Congo crisis spotlights UN weaknesses

This week came word that UN peacekeeping troops once again failed to protect nearby civilians from a massacre. And once again people are wringing their hands over the seeming inability of the international community to save lives. The crisis has also put the European Union's foreign policy in the spotlight, as "The World's" Jeb Sharp reports.

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For years, the European Union has been promising a rapid reaction force for just such a crisis. Standing troops, able to deploy quickly, to save lives.

The UN Security Council voted last month to send an additional 3,000 UN troops to Congo, but it will take months to get them there. That's why UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has asked Europe to step in with a temporary force to fill the gap. Advocates of an EU force are looking to the UK to take the lead because it has the most military capacity. But so far, the British have shown no interest.

Tom Porteous, the London Director of Human Rights Watch, says the real reasons for British reluctance are clear: "It's the Minister of Defense in the UK which is leaning very heavily on the government not to agree to contribute to such an EU force in Congo because of the massive over-stretch of UK troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. I think what also may be playing on the minds of EU politicians more generally though is the economic crisis -- the economic recession. They know that they're going to have to make cuts in government budgets and they don't want to commit themselves to what will be quite an expensive operation."

But Porteous thinks Europe will be sorry if it doesn't act now: "A lot of people will see the failure of the EU as a moral failure to really do what they could have done, and do what they always said they would do, in the event of a repeat of the sort of horrors that we've seen in Central Africa in the past."

PRI's "The World" is a one-hour, weekday radio news magazine offering a mix of news, features, interviews, and music from around the globe. "The World" is a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston.

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