Small Wars Journal

MONUSCO’s Force Intervention Brigade: A blueprint for success or a recipe for failure?

Fri, 10/20/2023 - 11:13am

MONUSCO’s Force Intervention Brigade:

A blueprint for success or a recipe for failure?

      By Winston G. Favor



In his speech before the United Nations General Assembly, Democratic Republic of the Congo President Felix Tshisekedi expressed his displeasure with the UN peacekeeping mission known as MONUSCO. He said it is to be deplored that peacekeeping missions deployed to the Democratic Republic of the Congo have failed to confront the rebellions and armed conflicts tearing the country apart, nor have they protected the civilian populations. President Tshisekedi announced that he has instructed the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to begin discussions with UN authorities to accelerate the withdrawal of MONUSCO peacekeepers from December 2024 to December 2023. [1]


The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) has operated in the DRC for over 20 years. What started as an observer mission has evolved into one of the most expensive, most militarized, and most controversial UN missions. [2] One of the most controversial areas of the MONUSCO mission is the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB): the UN’s first-of-a-kind offensive military unit operating under a UN peacekeeping mandate. From the legality of the FIB’s existence to its impact in its area of responsibility, there is much about FIB to evaluate. This analysis will examine the effectiveness of the Force Intervention Brigade and its impact on the MONUSCO mission. It will show that while the FIB’s use led to short-term success, its use did not lead to long-term success for MONUSCO. First, this study will review the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide and the creation of MONUSCO. Second, this study will explain the reasons for the creation of FIB and its early military success. Lastly, this study will examine issues surrounding FIB and why the use of the FIB is not recommended as an option for the UN in future peacekeeping operations.


The Beginnings of MONSUCO


The Rwandan Genocide


In 1994, Hutu extremists murdered 800,000 Tutsi in what became known as the Rwandan Genocide. After the Tutsi-formed Rwandan Patriot Front (RPF) (which was backed by the Ugandan military) marched into the Rwandan capital, the Rwandan Hutus fled to the DRC, fearing revenge by the Tutsis. The area that Rwandan Hutus fled to in the eastern DRC is primarily home to ethnic Tutsis. With then-DRC head of state, Mobutu Sese Seko, aligning the Congolese army with the Hutus, Rwanda, and Uganda rebel groups that removed Mobutu from office and installed Laurent Desire Kabila as head of DRC. [3] Once in power, Kabila also became reluctant to fight Hutu rebels. Kabila’s reluctance led to a second rebellion supported by Rwanda and Uganda, which became a regional war involving various countries. The war ended in 1999 with the signing of the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement between the DRC, Angola, Namibia, Rwanda, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. [4]

After the regional powers signed the agreement, the UN was brought in to establish the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC). Initially, MONUC was an observation and liaison mission to facilitate the implementation of the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement. Later, MONUC’s mandate changed to supervising the ceasefire implementation along with other related and additional tasks, including facilitating a transition towards the organization of a credible election. An important change in MONUC’s mandate was placing it under Chapter VII of the UN charter. This change added peacekeeping to MONUC’s mission by mandating that MONUC help improve security and protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence. [5]




With the MONUC mission reaching a decade of existence, the UN and the Congolese government held discussions about the security situation in the DRC. The Congolese government viewed the security situation as improved and wanted MUNOC to withdraw by mid-2011. However, the UN thought withdrawal should be contingent on improved security and restoring state authority in most of the country, especially in the eastern area. With the Congolese government's consent, the UN changed MONUC to The United Nations Stabilization Mission in The Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO). [5] MONUSCO was established by the UN Security Council (UNSC) with Resolution 1925. MONUSCO's new mission was authorized to "use all necessary means to carry out its mandate relating, among other things, to the protection of civilians, humanitarian personnel and human rights defenders under imminent threat of physical violence and to support the Government of the DRC in its stabilization and peace consolidation efforts." The UNSC also decided that any future reconfigurations of MONUSCO will be based on how the situation evolved, the completion of the ongoing military in North and South Kivu, the Orientale provinces, improved government capacity to protect civilians, and consolidated Congolese authority throughout the territory. [7]



The Origins of the Force Intervention Brigade


The March 23 Movement


The origins of the March 23 Movement (M23) are in the signing of The Peace Accord of March 23, 2009. This accord was signed between the Government of Congo and the National Congress for the Defense of the People of the Congo (CNDP). The agreement designated the CNDP as a political party with its military integrated into the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC). [8] Not long after the signing of the Accords and his 2011 election win, DRC President Joseph Kabila began to consolidate power in eastern DRC and shifted his military policy. President Kabila attempted to arrest the former CNDP military chief of staff, Bosco Ntganda. The arrest attempt led to a mutiny in the FARDC ranks among the ex-CNDP members, who organized themselves into the M23 movement. M23 operated in the eastern DRC, committing gross human rights violations and large-scale population displacement. [9]


Creation of the Force Intervention Brigade


The Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) was created as a response to the invasion and occupation of the city of Goma in North Kivu by the M23. In November 2012, M23 captured Goma, defeating 1500 MONUSCO troops and 7000 Congolese soldiers. This invasion and occupation, along with the continued instability caused by rebel groups in eastern DRC, prompted the UN secretary-general to adopt the idea of an Intervention Brigade. [10]


The Intervention Brigade was conceived and agreed upon by the African regional powers at the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) in 2012 to address the twin failures of the government of the DRC and MONUSCO to address rebel groups in eastern DRC threatening regional stability. [11] This intervention brigade would be an offensive military force consisting inter alia (or among other things) of three infantry battalions, one artillery, and one Special force and Reconnaissance company under the direct command of MONUSCO and operating under MONUSCO’s peacekeeping mandate. The FIB’s purpose was to prevent the expansion of all armed groups, neutralize these groups, and disarm them to contribute to the objective of reducing the threat posed by the armed groups on state authority and civilian security in eastern DRC and make space for stabilization activities. It would work with the FARDC at times and alone at other times in a robust, highly mobile, and versatile manner to neutralize rebel groups, including M23 and Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). [12] While the African countries of Tanzania, South Africa, and Malawi contributed soldiers to the FIB, the funding came from the UN. [13] FIB became operational in July-August 2013 and found initial success with its operations in the eastern DRC. It carried out successful military operations against M23 with the help of FARDC. [14] However, many analysts attributed FIB's success against M23 to the political pressure on Rwanda (which supports M23). Others attributed the success of FIB against M23 to the bulk of M23's leadership and followers tactically retreating toward the tri-border of DRC, Uganda, and Rwanda. [15]


Issues with FIB’s Use


            The first issue with FIB’s use is its legal status under the UN Chapter VII peacekeeping mandate and as a combatant. The UN secretariat believes Chapter VII allows for creating an enforcement unit like FIB. Some agree with the UN secretariat by arguing that the levels of violence, instability, and breaches of fundamental principles of law in the DRC threaten international peace and security and constitute an emergency. Further, the International Court of Justice thinks the UN Charter did not leave the Security Council without recourse during an emergency. [16] Others have emphasized that the FIB represents a departure from the principles of peacekeeping, including impartiality, the consent of the parties in the conflict, and the non-use of force except in self-defense. In addition, many troop-contributing countries have differing views on the spirit and meaning of a Chapter VII mandate. These different interpretations influence how much force can or cannot be used by UN peacekeepers. [17]


            In addition to questions about the Chapter VII mandate, there are questions about the FIB offensive posture. Does FIB's offensive posture make it (and, by extension, The UN) a legal party to the conflict? It is common knowledge that the UN is traditionally neutral during peacekeeping operations. They are there only in a defensive posture to protect civilians and UN personnel. However, FIB is different. It has an offensive posture. Some argue that when a UN peacekeeping force becomes involved in an armed conflict, it becomes a party to the conflict. Others say that UN forces are parties to the conflict when the UN engages in hostilities on par with a force established for providing enforcement. However, the commonly used scale to determine the level of hostilities should be higher to define armed conflict in other areas. Still, others believe in using a four-part scale to determine when a UN peacekeeping force is a party to a conflict. [18]


            The second issue with FIB’s use is the closeness it worked with FARDC. FIB’s founding document stipulates that FIB is to work alongside FARDC. [19] This partnership proved fruitful with the defeat of M23. However, things soon changed between FIB and FARDC. During the campaign against the ADF, FIB learned that some FARDC members collaborated with ADF in many ways. Some FARDC officers partnered with ADF to kill the head of the FIB/FARDC campaign. Other FARDC officers used MONUSCO-fueled military vehicles to help ADF members in timber trafficking. Additionally, the FIB supported General Mundos, a FARDC general who financed and equipped the ADF with weapons, ammunition, and military uniforms to carry out killings with FARDC soldiers securing the perimeter to prevent victims from escaping. [20]


Because of these (and other) violations, FIB finds it challenging to work with FARDC. One reason is the Human Rights Due Diligence Policy (HRDDP). The HRDDP prohibits the UN from supporting non-UN security forces when there are substantial reasons to think there is a real risk that non-UN partners will commit grave violations of international humanitarian, human rights, or refugee laws. Because of FARDC's record of violating international human rights laws, there is a barrier keeping the FIB and FARDC from partnering. [21] Even if MONUSCO did overcome the human rights violations to work with FARDC, the civilian population would view FIB as complicit in FARDC abuse. Not only would the population see FIB as complicit with FARDC, but also as corrupt as FARDC. [22]


            A third issue with FIB’s use is the execution of a political strategy. Fresh off FIB’s success in defeating M23, their focus was on the ADF rebel group. However, ADF proved to be a more challenging opponent. This difficulty was not so much military as it was political. ADF became part of the community through relationships with local chiefs, marriages into various Congolese communities, and relationships with other militias and senior army officers. [23] ADF’s local embeddedness could be seen as doing something FIB and MONUSCO could not: executing a political strategy.


Mary Robinson, the UN's Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region, once said, "The Intervention Brigade must play a role of a deterrent rather than a military solution. The real focus is on the framework agreement for a political solution." [24] The initial proposal for the FIB was framed as a solution for the threat to state authority or the military teeth to the political agreement.[25] However, FIB was unable to act as intended because of (1) the DRC did not undertake meaningful institutional reforms, (2) difficulty coordinating national militaries of regional actors that support many armed groups in the eastern DRC, and (3) poor relations between MONUSCO and the DRC government as a whole. Another factor is the FIB’s relationship with the local community. Due to regular failures in protecting the civilian population, FIB and MONUSCO became unpopular with the local community. [26]


The Legacy of FIB


The Force Invention Brigade in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo is a legacy of controversy and ambiguity exemplified by issues surrounding its use. First, there are too many questions about FIB’s legal status. Can it operate as a peacekeeping force, given its offensive pasture? Is the FIB a party to the conflict? If so, under what conditions make it a party to the conflict, and how does it affect non-FIB UN personnel? Additionally, can the UN secretariat, Security Council, and UN member countries agree on a clear mandate for the FIB? Second, it is hard for the FIB to fulfill any mandate if the government it is to support is abusing its population. Not only will FIB be in a difficult position due to international law, but it will also be in a difficult position by losing the confidence of the population it is to protect. Last, FIB cannot operate without a cohesive political strategy between the host country and the UN. The success of the peacekeeping mission (and FIB, by extension) is the successful implantation of a political strategy. Without a political strategy, the use of FIB will be counterproductive.


Given its ambiguity, the FIB is a failure that should not be emulated. However, with the changing nature of peacekeeping and conflicts, a debate about the UN using the FIB in the future should occur. These debates should be influenced and framed around the lessons the UN learned from MONUSCO’s use of the FIB unit. If these debates can resolve the issues associated with FIB’s use, the FIB would be a powerful tool in the UN’s peacekeeping kit.


End Notes


[1] Tshisekedi, Felix “Allocution De Son Excellence Monsieur le President De La Republique Democratique Du Congo A L’Occasion De La 78e Session Ordinaire De L’AssembleeGenerale Des Nations Unies (Address by His Excellence Monsieur le President of the Democratic Republic of Congo on the Occasion of the 78th Ordinary Session of The United Nations General Assembly)” (Translated using Google Translate) (Speech, New York, New York. September 20th, 2023). Kinshasa, Dr Congo  Accessed 10/16/2023


[2] Stephanie Jansch “It is clear that Congolese people are against MONUSCO”   International Politics and Society 20 January 2023 Accessed 7/11/2023


[3] “Rwanda genocide: 100 days of slaughter” BBC News 4 April 2019 4 April 2019 Accessed 3/25/2023


[4] Chander Prakash “Peacekeeping Operations in the Democratic Republic of The Congo: Lessons Learnt and the Future of UN Peacekeeping” Journal of Defence Studies Vol. 16, No. 3, July-September 2022 pg 106 Accessed 9 March 2023


“Rwanda genocide: 100 days of slaughter” BBC News 4 April 2019 4 April 2019 Accessed 3/25/2023


[5] Chander Prakash “Peacekeeping Operations in the Democratic Republic of The Congo: Lessons Learnt and the Future of UN Peacekeeping” Journal of Defence Studies Vol. 16, No. 3, July-September 2022 pg 107-108 Accessed 9 March 2023


[6] Prakash pg 108


[7] “Background MONUSCO, United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in The DR Congo” United Nations 2023 Accessed 27 March 2023


[8] Emmanuel Sithole “Democratic Republic of Congo-A fertile ground for instability in the Great Lakes region states” US Army Command and General Staff College Fort Leavenworth, US 9 June 2017, pg 25  Accessed 15 March 2023


[9] Prakash, pg 109


[10] “Issue Brief: The UN Intervention Brigade in the Democratic Republic of the Congo” International Peace Institute July 2013 pg.2 6 March 2023


[11] Ibid, pg 5


[12] “Resolution 2098” United Nations Security Council 28 March 2013 pg 6-7 Accessed 20 March 2023


[13] Prakash, pg 110


[14] Ibid pg 111


[15] Rachel Sweet "Militarizing the Peace: UN Intervention against Congo's Terrorist Rebels" Lawfare  2 June 2019   9 March 2023


Jean Nyerges “Democratic Republic of the Congo” Criminalized Power Structures The overlooked enemies of Peace Michael Dziedzic, ed. Rowman & Littlefield, New York Pg 212 21 March 2023


[16] Bruce “Ossie” Oswald “The Force Intervention Brigade and UN Peace Operations: Some Legal Issues" Strengthening the Rule of Law through the UN Security Council, Jeremy Farrall, Hilary Charlesworth, Editors. Routledge, London 2016 pg 243 Accessed 21 March 2023


[17] “Issue Brief: The UN Intervention Brigade in the Democratic Republic of the Congo” International Peace Institute July 2013 pg.7 6 March 2023


[18] Oswald, pg 244-245


[19] “Resolution 2098” United Nations Security Council 28 March 2013 pg 6-7 Accessed 20 March 2023


[20] Rachel Sweet "Militarizing the Peace: UN Intervention against Congo's Terrorist Rebels" Lawfare 2 June 2019  9 March 2023


[21] Daniel Levine-Sound “Backlash in Beni: Understanding Anger against the UN Peacekeeping Mission in the DRC” Center for Civilians in Conflict 18 December 2019 Accessed 22 March 2023


[22] Adam Day “The Best Defense is No offense: why cuts to UN troops in Congo could be a good thing.” United Nations University 15 May 2017 7 March 2023


[23] Crisis Group Africa Briefing, “A new approach for the UN to stabilise the DR Congo” International Crisis Group 4 December 2019 pg 8, Accessed 17 March 2023


[24] Issue Brief: The UN Intervention Brigade in the Democratic Republic of the Congo” International Peace Institute July 2013 pg.12 6 March 2023


[25] Jenna Russo “Militarised peacekeeping: lessons from the Democratic Republic of the Congo” Third World Quarterly, Vol. 42, Issue 12 2021 pg 3079 Accessed 20 March 2023


[26] Ibid pg. 3079, 3080


About the Author(s)

Winston G. Favor is a graduate student in the International Security Program at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University. During his graduate studies, Winston’s research has focused on China-African relations, the US Global Fragility Strategy in Coastal West Africa, and peacekeeping.