Intervention in the Central African Republic

News from the Central African Republic gets worse by the day. This heartbreaking dispatch from Foreign Policy about rising intercomunal offer grim details of violence between Christian and Muslim communities. Militias and bandits are systematically targeting people based on their religion and ethnicity. Reprisal attacks are begetting reprisals, and the country is descending into a death spiral.

For the past two weeks, officials from the UN have warned of the prospect of genocide. American and French officials are now joining that chorus, warning that CAR is on the verge of genocide. “It is a horrific situation unfolding in a country that in the best of times is not very well developed and has suffered from violence and coups over the years, the Central African Republic,” Samantha Power said yesterday. “But you now have a situation where its taking on a religious dimension-Christian-Muslim violence unfolding-and really some of the most unseen atrocities I think of our time are happening there. ”

So what is to be done? Right now, there is a small, ineffective regional peacekeeping force in the country that the African Union is set to take over and expand to 3,500 troops. France is also planning to augment its small deployment of troops to about 1,000, according to remarks yesterdayby Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. The USA has pledged $40 million in funding to the AU to support this force, and other donors will likely follow suit.

Next week, the Security Council will likely finalize some sort of Chapter VII Resolution in support of the AU’s effort, perhaps setting the stage for a future UN peacekeeping mission in the CAR.  The details are still being worked out–and the details are important — but it’s clear that in the next couple of weeks the international community will likely coalesce around a strategy for CAR that involves some expanded degree of international intervention.

These peacekeepers are certainly welcome to the extent they can protect civilians and prevent the outbreak of a genocide. But that is no guarantee. And it is not guarantee they can arrive in time. Genocide remains a distinct possibility in the year 2013.