Last March the UN Security Council authorised the so-called Intervention Brigade to undertake ‘targeted offensive operations’ against illegal armed groups operating in the Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The Brigade, which undertook its first operations in August, differs from traditional UN peacekeeping in terms of its robust mandate and mobility.

The UN has simultaneously adopted a new technology, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), in the DRC, which represents the first-ever use of UAVs as a part of UN peacekeeping. UAVs will be deployed in the DRC at the end of November, and start operating in early December.

The Intervention Brigade and UAVs have been hailed as a turning point in UN peacekeeping. However, they should not be perceived as completely new or standalone instruments of UN conflict management. They could instead be best understood as a continuum and extension of the long-held statebuilding doctrine applied by the UN. These new instruments enable the UN to perform one of its key functions of statebuilding and protection of civilians, namely controlling and policing the whole territory of a state where an intervention has been undertaken more effectively than before.

The lessons learned from the UN peace operation in the DRC indicate that the UN statebuilding doctrine remains self-contradictory on account of the tendency of UN statebuilding missions to spill over into wars and the mismatch between the ambitious goals set for statebuilding and the chronic lack of resources.

The Intervention Brigade and UAVs can potentially help the UN to resolve that mismatch by enhancing the UN’s statebuilding and protection capacities. However, they cannot resolve the other major disadvantage of statebuilding, namely collateral damage inflicted in statebuilding wars, and may even aggravate that problem.