By Scott Edwards .
April 30th this year marked eight years since the formation of the United Nations Stabilisation Mission to Haiti (MINUSTAH). Continued instability, a poor development record and the major infrastructural setback represented by the 2010 earthquake suggest that the peacekeeping mission is likely to be extended past its October 2012 deadline, with a UN military and civilian presence being maintained in the Caribbean state for the foreseeable future. The Haitian government’s dependence on MINUSTAH to provide stability and meet the country’s development needs, as well as its own clear inability to maintain a monopoly over violence in its territory, have led Haiti to be characterised as a “failed state” by the international community.
Since the 2004 coup which ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the UN peacekeeping taskforce has been charged with a multidimensional mandate, with a focus on providing security and a stable environment to Haiti’s civilian population, as well as promoting human rights and contributing to the political process. The division of MINUSTAH into three components – one military and two civilian – demonstrates the broader structural commitment of the mission and, similarly to most contemporary UN missions, its stronger focus on economic and social problems. The combined duration and breadth of the UN presence in Haiti has been dependent on significant resource and personnel mobilisation from a variety of UN member nations. In particular, the involvement of Brazil has been highlighted as indicative of the South American nation’s growing global presence and the country’s attempts to pursue a more active foreign policy.
Brazil has been a leading member of MINUSTAH, deploying 1266 soldiers, 223 vehicles and assorted equipment to Haiti before the 2010 earthquake – out of a total troop number of 9000 – and rapidly increasing that personnel number to 2200 following the earthquake to help with relief and reconstruction efforts. Alongside the US, France, Canada, Argentina and Chile, the country is recognised as a member of the so-called ‘Haiti-core group’ – the group of countries which have been most engaged with UN operations in Haiti since the 2004 coup. As further testament to the leading role played by Brazil in MINUSTAH, the leadership of the military component of the mission has generally been Brazilian.
This commitment to MINUSTAH has inevitably placed some strain on Brazilian resources. Whilst some smaller states use the resources the UN reimburses to nations involved in peacekeeping missions as an avenue through which they can maintain some military presence when they otherwise would not be able to, Brazil is already a military power – Brazil’s defence budget of $27.1 billion in 2009 was greater than the entire MINUSTAH budget ($853 million) for the same year. Indeed, on an annual basis, the UN has only reimbursed Brazil with a fraction of its military costs in Haiti.
In addition, assuming a leading position in MINUSTAH has cost Brazil in terms of soft power in the immediate region. Questions of legitimacy have haunted the UN mission, as its implicit acceptance of a coup deemed by many, including member states of CARICOM and the African Union, as unconstitutional has led to a backlash against the core group of states supporting MINUSTAH’s operations. In acting on a mandate to support the transitional government following Aristide’s ouster, Brazil has faced a legitimacy loss in the eyes of Caribbean and African states.
Considering these financial and legitimacy costs in assuming such an active role in MINUSTAH, why has Brazil been so keen to contribute to the UN operation?
Assessing Brazil’s international activism
Thanks to stable macroeconomic policies over the last three administrations, Brazil has maintained strong economic growth rates and has seen its exports dramatically increase from $66 billion in mid-2003 to $169 billion in 2010. This increased international economic clout has been matched by a desire to reconstitute a greater international role for itself in the global politics. Brazil’s leadership role in MINUSTAH can therefore be seen as a result of three key drivers:
International Status-National Interest:
Brazil has long expressed a strong desire to gain permanent membership of the UN Security Council (UNSC). The country has held non-permanent membership of the Security Council an impressive ten times, but has become increasingly assertive in its rhetoric and active in its international presence in attempts to gain permanent membership and an automatic veto vote. The Brazilian government sees attaining such a position as a necessity as it moves to reposition Brazil as a country which is not on the periphery of the international system, but instead one which helps shape the norms and institutions that govern state interactions.
The success of the military component of MINUSTAH in significantly improving the security situation in Haiti has indeed provided greater legitimacy to Brazilian claims of being a significant power on the global stage. By proving its ability to act as an effective stabilising agent and reliable partner within its region, Brazil has been able to signal to the international community its enhanced status as a regional power and reconstitute its identity from being the receiver of aid (most recently in the form of an International Monetary Fund loan in 2002) into a state which can afford to allocate resources to aid efforts in achieving stability in a country it has not previously had a significant relationship with.
Furthermore, the enhanced security and reduction in gang violence attained through the efforts of MINUSTAH forces (the security situation began to stabilise by the end of 2005 and reached a more acceptable level in 2007) has also been complimented by development aid supplied by the Brazilian government, as well as Brazilian NGOs (among others). Involvement in such development initiatives has enhanced Brazilian and MINUSTAH legitimacy in Haiti and the improving human conditions produced have naturally acted to improve the security situation.
Improving the Military
The experiences of Brazilian forces in Haiti have been invaluable in modernising an army which has changed surprisingly little since the days when Brazil was ruled by a military dictatorship (1964-1985). The standard six month rotation of UN troops has allowed a significant proportion of Brazilian forces to experience real-combat situations, and the variety of roles for UN peacekeeping forces has enabled these forces to be deployed in a broad spectrum of situations.
Combat experience in Haiti therefore provides a country that arguably lacks a real external security threat an opportunity to demonstrate what its military (South America’s largest) can do and gain first-hand experience in the field. Whilst this exercise in creating combat-experienced troops in the unlikely event of Brazil’s involvement in an interstate war is seen as vital by Brazilian military leaders, it also gives them the chance to assess the comparative capabilities of other nations deploying troops on the UN mission.
This experience also may have some domestic benefits too – commentators note that there may be some synergy between gang control in Haiti and security in Brazil’s favelas.
Separate from Brazilian national interest and the country’s ambitions on the global stage, Brazilian national pride contributes on some level to the country’s sustained presence in MINUSTAH. Traditionally viewing itself a country that identifies both with the global North and the global South, Brazil’s greater ability to contribute to the stability of a fellow Southern country in crisis is seen as a source of pride and a signifier of the country’s greater status. As Sanchez comments, ‘it seems clear Haiti has become part of Brazilian nationalism; it is utilised, for want of a better word, to showcase Brazil as a growing global power’.
A Brazilian way of peacekeeping
MINUSTAH forces have come under criticism from a variety of angles, with detractors highlighting the lack of impartiality in the mission, as well as several documented examples of human rights violations and excessive violence. Nevertheless, the success of the mission in improving stability is clearly evident.
The continued need for MINUSTAH’s presence to ensure this stability is maintained is, however, problematic for the sovereignty of Republic of Haiti and many development goals are a long way off being realised.
Crucially within this context, Brazil’s decision to take on a leadership role in MINUSTAH’s operations has led to a distinctly Brazilian style of peacekeeping. Along with the fellow South American countries in the Haiti core-group – Argentina and Chile – Brazil has historically only engaged in peacekeeping missions mandated under Chapter VI of the UN charter (missions that require the consent of those concerned). UN involvement in Haiti was a Chapter VII operation. This non-interventionist history has meant that Brazilian military forces have been less amenable to the pressure to exert more force emanating from other countries (namely the US, Canada and France).
This reluctance to use force has also translated into an appearance of greater impartiality than the initial MINUSTAH mandate would have suggested. On several occasions, Brazilian troops acted to protect demonstrators against the will and authorisation of the transitional government, even confronting the Haitian National Police if the situation required. This reflects the more conciliatory culture of Brazilian peacekeepers, with a reluctance to use force matched with continued attempts to find alternative solutions and negotiate compromises.
This approach, along with the cultural affinities between the Brazilian troops and local population, has engendered a greater level of respect and understanding for the Brazilian MINUSTAH troops than would have otherwise been the case. Increasing the perception of impartiality in the MINUSTAH mission, as well as the local population’s tolerance of the UN troops, have been important results which have helped ensure the feasibility of a continued MINUSTAH presence. Brazilian troops are respected rather than feared by the local population.
This aspect of the Brazilian contribution to MINUSTAH highlights the country’s value in the protracted peacekeeping mission. The UN mandate will be, in all likelihood, expanded in October and it is in Brazil’s interests to continue demonstrating its ability to provide stability in its region. Brazil understands the situation in Haiti as win-win – Brazil aids a weaker state, whilst receiving status gains and first-hand combat experience. While this understanding works on one level, there must come a point soon where Haiti transitions to become less independent on Brazilian and other international forces. However, the consolidation of an improved security situation in the Caribbean state will only take place when a variety of actors also work more effectively to help the ‘failed state’ meet its development needs.