Following strong pressure by the Trump administration to downsize peacekeeping across the board, the Security Council cut by 3,600 the authorized troop levels for the UN Peacekeeping Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO). This decision came only days after 40 Congolese police were beheaded and two UN-contracted experts and their interpreter were killed by militia members, and amidst warnings by many Western countries that now is a bad time to draw down the UN in the country. Earlier in March, UN Secretary-General António Guterres had in fact requested additional police units for MONUSCO to address the growing risks of violence (this was rejected by the Council). But there is a way to meet both the US demands for cuts and the UN’s call for better resources to protect people under threat: MONUSCO should remove the troops it uses for offensive combat operations and instead beef up its ability to move forces quickly around the country to protect civilians.
MONUSCO’s “Force Intervention Brigade” (FIB) has been called the “first ever offensive combat force” in UN peacekeeping. With 3,000 troops, air reconnaissance, surveillance drones, attack helicopters and the most robust mandate in UN history, the FIB should have been an exciting new chapter for peacekeeping. But after four years on the ground, it has become clear that offensive combat operations are a poor use of UN resources for three reasons: (1) they don’t really work; (2) they could well be harming civilians; and (3) they divert focus and resources away from more serious threats facing the Congolese people. Eliminating the very expensive FIB and using the savings to increase the UN’s ability to respond quickly and effectively to protect civilians would put resources where they are most needed, a good deal for Guterres and for Trump.