Needed: A Plan for Community Peacekeeping
What is the significance of UN Security Council Resolution 1769, which authorizes the hybrid UN-AU Mission in Darfur, with a strength of 26,000 and a limited Chapter VII mandate? Well — it depends.
Potentially the most significant thing about the Resolution, and Sudan’s acceptance of it, is that it gives the international community the opportunity to close the book on two years of acrimonious stand-off on the issue of peacekeepers in Darfur. All those practically engaged in seeking solutions to Darfur’s crisis agreed that the identity of the peacekeepers was a distraction from the central questions in Darfur, which were an inclusive and workable peace, and a realistic strategic plan for stabilizing the region.
With UNSC Resolution 1769 passed, we can now get to the real business. The first issue is an inclusive peace for Darfur.
Tomorrow, a large (and expanding) group of non-signatory rebel commanders is due to meet in Arusha, Tanzania, for talks convened by the UN and AU. The plan is to obtain a common negotiating position. It might just work. The fortuitous timing of 1769 has given the peace process a much-needed credibility boost, which has encouraged some reluctant commanders to come, and might even mean that Abdel Wahid al Nur abandons his boycott of the process. I will comment on the dynamics of the armed movements in a future posting. If it does then there’s a chance that the next step—renewed negotiations with the government—might also work.
Equally important is the strategic vision of UNAMID. A mandate means nothing unless it is twinned with a concept of operations and a strategic goal. At the moment, the concept of operations doesn’t go beyond the mechanical—though the list of tasks for UNAMID, ranging from building up community police forces in IDP camps to assisting the judiciary to providing non-military logistical supplies to the camps of the rebels—is impressive. But the key question is: what is the long-term plan for the mission?
The Force Commander has a basic choice. He can treat Darfur as a hostile territory in which his troops are continually under threat, and mount patrols only in a state of combat readiness with full armor. This we might call "garrison peacekeeping" and it is likely that a lot of the troop contributing countries will demand it, because it seems to be the best option for keeping their troops safe.
Or he can take another tack, treating Darfur’s communities as allies in a concerted attempt to stabilize the region. This would entail keeping the armor in reserve and focusing on posting a community liaison officer in every single chief’s court or town market, with the aim of gaining the confidence of the community leaders, finding out what are their problems, assisting in solving those problems, and identifying any looming clashes so that pre-emptive action can be taken.
I strongly support "community peacekeeping", because it works. In neighboring South Kordofan, where a war just as hateful and bloody as Darfur was fought for sixteen years, a ceasefire was signed in January 2002. It was monitored by a small group—at most twenty—unarmed Norwegian ceasefire monitors. Without even small arms, they had no choice but to use intelligence as their protection. Their commander, Brig-Gen. Jan-Erik Wilhelmson, was constantly on patrol. Whenever he heard of a problem, he arrived within the day to sort it out. Knowing that (for example) the seasonal movement of nomads was likely to spark disputes, he began talking with the nomad sheikhs and the village chiefs months in advance to make sure they moved safely. For three years, the ceasefire held without serious incident.
In 2005, South Kordofan was handed over to the UN which dispatched a full-strength heavily armed battalion. From behind the barbed-wire topped walls of their garrison and through the bullet-proof glass of their armored cars, the Egyptian peacekeepers treat the local people with distrust. They patrol only when they are sure they can repel any attack. They don’t sit in local markets to chat to the people or ask the chiefs what are their problems. Security has sharply deteriorated in South Kordofan—several hundred Nuba farmers have been killed in the last two years and some serious tribal clashes were narrowly averted earlier this year. People long for the smart community peacekeeping they had before.
I could give other examples too—for example how a single Botswanan company succeeded in bringing security to one of the most troublesome areas in Somalia in 1993, after a full-strength U.S. Marine Corps battalion had failed to do so.
I am sure that the UN will come under fire from many quarters for the compromises made to get Resolution 1769 through, and many will continue to demand tougher military capabilities. These criticisms are misplaced. The effort should be focused on getting UNAMID to develop a plan for smart community peacekeeping. Otherwise, whatever its mandate, assets and size, it simply won’t succeed.