African union and CSDP – two great visions throttled by reality?

DSCN1141As part of a delegation of politicians from Senegal and Mali, Ousmane Ben Fana Traoré, advisor to the former President of Mali, and Doudou Wade, former President of the Liberal Parliamentary Group of Senegal, discussed the situation in Mali, while Georgios Kouvidis, provided comments on the future of the Common Security and Defense Policy from the European perspective.

Ousmane Ben Fana Traorè lamented that the situation in Mali has progressively deteriorated since the coup d’état in March 2012 from an institutional into a humanitarian and security crisis. Regrettably, women and children – the innocent in this conflict – are the ones suffering the most, since normal activities such as food production have been interrupted and schools closed since the onset of the conflict.

IMG_5523While several paramilitary groups of various backgrounds have been active in the vast territory that makes up the north of Mali (approximately three times the size of France), rebel insurgencies had so far been only sporadic, he reported. The first democratic administration, which came into power after the March Revolution of 1991, brought lasting stability to the country, i.e. by recognizing the autonomy of the Tuareg people. According to Ben Fana Traoré, a large number of Tuareg crossed the border into Mali after Gadaffi’s defeat and began to attack and occupy villages in the north. The failure of the government to quell the violence consequently resulted in the March coup d’état.

Due to a limitation of powers of the interim government, it also failed to reinstate peace and stability in the north. “The French intervention must be applauded,” Ben Fana Traoré said, “President Hollande reacted vigorously and his decision is widely supported among the citizens of both France and Mali.” Despite the success of the decisive intervention of the French forces, however, there is a long road ahead of Mali in returning the country to stability. “Now the north is being freed, but more security is needed to help maintain that freedom once the French troops leave,” Ben Fana Traoré insisted. Elections have been set for July, but the administrative as well as logistical hurdles that have to be overcome by then, are met with nervous exasperation by the organizers.

In the meantime, serious spill-over effects from the conflict into neighboring countries are felt, affecting the stability of the whole region. Doudou Wade, expressed great concern that “instability may be exported.” He cited Algeria, a country with a background of Islamic fundamentalist movements, Niger, whose lack of political stability makes it a wild card, and Mauritania, a transit country for insurgents, as most vulnerable to a negative impact by the conflict in Mali. Senegal, according to Wade, has the advantage of being a balanced, democratic country, “a force for stability in the region.” The return to peace in Mali is at the heart of Senegal’s interest, as it is physically present with troops and gendarme.

The EU, for its share, has sent troops to Mali to start training the country’s military. Better than nothing, one might say, and the interim government is happy to take any support they are being offered. But the hard truth is that the delay in a joint European response has shown once more that the implementation lacks behind the idea when it comes to the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP). While on paper, CSDP is an integral part of the European Union, “it reflects the interconnection between defense and diplomacy,” according to Georgios Kouvidis, its effectiveness is undermined by real problems. For one are a lack of capabilities (read: decreasing defense budgets in member states), a lack of collaboration and the unwillingness to use force under collective command.

DSCN1144Thus two sobering conclusions have to be drawn: For the EU “Mali was the perfect case for the employment of battle-groups. Our lack to implement them has shown that there is no realistic future for them. Mali represents the death of the battle group concept,” Kouvidis stated. And for Africa, “the war has shown the weakness of African armies. France acted quicker than any of Mali’s neighboring countries. And with that, the dream of one African voice on security, economy and foreign policy seems further away than ever,” concluded Wade.

Susan Schneider