This week, the U.N. deployed its first unmanned aircraft, over Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as part of its long-running peacekeeping mission in the region. The U.N. said they will be the peacekeepers’ “tool of choice” to observe the movement of militia groups and civilians in region, and emphasized that the craft will be unarmed. Peacekeeping missions tend to lack top-quality technology and equipment, and drones could be a common way to surveil future crises at a much lower cost and risk than helicopters (the U.N. currently has 15 other peacekeeping missions going on around the world, including longstanding missions monitoring the enforcement of various Middle Eastern treaties).
The mission’s two UAVs, Italian-made, have the same antiseptic look as other U.N. peacekeeping vehicles, just white with a black block “UN” on the side:
“United Nations have entered [sic] the 21st century from the technology point of view. . . . We had to get it in order to allow our people to do an even better job in fulfillment of their mandates,” the U.N.’s under secretary for peacekeeping operations, Frenchman Herve Ladsous, said.
U.N. peacekeepers in the region haven’t exactly been neutral observers. In November, they essentially defeated one of the most powerful rebel groups in the area, the Rwanda-backed M23, using a “rapid reaction brigade” for the first time in the international organization’s history. U.N. peacekeepers have been engaged in semi-offensive, “peacemaking” actions before, under the U.N.’s Chapter VII power, but this was by far their most aggressive operation ever. Plenty of rebel groups and various unruly national militaries are still fighting in the region, which has seen one of the bloodiest conflicts in the second half of the 20th century.