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The M23, Rwanda, the Conflict in the Congo, and Possible Implications on U.S. National Security

On November 19th, a rebel group known as the M23 militia easily captured the strategic city of Goma as part of its eight-month campaign of rape and execution in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has displaced over 26,000 citizens. Although the rebels did pull out of the city on December 1st, the Congolese population remains terrified, as well as skeptical of any possible beneficial effects from recent Security Council sanctions on rebel leaders. The rebels and their leader have been accused of committing severe human rights violations in the past, including the rape of 16,000 women in a single weekend. In October, the Security Council released a report concluding that Rwanda supplies the rebels with both weapons and political support, despite its claims to the contrary.

In July, the United States suspended $200,000 worth of military aid to Rwanda, over concerns about human rights abuses on behalf of the Rwandan government. This suspension, aside from being morally and politically correct, helped the United States fulfill its legal obligations under international law. Article 4 of the Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in a Time of War (Geneva IV), to which the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and the United States are all parties, mandates certain protections for citizens of a member state who “find themselves, in case of a conflict or occupation, in the hands of a Party to the conflict or Occupying Power of which they are not nationals.” Among these protections are protections from “violence to life and person” and “outrages upon personal dignities.” (Article 4(2)(e) of Optional Protocol II, to which Rwanda is a party, includes rape as an “outrage upon personal dignity.”) Under Article I of Geneva IV, Rwanda is legally bound to apply Geneva IV “in all circumstances,” an obligation that it is violating by providing weapons and political support to a rebel group that commits rape and other atrocities. And the United States, as a member state, would also be violating its legal obligations under international law by continuing to provide money to a country that directly supports groups violating Geneva IV.

Now that the U.S. government has stopped financially supporting Rwanda, it is worth examining other possible effects of the conflict. At first glance, it seems like the conflict in the Congo can have very little, if any, effect on the United States’ national security. If the conflict drags on, however, it could have negative implications. The United Nations already has peacekeepers in the Congo, and will likely need to send more if the conflict continues. Under Article 17, paragraph 2 of the United Nations Charter, all countries must contribute money to peacekeeping operations. Under paragraph 1(d) of U.N. Resolution 55/235, the United States, as a permanent member of the Security Council, bears a larger financial responsibility than non-permanent members, and, as a result of our greater financial capabilities, is responsible for financing 27% of the United Nations’ peacekeeping budget. The longer the conflict in the Congo rages, the more money the U.S. government will need to spend on peacekeeping operations. Although the percentage of the U.S. budget that goes to peacekeeping is small, having to spend any money at all prevents that money from being spent on other important issues closer to home. protecting our borders and preventing terrorist attacks.

Secondly, the U.S. military frequently provides training, advice, and assistance to other countries around the world. In 2011, the U.S. government sent 100 Special Forces to Uganda to help train the Ugandan military in its fight against warlord Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army. It is possible that the Congolese military, fighting a similar rebel group, could ask for similar help and advice from the U.S. military. While the number of troops we would send to the Democratic Republic of Congo would likely be as small as the number of troops sent to Uganda, sending any troops at all into other countries would divert the military’s attention from its main duty of protecting the safety of the United States. The longer the conflict in the Congo continues, the more help the Congolese military may need from the United States, and the more resources the U.S. government will be legally and diplomatically obligated to send. Such a drain on both financial and military resources would limit the ability of the United States to protect our own national security.

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