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UK and France must take the wheel on Africa’s Security

With the US moving military resources to the Asia-Pacific region, what organization will maintain the  stability and security in North and North Central Africa? The US has been downgrading its participation in African affairs for some time now; one may refer to the events in Libya and the ongoing situation in Mali. Europe faces many modern threats, and it may very well have to pull itself together to properly address the challenges to its security originating from across the Mediterranean Sea as the US focuses on more of its own problems.  

The hegemon cannot be everywhere, at least not anymore. As Harold Brown, US secretary of defense under Jimmy Carter,  has recently pointed out,  the support the US provides when it does get involved in a conflict consists in such crucial resources as airlift, logistics, in-air refueling, intelligence, command and central communications, as well as surveillance including satellites and drones. All this is essential for modern peacemaking operations. The European Union’s Common Security and Defense Policy is primarily concerned with humanitarian operations as well as peacekeeping. In other words, the EU does not currently have sufficient resources to address peacemaking (intervening to separate warring factions) in Northern Africa. The US, or the all-too-American NATO, is still heavily relied upon in case of a major crisis.

Is there an alternative? In December of 1999 a formal decision was made to create the EU Rapid Reaction Force (ERRF).  Today, amongst all battle groups of the EU, this one technically remains on paper. It’s an idea; some like it others do not. Originally  the task force was meant to comprise 60 000 troops, Germany lending a big share of 13 500, France 12 000 and the UK on a full scale commitment would probably have 24 000 personnel involved. However, a few things have changed since the idea first hit the board, Germany has made clear that it is no longer very interested in sending troops abroad. This leaves most of the responsibility for security in the hands of the UK and France.

What is certain is that with US resources under heavy strain in the Middle-East and increasingly allocated to the Asia-Pacific, if no attention is given to African Security chaos will start to lurk across the water for Europe. It is the EU’s responsibility to develop efficient technology and resources of its own. The tasks of the ERRF would essentially be the following:

–          Give assistance to civilians threatened by a crisis outside the EU.

–          Respond to UN calls for peacekeeping forces.

–          Intervene to separate warring factions (peacemaking).

The treaty of Lisbon brought innovations to gradually establish a common European Defence. In the treaty, the Common Security and Defense Policy has its tasks expanded from three to six. Although as long as no serious developments occur in regard to the ERRF, the current global challenges and key threats to Europe as outlined in the 2008 Report on the Implementation of the European Security Strategy remain growing issues.

One must not forget that recent attacks have taken place in London and Madrid. Europe can transfer non-combat peacekeeping roles to existing African security organizations and focus on the importance of being ready for peacemaking.  France, assisted by the Americans, has been stepping up its role in international security by taking on terrorists in Mali; more of such interventions are to be expected in the future as Europe faces the inevitable consequences of a weaker America.

– Mathieu Paul Dumont


Featured photo:  Attribution  by vittoare, Flickr

About Mathieu Paul Dumont

Student of Political Science and Philosophy at Concordia University. Mathieu now resides in Montreal but is originally from Sherbrooke, Quebec. His interests include conflict resolution, political philosophy and he follows such arts as fashion and music closely. His focus is primarily set on the Middle-East, but also towards other conflicted regions. He joined The Political Bouillon for the pleasure of writing and hopes to see the journal grow to include students from all four of Montreal’s universities.

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  1. Why should the Europeans be responsible for Africa’s security problems, and why should this take the form of direct military intervention? While the invasion of Mali has been successful in driving Islamist rebels back into the Maghreb, the Islamists’ initial gains came primarily from a huge flow of arms spilling out of… Libya, the West’s last intervention. Now, Islamist groups have spilled over from Mali to Niger and Nigeria, with Boko Haram receiving a boost in funding and arms. Unless we are willing to continuously put out fires with constant spending of blood and treasure, we need a new strategy. Actually working to build competent, depoliticized African security forces is one important part of this, as is supporting civil-society institutions and sustainable, equitable economic development.

    • What precisely is sustainable, equitable economic development in this circumstance? The origin of Boko Haram is much more complex than painting them as an Islamic militant group can possibly express. When the British originally colonised Nigeria they divided the country choosing to preserve the Islamic North as a bastion of civilisation while turning their attention to converting the Southern groups into a manageable cohort. The North had literal autonomy.

      The economic reality of Nigeria was a division between a wealthy well established North and an impoverished oppressed South. This inverted when large quantities of oil were discovered in the Southern region of the country. I say discovered but – in reality – oil literally seeps from the ground in Nigeria; it was simply that it had no market value until a particular epoch.

      The economic inversion reversed the fates of the two sections of the country. The North became weaker and declined rapidly. Boko Haram are not a new phenomenon their recent expansion and increased bombing campaign follows an escalation that coheres with Western military escalation. Portraying people who are disenfranchised, impoverished and subject to the whims of greater powers as inveterately violent or problematic appears to be quite a common “get out of jail free card” for people who want simple “them” and “us” solutions to problems.

      There is no simple answer though there are a lot of obvious first steps, one of which would be, in my humble opinion, that we probably shouldn’t see “treasure” as something we actually have anymore. It’s difficult to non-hypocritically voice an equalitarian perspective if you’re talking about “them” being a waste of “our treasure”. Additionally, we should probably stop looking at Africans as though it’s just unfortunate that they happen to be sitting on our resources.

      • This is all true, and probably why we should be wary of military intervention; the unintended consequences are huge, and costs a lot of money and lives that we have a short supply of. Unless we have a pressing national interest in fighting someone (which we arguably had in Mali) and cannot get local partners to take on the lion’s share of the burden, we should probably stay out. Building competent security forces in Africa that are professional and apolitical is a major step in reducing our own direct influence.

        As for sustainable and equitable economic development, basically anything that is not horribly environmentally destructive and benefits regular people as opposed to only a narrow, monied elite. Something that would address some of the frustrations that breed Islamist terrorism and ethnic conflict.

  2. This articule could, perhaps, be more accurately entitled: “Why Africa walks into doors and how it’s nobody else’s business”

    It is a little disconcerting that this text, and seemingly quite a few other articles on this site, choose to elide the context of the issues under examination. It seems unreasonable to discuss European intervention in Africa in such a cavalier manner without introducing the relevant concepts of European isolation from Africa in terms of immigration policy and border control as well as the pre-existing colonial roles of most European nations.

    Additional to that it is incredibly important to discuss the past role of peacekeeping in Africa; it’s biased use, for example in Congo during the Nkunda uprising, the accusation of human rights abuses levelled at the French peacekeepers and role of European military powers as conduits for corporate enterprise.

    Ignoring these elements, which you’ve already done, it appears, on a personal level, to be extremely ethically disingenuous to imply that the end goal of initiatives such the the Rapid Response Force(which would be drawn from all member states, is hugely unpopular in canon fodder countries and was covered by the Maastricht Treaty not the Lisbon Treaty) is to create more stability in a manner that would be mutually beneficial for both the EU and the stabilised.

    Perhaps, a more conducive method to improving relations between Africa and the EU would be to not take the military route and rather create some kind of atmosphere of mutual respect.

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