This article first appeared as a CISSM Working Paper entitled, "Civil Protection and the Image of the 'Total Spoiler': Reflections on MONUC Support to Kimia II."
A tremendous amount of important work has been done recently on operationalising the protection of civilians as a military task. The bulk of the discussion has focused on how militaries should respond to direct attacks on civilians. This is an important issue, but thinking about civilian protection should also include a serious examination of the ways in which the approach of military organisations to the problem of ‘spoiler’ groups can affect the level and dynamics of attacks on civilians – importantly, where armed groups are interested in violent control of civilian populations, attempts to ‘dislodge’ them from areas of control may substantially increase the level of violence against civilians (beyond the dangers to be expected from being near areas where active fighting is taking place). In 2009, the United Nations mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC) supported the Congolese military in operations to dismantle the Hutudominated FDLR (Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda, Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) militia group, at massive human cost. Critics have primarily focused on MONUC’s failure to protect civilians from direct attack, consonant with the general discourse on tactics for civilian protection. These criticisms are valid, but in this paper I argue that two crucial additional considerations should be kept in mind: the way that military operations can affect violence against civilians, and the way that moralising the approach to armed groups, even those which have committed serious abuses, can limit military and political options – potentially in ways that increase civilian risk in the name of protecting them.