The United Nations Security Council on April 10 authorized a U.N. peacekeeping operation for the Central African Republic (CAR) of 10,000 troops and 1,800 police officers called the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission to CAR (MINUSCA).

MINUSCA will replace the current African Union (AU) 6,000 troop Mission to the Central African Republic and another 2,000 French support troops deployed in Operation Sangaris. Although the Obama Administration had until recently sought to avoid another costly U.N. peacekeeping mission in central Africa, arguing that the AU forces were the best option, the U.S. ended up supporting MINUSCA. Despite unanimous support in the Security Council, questions remain about when the blue helmets will actually arrive in CAR and how effective they will be.

The CAR situation bears strong resemblance to how events played out in Mali. Following a government collapse and rising conflict, French forces intervened in their former colony to support an African-led peacekeeping mission. The French planned to stabilize the situation and make a quick exit but failed to recognize the complexities on the ground. As was the case with Mali, after the French realized the situation would not be resolved quickly, they began a campaign to establish a U.N. peacekeeping mission to take over.

A supplementary EU force of 800 is scheduled to be fully deployed in June, and the blue helmets are scheduled to arrive in September. However, commitments for such deployments are notoriously difficult to realize and are often delayed. In the meantime, the situation in CAR continues to deteriorate.

What happens between now and September will be a critical. Muslims in CAR are fleeing, and the Seleka and anti-Balaka rebel groups have shown no desire to halt the violence and disarm. Securing and stabilizing CAR is of paramount importance to CAR’s neighbors, who are facing increasing refugee flows. More distant nations also have a stake because lawlessness and sectarian violence are creating opportunities for extremist groups that have already claimed an interest in the conflict, such as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The international community may not be recognizing the severity of the situation in CAR, but AQIM is taking it seriously.

U.N. peacekeepers are not war fighters. Stability is a key prerequisite for the MINSUCA mission to be effective, but the security situation does not look like it will markedly improve before September even if MINUSCA deploys fully and on time. Making matters worse is MINUSCA’s broad mandate that ranges from protecting civilians to law enforcement to monitoring human rights practices to observing the political transition process in CAR.

Despite the fact that there is no capable, coherent government in CAR, the resolution establishing MINUSCA also emphasizes that the transitional authority has “primary responsibility to protect the population in the CAR.” Expecting the CAR transitional authority to develop and maintain a monopoly on violence is unrealistic. Taken together with the reluctance of U.N. peacekeepers to act in the face of violence, such as has been recently reported in Darfur, this is a recipe for confusion, inaction, and finger-pointing.

It is possible that the situation in CAR will improve and MINUSCA will prove to be the right tool at the right time. Most likely, however, this will prove to be another instance where the international community chose convenience over prudence.

For more background on the conflict in the Central African Republic: U.S. Response to Chaos in the Central African Republic.