on providing emergency relief and humanitarian assistance rather than on confronting the root causes of the instability plaguing Congo, the most immediate cause being the inability of the FARDC to exert undisputed control over the entire country. Numerous militias, both foreign and domestic, as well as bands of thugs have been able to operate in and even control much of the country, especially in the East. There are a number of factors that have enabled this, ranging from complicity and fear among the locals and the abundance of mineral deposits available for extortion, which need to be addressed.

Ultimately, though, it has been the FARDC’s ineffectiveness rather than the militias’ capabilities that has prevented it from imposing peace over the entire country. FARDC soldiers have performed extremely poorly in clashes with militias (3), often simply fleeing without giving a significant fight at all. Moreover, far from protecting civilians from violence and abuse, the FARDC has been one of the main perpetrators of such abuses: according to MONUC reports, the FARDC was responsible for 53% of reported human rights violations in the first half of 2006 (4) and 54% of reported sexual violence in the first half of 2007 (5). If Congo wants any chance at peace, it needs to confront these issues that have made the national army a part of the problem rather than a means of ending the ongoing violence.

This fact has not been lost on the DRC (6) government or the international community, and numerous SSR schemes have been attempted. Much of these efforts have focused on complex administrative issues, training programs, and integration of former militants into the armed forces. These initiatives have had mixed successes at best, due to widespread corruption within the government and officer corps and a general lack of funding.

Moreover, as independent research has shown, most of the DRC’s initiatives have not been directed at the underlying sources of the FARDC’s ineptitude and lack of discipline. Work done by Swedish professors Maria Eriksson Baaz, PhD, and Maria Stern, PhD, and activists from HRW, among others – all of who conducted many interviews with FARDC soldiers, locals, and independent observers that have witnessed or taken part in the violence and abuses over the past couple of years – have revealed startlingly straightforward reasons for the FARDC’s behavior. Most soldiers do not receive pay, food rations, lodgings, or necessary equipment from their superiors, and the majority of abuses against civilians goes unpunished. This negligence coupled with impunity sets up a situation where many soldiers prey off the Congolese population, not only out of anger or for potential pleasure but also simply for their basic needs.

Clearly, such basic supply and disciplinary problems need to be solved if the FARDC is ever to become a controllable fighting force, let alone an army capable of defeating numerous well-armed and well-financed militias that have caused internal turmoil in Congo for the past 16 years. In light of the DRC’s struggles in dealing with such problems, the United States should increase its aid commitment to the DRC, focusing on efforts to alleviate the logistical woes of the FARDC soldiers. Specifically, a program that could provide the salaries and basic equipment sorely lacking among FARDC soldiers while bypassing the corruption that has hindered previous such efforts – or threaten consequences, like a cut in such aid, if significant corruption is detected in its implementation – could help the FARDC take the necessary strides it needs to become a viable fighting force. As long as the FARDC is unable to defeat the militias, the violence will continue and Congo’s development will be further stunted. A peaceful, prosperous Congo would, due to the country’s geopolitical significance, benefit much of central Africa as well, which is in the strong interest of the United States.


(1) In 2008, the IRC estimated people were dying at a rate of 45,000 per month [“IRC Study Shows Congo's Neglected Crisis Leaves 5.4 Million Dead; Peace Deal in N. Kivu, Increased Aid Critical to Reducing Death Toll,” International Rescue Committee, January 22, 2008, http://www.theirc.org/news/irc-study-shows-congos-neglected-crisis-leaves-54-million-dead-peace-deal-n-kivu-increased-aid--4331.]
(2) If Western Europe is defined as Ireland, the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Portugal, Andorra, Italy, Switzerland, San Marino, Luxembourg, Lichtenstein, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands, then it has an area of 2,329,755 sq. km, whereas the DRC has an area of 2,344,858 sq. km, according to CIA’s The World Factbook.
(3) Perhaps none have been worse than the FARDC’s humiliating defeat at Mushake in December, 2007, in which around 4,000 CNDP militants under the command of the renegade General Laurent Nkunda defeated around 20,000 FARDC soldiers, forcing the DRC government to enter peace talks with Nkunda. [Joe Bavier, “Congo rebels retake ground, army offensive falters,” Reuters, December 11, 2007, http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/L11351715.htm.]
(4) MONUC Human Rights Division, The Human Rights Situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo during the Period of January to June 2006 (New York: MONUC, 2006), 9.
(5) MONUC Human Rights Division, The Human Rights Situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo during the Period of January to June 2007 (New York: MONUC, 2007), 18.
(6) From this point forward, I will use DRC and Congo interchangeably to refer to the Democratic Republic of the Congo

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Congo's Forgotten Crisis, and How the United States should Address it: List of Acronyms

AFRICOM: United States African Command

CNDP: Congrès National pour la Défense du People (National Congress for the Defence of the People)

DDR: Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration

DDRRR: Disarmament, Demobilization, Repatriation, Resettlement and Reintegration

DRC: Democratic Republic of the Congo

ESF: Economic Support Fund (part of the U.S. budget)

EU: European Union

FAC: Forces Armées Congolais

FARDC: Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo)

FDLR: Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda)

FMF: Foreign Military Financing (part of the U.S. budget)

FY: U.S. Government Fiscal Year (Begins on October 1st)

GDP: Gross Domestic Product

HRW: Human Rights Watch

IMET: International Military Education and Training (part of the U.S. budget)

IMF: International Monetary Fund

IRC: International Rescue Commission

LRA: Lord’s Resistance Army (Ugandan rebel group)

MONUC: Mission de l'Organisation des Nations Unies en République Démocratique du Congo (UN mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo)

NADR: Nonproliferation, Antiterrorism, Demining, and Related Programs (part of the U.S. budget)

NGO: Non-Governmental Organization

PO: Peacekeeping Operations (part of the U.S. budget)

RCD-Goma: Rally for Congolese Democracy – Goma

RPF: Rwandan Patriotic Front

SSR: Security Sector Reform

UN: United Nations

UNITA: União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola)

US: United States

USAID: United States Agency for International Development

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Congo's Forgotten Crisis, and How the United States should Address it: A Snapshot of the Violence

Part 2 of a 7-part article about how the ongoing civil war in Congo is rooted in the poor state of the Congolese Army, why Congo matters to the United States, and what policies the United States should enact to address the situation.

Congo at present is a far cry from peace and prosperity. Although the situation has improved from its all-time low from 1998-2003 – when the armies of Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Angola, Chad, Zambia, and even Zimbabwe fought it out on Congolese soil, in what was called in Second Congo War (1) – much of the country, particularly in the East, is still beset with violence, and the estimated death toll of 3 to 7.6 million people (2) continues to climb at an alarming rate, with tens of thousands of people dying each month from fighting, abuse, disease, and starvation.

The violence is as appalling as it is prolific. Massacres and rapes have become commonplace, with militants preying of off the local populations and often deliberately attacking them to try to further their authority in the area (3). According to the UN, thousands of women are raped each month (4), often brutally, with many reports of gang rape and war rape regularly taking place (5). It is likely that the number of rapes occurring greatly exceeds the number reported, since many victims simply do not report their cases (6). Thousands of children have been abducted, and child soldiers, known as kadogos(7), continue to fight on all sides (indeed, it was an army largely made up of kadogos that current put Laurent Kabila – the father of current DRC President Joseph Kabila – in power nearly 14 years ago)(8). Civilians continue to be killed and punished in almost unthinkable ways; there have been reports of people getting mutilated, sliced up with machetes (9), and even eaten throughout the conflict (10).

It is bad enough for Congo to have rebellious militias thrashing through much of its territory pillaging and abusing the population along the way, but to have the national army itself commit the largest number of such abuses has devastated hopes for peace in Congo. Understandably, such contemptible behavior has all but ruined the FARDC’s standing in the eyes of the people, making it even harder for the FARDC to fight the numerous armed groups roaming across Congo and damaging the credibility of President Kabila’s relatively new government (11).

Some have, understandably, demonized the FARDC (12) in light of the heinous crimes many of its soldiers have committed, but it is much more useful to try to understand why such people – assuming they are not bloodthirsty monsters bent on vengeful slaughter – would commit such horrendous acts of violence.


(1) Gregory Mthembu-Salter, Recent History (The Democratic Republic of the Congo), in Europa World online, London, Routledge. Princeton University. Retrieved 09 May 2010 from http://www.europaworld.com/entry/cd.hi.
(2) Peter James Spielmann, “Review of Congo war halves death toll,” Associated Press, Taiwan News, Janurary 20, 2010. http://www.etaiwannews.com/etn/news_content.php?id=1160780&lang=eng_news.
(3) Ida Sawyer and Anneke Van Woudenberg. “‘You Will Be Punished’: Attacks on Civilians in Eastern Congo.” Human Rights Watch Publications (2009), 10-11.
(4) U.S. Congressional Research Services, The Democratic Republic of Congo: Background and Current Developments (R40108; February 4, 2010), by Ted Dagne, 2.
(5) Ibid., 9.
(6) Juliane Kippenberg, “Soldiers Who Rape, Commanders Who Condone: Sexual Violence and Military Reform in the DR,.” Human Rights Watch Publications (2009): 14.
(7) Swahili for “little ones.”
(8) Seymour, Claudia, “Children Choosing Combat? Failures of children’s DDR in a context of chronic conflict,” (September 8, 2009), 1-2.
(9) Sawyer and Van Woudenberg, “‘You Will Be Punished,’” 12.
(10) Eddy Insango, “Cannibalism shock as Congo atrocities revealed,” Reuters, The Age, March 18, 2005. http://www.theage.com.au/news/World/Cannibalism-shock-as-Congo-atrocities-revealed/2005/03/17/1110913734387.html.
(11) President Kabila originally took power in 2001 following the assassination of his father, but the current administration assumed control of the government in 2006 following Kabila’s victory in a presidential election..[ Mthembu-Salter, Recent History (The Democratic Republic of the Congo)]
(12) Rowland Croucher, “Congo (DR): Church Suffering Intensely,” John Mark Ministries, February 5, 2003. http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/10649.htm, quoted in Baaz and Stern, “Making Sense of Violence in the Congo,” 58.

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Congo's Forgotten Crisis, and How the United States should Address it: Stepping into the Shoes of a Congolese Soldier

Part 3 of a 7-part article about how the ongoing civil war in Congo is rooted in the poor state of the Congolese Army, why Congo matters to the United States, and what policies the United States should enact to address the situation.

Dr. Baaz’s research provides important insights into this question. From October 2005 to November 2006, Dr. Baaz, who is fluent in Lingala, a local Congolese language, interviewed several hundred FARDC soldiers and junior officers, both male and female, who had seen active combat within a year of their interviews (1). The interviews lasted 2-3 hours, and those interviewed had no time beforehand to prepare for their interviews; indeed, most of those interviewed were ordered to report to the interview location by their superiors without warning on the day of the interview, having no idea why they were supposed to be there (2).

Dr. Baaz’s work was funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida-Sarec) as part of a larger research effort on gender discourses in the militaries of the DRC and Mozambique (3), and so much of her interviews focused on subjects such as masculinity, femininity, gender roles (4). However, she also asked a great deal of questions about notions of the ideal soldier – what qualities they should have, how they should act, how they should be treated, among others – and how it compared to their own experiences in the FARDC (5).

Most of those interviewed spoke not of strength, ability to kill, or courage, but rather of order and discipline as the qualities of the ideal soldier – the qualities that they strove toward (6). Many soldiers spoke of how it was the ability to strictly follow the Règlement Militaire(7) that distinguished one as a good soldier. Indeed, some thought themselves superior to civilians because of their acquired discipline and ability to follow orders. As one male corporal put it:


“The difference between a civilian and a soldier is that we follow orders/rules
[mibeko]. I get up at 5 in the morning, put on my uniform and go to work. I do
not go to work because they will give me 1,000 FC [US$2] at the end of the
day. I go with both my joys and my sorrows and I will sit on guard until 14:00
or until the superiors tell me it is enough, I can go back home. But a civilian
could not do that. If you tell a civilian to sit guard like we do he would start :
‘Ahh, I have to go to the market’ or ‘ I have to go to Kintambo [an area in
Kinshasa] to look for somebody.’ For me it is the orders [mibeko] that make
me sit there, the rules. The civilians do not know how to follow orders. We sit
as a result of the orders of the superiors. Civilians would not cope, in that case
you would have to hold him by force [kanga ye na makasi].”(8)


Given the lack of cohesiveness and discipline in the FARDC as a whole, it seems ironic that FARDC soldiers would pride themselves on discipline to the point of considering themselves better than civilians because of it. Indeed, most of the soldiers acknowledged a great disparity between their ideal perceptions of being a soldier in the army and their experiences in the FARDC.

Nearly all who were interviewed expressed frustration and anger over the deplorable state of the FARDC in general. As the corporal above alluded to in his testimony, much of the army does not get paid. This is not because of a lack of funding on the army’s part (although, if it had more money, perhaps the meager salary of US$20 a day (9) could be raised), but rather because officers at every step in the chain of command take their own “cut”(10) of the money and equipment that they are supposed to distribute to their unit; indeed, one male sergeant interviewed indignantly remarked that he had to buy his own uniform (11). Understandably, these conditions do not sit well with the FARDC soldiers, who expressed deep resentment at being betrayed and exploited by their superior officers. Take the experience of this former kadogo, who by the time of the interview was 21, for instance:


“As we said above, a good soldier is a soldier who follows Règlement Militaire,
who has discipline and obeys it. But how can we do a good job when we do not
have anything. Here [in Kinshasa] we are hungry and at the front we are hungry.
We don’t get anything. They cheat us. … According to the rules we are supposed
to get rations, food, medical care, but now there is nothing. I will tell you one
thing so that you understand, so that you understand our situation. A few months
ago I had to bury my son. Why did I have to do that ? Because they refused to give
me medicine. He had diarrhea and fever – many days. I kept going to my
superiors everyday to get the money [for medical care] which I am entitled to
according to the rules. But every day, they said, come back tomorrow. Then
he died. I had no money to bury him and that is also something the Army is
supposed to pay for. So we put him in the morgue. I asked again for money so
that we could bury [him], but only tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.
Nothing. He was three weeks in the morgue, and I had no money to get him out
and bury him. Eventually I made an illegal/informal deal [nasalaki cop moko] with
some people – with guns. I got some money and the rest I borrowed. And I buried
my son. So tell me, how can we be disciplined? They all cheat us. Our superiors
cheat us. We die and our children die. They send their children to Europe, but
our children die.” (12)


Taking bitter, angry men (and women) with no food, pay, or shelter and deploying them, armed, near a village is a recipe for disaster for any military anywhere in the world. While no one can condone or excuse the appalling violence that such soldiers often commit in Congo, it is hard not to feel a bit of sympathy for these men (and women) that are pushed to the limits of existence and still expected to maintain orderly conduct, much less obey orders from officers they rightly suspect of cheating them.

Compounding the problem, there are rarely any negative consequences of rape, pillage, or murder for FARDC soldiers. Although it is against Congolese law for anyone, soldier or civilian, to commit such crimes (13), in practice such illegal actions are rarely punished. Indeed, many soldiers expressed the need to have more severe punishments for such crimes in order to deter wavering soldiers from committing such offenses. Take this example, in which two sergeants explained how they would punish wrongdoers:


Male sergeant A: “To diminish [rapes] you need punishments, it has to be severe
punishments … and public trials. If a soldier at Zeta [military camp in Kinshasa]
rapes a woman, he should be judged there. They should expel him from the army
there, take off his uniform, put him in the car [which transports him away] and
everybody should be there to watch.”
Male sergeant B: “That will give a lesson to all the people that are there to watch
him.”
Male sergeant A: “Yes, it has to be public trials : ‘today it is the trial of corporal X’
[they should say to him] ‘Do you know that you took somebody’s woman
with force [ozwaki mwasi ya batu na makasi] ? ’ ‘Yes, my commander, I know’
[he answers]. ‘Do you know that this is forbidden in the law? ’ ‘Yes, I know.’ ‘Ok,
we will give you the death penalty .’”
Maria: “But that is too much maybe?”
Male sergeant A: “[Laughing] It is just an example. Even 50 or 5 years. His wife will
start to cry, his children will start to cry : ‘ahh, Papa’. Then, the other people who
are watching will understand, they will start to be afraid : ‘ahh, so that is the way
it is ’.”
Male sergeant B: “But the punishment also has to be severe, even 20 years. Then
people will fear it.” (14)


Impunity is a huge problem in many spheres of Congolese life, and dealing with it in civilian, business, and other areas will require a significant amount of time and resources to address the other weak institutions that contribute to it. But having accountability in the military, at the very least, is essential. The consequences of continued impunity in the FARDC can be seen in the brutal abuses committed by soldiers every day against civilians, and if a country’s own army cannot control itself, how can a stable society be expected to function?


(1) Baaz and Stern, “Making Sense of Violence in the Congo,” 60-62.
(2) Ibid.
(3) Ibid., 61 and 82.
(4) Ibid., 61.
(5) Ibid.
(6) Ibid., 70-73.
(7) French for military rules/ military code of conduct
(8) Ibid., 73.
(9) Dating back to 2006 [Ibid., 64.]
(10) Sébastien Melmot, “Candide in Congo: The Expected Failure of Security Sector Reform,” IFRI Focus Stratégique, n° 9 bis (2009): 11.
(11) Baaz and Stern, “Making Sense of Violence in the Congo,” 77.
(12) Ibid., 76.
(13) Kippenberg, “Soldiers Who Rape, Commanders Who Condone,” 18-19.
(14) Baaz and Stern, “Making Sense of Violence in the Congo,” 79.

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Congo's Forgotten Crisis, and How the United States should Address it: From HRW, an Inside Look at a Congolese Brigade

Part 4 of a 7-part article about how the ongoing civil war in Congo is rooted in the poor state of the Congolese Army, why Congo matters to the United States, and what policies the United States should enact to address the situation.

A recent report by HRW (1) comes to many of the same conclusions as Dr. Baaz does from her interviews. Like Dr. Baaz did for her article, Juliane Kippenberg and other HRW researchers interviewed FARDC personnel for much of their research, focusing on the FARDC’s 14th brigade. They investigate the actions of the 14th brigade from its creation in North Kivu Province in 2006 until early 2009 (2). Their findings indicate, among other things, that much of the problems with the FARDC that existed in 2006 while Dr. Baaz was conducting her interviews still persist today.

In addition, in describing the creation of the 14th brigade, the report highlights another challenge that the army has struggled to handle: the integration of former rebel fighters, and even officers, into the FARDC. The FARDC is essentially a collection of dozens of former armed groups, formed after the 2002 Global and All-inclusive Agreement that led to the withdrawal of foreign troops from Congo. The deal called for the creation of a new national army from the shell of the old army, the FAC, and from numerous militias, which were to form the new integrated armed forces: the FARDC (3). Militants had the option to join the new army or to undergo DDR or DDRRR and assimilate back into civilian life or repatriate to their homeland, respectively.

Intended to be finished before the 2006 national elections, the military integration process is still not complete and has been a challenge from the start (4). DDR, DDRRR, and military integration centers have been severely underfunded, making such options unattractive to militants; one observer went so far to state that “a human being cannot survive for a long time [in the centres] even if they are endowed with superhuman capacities for adaptation” (5). Even under the best circumstances, old loyalties die hard and hamper unity, especially when peoples of different language, ethnicity, or culture are integrated into mixed units (6). Alleged and real preferential treatment for certain ethnicities and the like continues to brood resentment and discord within the FARDC (7). This is apparent in the case of the 14th brigade, which was largely formed from the RCD-Goma – a Tutsi militia backed by Rwanda during the Second Congo War period – but also included some elements of the FAC and the Mai Mai (8). The majority of the brigade, including its commanding officer, Colonel David Rugayi, spoke Kinyarwanda – a language native to Hutus and Tutsis – but other soldiers spoke other Congolese languages, leading to confusion and resentment among some at the prevalence of Kinyarwanda-speaking officers in the brigade (9).

Such tensions would turn violent in an episode following the removal of Colonel Rugayi. After the 14th brigade participated in the FARDC’s humiliating defeat at Mushake (10), Kinshasa relieved Rugayi of his command, amidst allegations of battlefield incompetence and outright arms and information dealing with the CNDP (11). His replacement, Colonel John Tshibangu, did not speak Kinyarwanda, which caused resentment among the many Kinyarwanda-speaking soldiers of the brigade. The situation would come to a head on June 26, 2008, when scores of disgruntled soldiers refused a direct order from Colonel Tshibangu. Although the mutiny was put down by loyal troops, at least one brigade soldier died and several civilians were abused during the course of the fighting, and Colonel Rugayi was eventually reinstated to prevent future rebellion from the brigade (12).

Like the soldiers interviewed by Dr. Baaz, the members of the 14th brigade were also beset with severe shortages of food and basic supplies. As recently as March, 2009, one brigade soldier said this of the living conditions:


"We live like dogs. We live on civilians, asking them for their bananas. It’s
been three months without payment or something to eat.... Before, I got
37,000 FC a month [approximately US$44]. The commander would then take
2,000 or 5,000 FC from that. January was the last time we got rations. I got
beans and flour and maize. I have two children, but with a military salary it is
not enough to support them."(13)


In one particularly bad incident in January, 2008, the brigade was ordered to redeploy to the town of Kabare in South Kivu Province, near the Rwandan border but received no provisions, food, or shelter. The soldiers were left with little choice but to prey on the local populace. Foraging and looting in Kabare degenerated into what one officer interviewed described as “anarchy,” with soldiers destroying homes for materials and torturing, raping, and killing civilians at will (14). In all, HRW documented 23 cases of rape perpetrated by soldiers of the 14th brigade since they arrived in Kabare, and 26 cases during the research period, including several cases of gang rape (15). According to the report, only a handful of criminal charges were brought against members of the brigade, none of which involved high-ranking officers.

The report also found disturbing evidence of a breakdown in the higher chain of command with regard to the 14th brigade. When the brigade was first assembled in North Kivu, it fell within the boundaries of the 8th military region, but upon moving to South Kivu the brigade came within the 10th military region. Each region was under the control of a different general, and neither general would claim responsibility of the brigade after its rampage in Kabare (16), though in practice, the brigade seemed to respond to Kinshasa directly, as evidenced by Kinshasa’s removal and later reinstatement of Colonel Rugayi (17).

The case of the 14th brigade and its many problems does not seem to be an isolated example. The same HRW report mentions by name nine other FARDC brigades whose members had committed acts of sexual violence during the reporting period (18), and in 2008 the UN registered 7,703 cases of sexual violence in North and South Kivu alone (19). To combat these seemingly widespread occurrences, the report lays out a number of suggestions for the DRC government and the international community. Among other things, the report suggests that the Congolese government reform its chain of command, create a division of special prosecutors for sexual violence cases, and devise a mechanism to ensure that FARDC troops receive regular salaries and provisions, and it also urges the international community to provide funding and operational assistance for SSR (20).


(1) Entitled Soldiers Who Rape, Commanders Who Condone: Sexual Violence and Military Reform in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
(2) Kippenberg, “Soldiers Who Rape, Commanders Who Condone,” 5.
(3) Baaz and Stern, “Making Sense of Violence in the Congo,” 63.
(4) Ibid.
(5) Ibid., 63-64.
(6) With over 200 ethnicities and languages in Congo, this problem is especially prominent.
(7) Ibid., 64.
(8) A term referring to a loose collection of community-based militias.
(9) Kippenberg, “Soldiers Who Rape, Commanders Who Condone,” 23.
(10) See note 1
(11) Ibid., 25.
(12) Ibid., 26.
(13) Ibid., 44.
(14) Ibid., 25.
(15) Ibid., 27.
(16) Ibid., 32-33.
(17) Ibid., 33.
(18) Ibid., 21.
(19) Ibid., 6.
(20) Ibid., 8-10.

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Congo's Forgotten Crisis, and How the United States should Address it: Current DRC Policies and International Measures

Part 5 of a 7-part article about how the ongoing civil war in Congo is rooted in the poor state of the Congolese Army, why Congo matters to the United States, and what policies the United States should enact to address the situation.

The importance of SSR as well as judicial reform has not been lost on the DRC government. President Kabila has emphasized in several interviews (1) that bringing peace and stability to Congo are his priorities, and he and his ministers have deliberated in great length with international donors on the subject (2). According to the UN Secretary-General’s December 2009 report on MONUC, DRC courts have begun to impose harsh punishments, including the death penalty, on soldiers who commit abuses against civilians, and, during the reporting period (3), five senior officers accused of sexual violence were removed from their posts (4). In addition, as recently as January, 2010, President Kabila has laid off masses of bureaucratic officials suspected of corruption (5). Furthermore, acutely aware of the coup attempt that killed his father (6), President Kabila has created a special elite unit of around 10,000 men called the Garde Républicaine that is separate from the FARDC and under his personal control, and he makes sure that they are paid regularly and have sufficient lodging and equipment (7).

These efforts and others have had only limited success at best, though. The various ministries of the DRC government have had contradictory SSR plans and conflicting policy spheres in which to work in, while the high-ranking officers in the military have resisted reform to the best of their abilities so as to retain their authority and “self-entailed privileges”(8). Several important security-related agencies, like intelligence and border control authorities, are not targeted by SSR efforts at all (9). Efforts to combat impunity, such as the “road map” – a six point plan to combat sexual violence (10) – have not been readily enforced; as a result, even members of the well-paid and well-equipped Garde Républicaine regularly beat, loot, rape, and kill civilians (11), particularly those who are deployed outside Kinshasa and are therefore far from the watchful eye of President Kabila.

Furthermore, the various international donors contributing to SSR – such as the UN, the EU, the Netherlands, Great Britain, South Africa, Japan, the United States, China, and various NGOs – have oftentimes competed with each other and worked at cross-purposes. The Netherlands, for instance, has primarily helped South Africa with its initiatives to improve the FARDC, while Great Britain has primarily supported South Africa’s efforts to improve the police, while Japan has financed projects to improve border control and existing MONUC humanitarian initiatives (12). The net effect is a huge slew of international initiatives, many of which conflict with each other and none of which are adequately funded (13).

The United States could help revitalize the DRC’s SSR efforts by making a more substantial financial commitment to Congo directed specifically at addressing the FARDC’s logistical and accountability problems. Currently, U.S. aid efforts toward Congo, like those of most of Congo’s international donors, are underfunded and misdirected. Over the past three years (14), the United States has devoted roughly $680 million to Congolese aid initiatives (15); although this is a fair amount of money, it pales in comparison to the aid that the United States provides to countries like Israel, Egypt, and South Africa. To put things into perspective, the United States has given roughly the same amount of foreign assistance money to Congo as it has to Liberia, a country that is roughly 20 times smaller – in terms of population and area (16) – than Congo (17,18). Furthermore, much of U.S. foreign assistance money to Congo goes to emergency and humanitarian needs (19), while a much smaller portion is directed towards military and security-related initiatives, which fall under FMF, IMET, NADR, and PO in Table 1.







Data obtained from Congressional Budget Justifications for Foreign Operations, see Works Cited.



This is not to say that the United States has not understood the importance of a stable Congo and the role of the Congolese military in achieving this stability. The United States facilitated the peace process that culminated with the Global and All-inclusive Agreement in 2002 that lead to the eventual withdrawal of all foreign armies from Congo (20). More recently, the United States has contributed nearly $860 million over the past three years to MONUC (21) and, primarily through AFRICOM, has undertaken a number of its own initiatives designed to strengthen the FARDC. Through the FMF program, for instance, AFRICOM has provided the FARDC with weapons, while through the IMET program it has sent U.S. military personnel to train FARDC officers. In February, 2010, AFRICOM even began training an elite light infantry FARDC battalion that would be the nucleus of a “quick reaction force”(22) as part of its PO programs. In addition, AFRICOM has provided intelligence and assistance to several FARDC operations, including a recent joint Congolese-Ugandan operation (23) aimed at annihilating the LRA, which had taken refuge in northeastern Congo (24). Indeed, some critics worry that, far from being negligent, the United States is getting too involved in Congo’s military affairs and have expressed concern over what they argue is the militarization of Africa (25).

However, these measures, important though they are, have not contributed significantly to the fundamental logistical and disciplinary problems plaguing the FARDC. FMF provisions primarily deal with weapons and other combat equipment, not salaries and food rations (26), and although the United States has devoted time to human rights and international law as part of their IMET FARDC training curriculum (27) and has funded several ESF programs aimed to improve the DRC’s judiciary system (28), neither program has been sufficiently stressed or funded to give the United States real leverage in promoting such reform.


(1) Jeff Koinange, “Congo President on Military Rapes: ‘Unforgivable’,” CNN.com, June 1, 2006, http://www.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/africa/05/31/congo.rape/index.html.
(2) Melmot, “Candide in Congo,” 9-13.
(3) From 18 September 2009 until 25 November 2009
(4) UN Security Council, Thirtieth report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (S/2009/623), December 4, 2009, (Masthead). (2009 Readex microfiche): 14.
(5) “Kabila Dismisses Thousands for Corruption in DR. Congo,” Africa: the Good News, January 6, 2010, http://www.africagoodnews.com/leadership/kabila-dismisses-thousands-for-corruption-in-drcongo.html.
(6) “World Briefing | Africa: Congo: Death Sentences In Slaying Of President,” New York Times, January 8, 2003.
(7) “Democratic Republic of Congo: Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) and Reform of the Army,” Amnesty International Publications (2007): 56-58.
(8) Melmot, “Candide in Congo,” 15-16.
(9) Ibid., 15.
(10) Kippenberg, “Soldiers Who Rape, Commanders Who Condone,” 36.
(11) “Democratic Republic of Congo: Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR),” 56-60.
(12) Melmot, “Candide in Congo,” 16-17.
(13) Ibid., 17-19.
(14) FY 2008-2010.
(15) See Table 1 below.
(16) Data from CIA’s The World Factbook, see Works Cited.
(17) See Table 2 below.
(18) To be fair, Liberia has had its fair share of troubles as well; even still, the relative aid disparity is significant.
(19) Food Aid, Global Health and Child Survival: See Table 1.
(20) Exploring the U.S. Role in Consolidating Peace and Democracy in the Great Lakes Region, 110th Cong., 1st Sess. 6-7 (2007) (testimony of Jendayi Frazier).
(21) $270.721 million in 2008, $210 million in 2009, and an estimated $381 in 2010: see Congressional Budget Justifications.
(22) Nicole Dalrymple, “U.S. and DRC in Partnership to Train Model Congolese Battalion,” US AFRICOM Articles, February 18, 2010, http://www.africom.mil/getArticle.asp?art=4032&lang=0.
(23) The operation did not succeed; the LRA escaped and massacred hundreds of people during its retreat; see note 78.
(24) Jeffrey Gettleman and Eric Schmitt, “U.S. Aided a Failed Plan to Rout Ugandan Rebels,” New York Times, February 6, 2009.
(25) Daniel Volman, “Obama Expands Military Involvement in Africa,” Antiwar.com, April 3, 2010, http://original.antiwar.com/volman/2010/04/02/military-involvement-in-africa/.
(26) According to the 2011 State Department Congressional Budget Justification, FMF “furthers U.S. interests around the world by ensuring that coalition partners and friendly foreign governments are equipped and trained to work toward common security goals and share burdens in joint missions.”
(27) U.S. Department of State, Fiscal Year 2011 Congressional Budget Justification, Volume 2: Department of State Operations, (Washington DC: GPO 2010): 187.
(28) U.S. Department of State, Fiscal Year 2011 Congressional Budget Justification for Foreign Operations; Annex: Regional Perspectives, (Washington, DC: GPO, 2010): 47.

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Congo's Forgotten Crisis, and How the United States should Address it: Outlining a Reformed, More Substantial U.S. Policy toward Congo

Part 6 of a 7-part article about how the ongoing civil war in Congo is rooted in the poor state of the Congolese Army, why Congo matters to the United States, and what policies the United States should enact to address the situation.


Until the United States makes a substantial financial commitment to the DRC – on the order of several billion dollars a year – and develops policies that tackle the core logistical and disciplinary problems that the FARDC faces, it should not expect to see its efforts yield significant progress in reforming FARDC. There are numerous ways in which the United States could increase its involvement. For example, the United States could offer to help develop a series of FARDC soldier bank accounts into which salaries can be directly deposited into, thus bypassing corrupt government officials and officers. It could also fund the creation of permanent barracks all across Congo to house soldiers on campaign and to serve as administrative outposts where FARDC soldiers could receive pay, rations, supplies, and medical treatment and where soldiers suspected of abuses against civilians could be tried. The United States could fund healthcare programs and pensions for FARDC troops.

To counter possible accusations of attempting to exercise undue influence over the FARDC, the United States could invite the UN, the EU, and other international donors to participate in its programs. In addition, to alleviate potential fears among President Kabila and other top DRC government officials about the U.S. aid making the FARDC too powerful, thereby increasing the likelihood of a coup, the United States could offer to set up special training programs or other initiatives directed toward the Garde Républicaine as a counterweight to its FARDC programs.

If its financial commitment to such programs is great enough, the United States can then use its funding as leverage to encourage the Congolese government to enact additional judicial and administrative reforms. The United States could set benchmarks for things like the passage of laws to enact harsher penalties for civilian and military rape, murder, and theft, as well as for officers who disobey orders and embezzle equipment and funds; the penalty for not meeting such benchmarks could be funding cuts. The United States could also threaten to cut funding if rampant impunity, embezzlement, and abuses against civilians persist. In addition to using the threat of funding cuts, the United States could also offer economic incentives, such as a preferential trade agreement of some sort, to further encourage the Congolese government to achieve specified objectives.

In addition to implementing significant efforts to deal with the logistical and disciplinary problems facing the FARDC and continuing or even expanding its efforts to train the FARDC, the United States should take more concrete action to weaken the rebellious militias opposing the FARDC. To do this, the United States should focus its efforts on reducing the fighting strength and income of such militias. First and foremost, the United States should work with the UN to more vigilantly enforce the current arms embargo on Congo, in accordance with State Department regulations (1) as well as through efforts to get countries bordering Congo to more readily police their borders for arms smuggling (as well as drug and mineral smuggling). The United States should also look to fund and improve upon existing military integration, DDR, and DDRRR efforts within the DRC; perhaps it could allocate funds to improve the quality of the DDR facilities that the observer interviewed in Dr. Baaz’s and Dr. Stern’s report spoke so cynically of (2). Furthermore, the Obama Administration should urge Congress to pass the Congo Conflict Minerals Act of 2009 (currently pending in the Senate Subcommittee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs), which would be a good step toward cracking down on illegal mineral smuggling (3) that has funded militias throughout Congo’s 16 years of conflict; the small “Conflict Minerals” provision in the recently enacted financial reform law (4), which requires companies to disclose procedures for ensuring that minerals are obtained from legitimate sources, is a good first step, but more substantial reform is needed.

Undertaking such efforts would likely cost the United States several billion more dollars each year, which, while significant, still pales in comparison to the tens of billions of dollars spent on Iraq, Afghanistan, and economic recovery, among other things. Moreover, if such policies succeed in leading to a stable Congo, they would greatly further U.S. interests at a relatively inexpensive cost.


(1) John C. Rood, “Rules and Regulations,” Federal Register 72, no. 242 (December 18, 2007): 71575.
(2) Baaz and Stern, “Making Sense of Violence in the Congo,” 63.
(3) “S. 891: Congo Conflict Minerals Act of 2009,” GovTrack.us, Civic Impulse, LLC, http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=s111-891.
(4) Mary Beth Sheridan, “U.S. Financial Reform Bill Also Targets ‘Conflict Minerals’ from Congo,” Washington Post, July 21, 2010.

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Congo's Forgotten Crisis, and How the United States should Address it: Conclusion

Part 7 of a 7-part article about how the ongoing civil war in Congo is rooted in the poor state of the Congolese Army, why Congo matters to the United States, and what policies the United States should enact to address the situation.

The benefits of a stable Congo to the United States are considerable. Ending the conflict in Congo would contribute greatly to stability in central Africa, since many foreign rebel militias, like the FDLR – which is made up of Congolese and Rwandan Hutus as well as génocidaires (1) – the Angolan UNITA, and the Ugandan LRA have taken refuge in Congo at various times during the past 16 years, taking advantage of Congo’s chaos and ample mineral wealth to regroup and launch renewed attacks against their home countries. Should the FARDC manage to bring lasting peace to Congo, there would be no uncontrolled, lawless parts of Congo that foreign rebels could use as bases. As the United States has discovered all-too well in Afghanistan, countries awash in chaos can become fertile breeding ground for militias and extremist groups that can carry out illicit activities, such as drug smuggling, and network with other extremist organizations, like Al Qaeda, to share techniques and even cooperate on targets and strategic goals. Given the United States’ past and current troubles with such extremist groups, it is in its strong interest to do anything it can to promote stability in chaotic parts of the world. Given its geopolitical importance and connection to other conflicts in central Africa, achieving peace in Congo is clearly in the interest of the United States, since it would not only stabilize what has been one of the most chaotic places on Earth for the past 16 years but would also contribute to the stabilization of central Africa, which in turn could contribute to the stabilization of all of Africa, which has been the most chaotic continent throughout the past 50 years.

In addition to these security benefits, stability in Congo would also give sustainable economic development and growth and development to take root in Congo, which would also be of great benefit to the United States. Should this happen, the full potential of Congo’s vast resource wealth – which up until now has been extracted in very primitive and inefficient ways (2) and has often been embezzled and smuggled illegally for profit – could be realized, which would benefit the entire world economy. Moreover, should the United States play an integral role in the stabilization of Congo, it would avoid being outflanked by China, which has stepped up its involvement in Congo as of late, most recently signing a multi-billion dollar mining agreement with the DRC government (3).

While keeping the benefits of a stable Congo in mind, it is important for the United States to view aid programs designed to enable the FARDC to achieve peace in Congo not as ends in themselves but rather a part of a greater restructured U.S. strategy for dealing with Congo. In the first few years of such programs, priority will need to be given to physical construction of barracks and supply delivery systems, such as an electronic banking account system for salaries (indeed, given these initial start up costs, the first few years could some of the more expensive ones of such programs). As these new military structures get settled in and as the situation on the ground starts to improve, the United States should be ready to fully cooperate with the DRC government and cede funding responsibility to it – perhaps benchmarks that measure progress in eradicating corruption could be a good timetable to use for this – provided that the United States still retains enough leverage, through continued funding or by another means, to ensure it still is able to have a productive impact in DRC affairs. Should lasting peace begin to settle in, the United States should then begin to shift the focus of its efforts toward helping the DRC government deal with the tasks of resettling the millions of refugees and of and rebuilding communities damaged by 16 years of conflict. Once these immediate postwar tasks are addressed, then the United States should start shifting its focus toward helping the DRC government to improve the country’s political, financial, and judicial institutions, upon which long-term economic growth can take root.

In the course of implementing such a series of more involved policy toward Congo, the United States should be wary of exercising too much influence too bluntly to avoid alienating the DRC government. After 30 years of Leopold’s brutal personal reign, 52 years of Belgian colonial rule, 32 years of Mobutu’s U.S.-backed authoritarian regime, and 5 years of occupation by 7 foreign armies, Congo is understandably uncomfortable toward anything resembling foreign control or exploitation. As demonstrated by its recent mining deal, the DRC is not afraid to turn toward countries like China – who can offer just as much aid money as the United States or the IMF – if it feels too tightly bound or exploited by existing arrangements (4).

Despite all of Congo’s daunting challenges ahead, a number of things have gone its way in the last few years. All foreign armies have withdrawn from Congolese territory; the country has its first democratically-elected government since independence; and General Nkunda, perhaps the most fearsome rebel leader during the last few years of the conflict, has been apprehended (5). These favorable circumstances present Congo with its best chance in some time to attain lasting peace and, through such stability, to embark on long-term economic growth and give its fledgling democratic institutions time to develop and take root. The time seems ripe, then, for the United States to devote significant time and money toward developing and implementing the needed policies that will help Congo take advantage of its precious opportunity to achieve lasting peace.


(1) Perpetrators of the Rwandan Genocide. Most fled to Congo along with millions of Hutu refugees fearing reprisals from the RPF; indeed, it was this influx of refugees and militants that destabilized Congo 16 years ago and initiated the current civil war.
(2) “Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining, DRC,” CommDev, http://commdev.org/section/projects/asm_drc.
(3) Peter Lee, “China has a Congo copper headache,” Asia Times Online, March 11, 2010, http://www.atimes.com/atimes/China_Business/LC11Cb02.html.
(4) Lee, “China has a Congo copper headache.”
(5) Jeffrey Gettleman, “A Congolese Rebel Leader Who Once Seemed Untouchable is Caught,” New York Times, January 23, 2009.

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Congo's Forgotten Crisis, and How the United States should Address it: Works Cited

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Baaz, Maria Eriksson, and Maria Stern. “Making sense of violence: voices of soldiers in the Congo (DRC).” The Journal of Modern African Studies 46, no. 1 (2008): 57-86.

Bavier, Joe. “Congo rebels retake ground, army offensive falters.” Reuters, December 11, 2007. http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/L11351715.htm.

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Gettleman, Jeffrey. “A Congolese Rebel Leader Who Once Seemed Untouchable is Caught.” New York Times, January 23, 2009.

Gettleman, Jeffrey, and Eric Schmitt. “U.S. Aided a Failed Plan to Rout Ugandan Rebels.” New York Times, February 6, 2009.

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Rood, John C. “Rules and Regulations.” Federal Register 72, no. 242 (December 18, 2007): 71575.

“S. 891: Congo Conflict Minerals Act of 2009.” GovTrack.us. Civic Impulse, LLC. http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=s111-891.

Sawyer, Ida, and Anneke Van Woudenberg. “‘You Will Be Punished’: Attacks on Civilians in Eastern Congo.” Human Rights Watch Publications (2009).

Seymour, Claudia. “Children Choosing Combat? Failures of children’s DDR in a context of chronic conflict.” September 8, 2009.

Sheridan, Mary Beth. “U.S. Financial Reform Bill Also Targets ‘Conflict Minerals’ from Congo.” Washington Post. July 21, 2010.

Spielmann, Peter James. “Review of Congo war halves death toll.” Associated Press, Taiwan News, January 20, 2010. http://www.etaiwannews.com/etn/news_content.php?id=1160780&lang=eng_news.

The World Factbook. “Congo, Democratic Republic of the.” Central Intelligence Agency. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/cg.html.

The World Factbook. “Liberia.” Central Intelligence Agency. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/cg.html.

UN Security Council. Thirtieth report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (S/2009/623). December 4, 2009. (Masthead). (2009 Readex microfiche).

U.S. Congressional Research Services. The Democratic Republic of Congo: Background and Current Developments (R40108; February 4, 2010), by Ted Dagne. Text in: LexisNexis® Congressional Research Digital Collection; Accessed: April 20, 2010.

U.S. Department of State. Fiscal Year 2010 Congressional Budget Justification. Washington, DC: GPO, 2009.

U.S. Department of State. Fiscal Year 2010 Congressional Budget Justification for Foreign Operations, Book II. Washington, DC: GPO, 2009.

U.S. Department of State. Fiscal Year 2011 Congressional Budget Justification for Foreign Operations; Annex: Regional Perspectives. Washington, DC: GPO, 2010.

U.S. Department of State. Fiscal Year 2011 Congressional Budget Justification, Volume 2: Department of State Operations, Washington DC: GPO, 2010.

Volman, Daniel. “Obama Expands Military Involvement in Africa.” Antiwar.com, April 3, 2010. http://original.antiwar.com/volman/2010/04/02/military-involvement-in-africa/.

“World Briefing | Africa: Congo: Death Sentences In Slaying Of President.” New York Times, January 8, 2003.

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Sri Lanka's Opportunity of a Generation: A Rare Advent of Peace

Part 1 of a 5-part article about what the Sri Lankan government should do to rebuild its country after nearly 30 years of civil war, and why the rest of the world has a stake in Sri Lanka's success.

Five years before Hezbollah, ten years before Al Qaeda and Hamas, and 15 years before the Taliban, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was founded in the northern tip of Sri Lanka in 1976.

Although never garnering the same level of international publicity as the various Islamic extremist groups, the LTTE was arguably one of the most ruthless terrorist organizations in the world during its nearly 30-year-long conflict with the Sri Lankan government. Indeed, the LTTE pioneered tactics that have since been adopted by the Taliban and Al Qaeda, such as equipping suicide bombers with concealed vests filled with explosives (now a favorite of the Taliban and Al Qaeda) and using speedboats full of explosives for suicide attacks against naval targets (the technique that Al Qaeda used to bomb the U.S.S. Cole in 2000)(1).

The LTTE began as one of many militias fighting for Tamil independence from the predominantly Sinhalese Sri Lanka. Over the course of the next three decades, the LTTE forcibly eliminated or absorbed all of the other Tamil separatist groups and consolidated its hold over the Tamil areas of the island, all the while waging an all-out civil war against the Sri Lankan government(2). Throughout the war, the LTTE employed ever more brutal tactics to fight against Sri Lankan forces and to preserve its power; these included the use of child soldiers, ethnic cleansing of Sinhalese and Muslim communities, killing of civilians (including Tamils), assassinations, and various forms of extortion and smuggling to raise funds(3).

To contemporary observers, it must have seemed like the conflict would never end. The civil war had all too many disturbing parallels with the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the ongoing land dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and the endless struggles plaguing many countries in Africa. Most of these conflicts are rooted in ethnic tensions, have involved state and non-state actors that manipulate and distort such sentiments – some of which, like the LTTE, have an active interest in prolonging the conflict – and have alternated between periods of all-out war and periods of ceasefire and regrouping. This vicious cycle, so prevalent in today’s “modern” world, seemed doomed to permanently engulf Sri Lanka.

Then, fourteen months ago, the unthinkable happened: the LTTE was completely defeated and the 30-year-long civil war came to an end. In a remarkable, albeit ruthless three-year push, the Sri Lankan military overran the LTTE-controlled eastern coast(4) and then turned north, captured Kilinochchi(5), the LTTE’s administrative capital, and eventually trapped the LTTE in a tiny strip of land in the north of the island. As brutal as ever, the LTTE held hundreds of thousands of Tamils hostage in its miniscule enclave, using them as human shields against the advancing Sri Lankan Army and trying to use their suffering as leverage to pressure the Sri Lankan government to declare some sort of ceasefire. In one of the most moving episodes of the entire war, over 100,000 civilians flooded out of the LTTE-controlled zone through a breach created by the Sri Lankan Army in a section of the LTTE’s fortifications(6).

Such desperate, despicable methods would be to no avail. By May 2009, the LTTE’s territory had been reduced to the size of Central Park, and its remaining soldiers and core leadership were dying fast(7). Finally, in mid-May, the LTTE’s leader and founder, Velupillai Prabhakaran, was killed, and the last remnants of the LTTE were subdued, with some of the more radical fighters preferring suicide attacks to surrender(8).

For the first time in nearly 30 years, Sri Lankan forces control the entire island and face no armed resistance from any militant groups. This advent of stability has provided the current Sri Lankan government, under President Mahinda Rajapaksa, with the opportunity of a generation: a chance to permanently turn the page on this violent chapter of Sri Lankan history and lay the foundation for lasting peace in Sri Lanka. Countries like Congo and Lebanon, which have been mired in civil wars for most of their existence, can only dream of a similar opportunity.


Note: A shorter version of this piece appeared in the May 2010 issue of American Foreign Policy, a Princeton monthly foreign policy publication.


(1) http://www.defence.lk/pps/LTTEinbrief.pdf
(2) Ibid.
(3) Ibid.
(4) http://www.economist.com/node/13527366
(5) http://www.economist.com/node/12896734
(6) http://www.economist.com/node/13527366
(7) http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/8045970.stm#story
(8) http://www.economist.com/node/13684069

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Sri Lanka's Opportunity of a Generation: Challenges Loom, but the Biggest Obstacle is Gone

Part 2 of a 5-part article about what the Sri Lankan government should do to rebuild its country after nearly 30 years of civil war, and why the rest of the world has a stake in Sri Lanka's success.

Tensions between the Sinhalese and the Tamils have existed for several centuries, but they became especially heightened after Sri Lanka’s independence from Great Britain in 1948. In the next decade, acts passed by the Sinhalese-controlled Sri Lankan parliament denied citizenship and suffrage to the minority Tamils(1) and made Sinhalese the sole official language(2) of Sri Lanka. State-sponsored Sinhalese settlement of Tamil areas further worsened tensions between the two ethnicities(3). The dissatisfaction of the marginalized Tamils naturally provided fertile breeding ground for Tamil militant nationalist groups, like the LTTE, in the 1970s.

However, by 2003 the Tamils and their language had been legally incorporated into Sri Lanka, and Sinhalese settlement of Tamil areas had slowed(4). It then fell to the LTTE – the self-proclaimed defender of the Tamils and their rights – to facilitate reconciliation between the two ethnic groups and work with the government toward a permanent political settlement.

Instead, the LTTE disrupted attempts at lasting peace and actively worked to prolong the civil war. It assassinated scores of Tamil politicians and undermined any Tamil political party that was attempting to steer a course separate from LTTE aims(5). Ceasefires with the government were agreed upon out of convenience rather than a genuine desire to resolve the conflict. The LTTE used such ceasefires to rearm and regroup and would break them at opportune moments; in 2006, for example, the LTTE’s attempt to stop the flow of water out of a major reservoir that supplied government-controlled villages(6) ended the 2002 Norwegian-brokered peace accords(7), which were perhaps the closest the conflict ever came to a peaceful resolution.

Ultimately, the LTTE became a parasite of the civil war, making it an obstacle rather than a potential means to a peaceful settlement. With the military capability of the LTTE destroyed, this obstacle has been removed, providing an opportunity for a lasting resolution to the conflict.

For the Sri Lankan government, the task ahead will not be easy. Hundreds of thousands of civilians, mainly Tamils, remain displaced and need to be resettled. Much of the north remains damaged from the closing offensive of the war and needs to be repaired and rebuilt(8). Moreover, the Tamils are still uncertain of their place in a country controlled by a Sinhalese majority, and their concerns will need to be addressed to ensure that the recently-ended civil war will be Sri Lanka’s last. But while the current challenges are tough, they will only get harder with time, and they are certainly easier now than they were when the LTTE was still at large.


Note: A shorter version of this piece appeared in the May 2010 issue of American Foreign Policy, a Princeton monthly foreign policy publication.


(1) http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=79&artid=10064
(2) http://www.country-data.com/cgi-bin/query/r-13257.html
(3) Ibid.
(4) http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=79&artid=10064
(5) http://www.defence.lk/pps/LTTEinbrief.pdf
(6) http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/5249884.stm
(7) http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/1835737.stm
(8) http://www.economist.com/node/15819464?story_id=15819464

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Sri Lanka's Opportunity of a Generation: Letting the Opportunity Slip Away

Part 3 of a 5-part article about what the Sri Lankan government should do to rebuild its country after nearly 30 years of civil war, and why the rest of the world has a stake in Sri Lanka's success.

Unfortunately for Sri Lanka, the government has acted aggressively in the months since the LTTE’s defeat and has made little progress on resolving postwar issues that could fester into renewed violence if not dealt with relatively soon.

President Rajapaksa in particular has sought to use Sri Lanka’s victory to his own personal advantage rather than to benefit the country as a whole. He held the presidential election a year earlier than scheduled in January, 2010 in order to capitalize from the end of the civil war. He won but then proceeded to arrest General Sarath Fonseka – who oversaw the Sri Lankan Army’s victory over the LTTE and then ran in the presidential election – and at least 20 of his supporters in the military for allegedly plotting a coup against him: quite a heavy-handed move considering he won the election by 17 percentage points(1).

All the while, President Rajapaksa has continued the government’s strict control over the media – with the president himself recently taking control of the Ministry of Mass Media and Information from his own minister – and its restrictions on civil liberties. Such measures may have been partly justified during the civil war, particularly given the LTTE’s ruthlessness and skill in espionage, but with the LTTE defeated and no strong political opponents, keeping such measures in place seems excessive and will likely damage Sri Lanka’s democratic institutions(2).

Most troubling of all, the government has made little progress in resettling the nearly 260,000 Tamil refugees. Instead, they have been left to languish in crowded, unsanitary, hastily-constructed camps that are both expensive to maintain and a growing source of resentment for those trapped inside(3). Perhaps during the war such mass internments were partly unavoidable and partly justified and may have very well led to the arrests of LTTE members that could have tried to infiltrate the populace and launch a guerilla campaign against the government. But now there is no excuse. The sooner the government can empty the camps the better, as it will rid them of a logistical and a political nightmare.

Further compounding the problem, the government has allowed Sinhalese families who had been evicted by the LTTE during the civil war to reclaim their land(4). Even if intended for all the right reasons, this action could antagonize the Tamil refugees, who could view it as an example of state-sponsored Sinhalese settlement in Tamil areas and of neglect and discrimination of Tamil refugees.

Such aggressive and short-sighted policies, if continued, will likely harm the current government in the short run and the country as a whole in the long run. With overwhelming support for President Rajapaksa and his Sri Lanka Freedom party across the country since the defeat of the LTTE – having won eight provincial elections last year and 142 out of 255 seats in parliamentary elections last April(5) in addition to President Rajapaksa’s resounding re-election – there was no need to arrest General Fonseka and to keep heavy-handed wartime measures in place. With the LTTE thoroughly decimated, there is no need to keep hundreds of thousands of Tamils detained in temporary camps. Any short-term political benefits any of these things could possibly yield would be superfluous at this point, and in the long run they risk sowing the seeds of future unrest and possibly civil war.


Note: A shorter version of this piece appeared in the May 2010 issue of American Foreign Policy, a Princeton monthly foreign policy publication.


(1) http://www.economist.com/node/15452859?story_id=15452859
(2) http://www.economist.com/node/16167748?story_id=16167748
(3) http://www.economist.com/node/14564948
(4) http://www.zeenews.com/news625632.html
(5) http://www.economist.com/node/15900204?story_id=15900204

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Sri Lanka's Opportunity of a Generation: Why the Rest of the World Should Care

Part 4 of a 5-part article about what the Sri Lankan government should do to rebuild its country after nearly 30 years of civil war, and why the rest of the world has a stake in Sri Lanka's success.

A renewed outbreak of civil strife would not only be tragic for Sri Lanka but also undesirable for the rest of the world. India in particular has a vested interest in a stable Sri Lanka, as there are over 60.8 million Tamils residing in India(1), for which the civil war had been a very heated issue. Furthermore, India’s three-year long peacekeeping tenure in northern Sri Lanka, in which it faced stout opposition from the LTTE and lost over 1500 men(2), is something India would like to forget, much less repeat.

In addition to India, other countries, like the United States, China and the European nations, would be worse off in the event of another Sri Lankan civil war. Such renewed chaos would hamper trade with Sri Lanka and, due to Sri Lanka’s strategic position along the Indian Ocean trading routes, could even disrupt economic activity throughout South and Southeast Asia at a time when the climb out of global recession is still precarious at best.

Moreover, renewed conflict would also likely breed other Tamil militant groups, and if any such groups were to become even half as ruthless as the LTTE was, it would present a significant problem not only for Sri Lanka but for the rest of the world as well. In its day, the LTTE was notorious for arms and drug smuggling. Furthermore, the LTTE had long been suspected of having contacts with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), Al Qaeda, and potentially other ruthless terrorist organizations, and, indeed, such organizations adopted several techniques developed by the LTTE(3). The last thing that the rest of the world wants to see is the creation of another extremist group in the vein of the LTTE that would carry out such illicit activities and cooperate with other terrorist organizations, groups that have given the United States, Russia, Europe, and China a particularly hard time this past decade.

Given the potential negative effects of another outbreak of violence in Sri Lanka, it would seem that it is in the international community’s interest to influence the resettlement and reconciliation process in Sri Lanka. The United States or the European Union (EU), or an organization like the IMF or the World Bank, could encourage the Sri Lankan government to resettle the Tamils from the camps by offering to fund such an action, with the release of funds contingent on the Sri Lankan government having a viable plan to resettle the refugees and having the ability to monitor the use of such funds and the progress of the operations, so as to ensure maximum efficiency of the aid. The government could hire Tamils from the camps to help with the resettlement process, as well as with the rebuilding and repair of areas damaged by the civil war. The United States and the EU could also help pay for the rebuilding of the northern areas, again making sure that they only agree to give funds if the Sri Lankan government presents a well-constructed plan to them and that the donors have some way of receiving feedback on the progress of their funds and of the operations they are funding.

Another course available to the United States, the EU, and other countries is to offer general economic incentives or threaten economic consequences if Sri Lanka does not begin resettlement or rebuilding in earnest or if it does not provide suitable rights or autonomy to Tamil areas. These could be in the form of trade agreements or sanctions. The EU in particular has an effective and easy-to-wield economic lever: access to the GSP plus, a preferential trade arrangement which allows increased access to EU markets through a reduction in tariffs. Just a couple of months ago, the EU revoked Sri Lanka’s GSP plus status in response to the Sri Lankan government’s questionable conduct toward human rights during the final phases of the civil war(4). The EU could easily offer to resume this arrangement with Sri Lanka if it notices progress toward resettlement or political autonomy for the Tamil areas.

Indeed, the United States and Europe in particular would do well to try to do more to influence the recovery of Sri Lanka – rather than focus on condemning the Sri Lankan government for its handling of the war – so as to avoid being outflanked by China, who has filled the void left by the West in the past few years and now provides the bulk of financial aid and foreign investment to Sri Lanka(5). In addition to the Chinese, Sri Lanka has accepted aid from Pakistan, Libya, and even Iran in order to fuel its war and help its economy(6), much to the discomfort of the United States. For its part, though, China should recognize that aid with no conditions is not the most effective way to ensure that a stable, prosperous Sri Lanka emerges from the ashes of war, and it should realize that, given the huge sums of aid it is giving, it can afford to attach some guidelines with such aid. While the Sri Lankan government may grumble at first, in the long term such a course would be more beneficial for China, Sri Lanka, and the rest of the world.


Note: A shorter version of this piece appeared in the May 2010 issue of American Foreign Policy, a Princeton monthly foreign policy publication.


(1) http://www.censusindia.gov.in/Census_Data_2001/Census_Data_Online/Language/Statement1.htm
(2) http://www.mongabay.com/history/india/india-peacekeeping_operations.html
(3) http://www.defence.lk/pps/LTTEinbrief.pdf
(4) http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/07/business/global/07trade.html?src=busln
(5) http://www.economist.com/node/16542629?story_id=16542629
(6) http://www.economist.com/node/13527366

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Sri Lanka's Opportunity of a Generation: The Lessons of the Sri Lankan Civil War

Part 5 of a 5-part article about what the Sri Lankan government should do to rebuild its country after nearly 30 years of civil war, and why the rest of the world has a stake in Sri Lanka's success.

In addition to the practical concerns of the rest of the world, it is important to make sure that Sri Lanka handles its resettlement and reconciliation challenges effectively in order to ensure that one of Asia’s oldest and most brutal conflicts is buried into history. So far, Sri Lanka has provided an interesting case for how today’s seemingly perpetual conflicts around the world might be solved. Years of foreign mediation, from India’s uninspiring peacekeeping effort in the late 1980s to Norway’s well-intentioned but unsuccessful brokering of a peace agreement in 2002, proved ineffective in its attempts to end the conflict. Ultimately, it took a sweeping effort on the part of the Sri Lankan government to eradicate the LTTE and end the civil war. In many respects, the government’s handling of the last phases of the conflict was heavy-handed, but it did prove to be effective.

Sri Lanka’s example poses interesting questions about today’s international peacekeeping and peace-brokering efforts around the world. While some sort of international involvement is ideal so as to prevent mass atrocities, like the ongoing tragedies in Darfur and Congo, perhaps it is possible for there to be too much international involvement, to the point where the conflict that the international community is trying to resolve only ends up getting prolonged and extra diplomatic or military involvement is rendered ineffective, as has been the case with Lebanon for nearly 30 years.

Finding the right balance is always tricky, and there is undoubtedly no general formula for every conflict, but it is important to recognize that more international aid, scrutiny, or involvement of some sort will not always help lead to conflict resolution. Recognizing the realities of the situation, particularly the motives of the people and organizations involved, is essential in determining how much involvement, if any, is appropriate. With regard to the civil war in Sri Lanka, the LTTE had an interest in prolonging the conflict, as the nature of the conflict attracted members and money to its organization, and the prospect of transitioning to a legitimate, internationally recognized political entity was incompatible with its methods of raising money and maintaining order. It was for good reason that the majority of the international community refused to recognize the Taliban’s government in Afghanistan – it had draconian measures in its law code and derived most of its income from illicit opium trade – and the LTTE would have been no exception. Given these realities, perhaps it is not so surprising that the civil war was impossible to end until the LTTE had been eliminated. In this case, then, perhaps the most effective method for the international community to end the conflict was for it to stay uninvolved enough so that the Sri Lankan government would have enough leeway to eliminate the LTTE, which it had a definite interest, and, ultimately, the capability to do.

It is true that the end of the civil war was fairly heavy-handed as a result; indeed, perhaps the international community should have insisted that the Sri Lankan government accept help from the Red Cross with the wounded and from other organizations with building the temporary camps. But at least the fighting is over and lasting peace is possible. Perhaps the international community should adopt this approach more often: relaxing involvement to let a war finish with minimal casualties and damage and then focusing the bulk of its efforts on helping (or encouraging) those involved to move toward permanent resolution and normalization, whether that entails resettlement, repair, or something else.

Hence, it is time for the international community to help Sri Lanka with this last phase, not only for the benefit of itself and Sri Lanka, but for the possible application in other conflicts as well.


Note: A shorter version of this piece appeared in the May 2010 issue of American Foreign Policy, a Princeton monthly foreign policy publication.

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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Crisis in Pakistan: Introduction

Part 1 of a 6 part essay on the growing threat of the Taliban in Pakistan and how to combat it

Ever since the shocking, saddening events of September 11, 2001, U.S. policy has been dominated by an array of initiatives known collectively as the “war on terror.” Though enacted with good intentions, the “war on terror” has generated more controversy than it has palpable results. It has embroiled the United States in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and has left it increasingly isolated in international affairs.[1] It has undermined the foundations not only of American ideals but of American law as well.[2] All the while, Islamic extremism has arguably gained in popularity, and the very groups that are responsible for the September 11th terrorist attacks – Al Qaeda and the Taliban – have eluded destruction and are more powerful than ever.

How ironic it would be if the most direct consequence of the “war on terror” was the overthrow of a government by Muslim extremists and the destabilization of a nuclear-armed country. With the Taliban gaining full control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan last February[3] and advancing to within 60 miles of Islamabad just a few months ago[4] – moving much faster and over a wider area than in any of their previous incursions – such a catastrophe seems to be looming just over the horizon.

Pakistan has long been the geopolitical thorn in the side of the “war on terror.” The South Asian Muslim nation had been the Taliban’s most valuable supporter[5] prior to the September 11th attacks, and after the NATO invasion of Afghanistan, the remnants of the Taliban were able to avoid total destruction by migrating across the porous Afghan-Pakistani border and finding refuge in the mountainous, loosely governed regions of Pakistan’s northwest.[6] Although the United States was able to coax an ambivalent Pakistan into supporting its “war on terror,” the Pakistani Army was unwilling and unable to launch a concerted offensive to eradicate the Taliban once and for all.[7] As a result, Taliban militants were able to regroup and begin their expansion inside Pakistan that now has brought them within 60 miles of Pakistan’s capital.

[1] http://www.icosgroup.net/modules/reports/chronic_failures_war_terror/exec_summary
[2] http://www.aclu.org/safefree/general/26684res20060906.html
[3] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/02/16/AR2009021601063.html
[4] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/22/AR2009042200863.html
[5] http://www.cfr.org/publication/10551/
[6] http://www.cfr.org/publication/14905/troubled_afghanpakistani_border.html
[7] http://www.cfr.org/publication/14905/troubled_afghanpakistani_border.html

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