As I sat at the conference table waiting for the theorists to arrive, I tried to understand the causes for the Rwandan intervention into the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 1998. After some time passed I realized that no theorist was coming to confer their knowledge upon me, so I decided to seek them out myself. But before analyzing theories and dissecting Rwanda’s intervention in the DRC in 1998 (Second Congolese War), one must note that there were preceding events during the 1996 intervention that triggered the second intervention. Rwanda intervened in the DRC in 1996 because it’s newly empowered Tutsi regime realized that the DRC’s leader, Mobutu Sese Seko, was in support of the Hutu refugees and ex-FAR/Interhamwe, groups who had perpetrated the 1994 genocide of Rwandan Tutsis (Curtis 3). With Mobutu’s support and the foreign aid flowing into the Hutu refugee camps (from aid agencies and bureaucracies) located in the DRC the ex-FAR/ Interhamwe was regaining strength and re-organizing. The ex-FAR/ Interhamwe, with the encouragement of Mobutu and the Hutu government began a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Congolese Tutsi. The Rwandan forces then intervened in 1996 in support of the rebel Congolese Tutsi units. The Rwandan forces had many victories and eventually the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo/DRC (ADFL) was formed with the Rwandan forces, Congolese Tutsis, and anti-Mobutu groups in the DRC.
However this relationship between Rwanda and the DRC’s liberation forces did not last. The alliance with Laurent Kabila, who was leading the ADFL forces, had been an alliance of convenience rather than a uniting of ideologies. The alliance was based on overthrowing Mobutu and not on achieving a greater security for the region. Kabila began distancing himself from his Rwandan supporters and began creating divisions within the forces of the ‘alliance.’ Kabila soon called for all foreign troops to be out of the DRC, which threatened Rwanda’s ability to eliminate the remaining Hutu militants. Rwanda, being interested in keeping hold of its regional political-military influence it had gained from the First Congolese War (intervention 1996) along with the growing threat from Hutu militants, decided that a second intervention would be necessary to keep its regional power and security. The Rwandan forces experienced a surprising amount of success and it looked almost to be a repeat of the 1996 intervention, but later it was evident that the Rwandan forces would fail (5). Another factor that led to Rwanda’s failure was the creation of the RCD (Congolese Rally for Democracy), which became the new political face of the movement to oust Mobutu. With Rwanda and Uganda’s involvement in Congolese affairs in the past years the RCD was condemned as an “instrument for neighboring countries to serve their interests” (6). To that same effect Kabila’s forces were successful in stirring anti-Tutsi sentiment before the war, which made it difficult to garner indigenous support to move the rebellion forward (6). Ugandan forces pulled out and opened their own anti-Kabila front, but continued to send moral and military assistance also Kabila’s regional allies: Angola, Chad, Namibia, and Zambia all contributed troops and support that eventually led to Rwanda’s defeat in its second intervention (6). These foreign allies all contributed to a score of strategic victories that saved Kabila from a sure defeat by Rwandan forces and shifted the focus of the Second Congolese War (7). The new Rwandan government found itself isolated in the region and in much the same situation as Mobutu’s regime, which they defeated just two years earlier.
The underlying causes of the Second Congolese War (Rwandan intervention in DRC, 1998) are based in a division of regional ethnic groups and the tensions of ideas between those militarized forces. Both Rwandan interventions were militarily launched to provide support for indigenous (Tutsi) rebellions (4). The national security for Rwanda was just as immediate as it was during the first intervention in 1996. The Hutu insurgency amounted to what some call a “virtual civil war” – which increased Rwanda’s sense of being vulnerable and reinforced the ‘siege’ mentality which had fueled the regime’s view of national security since it came to power after the 1994 genocide (5).
The international relations theory that best sheds light on the causes and reasons for the Second Congolese War and Rwandan intervention in 1998 is realism. Hobbes says that the classical realists would argue that the weakest has the strength enough to kill the strongest (Schecter, Sept. 7, 2006) – and therefore the newly in power Tutsis in Rwanda would still be under threat from the fleeing Hutu militant factions. The two groups: new Tutsi government and the defeated Hutu militants and government, both desired the control of the Rwandan state and because of that, could only become enemies and conflict is inevitable. Hobbes tells us there that will always be conflict when two men desire the same thing (Sept. 7, 2006). The classical realist, Rousseau, continues the argument noting that the Rwandan rational was to provide for their own self-interest and not depend on others (Sept. 7, 2006). When Kabila decided he was going to dismiss his Rwandan backers, the Rwandan government decided to end that convenient alliance and serve its self-interest to then move against Kabila. Rwandan again rationalized its alliance with Kabila being that it was set up previously to oust Mobutu and to continue rooting out the Hutu insurgency, and not necessarily in support of Kabila’s movement to liberate the Congo. Thucydides would argue that every country seeks more power, because with more power comes more security (Baylis & Smith 167). All states suffer from the security dilemma where self-help is the only cure in which a state needs more power and opposing states will also seek power in response (Schecter, Sept. 7, 2006). Rwanda had an underlying motive to keep its borders free from Hutu insurgent attacks and a probable Hutu invasion after the 1994 genocide. Rwanda had gained a significant amount of regional power after the First Congolese War and wanted to be sure to keep a hold of that power in order to ensure its own security.
This moves us on to the contemporary realist argument. The Rwandan intervention in the DRC of 1998 was a near repeat of its intervention in the DRC in 1996. History very nearly repeated itself, the governments did not learn from their mistakes. However it is debatable if there were any mistakes to learn from. The new Rwandan Tutsi regime had its security in mind when it saw the growing attacks from the strengthening former Hutu armies and militias. Is it a mistake to act on an attack and threat from an opposing force outside a nation’s borders? The Second Congolese War is a good example of the classical realist argument that there is no international order or law only power and force. The UN or other International Organizations did not intervene and Rwanda was forced to take the conflict into its own hands. Could a continuation of the 1994 genocide and thousands more deaths have been avoided by an international intervention? The classical theorists would argue not, since there is no international order or law except for power and force. Morgenthau, a contemporary realist, argues that the international order of power is a means and also an end – security. Rwanda used its power as a means to remain powerful in the region and ensure its national security in regards to its borders. Power of force was used as a means to a greater end of power in security (Baylis & Smith 167). The contemporary realists would also argue that peace can only be achieved by a balance of power, which is why Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Chad intervened on behalf of the DRC government because Rwanda was too powerful in the region. The argument continues with the point being made that the political sphere is autonomous therefore military power is critical. Rwanda could not depend on any political force to come to its aid, it had to depend solely on its military power. Waltz, as a defensive realist, reminded me that countries continuously pursue power without regard to regime type, or people (Baylis & Smith 163). In this case Rwanda was not concerned with the type of regime in the DRC. It only wanted to see the Hutu insurgency put down.
With all this realist theory being tossed around I felt sure that there is was also an element of social constructivism. Onuf argues that a social constructivist theorist would be sure to add to the argument by telling us that power is not only materialist, such as military or economic, but also that power involves ideas (256). In this particular case, the conflict is purely of ideas. The Rwandan government has the idea that the Hutus need to be stopped. The Hutus hold the idea that they need to fight against the Tutsis to regain control of the Rwandan government. Kabila believes that be needs to liberate the DRC and oust Mobutu. The conflict is purely of opposing constructed ideas of ethnic division and dislike. The socially constructed identities of the cultures in conflict are based on the non-state actors of the Hutu former FAR/ Interhamwe, the Rwandan Tutsi army, the ADFL in the DRC, and other various factors in support or opposition to the current government leaders of Rwanda and the DRC. The one hope in this conflict is that the ideas and institutions are not always path dependent, change is still possible because the state’s interests are not a given.
This is where a semi-Idealist approach enters the scene. These socially constructed ideas of dislike for an ethnic group can be changed in the idealist’s view. The Hutu and Tutsi factions can learn from their mistakes and conflicts and can work to create peace in the region. Kant informs us that an idealist theorist would argue that when these militant groups start thinking about the good of the state and not of themselves then there can be a peaceful end to the conflict (188). But herein lies the problem. How can one push out a constructed history of violence and hate? How can one throw out a deep past of conflict and dislike? How can a state ask its people to forgive and forget and move towards peace with such atrocities committed? The Idealists believe this ‘peace’ is a possibility when governments move towards a more democratic rule. Idealism doesn’t have as easily applied and proven theory for conflict, yet it does present a solution instead of a look into the reasons for a conflict. Therefore I believe the realist argument neatly describes how and why this war happened, the social constructivist argument gives a wonderful insight as to where the reasons come from and how to move forward, and the idealist argument provides a possibility for a future security and harmony between state and non-state actors.
The theories that do not present a clear insight into the conflict are Economic, Political, and Institutional Liberalism. In this case there was no economic conflict, it was a conflict based on security. Therefore Smith argued with me that if each actor pursued its own economic self-interest there would be a natural harmony holds no water. The ‘free’ trade in minerals (diamonds) between Rwanda and the DRC is definitely questionable and lends nothing to the argument for the war’s cause being that free trade and economic interdependence is supposed to equal up to no war. Political liberalist theorists’ argument that democratic governments do not fight one another is thrown out since neither Rwanda nor the DRC can be said to have a secure democratic government. The fact that no international laws or organizations took action also defeats the Liberalist approach to understanding the Second Congolese War. Institutional Liberalists are pushed aside when it become evident that neither Rwanda nor the DRC was interested in making sacrifices for the other and were only concerned with creating temporary alliances to serve self-interest. To that same effect the only instance of interdependence is with regard to the security of the region with which neither actor was concerned. The institutional liberals theory is also thrown out by the fact that none of the international institutions, such as the UN or European Union, came to help resolve the conflict. The First and Second Congolese Wars were fought without any interference from international institutions maybe because the states who hold membership in such institutions had no ‘mutual interest’ in the DRC or Rwanda. For many reasons the UN (or other institution) should have aided being that liberal institutions are concerned with keeping regional security and promoting cooperation between states. This is one of the many unanswered questions that always seems to break down to question the motives of people in power.
What is most interesting in applying the theories of international relations to the Second Congolese War and Rwandan intervention in the DRC in 1998 is that most international theorists that I called upon are not concerned with the ‘third’ world or developing world, yet here I am using their theories to explain a conflict that resides in this passed over ‘third’ world orbiting somewhere in the realm of the neglected. I now understood why I would be sitting at the conference table by myself. No theorist was on his way to consider a ‘third’ world conflict. Applying the international theories to a conflict in Africa is somewhat of an irony in that the politicians and government officials that apply these theories did not give a second glance as to why the Second Congolese War occurred and would not care for the reasons Rwanda intervened.
Curtis, Marcus. ‘Raison d’Etat Unleashed: Understanding Rwanda’s Foreign Policy in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Strategic Insights’. Vol. IV, Issue 7 (July 2005). . Date accessed: October 5, 2006.
Baylis and Smith. The Globalization of World Politics. Third Edition. Oxford University Press, New York: 2001, reprint 2005, 2006.
Schecter, Michael. MC220 World Politics and Security Class Lecture.
‘Realism and Idealism’ September 7, 2006. ‘Liberalism’ September 12, 2006. ‘Social Constructivism’ September 21, 2006. (citations only used when certain examples from lectures were not present in the Baylis & Smith book)
Research paper written in October of 2006 for an International Relations and Security Course. Look for more on the current DRC conflict soon.