Op-ed pages and blogs have been spilling over the last few weeks with 10-year anniversary analyses of the Iraq war's impact. For the region, for U.S. politics, and in human terms, its lasting effects are hard to deny. But in one realm, the Iraq War has had little impact: international law and organization. That conclusion may seem odd given the heated debates about the war's legality and the fractious Security Council diplomacy in the months before the war began. But consider those two elements in turn and it's apparent that the war didn't change much:
International law: The Iraq War's many critics pointed out that there was no plausible argument that the war was an exercise in self-defense and that the failure of the Security Council to authorize the invasion therefore made it against international law. The United States and the United Kingdom countered with an array of arguments. Resolution 1441 was adopted under Chapter VII, they pointed out. It threatened "serious consequences" and did not explicitly say that the Council needed to take additional action for those consequences to occur. Other arguments were added to the mix. U.S. officials sometimes insisted that the Council authorization of force against Iraq from 1991 was still valid and that Iraq's failure to comply with existing resolutions reactivated it.
Whatever one thinks of these arguments, none of them were new. In fact, the U.S. and several of its allies had gone through almost the exact same exercise in legal argumentation when allied warplanes struck Iraqi targets in 1993 and December 1998 (Operation Desert Fox). Those air strikes was not specifically authorized by the Council and faced sharp criticism from Russia, China, and other Council members. What's more, the 1999 Kosovo intervention, which also lacked Council approval, had reinforced the precedent of major-power action without the UN's blessing.
It's therefore tough to see how the Iraq War really changed the rules or patterns of state practice on the use of force. Legally speaking, the world is now in pretty much the same place it was before the Iraq War: the Security Council clearly has an important legitimizing role when it comes to the use of force, but the United States and other big powers remain unwilling to acknowledge that it has an exclusive role.
The UN Security Council: For some observers, the decision by Washington and London to invade without Security Council approval signaled the demise of that body's relevance. Far from it. The U.S. and U.K. returned to the Council soon after the invasion to get recognition for its occupation of Iraq. In fact, the Security Council headed into an intensely active phase soon after the war, launching a major peacekeeping operation in Sudan and expanding its force in Congo substantially. Looking at metrics of Council activity, one could more readily conclude that the Iraq War catalyzed the Council:
Source: Security Council Report
In short, there's little evidence that the Iraq War substantially impacted Security Council operations or the relationship between its members.
The U.N. Security Council last week approved the creation of an "intervention brigade" to help root out extremist militias in the eastern regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo. A more muscular U.N. presence in Congo has long been discussed to address the persistent threat of militia violence. For years, the U.N.'s large Congo peacekeeping force has struggled to respond to violence in the region, and it has been severely criticized for failing to protect civilians in the region. Thursday's resolution formally cleared the way for offensive operations.
The intervention brigade will carry out targeted offensive operations, with or without the Congolese national army, against armed groups that threaten peace in the eastern part of DRC – a region that is prone to cycles of violence and consequent humanitarian suffering.
The objectives of the new force – which will be based in North Kivu province in eastern DRC and total 3,069 peacekeepers – are to neutralize armed groups, reduce the threat they posed to State authority and civilian security and make space for stabilization activities.
The force will reportedly include troops from Tanzania, South Africa, and Malawi and may begin operations as early as this summer. The largest rebel group, the M23, has criticized the decision. A rebel spokesperson said the U.N. had "chosen to wage war against one of the partners for peace."
Several press accounts (see here and here) have described the addition of an offensive mandate to a peacekeeping force as "unprecedented." They are right in a narrow sense. The council has not previously designated particular units for offensive operations. But there's important, and ominous, precedent in Congo for U.N. offensive operations.
The current Congo mission (which has gone by several names) is in fact the second major U.N. operation there. The first operated from 1960 to 1964 and struggled to keep the newly decolonized state intact even as it navigated intense Cold War politics. At first, the mission stuck to the core peacekeeping principles of impartiality and neutrality. But those principles were tested by the near disintegration of the nascent state. Was the U.N. supposed to be impartial between state and non-state actors?
By 1961, the Security Council had given peacekeepers permission to go on the offensive against separatists in the province of Katanga, who were operating in league with foreign mercenaries. Significantly less verbose in those days, the Council authorized "the use of force, as a last resort" to suppress civil war and disturbances in the country. Several months later, the council urged the peacekeepers to "take vigorous action, including the use of the requisite measure of force." Just as it has now, the notion of peacekeepers turning into warfighters startled some observers. A top U.S. official, Harlan Cleveland, wrote at the time:
I shall not soon forget the political shock wave produced in our politics by the Congo crisis when Americans suddenly discovered that soldiers on a peace-keeping mission sometimes had to shoot back at people who insisted on shooting at the peace-keepers. It was more comfortable to think of "peace" as a cartoonist's image, a vaguely female figure in a pure white gown, mouthing sweet nothings and clutching her olive branch. But when this ethereal creature, adjusting her halo to a rakish angle, whipped out her six-shooter ... most Americans did a double take.
The U.N.'s offensive in Congo included several distinct phases, including "Operation Rumpunch" and "Operation Morthor." The campaign, which featured Indian and Irish troops, was ultimately successful in defeating Katangan secessionists, but it proved highly controversial. As William Durch has noted in a superb book on the history of peacekeeping, the trauma of that operation "helped to ensure that the U.N. funded no new peacekeeping operation for a decade."
There's even more recent precedent in Congo for U.N. offensive operations, although on a much smaller scale. In 2006, a group of Guatemalan special forces soldiers assigned to the peacekeeping mission attempted to hunt down units of the Lord's Resistance Army operating in Congo's Garamba National Park. The operation turned into a disaster. Several U.N. soldiers were killed (likely by friendly fire), and the LRA forces escaped. In early 2009, U.N. forces began actively supporting the offensive operations of the Congolese armed forces. But that collaboration was dialed back as criticism of Congolese army tactics mounted.
Part of the problem with offensive U.N. operations is that the training and resources of the forces doing the fighting often doesn't match the mandate. It's one thing for the Security Council to authorize offensive operations from New York; it's quite another thing for peacekeeping commanders to manage them successfully on the ground. During the U.N.'s Bosnia operation in the 1990s, that gap between the Council's proclamations and the actual work of peacekeepers grew to tragic proportions.
If peacekeepers get bogged down while on the offense -- or, worse, commit abuses of their own -- political will for the operation will likely melt away. The countries contributing the troops for the enforcement brigade may think twice. It's doubtful that either the United States or cash-strapped European states will send their own forces to bolster peacekeepers in need of assistance.
The difficult history of offensive U.N. operations doesn't mean that the new enforcement brigade is doomed to fail. The rampant insecurity in eastern Congo is crying out for a solution. U.N. peacekeeping has carried out important reforms in recent years. But the past does highlight some of the pitfalls that can await blue helmets with a green light to use force.
UN Photo/Sylvain Liechti
Reuters reports that International Monetary Fund negotiators will be back in Egypt for negotiations this week:
The most populous Arab country has been seeking a loan from the Fund to ease economic strains after two years of political upheaval. Reserves of foreign currency have fallen to critically low levels, threatening Egypt's ability to import essential supplies of fuel and wheat.
President Mohamed Mursi's government initialed a deal with the IMF last November but postponed final ratification in December in the face of unrest triggered by a political row over the extent of his powers.
The Egyptian authorities have reportedly taken certain measures recently to meet IMF concerns, including raising import duties. But as the Council on Foreign Relations' Isobel Coleman described here for FP, the sensitive issue of subsidy reform remains largely unaddressed.
The Globe & Mail interviews former Mexican minister Herminio Blanco Mendoza, one of nine candidates for the post of World Trade Organization Director-General. He's not all that pleased by the trend toward regional trade deals:
Regional trade agreements are being made in Asia, in the Pacific, in the Atlantic. The WTO and its members should understand very clearly that business in the world wants different rules, more modern rules and faster rules. The WTO, if it wants to remain relevant, has to compete with those agreements, and complement those agreements...
These regional free trade agreements hinge on them being open to new entrants. At some point, all of these agreements will have to converge. Not only converge, but have a systemic relationship with the WTO. I don’t see a WTO that remains relevant in 10 years if the only relationship between the WTO, and let’s say the TPP, is simply as a regulator. It would be a waste of all this energy in opening up markets regionally.
But Blanco, who helped push for NAFTA, does acknowledge that regional trade deals can in some circumstances have a catalytic effect on global negotiations. Like other nominees, Blanco has been out and about, seeking to drum up support for his candidacy. The Center for Global Development has been systematically interviewing WTO candidates, and those conversations can be found here.
Even as support for some type of Syria intervention grows in Washington, NATO's political chief, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, is doubling down on his view that the Western alliance will not be involved. In a virtual session with Russian students, Rasmussen clearly distinguished the situations in Libya and Syria. Via Reuters:
Rasmussen said there was a clear difference between Syria and Libya, where NATO airstrikes helped topple Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
"In Libya we took responsibility for the operation based on a United Nations mandate to protect the Libyan population against attacks from its own government...and we had active support from the countries in the region," he said.
"None of these conditions are fulfilled in Syria, there is no United Nations mandate, there is no call on NATO to intervene in Syria, even the opposition in Syria does not ask for a foreign military intervention," he said.
Feared Congolese militia commander Bosco Ntaganda made his first appearance at the International Criminal Court in the Hague yesterday. Last week, Ntaganda unexpectedly presented himself at the U.S. embassy in Kigali and requested that he be sent to the ICC for trial. He was indicted by the ICC in 2006, although the arrest warrant wasn't made public until 2009.
The precise events that prompted Ntaganda's sprint for the embassy aren't known yet, but a split within the M23 rebel movement to which he belonged appears to have prompted his decision. There's been informed speculation that Ntaganda may not have felt safe seeking refuge with the Rwandan government, although he was born in Rwanda and reportedly received Rwandan assistance over the years. The ICC likely looked like the best of several bad options for the beleagured warlord.
That may say something important about the role the ICC can play. One of the debates that swirls around international justice efforts is whether they may actually impede political transitions by backing key actors into a corner. During the Libya conflict, many observers -- and likely some Western government officials -- worried that ICC indictments of Qaddafi and his lead henchmen might cut off the possibility of exile and encourage him to fight to the last. But the Ntaganda case suggests an alternate possibility: that the ICC itself can become a form of exile.
A sojourn to the Hague has several distinct advantages. Pre-trial proceedings and trials themselves are drawn-out affairs, meaning that indictees can sometimes spend years before facing a verdict. Acquittal is a real possibility. Cases against senior leaders are notoriously complex and sometimes rely on evidence that doesn't hold up in court. Accommodations for prisoners while they await the end of their trials reach pretty high standards, with television, computer access, and ample opportunity for exercise and recreation (see the video at the bottom of this post for a virtual tour). The food is carefully prepared:
Detained persons are provided with suitably prepared food that satisfies in quality and quantity the standards of dietetics and modern hygiene. Additionally, detained persons are allowed to cook for themselves; they can purchase additional items, listed on the shopping list of the Detention Centre, as available, in order for them to adjust the meals provided to them, according to their taste and cultural requirements.
There's nothing to prevent a retired warlord or dictator from penning memoirs and staying in touch electronically with friends, family and colleagues:
With a view of maintaining family links, as provided for by the Regulations of the Registry, the Registrar gives specific attention to visits by the family and visits by the wife or partner of the detained persons; and may take measures to assist the family in the necessary procedures thereof, if required.
Even if a guilty verdict does eventually come down, the ICC's statute does not permit the death penalty; the worst possible outcome is extended imprisonment (although not in the same detention center). Being indicted for serious crimes may sting, but for many it will be more enticing than the possibility of living life on the lam, with the possibility of Muammar al-Qaddafi's grisly end always in the background.
(Click anywhere on the image to stop/start play.)
The UN's mission in Lebanon (UNIFIL) marked its thirty-fifth anniversary last week (ironically, the first "I" in UNIFIL stands for Interim). With the Syria civil war raging next door, it's been a traumatic time for UN peacekeeping efforts in the region, which include UNIFIL and the even older UNDOF mission (tasked with monitoring the disputed Golan Heights). Earlier this month, Syrian rebels seized 21 UNDOF personnel, holding them for four days. Meanwhile, there have been frequent reports of incursions along the thinly monitored Lebanon-Syria border. A few days ago, residents of southern Lebanon reportedly stripped some UNIFIL soldiers of their equipment. Richard Gowan looks at the increasingly troubled environment in which one of the UN's longest-serving peacekeeping missions operates:
In recent years, UNIFIL has played a useful role in facilitating communications between the Lebanese and Israeli armies. If tensions increase, the U.N. can at least try to continue to play this small role. To have a greater impact on the security situation, however, it might be necessary to reinforce the mission, adding some of the European units that have drifted away since 2006 and readying an over-the-horizon reserve to assist them in an all-out crisis. Turkey, which already has a contingent in the mission, could also play a useful part in this process. But any indication that UNIFIL was moving toward a more assertive footing could infuriate Hezbollah, shake the Lebanese government and panic some troop contributors.
For now, UNIFIL can act as a brake on any potential escalation in southern Lebanon, but its limits are clear. If any one of a number of players -- Hezbollah, Israel, anti-Assad forces in Syria or opponents of Hezbollah inside Lebanon -- decides to escalate, the U.N. can do relatively little to stop them. UNIFIL has weathered major storms in the past 35 years, and even if the situation in Lebanon deteriorates, the mission may still be there to pick up the pieces afterward. But the year ahead may test UNIFIL to its limits.
Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly identified the seized peacekeepers as UNIMIL and, more broadly, conflated the UNIMIL and UNDOF missions. My thanks to a reader for catching the error.
The BRICS countries are summitting next week in South Africa, and the festivities will focus on the optimistic themes of "partnership, integration and industrialization." The BRICS may be a rising force in international economics but, at least according to the World Bank, they're still pretty bad at helping small businesses get off the ground.
Via the annual Doing Business report, the Bank and the International Finance Corporation track the regulatory and other obstacles small businesses face and rank countries accordingly. In the latest version of the report, only new BRICS member South Africa scored decently, coming in at 39 out of 185. China ranked 91st, Russia was 112, Brazil tagged behind at 130, and India pulled up the rear at 132.
The poor BRICS showing—and what their representatives claim are methodological problems—has led several members to question whether the Bank should give the report its imprimatur. A few years ago, Brazil's World Bank representative was particularly critical. Now, India appears to be leading the charge. Speaking in Washington, an Indian finance ministery official recently reiterated Delhi's concerns:
Arvind Mayaram, Secretary at the Department of Economic Affairs in the Indian government’s Finance Ministry, said during a speech here that the methodology adopted by the World Bank’s “Doing Business” report, in which India was ranked 132 out of 185, was “not proper” and that the Indian government had formally written a letter of complaint to the Bank to this effect. Speaking at the Indian embassy here, Mr. Mayaram said: “I think that the methodology used by institutions like the World Bank have to be much more robust... There is an issue”.
U.S. Embassy Delhi
David Bosco reports on the new world order for The Multilateralist.