This week marks the twentieth anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide. This grisly ethnic conflict saw Hutu police, soldiers, and militia slaughtering 500,000 to 1,000,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus over the course of 100 days while the world stood by and watched. As much as 20 percent of the total Rwandan population and 70 percent of the Rwandan Tutsi population was killed in the genocide. 250,000-500,000 girls and women were raped, resulting in a massive increase in HIV. There are even some reports of Hutus forming “rape squads” of HIV-positive men in order to deliberately spread the disease. To this day, large groups of Rwandan refugees live throughout the region.
Genocide in Rwanda was completely preventable. The commander of the UN Assistance Mission In Rwanda (UNAMIR) argued that a force of 5,000 troops could have stopped most of the killing if they had been deployed sometime between April 7 and April 21, 1994.
However, the UN had only 270 troops in Rwanda when the violence began, and they did not authorize another 5,000 until May 17, at which time the Red Cross estimated that 500,000 people had already been killed.
After the horrors of the Holocaust became public knowledge, the world said, “Never again.” We promised to never again allow human beings to be systematically slaughtered as they were at concentration camps like Auschwitz. However, the world has failed to live up to that promise. Rwanda is just one example of such failure. Bosnia, Cambodia, and Darfur are just a few examples of moments of crisis when the rest of the world intervened too late or failed to intervene at all.
Part of the reason the UN was created was to put an end to such atrocities, yet this organization has failed to do so over the past 60 years. This failure is largely due to the UN’s slow response to crises. On average, it takes four to six months to deploy a UN peacekeeping force, virtually ensuring that violent conflict and mass atrocities escalate and spread.
It is not impossible to rapidly deploy large numbers of troops to conflict zones. The US military can deploy a brigade of the 82nd Airborne almost anywhere in the world within 18 hours.
The UN’s inefficiency is due to structural issues in the process of initiating UN peacekeeping missions. The UN must create a new force for each mission, a process former UN Secretary-General Koffi Annan has compared to a fire chief that must create a new fire brigade for each fire.
Thus, the UN must create a permanent rapid reaction force called the United Nations Emergency Peacekeeping Service (UNEPS). UNEPS would be composed of 20,000 to 30,000 personnel with a diverse range of skills. This would include soldiers, negotiators, civilian police, aid workers, doctors, translators, and other roles crucial to providing stability and ensuring safety for civilians.
To avoid the collective action problem of persuading countries to donate personnel, UNEPS would individually recruit volunteers in a manner similar to the French Foreign Legion. These personnel would be specifically trained for peacekeeping, avoiding the problem of using personnel not specifically trained for such a unique role. Often times, peacekeepers are soldiers trained for war and civilian police trained to deal with crime, forcing them to quickly adapt to their new roles
Many wars and genocides display obvious warning signs that appear well before the killing starts. In cases where a larger, more traditional peacekeeping mission is needed, UNEPS can still act as a stopgap while the UN assembles a larger force. Thus, UNEPS should have the ability to deploy anywhere in the world within 100 hours.
One important question is where UNEPS will be based. UNEPS could buy or lease U.S. bases in Europe that are being closed in response to budget cuts. These bases are close to Africa, where many potential missions are likely to occur, allowing UNEPS to swiftly respond to a crisis.
Many UN missions failed because the peacekeepers lacked the means to defend themselves and others due to the rules of engagement. For example, Belgian peacekeepers in Rwanda were not authorized to use force, even in self-defense. This resulted in the death of 10 Belgian soldiers. Therefore, UNEPS should have blanket permission to use necessary force whenever they undertake a mission.
UNEPS should be equipped with tanks, armored personnel carriers, and attack helicopters. Although it might seem strange that an organization dedicated to peace would carry so much firepower, a problem with previous peacekeeping missions was the fact that they were under-equipped. For example, Dutch peacekeepers at Srebrenica did not have the weaponry to counter Serbian armor and artillery during the Balkan conflict. As a result, Dutch soldiers stood by and watched helplessly as thousands of Bosnian Muslims were raped, tortured, and killed.
UNEPS would be very beneficial in stopping atrocities. First, it could prevent conflicts from escalating by deploying in the early stages. Second, UNEPS would speed up the decision making process of the UN Security Council, a decision that would otherwise be hampered by the concern for an adequate number of troops. Third, if warning signs are apparent, UNEPS could be deployed preventatively in order to stop conflicts before they begin. Finally, atrocities might be diminished if those who were capable of committing them knew that a sizable force could be quickly deployed to stop them. While UNEPS is by no means a complete solution, it is a step toward living up to the goal of “never again” that the international community claims to hold in such high esteem.