No cavalry for Congo

Talk of sending British forces to the eastern Congo is a diplomatic fantasy – and one that could quickly turn into a nightmare. Even if well-prepared, well-equipped troops were available (which is not the case given Britain's other involvements), a deployment would be neither sensible nor responsible without major commitments by other EU countries. As the French presidency has discovered, there is zero appetite across Europe for more African adventurism of this kind. Given the history, that is no surprise.

The highly public weekend effort by Britain's David Miliband, France's Bernard Kouchner, the US state department's Jendayi Frazer, and the EU's Louis Michel to bang regional heads together is also unlikely to amount to very much in the longer term – except, perhaps, increased resentment at western hectoring. As monitoring organisations such as the independent Enough Project point out, Congo needs the world's "sustained attention", not political ambulance chasing.

"The immediate crisis should not distract the world from a larger truth: peace in the Congo, and indeed the Great Lakes region, requires a comprehensive strategy, robust diplomatic engagement, and a strong, capable peacekeeping force … Intermittent and inconsistent crisis management must be replaced by a broader effort to deal with the drivers of endemic insecurity and atrocities," the Enough Project said.

The failure of the US and the former colonial powers to stay closely engaged since the 2006 election is a key reason why sporadic attempts to end Congo's epic tragedy continue to fail. Congo is in the headlines now. But that won't last – and neither will current levels of diplomatic activity.

An emergency summit meeting of regional states in Kenya, if it happens this week, promises no solution as long as a principal protagonist, the rebel Tutsi leader, Laurent Nkunda, remains outside the tent. The main Rwandan Hutu militia, the Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), which includes some of the leaders of the 1994 genocide, also stands at one remove – but is central to halting recurring violence.

The best hope of progress rests, as it did before this year's truce broke down in August, with persuading Rwanda's leadership to halt its support, direct or indirect, for Nkunda; and obtaining a similar change of heart by President Joseph Kabila and the Congolese army in respect of the FDLR and Mai Mai militias.

But neither camp can be expected to back off for more than a few months unless root causes are addressed. When the next explosion comes, chances are the world will again be caught looking the other way – and Kouchner will again be left asking: "Why? Why?"

It is easy to point the finger of blame, harder to find ways through the morass. The UN security council put too much faith in the 2006 polls and gave too little thought to nation-building. The UN's peacekeeping force was unable to stop the rebel advance – understandable, perhaps, given that war-fighting is not its job. But it also failed to protect tens of thousands of fleeing civilians, which was its bounden duty.

More to the point, given that lasting solutions are home-grown, neither the Congolese nor the Rwandan governments have faithfully pursued pre-existing road maps on disarmament, integration (or "mixage"), transitional justice, resource-sharing, and institution building in North Kivu. According to the International Crisis Group, addressing these issues at the "epicentre" of the crisis is the only way of breaking the cycle of violence and dispossession.

That may or may not happen. One immediate danger now, if Nkunda resumes his advance on Goma, is that the Congolese army will succeed in co-opting UN forces, thereby finally destroying their remaining credibility. One immediate priority, as Miliband and Kouchner said, is to deploy more of the 17,000 UN soldiers into North Kivu.

But the misleading idea that European or even American troops could be on the way – that somehow the cavalry will ride to the rescue – should be dispelled. The UN and the African Union are still 12,000 men short in Darfur nearly a year into that supposedly crucial "anti-genocide" operation. There are none to spare for Congo. And candidly, there is no real will to find or send them.

Simon Tisdall