Shortly before next fall, 10,000 United Nations peacekeepers from a still-unspecified number of contributing countries will set boots, tires and tracks on the ground in Central African Republic – a noble gesture stemming from the UN Security Council which voted the resolution enabling the mission. But the decision to send blue-helmet soldiers into an active war zone ignores a dangerous historical precedent which once led to thousands of avoidable deaths. Politicos wishing to engage Canadian soldiers in the endeavor should open a military history book first.
There is little dispute around the need for the international community to step in Central African Republic’s current crisis. According to mission background information provided by the UN, civilians are dying by the thousands. Two and half million people need humanitarian assistance and 650,000 more have fled the massacres by Christian and Muslim militias butchering each other, as well as those civilians who don’t share their respective faiths.
Another human tragedy amidst an unresolved political crisis which leaves the current government powerless to act on its own. The French military is already there fighting off militias under Operation Sangaris. But having a former colonial power perform “world police” duties comes with its own negative impacts, chief among them accusations of neo-colonialism by local and international opposition groups leading to the erosion of the mission’s legitimacy, hence the need for an international military effort under a United Nations resolution.
The current situation in Central African Republic is somewhat similar to what happened in the Balkans 20 years ago – warring factions waging bloodshed over religious and cultural identity disputes. The multinational United Nations Protection Force deployed there notably failed to stop the massacre of 10,000 civilians in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica because their rules of engagement only allowed them to return fire in self-defense and prohibited them from directly engaging combatants even in the face of blatant war crimes.