Relief for Central African Republic Can’t Come Soon Enough

UPDATED at 11:45 EST. The Security Council today passed a resolution boosting an African-led peacekeeping force in the Central African Republic, known as MISCA. The vote could not come soon enough. From the NYT:

Gunfire, at times heavy, was heard Thursday morning in Bangui, the capital of the chaotic Central African Republic, on the eve of a United Nations vote about authorizing a larger force there. Officials and citizens said some strategic locations in the city — a military camp, the neighborhood around the airport and an opposition district — appeared to have come under sustained assault from forces opposed to the rebel coalition that seized power in the country earlier this year.

The shooting began in the early hours Thursday but had tapered off by midmorning, citizens said. The streets of Bangui were deserted and no vehicles were circulating on the capital’s dilapidated roads, apart from occasional patrols by the small French military force in the city and the rebel coalition’s pickups.

The resolution calls for an already-existing African-led force of about 1,200 to be expanded to 3,600 troops. It authorizes France to take assertive action to support this African-led mission, when it deploys an additional 800 troops to CAR. The resolution also threatens international sanctions (an asset freeze and travel ban) against individual leaders who are stoking the flames.

As the situation on the ground rapidly deteriorates, the key question is how fast can these new forces materialize? France has the capacity for the rapid deployment of its own troops–and it most certainly will. But it is far less clear how quickly the boosted MISCA force can get off the ground. These things can take several months  to fully materialize. The Mali mission, for example, is still deployed to less than half of its authorized strength of 12,000.

In this resolution, the Security Council is betting that the French are able to provide a modicum of security before the MISCA reinforcements arrive. In remarks to the press after the resolution passed, Ambassador Power stressed that the action taken today was not the end of the Security Council’s engagement on CAR, but the first step toward empowering a credible military force to provide security on the ground. The force is not a UN Peacekeeping force, but an African force, financially and politically backed by the UN. It may transform to a UN Peacekeeping force in the future. “What is necessary today may not be necessary tomorrow,” said Power.

The Security Council deserves credit for quickly responding to what UN officials have called a “pre-genocide” situation. This is the Security Council working as it should, and proving its continued relevance to the maintenance of international peace and security. The key question now is whether or not the physical mechanics of providing international backing to a regional peacekeeping force can be accelerated to provide quick relief to CAR. There is extreme urgency on the ground. But the logistical challenges of rapidly sending more regional troops to calm the situation could be profound.