John Kerry traveled to the United Nations for the first time as Secretary of State on Thursday to attend a Security Council meeting on “The Situation in the Great Lakes Region: Supporting the Great Lakes Framework.” In his rather verbose statement, he called on all parties to end support of rebel groups in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Because the U.S. is currently president of the Security Council (the presidency rotates monthly), Secretary Kerry also presided over the meeting and issued a Presidential Statement. Overall, however, the entire exercise was somewhat surreal.
The situation in the DRC remains virtually unchanged from over a decade ago, despite the presence since 1999 of a U.N. peacekeeping mission currently called the U.N. Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO). At a cost of more than $11 billion since it was first created, MONUSCO deploys over 19,000 uniformed personnel in eastern DRC to restore peace and protect civilians.
Yet late last year, MONUSCO troops retreated in the face of attacks by a rebel group known as M23. In response, the U.N. Security Council established a 3,000-plus-troop U.N. “intervention brigade” to neutralize and disarm rebel groups in the eastern DRC. Violence has increased just as the intervention brigade has begun standing up.
Perhaps the intervention brigade will be more successful at quelling the violence, but if U.N. peacekeepers were the solution, there should have been more progress in the past 14 years. Instability in eastern DRC is an outgrowth of fundamental problems beyond the mandate of MONUSCO.
In the end, just why Secretary Kerry went to Turtle Bay is a mystery. If the purpose was to convey U.S. commitment to the DRC, a trip to Kinshasa would have meant far more. In Turtle Bay, Kerry read anodyne statements that could have been read by another U.S. representative. He offered nothing substantive in terms of shifting U.S. policy or demanding something specific from the U.N. or the Security Council. In fact, a far more significant policy statement was made on Tuesday when the U.S. called on Rwanda to stop supporting M23.
Indeed, the most newsworthy outcome of Secretary Kerry’s trip came when he committed the blunder of calling Palestine a “country,” which had to be corrected by the State Department afterwards.
The Secretary should save these efforts for when the U.S. actually wants to shift the debate. Instead, he squandered his time, asking for nothing and getting nothing that would not have happened anyway.