In Remote Warfare: Interdisciplinary Perspectives Remote-Warfare-E-IR
The Conversation France, December 2020
In English here: Unpacking governance within the EU’s Sahel strategy, https://theconversation.com/unpacking-governance-within-the-eus-sahel-strategy-152050
La révision de la stratégie de l’Union européenne (UE) pour le Sahel, qui a été élaborée en 2011, se déroule dans un contexte sombre : les urgences humanitaires s’accumulent et l’année qui s’achève aura été la plus meurtrière dans la région depuis 2012. Les abus contre les civils se sont multipliés, commis non seulement par des groupes extrémistes et des milices, mais aussi par des forces de sécurité étatiques dans le cadre d’opérations antiterroristes.
Au cours de la dernière décennie, l’UE a consacré des milliards d’euros au développement et à l’aide militaire dans la région, avec pour principaux objectifs d’y contenir les mouvements migratoires tout en luttant contre le terrorisme et l’instabilité politique chronique. Les résultats des politiques de l’UE dans le Sahel, qui suscitaient déjà de nombreuses interrogations, ont été sérieusement questionnées à la suite du coup d’État au Mali.
Une explication majeure des échecs stratégiques et opérationnels de l’UE dans la région réside dans sa conception de la gouvernance. De fait, si les Européens reconnaissent depuis longtemps que la mauvaise gouvernance est une cause fondamentale d’instabilité institutionnelle, les efforts visant à y remédier ont été déployés séparément de ceux mis en œuvre dans les domaines de la sécurité et du développement. La gouvernance est ainsi perçue comme un pilier autonome, qui repose principalement sur l’assistance technique, plutôt que comme une question transversale qui doit être intégrée dans toutes les interventions de l’UE.
La nouvelle stratégie pour le Sahel risque de se révéler vide de sens si l’UE ne tire pas les leçons de ses précédents échecs, en exigeant notamment de meilleures garanties de la part de ses partenaires et en élaborant un programme plus politique.
La nécessité de faire plus de politique
Selon l’UE, les problèmes de gouvernance sont dus avant tout à la faiblesse des moyens financiers et techniques dont disposent les pays concernés. Les dépenses de développement ont donc été conçues et cadrées par des cadres logiques détaillés, des théories du changement et des objectifs chiffrés de résultats. Mais cette approche technique de la gouvernance s’est révélée inefficace ; elle n’a nullement empêché les détournements de fonds, la corruption et la mauvaise utilisation des ressources par les récipiendaires.
L’UE a ainsi soutenu une augmentation sans précédent de l’aide extérieure à la région, mais l’absence de contrôle efficace sur la gestion de cette aide a eu des conséquences indésirables. À titre d’exemple, en raison des contraintes de temps et des pressions diplomatiques qui pèsent sur les actions des donateurs, ce sont désormais les parties prenantes sahéliennes qui orchestrent l’utilisation de l’aide internationale.
En outre, les objectifs de politique étrangère de l’UE se sont de plus en plus restreints aux programmes de développement, eux-mêmes limités à un endiguement des mouvements migratoires. Cette approche a des conséquences sur la gouvernance : dans le nord du Niger, par exemple, l’accent mis sur les politiques migratoires s’est effectué au détriment des besoins locaux en matière de gouvernance.
En ce qui concerne l’assistance au secteur de la sécurité, la stratégie de l’UE repose essentiellement sur l’idée que le redéploiement d’acteurs étatiques – à commencer par les forces armées – dans certaines régions peu sûres est la clé pour y rétablir la stabilité. Or, le redéploiement rapide de forces armées étatiques insuffisamment entraînées et désinvesties est susceptible d’avoir des répercussions indésirables, les armées nationales étant régulièrement accusées d’exécutions extrajudiciaires et d’exactions diverses à l’encontre des civils.
L’action de la Mission de formation de l’Union européenne au Mali (EUTM Mali) illustre la priorité accordée par l’UE à l’assistance technique et au renforcement des capacités des pays récipiendaires. S’il est vrai que des progrès mineurs ont été réalisés, ces avancées sont contrebalancées par l’absence d’amélioration en matière de gouvernance, notamment en ce qui concerne les ressources humaines et la lutte contre la corruption.
En effet, l’envolée des budgets de la défense et de la sécurité dans la région s’accompagne de scandales de détournement de fonds dans les ministères sahéliens, de révélations de l’existence de canaux de dépenses obscurs et de retards dans le versement des salaires des troupes. Tout cela affecte négativement les performances et le moral des forces de défense et de sécurité nationales. La perpétuation des pratiques gouvernementales visant à la création de rentes financières – des pratiques dont la corruption est un pilier essentiel – alimente le mécontentement des populations sahéliennes, tant au sein de la société civile que dans les casernes. Si les programmes de gouvernance de l’UE persistent à ignorer le fonctionnement problématique des institutions locales qu’ils soutiennent, ils pourraient finir par causer plus de tort que de bien.
Pour une approche conditionnelle
L’idée consistant à rendre l’aide fournie par l’UE « transactionnelle », c’est-à-dire conditionnelle – selon le principe « un donné pour un rendu » –, a dernièrement fait son chemin à Bruxelles et dans les capitales européennes. Si elle est mise en œuvre, alors les avancées ou, au contraire, les impasses des politiques menées entraîneront une augmentation ou une diminution de leur financement. Une telle approche doit reposer sur des indicateurs clairement définis permettant de mesurer les progrès accomplis et sur des systèmes de suivi et d’évaluation transparents.
Cette approche transactionnelle devrait être mise en place pour répondre aux préoccupations des citoyens des pays du Sahel et adresser les véritables enjeux de gouvernance qui se trouvent au cœur de l’instabilité actuelle, à savoir la lutte pour l’état de droit et contre la corruption. Ces revendications européennes ne doivent pas être perçues comme des impositions : mettre des conditions à l’assistance extérieure ne signifie pas que les pays aidés seront privés de leur autonomie décisionnaire. D’ailleurs, les gouvernements sahéliens se sont eux-mêmes engagés à mettre en œuvre un certain nombre de réformes qui sont jusqu’ici restées lettre morte. Ce manque de volonté politique d’engager les réformes administratives durables promises sur le papier aggrave les tensions qui existent entre les priorités de l’UE et celles des États concernés.
Pour que cette approche soit couronnée de succès, il faudra nécessairement mener à bien une évaluation précise des résultats des efforts accomplis jusqu’ici. Par exemple, l’évaluation de l’efficacité des formations en matière de défense des droits de l’Homme ne doit pas reposer exclusivement sur des mesures quantitatives, comme le nombre de personnes ayant suivi ces formations ; elle devrait incorporer des éléments plus qualitatifs. Certains indicateurs pourraient mesurer l’adéquation entre la hiérarchie réelle et les rangs officiels. Il convient également de suivre de près la façon dont les ressources fournies par l’UE sont utilisées sur le long terme. Le nouveau mandat de l’EUTM représente un premier pas dans la bonne direction : il autorise les membres de l’EUTM à accompagner les stagiaires militaires sahéliens sur le champ de bataille, ce qui permet de mieux superviser leur comportement et leurs performances sur le terrain.
L’obligation de rendre des comptes doit également être invoquée au sujet des accusations d’exactions dont font l’objet les forces armées maliennes. L’UE ne devrait pas seulement évaluer la véracité des rapports faisant état de violations des droits de l’Homme, mais aussi exiger du gouvernement malien qu’il fasse toute la lumière sur ces allégations s’il souhaite continuer de recevoir des financements. La récente nomination de militaires à des postes de gouverneur et celle d’un chef de milice à un poste clé du gouvernement malien exigent que l’UE se positionne urgemment sur cette question.
Une approche transactionnelle qui ne serait que partielle ne permettrait pas d’atteindre les buts fixés : pour être efficace, cette approche doit englober la totalité de l’engagement de l’UE, sous peine d’en compromettre la crédibilité et l’efficacité. L’application de la transactionnalité à l’ensemble de l’aide fournie par l’UE, y compris dans le cadre de l’EUTM, pourrait être perçue par les États membres de l’UE comme susceptible d’aller à l’encontre du développement des capacités de stabilisation des forces armées maliennes. Pourtant, l’approche actuelle de l’EUTM, focalisée sur l’amélioration des capacités tactiques de ces forces armées, ne suffit pas à elle seule. L’efficacité des armées nationales est en effet fortement corrélée à l’amélioration de l’ethos militaire, c’est-à-dire à l’adoption dans tous les aspects de l’action militaire de valeurs positives, de garanties contre la corruption et du respect des droits de l’Homme.
La conditionnalité renforcée est un mécanisme qui a rarement été testé dans le cadre des efforts de stabilisation européens. Or, comme l’ont montré les sept dernières années, sans incitations concrètes à des processus de réforme structurelle, il existe un risque que l’aide de l’UE en matière de sécurité et de développement n’aient pas les effets escomptés.
Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI), November 2020
The August 18th coup in Mali confronted European leaders with a harsh reality: financial resources, capacity building trainings and security cooperation alone are too thin a strategy to restore peace and stability in the Sahel. Following the 2012 upheaval, the European Union (EU) launched dedicated, well-funded initiatives and stabilization missions to reinforce the power of civilian governments and to support the fight against terrorism and organized crime. Nearly a decade later, as EU policymakers are set to renew the 2011 Sahel strategy, the coup in Mali acts as a magnifying glass for a failing approach. This is particularly striking as European initiatives in the Sahel, and Mali in particular, allegedly represent an achievement of EU’s defense and security policy as well as proof of its rising diplomatic power.
EU leaders are currently confronted with a fundamentally different security landscape than a decade ago, which has resulted in a shift towards a migration-security centred lens on the region. Since the 2011 Libyan collapse and subsequent 2012 rebellion and coup in Mali, armed groups have expanded to central Mali and subsequently to neighbouring Niger and Burkina Faso, generating widespread displacement, death and severe political instability. All three countries are dealing with violent insurgencies by both Al-Qaeda and Islamic-State affiliated groups and the rise of communal violence. Nothing indicates that existing international interventions have succeeded in halting the spread of insecurity in the region. The increase in migration movements in 2015 has only amplified European concerns towards the Sahel, which were framed through a security lens, despite it being a different issue. Fittingly, the Sahel has been defined by the EU’s Special Representative for the region, Angel Losada, as a ‘poligon of crises’.
Recent developments in the region illustrate the necessity to place greater focus on the political dimension of the conflicts. Both the government crisis in Mali and deteriorating civil society environment in Niger and Burkina Faso underline the deeply political nature of instability in the region: little attention has been given to the pertinence and the impact of its approach towards governance issues affecting Sahelian countries.
A Surplus of Drawbacks
2020 marks a critical juncture of EU policy in the Sahel in which the failures of current Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) missions and other member state initiatives are increasingly apparent, amid a deteriorating security situation and rising numbers of civilian casualties. Such challenges are further magnified by the EU’s reliance on national partners lacking legitimacy at home.
There is a recurrent refrain in Brussels that by providing development aid and building state capacity, notably via military support, peace solutions will follow suit. This is especially problematic, as by ignoring socio-political landscapes, the failure to rebuild the Malian state may lead to exacerbating tensions further down the line. If the EU appears to be colliding with and supporting illegitimate, corrupt and/or autocratic governments, disconnected from the needs and realities of their populations, consequences could be dire both for regional political stability and European soft power. In addition, cleansing a territory of violent extremist actors, or “mowing the lawn”, and subsequently adding development funds, rarely leads to stability. This can be explained by three factors:
- First, counterterrorism efforts rely on an overwhelming degree of international support, which is vulnerable to decreasing legitimacy for both Sahelian and European audiences. By contrast, violent extremist actors’ time horizons are not constrained by these short-term barriers, as they see themselves involved in a longer-term game. The effectiveness of counterterrorism as a dominant aspect of any stabilisation strategy is thus limited by definition.
- Second, stabilisation mechanisms focus on extending the reach of the executive power and are thus a deeply political process, not only a technical one. This dynamic is often insufficiently taken into account. As a consequence of international support, governing authorities are regularly able to expand and abuse their personal power position to the detriment of citizens. This takes the form of financial gains or high profile corruption, restrained space for civil society and non-parliamentary opposition, the use of counter-terror forces deployed against civilians, a redeployment of an army that is not deemed legitimate in some regions and active undermining of ongoing peace-building processes as most recently revealed in Mali. A technical perception of stabilisation ignores this political dimension and is often unable to address deeper socio-economic grievances. While the current government crisis in Mali is the most recent striking example of how the major pressing demand in the country is an acutely political one, it is a notion that analysts have stressed for years.
- Third and consequently, the notion of redeploying state actors in an effort to increase stability lacks coherence in environments in which those very actors are perceived as part of the problem. When national armies are killing more civilians than violent extremist groups, the return of state actors is not a goal in itself as it undermines stability by further exacerbating existing grievances against the state.
EU member states have showcased a large disconnect between their political ambitions to stabilize Sahelian territories and the willingness to act on such policies through military deployment. As a result, counter-terrorism policies have largely been shaped by France. In this context, a comprehensive EU strategy in the Sahel will need to bypass unrealistic perceptions of military success against violent extremist actors in the Sahel. It must also overcome this security-development nexus binary approach and finally effectively address the political dimension of conflicts.
Combined, these observations on contemporary EU endeavours in the Sahel demonstrate the necessity to focus on wider governance issues that are only insufficiently addressed by the EU’s proclaimed three new priorities in the Sahel, as stated by the EU’s top diplomat for the Sahel, Angel Losada: coordination, human rights and ownership. Such points avoid concentrating on other, more pressing governance issues, such as stronger attention to providing opportune avenues for contestation, reform of the justice sector and a reconsideration of social and economic inequalities in most Sahel countries. While this is an especially daunting task amid Covid-budgetary constraints, the August 2020 coup in Mali should be used as an occasion to critically question the decade-long EU Sahel initiatives and its overall strategy in the region, notably its vision of governance.
For Sahelian citizens, the return of the state is not a goal in its own right. Increasingly, reported state atrocities against civilians in the name of counter-terrorism are only the latest and most drastic example adding to the crisis dynamics mentioned above. Grievances against central state authorities and administration are as much a result of absent service provision as they are of state authorities perceived as predatory and corrupt. The experience of abuse and mistreatment is prevalent and does not only include defence and security forces, but similarly the justice system, public administrators overseeing public services as well as customary leaders who have considerable impact on the governance of land and natural resources. In short, the state is at the very basis of the conflict dynamics and hence building state functions per se is not contributing to the governance problems at the root of insecurity. The task is therefore more daunting than stabilisation in and of itself. In order to obtain sustainable stability, international actors in the Sahel need to accompany a process of transformation that is not only restoring but re-founding the state. These findings have consistently stressed the need to imagine governance not simply as a lack of capacity, but as a much broader set of pre-existing powers balances in which international interventions take place and unfold their impact.
Despite an existing consensus amongst researchers on the need to place governance issues at the centre of the Sahel strategy, this revelation has not yet found a way into policy making in the region. Instead, international intervention has followed a security-focused approach that combines counter-terrorism operations with capacity-building. Across central Sahel, the outdated and problematic Malian peace agreement of 2015 remains the only framework with which to address the political instability. Even within this framework, the focus is placed on quantitative indicators of state presence, rather than on the quality of such presence. Ill-conceived performance indicators can easily lead to misinterpreting successes and failures. The presence of the army or the return of public institutions in a region (much like the Kidal case) are insufficient indicators to guarantee sustainable peace and security.
The Sahel is thereby illustrative of a gap between the governance understanding of researchers, and that of policy makers who tend to follow a binary understanding of governance challenges as either a lack of capacity or a lack of political will. The consequences of both logics is the application of technical solutions – either in the form of capacity building as seen in the security sector, or in the form of conditionality and sanctions. Neither of these conceptualisations sufficiently take into account the perceived legitimacy of the governance actors at the centre of international state-building efforts. Both the focus on capacity and political will fall short of addressing governance problems. The former because technical solutions alone are not the answer, as they neglect the extent to which state administrations need to undergo transformation in order to respond efficiently to wide-spread grievances and citizens’ immediate needs. The latter, because conditionality will only achieve so much as long as national ownership is lacking.
EUTM: A Case Study of a EU’s Failing Vision on Governance
The case of the EU Training Mission (EUTM) in Mali is a perfect illustration of how this inadequate vision on governance can translate into highly counterproductive effects. In fact, EUTM Mali – upscaled to gradually expand to the remaining G5 Sahel countries – is an example of how European external action priorities, detached from local needs and lacking consideration for governance issues, have led to limited national buy-in from Malian counterparts and a lack of concrete results. Current performance indicators, such as the amount of money spent or the number of trainings delivered, are inadequate. In addition, they reflect the EU’s poor understanding of what governance really entails.
If numbers spoke for themselves, EUTM could be considered as a success-story. It has trained over 15,000 Malian soldiers, not only combat battalions (GTIA) for immediate deployment but also smaller tactical units, company commanders and trainers. It has also developed specialized and individual courses such as demining, air support, and human rights. Adapting to the spread of security threats, it has decentralized its operations to move trainings and assistance closer to the front in Northern and Central Mali. Improvements are noticeable as soldiers are able to return fire and can hold their position more successfully. In 2012, some soldiers had never fired a bullet before being deployed. Soldiers can now use weapons.
The linear deterioration of the security situation however contradicts this narrative. There are recurrent reports of desertions and selling of weapons to the enemy. EUTM’s initial goal of enabling the Malian civilian government to regain control of the northern regions has therefore failed, as several EUTM’ trained troops fled their posting and insufficient duration of EUTM trainings contributed to provoking such failures.
These failures can be partly explained by the fact that EUTM does not have an executive mandate. European institutions and EU member states have an oversight capacity which is conditioning EUTM’s scope of action. Malian authorities are also hampering any initiatives related to governance issues. Despite these limitations, EUTM has launched new initiatives to enhance its technical support to the Ministry of Defense, notably supporting the development of a new Human Resources management tool. However, ultimately, the EU and EUTM have the final word on their scope of action. European institutions design their programs and define their objectives, and they choose the recipients of their financial and technical support. They must therefore be held accountable, similarly to other international institutions, for the insufficiencies of their initiatives.
Hence, while the incapacity of EUTM to reflect on these failures can easily be linked to the absence of efficient monitoring capacities, it also reveals the inadequacy of the EU’s vision of governance when applied to field programming. The EU focuses on capacity-building rather than governance reforms. It prioritises immediate re-deployment rather than the fight against endemic corruption and often detaches its training programs from local needs and realities. Malians cannot “appropriate” all reforms, trainings and even material donations. If, for instance, Malian soldiers do not know how to drive, use or upkeep an offered vehicle, the intended operational benefit will be minimal. Similarly, if the EU conducts trainings without addressing structural human resource issues, the effects could be detrimental. The root causes behind insufficient improvements on the battleground have therefore not been addressed by European initiatives. In short, if the EU does not focus on governance properly, without obtaining, i.e. conditioning its support to, substantial institutional reform and without comprehensive monitoring of its support to Sahelian partners, the ownership and efficiency of capacity-building programs will always be insufficient.
The EU has indeed failed to encourage sufficient institutional reforms within the Malian army. In 2020, seven years after EUTM mandate was initiated, and despite its objective to achieve such reform, the Malian army still lacks a well-defined strategic orientation and the constant turnover of European contingents and, therefore, trainers’ nationalities mean that norms, practices, standards and tactical visions conveyed to Malian troops are often contradictory if not unintelligible when delivered in an approximate French.
Furthermore, the EU has also failed to contribute to addressing structural human resource issues prevailing in the Malian army and to place it at the centre of its action scope. Recruitment is still a pending issue. With only 16,500 active personnel, the Malian Army (Forces Armées Maliennes, FAMa) remain considerably understaffed for a country that stretches over one million square kilometres and shares borders with seven countries. Smaller neighbouring countries all have larger contingents: Senegal has roughly 19,000 enlistees, while Mauritania is staffed with 21,000 soldiers. As a direct result, an estimated 75% of Malian troops are engaged in military operations at any given point in time. EUTM trainings therefore lack in-shape and available candidates, and the best officers are often unavailable due to multiple (financially attractive) solicitations abroad, a counterproductive effect of the myriad of external security assistance initiatives. Hence, much like in 2012, the lack of support on the ground remains. Cohesion between and within units is simultaneously undermined by erratic human resource management. Basic information needed to build coherent career-paths and align resources with long-term needs, such as soldiers’ profiles or their areas of deployment, are missing. Recruitment, deployment and advancement depend on social connections (or ability to pay) rather than merit.
The EU has attempted to pressure the Malian Ministry of Defense to implement a new payroll system, which would prevent the misappropriation and embezzlement of soldiers’ low wages. Similarly to payroll, the Ministry of Defense is also plagued by corruption and limited oversight with respect to their procurement procedures. In 27 March 2020, prosecutor Mahamadou Kassogué announced that his team brought to light acts of embezzlement of public funds equivalent to approximately 15 million euros and over-invoicing for an amount exceeding 45 million euros, respectively linked to the acquisition of the presidential plane and overpriced arms contracts. Several of ex-President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (IBK)’s relatives, including his former chief of staff and ministers, were directly named in this case. Opposition leaders exploited these scandals to their advantages in the months leading to the coup.
In fact, if systemic corruption isn’t addressed, how can an underpaid, disenchanted and ill-motivated soldier be willing to sacrifice his life and trust the hierarchy? Enhancing the fight against corruption, engaging robust policies and resources to improve public ethic and management, is therefore detrimental. The key would be to (re)build a sentiment of justice and to restore trust in public institutions. It is critical to implement successful sustainable reform of the FAMa, and to recreate a sense of belonging among its ranks.
As mentioned, assisting feeble, long neglected and severely disorganized institutions such as Sahelian armies is by no means an easy task as they have been in a state of disarray for a long time. Since the early 1990s, armies have suffered “from underfunding, nepotism, under training, poor pay.” The legacy of colonialism also plays an important role in understanding why “(…) ethnic and tribal biases in the armed forces, persistent politicisation of the military, and weak operational capacity”, notably to explain why soldiers defected to join rebel ranks during the current conflicts in Niger or Mali. The EU has made steps in the right direction to improve its programming. Since early 2019, faced by increased accountability demands for its action due to the lack of concrete progress, the EU has decided to condition a (very) small part of its budget support to the Malian army in the advancement of the human resources reform project. Yet, this welcome evolution might be insufficient to have any leverage. European institutions are supposed to shell out money to manifest the organization’s efficiency and visibility, but is financial support sufficient?
The case of EUTM Mali is a perfect illustration of how an inadequate vision on governance can translate into highly counterproductive effects. Governance grievances cannot be countered as long as these attempted solutions do not include and address the role of government actors in it. The reason why research consensus on governance has found such little space for reflection in policy lies in the fact that it ultimately touches upon questions of national sovereignty and the fragile notion of “partnership” between the EU and its member states on the one hand, and Sahelian states on the other. If the right governing structures are not in place, if there is no accountability nor transparency linked to public decision making, if the justice system isn’t working, if corruption is not actively fought, then no amount of capacity-building can have long-lasting positive impact. As the latest report from the UN Security Council’s expert group on Mali highlights, capacity building can end up reinforcing the technical and financial means of the wrong people. Hence, the EU should consider revising its vision of governance in its strategy and programming.
EU Sahel initiatives such as EUTM Mali have prioritised capacity building and financial support over structural reforms. They have focused on state-building instead of re-founding the state by reforming justice institutions, tackling corruption and lacking accountability as reflected in human resource flaws. In public contestation against former president IBK that culminated in the military coup by the same armed forces the EU contributed to train, these three points of contestation figured prominently. The scant attention the EU has given to these aspects illustrates the failure of both Mali’s political elite and the international community. It calls for a critical look at the shortcomings of previous interventions as funding of EU programmes in Sahel constantly increases.
EU efforts in the Sahel remain heavily focused on the security-development nexus and a capacity-focused perception of governance. This approach falls short of addressing the underlying grievances of Sahelian citizens, which are just as much a consequence of state politics as of their absence. While resources will be further limited as a consequence of Covid-19, no quest for stability can attempt to replace long-term policy goals with short-term focus on military means. A renewed version of governance must entail a clear-eyed understanding of political dimensions of existing crisis, support for systemic reforms and inclusion of (non) parliamentary oppositions to allow for a more peaceful re-ordering of the state-society contract.
If they fail to do so, the EU and its member states risk complacency and being perceived as enabling and reinforcing an executive that is not only detached from citizen’s need but also predatory. The implication of soldiers trained and equipped by EUTM in a coup which overthrew a civilian government should be considered as a dire warning in this regard, especially when the EU mission is extending its reach to all Sahel countries. While responsibility for these acts lies with the national governments, this most recent incident is illustrative of the fact that re-enforcement and re-establishing of state authority is highly political, especially if it re-enforces a state that is considered illegitimate by many. Supporting the use of force through counter-terror operations is thus far from a non-political act, and in the worst-case scenario‚ contributes to propping up authoritarian inclinations.
It is fundamental for EU leadership to look at its strategic choices in the Sahel and to avoid perpetrating the same mistakes that were and are to this day being made in the central Sahel. The discrepancies outlined above do not only hold true for Mali, but similarly for Niger and Burkina Faso as they approach elections amid Covid-19 tensions and widespread insecurity. In particular choosing how and whether to reinforce EUCAP in Niger should be analysed in light of current developments in Mali. The example of Niger illustrates that the strengthening of executive functions is not solely limited to stabilisation missions, but can also accompany newly securitised issues such as migration.
Avenues for Improvement
For the EU to take into account these challenges, it will need to put governments at the centre of governance efforts. This means addressing the top-down mentality of international engagement, in which reform progress is hampered by limited buy-in and lack of ownership. It also means taking into account the role that international interventions – far from being technical solutions – play in shaping the balance of power in favour of contested sovereignties. Lastly, no governance efforts will be sustainable if they are not led by a priority ofaccountability. Fighting corruption and impunity should not be just another bullet-point on a long checklist of sustainable peacebuilding, but at the centre of it. It has a two-fold benefit as it addresses the structural limitations of EU reform processes – as outlined in the case study of EUTM – and simultaneously will allow citizens to hold their government and administrations into account.
These challenges combined illustrate the necessity to take the revision of the EU Sahel strategy as an occasion to not simply continue with the previous approach but to rethink what works and what doesn’t. Despite this urgency, conversations with policy makers in Brussels, The Hague, Rome, Berlin and – most importantly – Paris point to a lack of substantial changes to the 2011 strategy. It is imperative that the guiding document for European action for the years to come and the groundwork for the next Sahel Action Plan does not represent a missed chance for the EU to truly investigate their successes and failures.
 Shkolnik M. (2016), “Mowing the Grass” and Operation Protective Edge: Israel’s strategy for protracted asymmetric conflict with Hamas, Canadian Foreign Policy Journal; Guichaoua Y. (2015), L’impasse du Contre Terrorisme au Sahel, The Conversation.
 Final report of the Panel of Experts established pursuant to Security Council resolution 2374 (2017) on Mali, Un Security Council, August 2020
 Mac Ginty, R. (2012), Against Stabilization in Stability: International Journal of Security and Development, 1(1), pp.20–30
 Signe Marie Cold-Ravnkilde, Katja Lindskov Jacobsen, Disentangling the security traffic jam in the Sahel: constitutive effects of contemporary interventionism, International Affairs, Volume 96, Issue 4, July 2020, Pages 855–874.
 “Livelihoods from these activities [small business activities conducted in the streets and/
or in crowded, open markets] were threatened and, in some cases, lost because of curfews and closure of markets imposed by the authorities in an effort to contain the virus”. https://www.policycenter.ma/sites/default/files/PB-20-67_0.pdf
 Charbonneau Bruno (2017) Intervention in Mali: building peace between peacekeeping and counterterrorism, Journal of Contemporary African Studies, 35:4, 415-431, DOI: 10.1080/02589001.2017.1363383
 Bilaterally through French operation Barkhane; multilaterally through the new task force Takuba; or regionally through the G5 Sahel
 Carter Center series of reports on the implementation of the Peace Agreement.
 Tull Denis (2020), German and International Crisis Management in the Sahel Why Discussions about Sahel Policy Are Going around in Circles
 Tull D., The European Union Training Mission and the Struggle for a New Model Army in Mali, IRSEM, 11th February 2020.
 Panel d’Experts du Comité de Sanctions sur le Mali, Rapport Final août 2019, New-York, Conseil de Sécurité des Nations Unies
 Boisvert Marc-André, “2012 : L’étrange défaite de l’armée malienne,” 18 January 2017.
 Smith Sean & al. (2019), Building Integrity in Mali’s Military and Security Sectors: an overview of institutional safeguards, Transparency International
 Tull D., The European Union Training Mission and the Struggle for a New Model Army in Mali, IRSEM, 11th February 2020.
 In addition, whilst the majority of soldiers have notions of French, not all troop do master this language perfectly.
 Data.worldbank.org. Armed forces personnel, total | Data | Table. 2018.
 Ibid. Tull 2020
 Amnesty International, Mali : risque de chaos dans le nord si les combats continuent, 17 février 2012
 Sana E. (2013), « L’armée malienne, entre instabilité, inégalités sociales et luttes de places » in La guerre au Mali, Dir. Galy M., Cahiers libres, Paris, pp. 106-124.
 “Intervening in Mali: West African Nations Plan Offensive against Islamist and Tuareg Rebels”, Andrew McGregor, Terrorism Monitor, Vol. 10, No 13, June 29, 2012, p. 10.
 Ouédraogo E. Advancing Military Professionalism In Africa. Washington D.C.: Africa Center for Strategic Studies; 2014:16.
 Panel d’Experts du Comité de Sanctions sur le Mali, Rapport Final août 2019, New-York, Conseil de Sécurité des Nations Unies
 Final report of the Panel of Experts established pursuant to Security Council resolution 2374 (2017) on Mali, Un Security Council, August 2020
 Panel d’Experts du Comité de Sanctions sur le Mali, Rapport Final août 2020, New-York, Conseil de Sécurité des Nations Unies
EU Observer, September 2020
The Josep Borrell mandate for the African continent, sketched last February on his first visit to Addis Ababa as the new EU high representative, highlights the need for an effective partnership of equals with Africa.
Such guideline is particularly relevant now that EU Commissioner von der Leyen also outlined at the State of the Union last week that Europe will “use its diplomatic strength to broker agreements that make a difference”, showcasing an interest to make Europe a more forceful international actor.
Read more at the link — https://euobserver.com/opinion/149519
Wavell Room, July 2020
“Influence should not be set as an objective in itself. The exercise of influence is a means to an end.” This is one of the many truisms permeating the UK’s Iraq Report, which was published in 2016 following years of national soul searching attempted to answer the questions: What went wrong? And, how can the UK avoid the same mistakes again?
Despite efforts to improve UK strategy making, it is still unclear how well it has learned some of these lessons – especially the dangers of putting influence with allies above strategy. One of the key criticisms of the UK’s involvement in the Iraq War was that it was more important to “stand shoulder to shoulder” with the U.S. than to develop an end goal or assess the prospects for success. This not only resulted in the UK being part of a disastrous and destructive war, but led to a breakdown in trust between the Government and the British public and parliament.
This particular risk may well be tested with the UK’s upcoming deployment of 250 troops to Mali to support the UN mission in the country. These troops are additional to “the existing commitment of three UK Chinooks and accompanying personnel deployed in support of the French-led counter-terrorism operation” in the region (known as Operation Barkhane). The new British forces will provide a reconnaissance task group to provide intelligence and situational awareness to the UN Integrated Stabilization Mission for Mali (MINUSMA). This is a significant contribution of British forces to the frontline of a UN peacekeeping mission and could be the most dangerous mission for British forces since Afghanistan.
Many UK officials and soldiers acknowledge that this deployment, while aligned with the UK’s commitment to peacekeeping, is largely about building international relations with European allies (and especially France) given the UK’s decision to leave the European Union. In fact, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said in evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) that its pivot to the region will “support our alliances with international partners such as France, Germany and the [African Union] as we exit the European Union.” A British soldier we spoke to put it more bluntly: “post-Brexit we need trade deals with France.”
It is a common trope to compare contemporary deployments with Iraq, and this article does not try and suggest there are many similarities between the two campaigns; however, it does argue that there is a danger of once again prioritising influence above strategy. As such, there are two important lessons from Iraq that policymakers should consider when making decisions about Mali:
- The UK must be clear about its various objectives and how it plans to mitigate potential conflicts between them.
- The UK must focus on how to improve the existing international efforts to build sustainable peace – not on how to use military deployments to achieve influence.
Unless it considers these two lessons carefully, the UK may repeat many of the same mistakes. In doing so, it could poorly account for the potential risks, undermine domestic support, add to the fragmentation and ineffectiveness of international peace-building efforts, and fail to build meaningful influence.
Being clear about its objectives
The UK commitment to MINUSMA – and continued support of Barkhane – appear to be designed to fulfil two strategic objectives. First, it hopes to demonstrate continued commitment to multilateralism through the UN; second, it hopes to further build the bilateral relationship with France in the aftermath of Brexit.
Strategically these objectives are largely compatible, and the deployment could be considered an efficient way of achieving them both; however, at the operational and tactical level such a split focus can become problematic. While Operation Barkhane and MINUSMA seek to stabilise the Sahel, they approach the problem from different directions. The French mission is largely focused on counter-terrorism objectives; while MINUSMA’s mandate is focused on implementing the peace process in Mali and uphold the protection of civilians. There are, then, clear differences between the two missions, which could make delivering both objectives challenging.
This is made more difficult because it remains unclear how the UK’s contributions to Barkhane and MINUSMA relate. For instance, there are a number of questions about whether the UK helicopters committed to Barkhane could be used to help UK forces committed to MINUSMA (especially given MINSUMA is “urgently in need of more air assets”). Similarly, the UK contribution to MINUSMA is focussed on intelligence, a sensitive subject in any UN mission. At the very least, there will be a perception that British forces will have access to information via their commitment to Barkhane and their intelligence sharing relationships with the U.S., which is also active in the region. Any incident that led to a perception that the UK did not share information that could have saved the lives of civilians or other troops would be very disruptive to the mission.
Unfortunately, these risks have not been properly discussed by the British Government. Following the initial announcement, there has been minimal parliamentary or public debate about the deployment. For instance, there has been very little clarity about why the UK chose to move UK forces to Mali and how it will interact with other UK commitments on the continent. The government was criticised by the FAC for calling its approach to Africa a ‘Strategy’; instead the Committee said it amounted to “effectively a bunch of bullet points” which made it difficult to criticise or even engage with effectively.
This is a mistake; continued public discussion as well as parliamentary oversight of the mission is essential. As the most dangerous UN mission, MINUSMA is not without risk. The lack of public discussion risks a reaction like that seen in the US after the death of four soldiers in Niger in 2017 which led politicians and policymakers to question the nature of the US military commitment in the Sahel and Africa more generally. A strategic shock to the British contingent in MINUSMA – such as UK fatalities – could lead to a broader debate about whether UK forces should be deployed into UN missions all together, echoing the perceived failure of UNPROFOR in the Balkans in the mid-1990s. In other words, choosing not to be transparent now, could lead to broader unintended consequences later.
Helping international peace and stability
The Iraq War also showed that numerous actors adding small contributions to build influence and their own international reputation was deeply problematic. Many nations were there to reaffirm ties with the US and NATO in case their own national interests were threatened nearer to home, and not because they prioritised long-term prospects of peace and stability in Iraq. This argument was certainly made about the so-called “New Europe” countries like Estonia and Bulgaria. The consequence of this was that the international community lacked a united strategy and “compounded” many of Iraq’s existing problems. Iraq expert Emma Sky said in an interview with ORG: “There is no “international community” as such – rather an array of external actors who pursue their own interests in Iraq.”
There is a danger of this happening again in the Sahel. There are numerous actors engaged, including: large national footprints from the US and France, international engagement through the EU and the UN, and regional multilateral deployment like the G5 Sahel Joint Force. Many of the other individual countries engaged in the region are there to, among other things, build international reputation, reaffirm ties with countries like France and the US and support the EU in tackling illegal migration. While they care about the long-term peace and stability of the Sahel, these other objectives often take priority.
This can lead to a less effective international effort. It can create a situation where countries provide a host nation with military support because this is what will achieve political access and influence, even though regional stability would be better served by a greater focus on, say, poverty or corruption reduction. For instance, at an ORG-run expert roundtable, one participant said of the international effort in Niger, “it is one of the poorest countries in the world, but the focus on food security has fallen on deaf ears, while at the same time there is a whole list of countries queueing up for providing more military support.”
One way to avoid this is to focus much more on what the countries in the Sahel need, rather than what the UK wants out of it. Some commentators have recommended providing small-scale specialist capabilities to fill gaps in the international contribution as a means to do this. For instance, Nina Wilén complimented Belgian Special Forces for working with Nigerien forces to develop first aid kits that are essential and sustainable, as local troops can build such tools without a need for external support or materials. Similarly, the UK’s last major UN deployment – in UNMISS in South Sudan – provided a field hospital and, with it, a context in which troop contributors felt happier to commit, knowing that their troops could receive appropriate medical care in an area known not only for conflict violence but tropical diseases.
Both these examples speak to the fact that the most useful UK contribution may be non-military. Some of the greatest drivers of terrorism in the Sahel are political, such as a sense of injustice or the need to be employed. It is, then, unsurprising that a militarised response has often been ineffective. For instance, it has led to the supporting or condoning of self-defence groups, who were recently accused of committing more human rights abuses and violations in Mali than terrorist organisations.
The UK has already acknowledged this in evidence to the FAC, when the FCO noted: “The four thematic areas [of prosperity, security and stability, climate change and sustainable natural resource management, demographic transition] … all come together in the Sahel.” However, the deployment of more soldiers to Mali adds to a growing narrative that the solution is more military means. This can be seen in statements from various commentators and policymakers, most recently typified at the European Parliament level, with a report proposed by MEP Javier Nart. The UK could play a powerful role in bucking this trend, if it practiced what it preached and focussed on the real issues facing the region.
Nor would such an approach necessarily risk its international reputation and influence. Several experts interviewed by ORG suggested that such an approach may well help the UK’s international reputation, stating that in some parts of the world we are “perceived … as hypocrites.” Similarly, while countries like Russia, China and Iran have deployed their militarily abroad, much of their influence comes more from infrastructure, trade and religious ties than military means. In fact, a CSIS brief recently argued that the way to build influence is not through small-scale military deployments but through “an integrated campaign approach that elevates information, diplomacy, economic incentives, and private-sector and civil society engagement tools.”
Conclusion: Getting influence right
The Iraq War is an important reminder of the dangers of prioritising influence with partners above delivering peace and stability in the places the UK intervenes. Doing so, risks the worst of both worlds, where the UK fails to build lasting influence among its allies and, at the same time, exacerbates the drivers of conflict in the places it intervenes.
The UK’s deployment to Mali is, of course, very different to its contribution to Iraq; however, there are important lessons that it should bear in mind. UK policymakers must clearly communicate differing objectives and how it plans to mitigate against contradictions between them. This will make for a more robust debate about why UK soldiers are being sent into harm’s way. Policymakers should also consider how seeking influence over peace and stability may fragment rather than help international efforts.
As the UK embarks on the Integrated Review and attempts to define its place in the world over the next five years, these lessons may be even more important now than ever. When considering how to prioritise its objectives, it is essential to remember that influence is not an end in itself. The UK must instead have a clear end goal, focused on securing national interests but also on helping the international community work towards a safer and more prosperous world for all. Only then can it consider how influence with other nations might help deliver this.
PeaceLab, April 2020
Nadia Ahidjo – Bram Dijkstra – Delina Goxho
Niger and Burkina Faso are among the countries with most confirmed cases of COVID-19 in sub-Saharan Africa and numbers are increasing rapidly in Mali. Governments in all three countries have announced a state of emergency and imposed curfews, border closures, and full or partial lockdowns to contain the outbreak. In Europe, such measures have shown to be necessary but painful; in the central Sahel they risk further instability by disrupting livelihoods and access to essential services.
Increase Humanitarian Funding and Adjust Existing Engagement
The countries of the Sahel now face a triple threat: the pandemic, climate change, and conflict. An estimated 24 million people across the region are in need of urgent humanitarian aid and the number of displaced people reached 5.2 million – making it one of the fastest growing displacement crises in the world. Despite the UN Secretary-General’s recent call for a global ceasefire, fighting and attacks continue. Already, casualties from terrorist attacks have exponentially increased over the years – Burkina Faso alone saw a 2150% increase in fatalities from 2018 to 2019.
German and European governments should urgently increase humanitarian funding and adjust their existing engagement in the region towards combatting the virus. But German policymakers should also look beyond the pandemic – where real international leadership is needed – and use this moment to re-evaluate a European policy approach that has failed to stabilize the region.
Suspended Diplomatic Initiatives and Limits to Troop Deployments Will Worsen the Situation
A first obstacle is the suspension of international diplomatic initiatives as governments in Europe and the Sahel struggle to deal with the containment of the crisis and its political and economic fallouts. An EU-Sahel Summit foreseen for 26 March has been postponed until further notice. This year’s process to renew an EU-wide Sahel strategy is in flux, making an already opaque process even less accessible for rights groups advocating a change of course.
Similarly, security forces are already trying to limit interventions, which will inevitably lead to operational shortcomings in the region’s security coalitions. By comparison, US, British and French forces are already withdrawing some or all of their troops from Iraq. The French Ministry of Armed Forces is considering to alter the rotation of French troops stationed in the Sahel as a result of the health crisis. As a prolonged pandemic could make it difficult to deploy new personnel to peacekeeping operations terrorist groups will seek to exploit instability and chaos to gain support. While the added value of overlapping and shifting security interventions has rightfully been contested hasty drawdowns can endanger civilian lives in the short term.
Use the Opportunity to Change the European Debate on the Sahel
State and non-state groups alike may seek to tighten civic and political space to entrench their positions under the pretence of corona containment. In Niger, at least three people were killed last month by security forces during protests and several well-known human rights defenders have been imprisoned in connection with the lockdown. Tampering with electoral timelines in Niger and Burkina Faso – both set to go to the polls this year – could increase social and political unrest in already low-trust contexts. The inability to deploy international monitoring bodies would further challenge the integrity of the vote and other already mistrusted institutions.
German policymakers should use the opportunity of the current dynamic to refocus the debate on the Sahel and overcome a sense of ‘Sahel fatigue’ in Brussels and European capitals. Domestically, that will be a test for the whole-of-government approach it has invested in, for instance through the establishment of an inter-ministerial Sahel Task Force as well as an Operations Manual based on the 2017 Guidelines on Preventing Crises, Resolving Conflicts, Building Peace.
This coordinated approach needs to be elevated at multilateral level, too. Germany’s role in the Alliance for the Sahel body, its holding of the EU Council Presidency in the second half of the year and its co-hosting of a pledging conference for the Sahel in June provide platforms to advocate for coherence and to review a European approach to an increasingly strategic region in the EU’s foreign policy outlook.
Berlin needs to overcome its deference to France
This would mean overcoming its deference to France, which has traditionally dominated European decision-making on the Sahel but is also faced with increasing anti-French hostility in the region. Germany, on the other hand, is perceived as a more neutral actor but has not sufficiently capitalised on this advantage. As has previously been argued on the PeaceLab blog, Berlin can use this advantage to push for a more comprehensive strategy that places politics at the heart of a solution. This would give greater weight to peacebuilding approaches that seek to mitigate civilian harm, protect human rights and involve civil society and local governance structures. But more than that, it would require a focus on domestic politics including the revamping of a moribund peace accord and taking steps towards inclusive dialogue.
German policymakers are right to be sceptical of the French counter-terrorism approach. A more comprehensive strategy would address underlying issues of governance, access to health and education, and livelihoods.
German policymakers are right to be sceptical of the French counter-terrorism approach. A more comprehensive strategy would address underlying issues of governance, access to health and education, and livelihoods. In addition, in the highly opaque decision-making context on security in the Sahel there is an absence of spaces for civil society to directly engage with donors on their needs and the impacts of military cooperation and security intervention. Germany should advocate for donor governments to involve those communities most affected by violence and displacement on their needs to both create better policy solutions and to legitimize these voices at home. A continued European focus on military engagement – in a region where governments and their security forces can be predatory, corrupt or lack the capacity to meet the needs of their people – risks diminishing the very bonds between governments and citizens it professes to support.
The current coronavirus pandemic will shift European resources inwards in order to attend to domestic needs and keep their economies afloat. But European solidarity should extend beyond its borders if it aims to offer a meaningful partnership with Africa. Only months ago, German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer suggested Germany could not allow itself to “duck away” from responsibility in the Sahel without facing serious security consequences. Berlin should shift its approach accordingly.
On January French President announced a new Coalition for the Sahel, to tackle with the security and development challenges in the region. But public debate in some countries about why so many organisations and countries are engaging in the region and what they hope to achieve has been lacking.
On January 13th in Pau, French President Emmanuel Macron announced a new Coalition for the Sahel, which will rest on 4 pillars of action: counterterrorism, military capacity-building, redeployment of state authority and development. Macron believes that there is a need for a stronger coalition in order to tackle the many challenges in the region. This is due to two factors: a change in the security dimension since the first French intervention in Mali in 2013, as now the number of armed groups has increased and such groups have spread across the region. Secondly, local support for the French mission Barkhane is rapidly decreasing, pushing Paris to search for broader participation from EU member states. The United States in turn, appear to be reluctant to act more forcefully, as Chief of Staff Mark Milley declared in Brussels after the summit.
Pau was chosen as the location for the Summit because seven of the thirteen French soldiers killed in Mali in a helicopter accident on November 25th last year were based there. This choice is emblematic of Macron’s view of the situation: French lives are being sacrificed to protect the citizens of the Sahel, as he declared at the news conference. The helicopters were supporting a ground operation fighting insurgents near the borders of Burkina Faso and Niger. In light of this shocking incident it is more important than ever that France – and other countries engaged in the Sahel – assess the effectiveness of their strategy in the region to avoid suffering other losses in vain.
The accident occurred while the helicopters were reinforcing ground troops pursuing insurgents in the Liptako region, near the borders of Burkina Faso and Niger. French forces first intervened in early 2013 at the request of the Malian government when insurgent groups gained control over the northern part of Mali. In 2014, France changed the nature of their operations with the aim of working with local and regional allies to prevent these groups from regaining control.
However, in the past few years, instability has continued and even increased. Since January 2019, more than 1,500 civilians have been killed in Burkina Faso and Mali, and more than one million people have been internally displaced across the Sahel – more than twice the number of persons displaced in 2018.
In response, the French government has continued calls for help from regional and international actors. The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) was also established in 2013 to support political processes in the country and carry out a number of security-related tasks. In addition, aside from the above-mentioned Opération Barkhane, France has also recently announced its new international special operations task force Takuba, which should be operational as of this year. Another French-led initiative to counter instability in the region has been the creation of the G5 Joint Force, which aims to train and deploy up to 5,000 personnel from the five member states. The stated intention of the G5 Joint Force is to replace Opération Barkhane and EU CSDP missions with the G5 Sahel Joint Force, however there appears to be no timeline for when such an objective should be achieved.
The EU and its member have spent €8 billion on development assistance in the Sahel alone, along with billions more on security, capacity building, and other programmes between 2014 and 2020. A number of countries have also promised to significantly increase their presence in the region this year. For instance, the UK has committed to deploy 250 soldiers in 2020 to support MINUSMA, while Denmark has promised to send 10 troops to MINUSMA and another 70 to Opération Barkhane. Germany is training the police and the gendarmerie in Burkina Faso and has pledged 10 millions for equipment, and a similar amount for advising troops by the Ministry of Defence.
Current dynamics and challenges
However, despite years of training (and huge financial commitment) the capabilities of the Malian armed forces remain poor. As French officials acknowledge, local security forces remain “woefully under-equipped and under-financed for shouldering the anti-jihadist fight despite years of French engagement”. In contrast, some analysts indicate that the armed groups on the ground are becoming increasingly skilled and command structures increasingly fluid. Bruno Clément-Bollée told the BBC that: “The rise in strength of the jihadists is a reality we can no longer deny.” In fact, just as France announced the death last month of Ali Maychou (a Moroccan leader of the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM)), the country sustained a wave of insurgency strikes on army outposts and other targets. This is part of a broader pattern in which the number of violent events linked to militant Islamic group activity in the Sahel has been doubling every year since 2016.
In fact, far from stemming the violence – international engagement often appears to be exacerbating instability. In some areas, predatory states have further alienated the civilian population and pushed them more towards extremist groups. During interviews the Remote Warfare Programme undertook in Mali, soldiers said that “[i]njustice is actually a huge motivator among the people […] who end up joining [extremist] groups.” Similarly, an International Alert study on young Fulani people in the regions of Mopti (Mali), Sahel (Burkina Faso) and Tillabéri (Niger) found “real or perceived state abuse is the number one factor behind young people’s decision to join violent extremist groups.”
Added to this, the EU is currently training large numbers of local troops in basic soldiering without exerting much pressure on the government in Bamako to introduce structural reforms. This is despite the fact the Malian Armed Forces (and government) have been accused of ethnic bias. This is particularly true “when it comes to relying on ethnic self-defence forces operating in the central and northern regions of the country to provide security where they cannot (or will not) operate.” Accelerating the growth of an unrepresentative force in the context of on-going conflicts between different ethnicities, especially in Mali could be extremely detrimental to long-term security. This, coupled with the many security-oriented strategies currently unfolding in the region, indicates a lack of a coherent strategy for international forces.
Asking for an end state
Yet, despite these challenges, the public debate in some countries about why so many organisations and countries are engaging in the region and what they hope to achieve has been lacking. France’s unwillingness to discuss its strategy for the Sahel has led a number of critics to claim that it lacks one and risks becoming bogged down in a fight it cannot win without significant new investments in soldiers and material. Some have even referred to Mali as “France’s Afghanistan” because they “no longer know what to do.” However, despite growing concern over its approach, there seems to be a continued unwillingness to engage with French and international public and civil society over its aims, strategy and the dangers of the current approach.
The same appears true of the UK. Many British soldiers, officials and commentators worried that the UK’s “Pivot to the Sahel” lacked sufficient consideration and was based more on political signalling, primarily for the benefit of France, than a belief that the UK could positively contribute to peace and stability in the region. However, it has been unwilling to engage in a debate over what its strategy is. For instance, the government was criticised by the Foreign Affairs committee for calling its approach to Africa a ‘Strategy’, instead the committee said it amounted to “effectively a bunch of bullet points” which made it much more difficult to criticise or even engage with effectively. This approach is not true of all countries providing troops to the region.
Unlike France and the UK, the Danish government has been willing to engage and debate its strategy for the Sahel. For instance, some politicians have raised serious challenges, particularly in regards to its support to Opération Barkhane, arguing that the contribution would be based on a desire to please the US, UK, and France, rather than a careful consideration of the strategic value of the contribution. Some also worried that it would contribute to an international effort which is not taking sufficient account of the needs of local and regional partners. The Danish parliament still voted to support both the UN mission and Opération Barkhane, however its government was forced to publicly address potential dangers before its deployment and explain how they would be mitigated against.
The November accident reveals one of these dangers, and as instability continues in the Sahel it is likely more soldiers and civilians will pay the price for international counterterrorism objectives. Denmark’s approach to engagement in Mali, then, may provide some important lessons for others. In particular, countries like France and – after its upcoming deployment – the UK need to be frank and honest about what their objectives are and how they intend to achieve them.
Facts and figures
European presence in Mali and Sahel
UK contributions to Mali and the Sahel more broadly
UK deployment in Mali: In July 2018, three Chinook helicopters supported by approximately 90 British troops arrived to support operation Barkhane. In 2020, the UK will deploy “a long-range reconnaissance task group of 250 personnel” to support the United Nations multidimensional integrated stabilisation mission in Mali (on top of £49.5 million already pledged to the mission as part of the UK’s regular contributions to UN peacekeeping missions).
– In March 2019, Harriett Baldwin, then Minister for Africa, said “[t]otal UK spending on development in Nigeria, bringing together all the different Departments…is £319 million.”
– The UK has trained over 30 000 Nigerian forces by October 2019
– In 2016, the UK government raised the number of British training teams working with the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and the Somali National Army (SNA) from 12 to 30 accompanied by a pledge for an additional £21 million of funding.
– Up to 70 British troops have also been deployed under United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia
– The British Peace support team Africa (based near nairobi) trains regional troops participating in peacekeeping missions. for instance, it has trained – among others – over 700 Zambian and 6000 Ugandan peacekeepers for Un and African Union (AU) deployments to the central African republic and somalia.36 in 2017, it widened its geographic mandate from east Africa to cover the whole continent.
– Italy will soon deploy approximately 470 troops and 130 vehicles and two airplanes to Niger in an effort to curb illegal migration
The EU and UN
– The EU and its member states are projected to spend €8 billion on development assistance in the Sahel alone, along with billions more on security, capacity building, and other programmes between 2014 and 2020. The EU supports a number of security initiatives: it has already provided €100 million to establish the African led G5 Sahel Joint Force which aims to improve security 3 csdp missions. The Council extended the mandate of the EU mission EUCAP Sahel Mali until January 2021 and allocated it a budget of almost EUR67 million.
– Mali is the most dangerous country in the world for UN peacekeepers: By August 2019, 123 peacekeepers had died and 358 have been severely wounded in the ongoing counter-insurgency operations.
Civilian casualties in the Sahel
– Between January and mid-November 2019, 1500 civilians have been killed in Burkina Faso
– In the same period, more than 1.000.000 have been internally displaced in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Mauritania and Chad. This is more than twice the number displaced in 2018.
The number of reported violent events linked to militant Islamic group activity in the Sahel has also been doubling every year since 2016 (from 90 in 2016 to 194 in 2017 to 465 in 2018). Reported fatalities linked to militant Islamist groups have similarly doubled in recent years (from 218 in 2016 to 529 in 2017 to 1,110 in 2018) – as well as targeting the civilian population, these groups directly target foreign troops and the UN mission in the country.
Le forze occidentali sperimentano in Somalia e in Sahel un tipo di conflitto che non prevede l’invio di nutriti contingenti armati e utilizza al suo posto nuclei speciali, droni, contractors. Tra le controindicazioni un aumento delle vittime civili.
Nel settembre 2019 membri di al-Shabaab, un gruppo terrorista con base in Somalia, hanno attaccato un convoglio italiano nella capitale Mogadiscio e la base militare statunitense di Baledogle. Due attacchi tanto imprevisti quanto sottovalutati. La ragione di questa analisi insufficiente dipende in gran parte dalla natura delle recenti azioni in teatri di guerra stranieri: Paesi come Stati Uniti e Italia dispiegano un numero limitato di forze per affrontare gruppi ribelli o terroristi, con l’obiettivo di contenere i costi per le proprie truppe. Gli attacchi, tuttavia, non andrebbero letti come un incidente isolato ma come sintomo di un problema più ampio. E dovrebbero spingere il governo statunitense e i vari governi europei coinvolti in conflitti esteri a rivalutare la presunta assenza di rischio, non solo per le proprie truppe ma anche per la stabilità dei Paesi oggetto di intervento a distanza.
I due attacchi sono una perfetta illustrazione dei pericoli legati alla “guerra remota”, quella che si combatte quando l’intervento non avviene attraverso l’invio di grandi contingenti armati. La definizione è dell’Oxford Research Group (ORG), un istituto di ricerca con sede a Londra: secondo i ricercatori di ORG, guerra remota è “lo sforzo da parte di attori esterni di evitare il modello di contro-insorgenza (COIN) associato all’intervento statunitense in Afghanistan e Iraq e di focalizzarsi invece su altri modelli, quali l’invio di forze speciali, l’utilizzo di droni armati -l’arma simbolo di questo approccio-, il dispiegamento di contractors privati, l’assistenza attraverso il servizio di intelligence, l’invio di attrezzature e il training a milizie locali”.
Paesi come Stati Uniti e Italia dispiegano un numero limitato di forze per affrontare gruppi ribelli o terroristi, con l’obiettivo di limitare i costi per le proprie truppe
L’utilizzo di droni in particolare è legato all’interpretazione legale di “guerra globale al terrore”, applicata dagli Stati Uniti per giustificare uccisioni mirate in Pakistan, Siria, Yemen e Somalia. Non solo Usa, però: anche Israele, Turchia, Cina, Nigeria, Regno Unito, Francia e ora anche l’Italia fanno un uso globale di droni armati. Dan Gettinger del Center for the Study of the Drone a Washington riporta che la spesa per droni statunitense è salita del 21% nel 2018 rispetto al 2017. Phil Finnegan di Teal Group afferma che “la produzione globale di droni dovrebbe più che raddoppiare in un decennio, da 4,9 miliardi di dollari nel 2018 a 10,7 miliardi nel 2027, con un tasso di crescita annuo del nove per cento”. L’Unione europea intanto sta per lanciare il suo primo Fondo per la Difesa: se approvato dal Parlamento europeo, dovrebbe ammontare a circa 13 miliardi di euro in sette anni.
Ma nessuna guerra può essere chirurgica, priva di costi ed efficace allo stesso tempo: portare avanti guerre remote può essere percepito come vantaggioso, ma ha delle ricadute che aggravano il bilancio dell’intervento. Sia in Sahel sia in Somalia, dove è in corso un peggioramento della situazione di sicurezza, esacerbato da altre dinamiche interne, è vitale per gli attori esterni che hanno scelto di intervenire farlo con una strategia coerente e che tenga conto soprattutto di quelli che sono i bisogni della popolazione locale.
10,7 miliardi di dollari: il valore stimato del mercato dei droni nel 2027. Nel 2018 si è fermato a 4,9 miliardi
Le forze italiane attaccate a fine settembre del 2019 facevano parte di EUTM Somalia, una “missione militare dell’Unione europea che ha il compito di contribuire all’addestramento delle forze armate nazionali somale (Somali National Armed Forces, o SNA)”. La Somalia è una delle aree d’intervento delle politiche di sicurezza e difesa (CSDP) dell’Unione Europea. Paul Williams del Wilson Center osserva che “per oltre un decennio, una dozzina di Stati e organizzazioni multilaterali hanno investito tempo, sforzi, attrezzature e centinaia di milioni di dollari per costruire un’efficace esercito nazionale somalo. Finora hanno fallito”. Lo SNA conta “circa 29mila unità sul suo libro paga” ma molti sono soldati fantasma e quando le forze della missione dell’Unione africana in Somalia (AMISOM) si ritirano dai territori “la sicurezza tende a deteriorarsi in modo significativo ed è al-Shabaab a colmare il vuoto”. Gravi problemi affliggono anche l’impegno del comando africano degli Stati Uniti (AFRICOM) nel Paese. Ella Knight di Amnesty International ha documentato almeno sei casi in cui si ritiene che gli attacchi aerei statunitensi in Somalia abbiano provocato vittime civili e tutto questo in un’area geografica limitata.
Nessuna guerra può essere chirurgica, priva di costi ed efficace allo stesso tempo: portare avanti guerre remote ha ricadute che aggravano il bilancio delle operazioni
Nel caso dell’intervento europeo e americano in Somalia le questioni aperte sono due: prima di tutto il training delle milizie governative locali ha portato a soprusi verso la popolazione, accrescendo paradossalmente la reputazione di al-Shabaab. Inoltre, la guerra remota attraverso droni ha fatto un numero ancora imprecisato di vittime civili, non riconosciute dagli Stati Uniti, contribuendo alla percezione negativa che la popolazione civile ha di questi interventi armati. In ultima istanza, anche le truppe (in questo caso italiane e statunitensi) sul territorio sono vittima di rappresaglie da parte di gruppi armati.
Anche il Sahel è un teatro di conflitti, dove sempre più Paesi, non solo occidentali, stanno intervenendo con le tattiche della guerra remota. Ma anche qui il costo dell’intervento non è da sottovalutare. Il 25 novembre scorso in Mali due elicotteri delle forze armate francesi si sono scontrati, uccidendo tredici soldati. La presenza delle truppe francesi rimanda a quanto accaduto nel dicembre 2013: allora, truppe francesi sotto l’egida dell’Operazione Serval erano intervenute in Mali per fermare l’avanzata di milizie armate verso la capitale Bamako; l’operazione, conclusa con successo, aveva dato il via a un altro intervento francese nella regione. A partire dal 2014 l’Operazione Barkhane intende fornire supporto nel lungo termine all’intera regione.
L’impegno internazionale sembra spesso esacerbare l’instabilità. L’abuso di Stato reale o percepito è un fattore alla base della decisione di unirsi a gruppi estremisti violenti
La missione di stabilizzazione integrata multidimensionale delle Nazioni Unite in Mali (MINUSMA) è stata istituita nel 2013 anche al fine di addestrare le forze regionali della Joint Force G5 Sahel. L’Unione europea ha istituto tre missioni di sicurezza e difesa in Mali e Niger, e sta procedendo a una maggiore regionalizzazione della propria presenza attraverso le Cellule Regionali di Consiglio e Coordinazione (RACC).
L’European Union Training Mission in Mali, in particolare, rientra nella definizione di assistenza a forze di sicurezza, in quanto fornisce addestramento militare a forze armate maliane. Tale contributo fa parte di uno sforzo più ampio per condurre operazioni a distanza nella regione: anche gli Stati Uniti hanno da poco costruito la base aerea 201 ad Agadez, un futuro hub per droni armati e altri velivoli. La presenza degli Stati Uniti nel Sahel è notevolmente aumentata negli ultimi anni, così come quella tedesca, britannica e italiana.
In Niger la presenza militare straniera ha avuto impatti negativi sulla libertà di parola e molti leader dell’opposizione hanno lamentato la mancanza di controllo parlamentare
L’impegno internazionale però sembra spesso esacerbare l’instabilità, come hanno affermato alcuni gruppi della società civile. International Alert riporta che tra giovani Fulani nelle regioni di Mopti (Mali), Sahel (Burkina Faso) e Tillabéri (Niger) “l’abuso di stato reale o percepito è il fattore numero uno alla base della decisione di unirsi a gruppi estremisti violenti. L’Unione europea sta attualmente addestrando truppe locali senza (però) esercitare pressioni sul governo di Bamako per introdurre riforme strutturali”. Proprio in Mali la questione è particolarmente problematica: secondo Abigail Watson dell’Oxford Research Group “forze armate e governo maliani sono accusati di favorire un gruppo etnico rispetto ad un altro”. Favorire un particolare gruppo all’interno di conflitti tra diverse etnie si è dimostrato essere estremamente dannoso per la sicurezza a lungo termine. Il governo nigerino ha accolto con favore la presenza di truppe statunitensi, purché contribuiscano allo sradicamento dell’attività terroristica nel Paese. La società civile in Niger però sembra diffidare di tale presenza. Un’inchiesta del Guardian nel 2018 segnalava che la presenza militare straniera ha avuto impatti negativi sulla libertà di parola e molti leader dell’opposizione hanno lamentato la mancanza di controllo parlamentare ogni volta che la presenza straniera è autorizzata. Gli Stati Uniti non hanno chiarito le loro intenzioni strategiche a lungo termine, mentre sia la Francia sia l’Ue lo hanno fatto: l’intenzione è quella di sostituire all’operazione Barkhane e alle missioni europee la G5 Sahel Joint Force. Non sembra tuttavia esserci un progetto strategico chiaro per il raggiungimento di tale obiettivo, il che porta inevitabilmente ad aspre critiche. Infine, come mostrano recenti ricerche, la “guerra dall’impronta leggera” ha comportato una serie di sfide che si riflettono su trasparenza e responsabilità pubblica. Come sottolineano Goldsmith e Waxman nel loro articolo “The Legal Legacy of Light- Footprint Warfare”, pubblicato da The Washington Quarterly nel 2016, “la guerra di impronta leggera non attira lo stesso livello di scrutinio congressuale e soprattutto pubblico rispetto a guerre più convenzionali”.
Tra le considerazioni che i Paesi europei e l’Unione stessa dovrebbero fare è necessario inserire un dialogo costante con la società civile del Paese in cui si sta intervenendo, ma soprattutto una chiara definizione della strategia e un’analisi del tipo di guerra che si vuole condurre, tenendo conto dei rischi che questo comporta.
2019 Open Society Foundations
See the full report at the link
The use of armed drones in the European Union has become a topic rife with controversy and misinformation. This report gives a comprehensive and in-depth overview of the approach to, and use of, armed drones in five European countries: Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, France, and the United Kingdom. Further, the report is intended to start a wider debate about armed drones in Europe and to serve as a guide on this topic for the European Parliament.
Abigail Watson – Aditi Gupta – Delina Goxho – Bruno Oliveira Martins
The long-term impacts of western operations exacerbate the very radicalization and violence they claim to be trying to avoid.
On 30th September, members of Al-Shabaab (a Somali based militant group) attacked Baledogle military base where US soldiers train commandos in Somalia and launch air strikes against the group, including – according to some reports – drone strikes. Al-Shabaab claim they carried out the attack using a car bomb to blast through the gates before sending their fighters inside. US military officials said they were pushed back before breaching the perimeter fence and the US suffered no casualties, barring one concussion injury. This attack was not the only one against western forces that day; a second attack targeted Italian peacekeepers in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu.
These attacks were as shocking as they were under-reported, with little analysis on what they mean for international efforts and what lessons they may provide. This is perhaps unsurprising given the nature of current engagements, where states like the US and Italy deploy a limited number of forces to tackle perceived threats abroad. In an approach we refer to as “remote warfare” these states focus on supporting local forces to do much of the frontline fighting, providing things such as training, equipment and – perhaps most devastatingly in Somalia – air support. The allure of this type of engagement for western forces is that it is seen as “risk free” as western forces do not fight on the frontlines. These attacks, however, challenge this narrative and demonstrate the dangers of the current approach.
Understanding the dangers
The Italian forces attacked last month were part of the European mission to Somalia (EUTM Somalia), a “European Union military mission to contribute to the training of Somali National Armed Forces” (SNA). EUTM Somalia is part of a growing EU presence in Africa manifested through different missions under its Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP). While CSDP missions have been deployed to Africa since 2003, in recent times these operations have come to fulfill an expanded set of objectives, ranging from support to countering terrorism and to migration management, to the fight against piracy.
While, in response to the attack, the US ambassador to Somalia praised the “swift response” of the SNA, serious problems remain. Paul Williams notes that: “For over a decade, a dozen states and multilateral organizations have invested considerable time, effort, equipment, and hundreds of millions of dollars to build an effective [SNA]. So far, they’ve failed.” One soldier told the Remote Warfare Programme that the SNA are “just another militia, albeit an apparently legitimate militia”. The SNA have “some 29,000 individuals on its payroll” but many are ghost soldiers and when forces from the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) withdraw from territories “security tends to deteriorate significantly and al Shabaab fills the void.”
Serious problems also plague US Africa Command (AFRICOM) engagement in the country. Amnesty International has documented six cases where US airstrikes in Somalia are believed to have resulted in civilian casualties, and TRT World Research center (TRT) three further cases. On 5th April this year, AFRICOM admitted to its first-ever civilian casualties in Somalia – although it still maintains that there have been almost no civilians killed in its operations. US-led ground raids have also seen the same devastating consequences; with reports that the US has killed civilians and been dragged into clan rivalries by local sources providing their evidence. In both cases, the inadequacy of pre- and post-strike planning leaves huge gaps in AFRICOM’s ability to evaluate the impact of current strategy.
Activities undertaken in this way – with little scrutiny, faulty process, and negligible monitoring – are not just morally bad, but are bad strategy. Since the start of the ‘war on terror’, the wars countries like the US and Italy have engaged in have been as much about winning over populations than they have been about winning territory. However, contemporary operations look unlikely to deliver victories in either of these objectives.
Emboldening local security forces, without the institutions required for a functioning democracy, is likely to end up alienating more of the population as they are trapped between militant groups and predatory state officials. The Remote Warfare Programme was told by a soldier rotating out of Somalia that the abuses of the SNA are “a big recruitment tool for Al-Shabaab because… they steal, rape, etc. Same as others, but this time in uniform, with Somali flags on it.” And, in fact, Al-Shabaab remains deeply entrenched in Somalia arguably because “it outperforms the national government and local powerbrokers in the provision of order and brutal, although not corrupt, justice.”
The same is true for US air strikes and ground raids. In its most recent report on US airstrikes. Amnesty International’s Somalia Researcher said of US operations in the country, Abdullahi Hassan, stated that: “It’s bad enough that [AFRICOM] appears not to know who its air strikes are actually killing and maiming … But it’s reprehensible that AFRICOM …has failed to reach out to the families of victims after its version of events was called into question in this case.” Similarly, villagers targeted by US-led ground raids have been demanding to know why the US had targeted them, despite the fact that Al-Shabaab were not there. This may be one reason why the US is not winning the hearts and minds of people in Somalia and despite an unprecedented number of US airstrikes, the US has failed to weaken the group.
Currently, the long-term impacts of western operations are likely to exacerbate the very radicalization and violence that they claim to be trying to avoid. However, AFRICOM publicly commented on the Baledogle incident and said that “[i]n response to this attack… [it] conducted two airstrikes.” More of the same will not address these issues; instead, western forces should adopt a new, considered policy that prioritizes civilian protection.
Achieving this will require a frank, informed and open debate about the failings of western policy in Somalia which accepts the failings of the current approach. While western forces are further from the frontlines of conflict, remote warfare is still warfare – and inevitably produces damage both locally and within the external forces. The US position – denying the breadth of involvement in Africa – has resulted in a critical blind spot, disincentivizing any analysis or understanding of the impact of operations in the region. Secrecy will not only minimize the ability of groups to challenge bad strategy but will also fuel a sense of distrust at home and abroad and deny civilians caught in the conflict the accountability they are entitled to.