Wednesday, May 5, 2010

We seem to have sparked a debate here about the LRA, and I invite everyone to contribute. This is a complex issue fraught with implications for human rights, sovereignty, and regional politics, and I think it would behoove us all to carefully unpack and analyze each component.
To begin with, commenter "Caroline" raised some excellent points about the desirability of a military approach and other alternatives, and I would like to highlight her thoughts and respond to here.


Dave, Thanks for writing about this important topic on your blog. I generally agree with your arguments here but have to disagree on a few points.

First, you say "America has the power to catch Kony, but not the will." I agree with you that the US will never deploy troops to capture or kill Kony. No matter how many human rights organizations jump up and down decrying the abuses of the LRA, the US will never deploy troops to capture or kill Kony. I am less certain, however, that the US actually has the power to do so -- effectively. Granted, I am not an expert on the tactics and capabilities of US Special Forces, but if faulty US intelligence was one of the reasons why the attack on Kony in December 2008 failed so catastrophically, I am not confident that the US is the best candidate for capturing him. In order to carry this out, the US would have to spend a significant amount of time gathering intel on a region of northeastern Congo and southeastern CAR that I am almost certain they are not familiar with. I highly doubt the US would commit Special Forces to spend the required amount of time gathering this intel if they did decide to launch an operation. And if they don't gather the intel, the operation will no doubt fail. Again.

This leads me to my second point. I believe discussing the military option surrounding the LRA is not a constructive debate. Neither the US nor the EU will commit the time or troops needed to capture Kony, so any operation they launch would likely fail. Continuing the debate on the military option, in my opinion, is not the direction the debate should be going. I realize there are strong vested interests in Uganda that encourage this debate, but it is a dangerous one. One glance through the Human Rights Watch reports on the consequences of the December 2008 operation should lead readers to understand that pursuing this route is both foolish and highly irresponsible given the civilian costs.

What then is the solution? I don't have an easy one. I would advocate for a return to the negotiating table, an increase in MONUC deployments (with contingents ready to use force to defend civilians) to areas at risk from LRA attack, an increase in Ugandan and possibly Rwandan deployments to Obo in CAR, and strong US, EU, and AU pressure on Khartoum to stop its recently renewed support to the LRA. All of these efforts should be focused on the protection of the civilian population, not on killing Kony. Pursuing the military option is entirely irresponsible and disregards the reality of civilian life that is lost in its wake.

Thanks in advance for considering my comments.

First of all, thanks for reading. You make some insightful and important points, and I think you and I agree on most aspects here.

Your first point, about the necessity of good intel to catch Kony, is absolutely true. It's one of the many reasons I believe the U.S. won't become more heavily involved. As you point out, gathering intel requires personnel, time, and money, and I don't believe the Obama Administration is prepared to commit those resources for a sustained effort. The difference between the U.S. and the regional governments is in capacity. The U.S. could put together the required intel if so inclined, whereas the Ugandan, Congolese, Sudanese, and CAR governments simply don't have the ability to undertake such a large, complex operation.

Your second point is also quite astute - I agree that the military option holds little promise so long as the US and EU are not willing to commit. Not only is the military option unlikely to catch Kony, but it also comes with severe human rights consequences, as you point out. This unfortunately is not a new aspect to the campaign against the LRA; the Ugandan military was responsible for despicable human rights violations in northern Uganda when pursuing Kony.

I disagree, however, with your conclusions.
I don't think going back to the negotiating table is a viable option. Kony has proven that he isn't actually interested in peace or any sort of political solution. Freed LRA fighters have testified that Kony used the Juba talks to rearm and resupply. Juba was his best chance at an equitable agreement and avoiding the ICC, and he turned it down. Arguments are often made that the ICC warrant is the final straw preventing Kony from coming in, but I don't buy it. I agree with Prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo, who has assembled a great deal of information on the LRA and concluded that Kony has no desire for peace - he manipulated good faith negotiations to strengthen is own agenda, and then reverted back to destruction as soon as he was physically capable. Negotiations with Kony are a dead end.

I like your other suggestions - increased MONUC deployments and strong international pressure on Khartoum - but I fear that they too are infeasible.

MONUC is struggling to make any difference in the Kivus, Kabila wants them to withdraw ASAP, and it's unlikely that any country would step forward with troops to find Kony. I also doubt that the UN would allow MONUC to operate with such the aggressive force posture that would be required to take find the LRA. Protection of Civilians has been a disaster for MONUC so far in the DRC, and attempting to protect scattered villages across the vast north of the country would require a significant increase in troops (which I don't foresee) and a commitment to a robust PoC mandate (which I don't see the UN providing). In theory MONUC could be part of the solution, but in reality it seems unlikely.

Likewise, getting Khartoum to cease support for Kony is necessary, but easier said than done. Bashir has yet to bow to international pressure on other issues, and I doubt that the LRA would take precedence over South Sudan or Darfur among the priorities of the international community. It could possibly be a face-saving measure for Bashir - compromise on a relatively insignificant issue, the LRA, to appease the West while holding firm on his core desires in the South and in Darfur - but it also wouldn't be the first time he pledged to cut off the LRA. Any promises from Khartoum should be taken with a liberal dosage of salt.

Like you said, there is no easy solution. The long-term key is to increase the ability of the regional states to control and police their own territory, but I think you and I would agree that day is well in the future. I still believe it's necessary to understand the constitution and operating orders of the LRA in greater detail to craft a successful strategy, be it civilian or military. And despite the civilian costs that have accompanied military action, I'm not sure I see an alternative. We can take steps to minimize the associated human rights violations, but the only other option to military action I see is to allow Kony to roam free - and I certainly do not think that's a viable way forward.


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