The European Union’s military mission to ensure free and fair elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has shown what the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP) can achieve in Africa. A contingent of roughly 2,500 troops from 22 countries went to the DRC in mid-2003 to support United Nations troops, and provided a rapid reaction force that snuffed out disorder in Kinshasa before it could erupt into full-blown mayhem. Three years later, Operation Artemis, a comparable EU mission in the eastern province of Ituri, again demonstrated Europe’s resolve to use its military capability to underpin a long-term peace process.
For some people, raw military might is the only true measure of power. But the 16 EU military missions that have now been carried out in support of the ESDP have much more to commend them. Large parts of Africa need support, and Europe can and must lend a hand. Nor is the EU’s new style of political-military engagement in Africa a throwback to colonialism.
True, many African countries currently suffer from instability, state failure, regional strife, violent internal political competition, and other assorted ills, including, massacres and large-scale brutality, civil war, massive movements of refugees, economic disruption, and environmental damage. Yet the big picture in Africa is not uniformly bleak. Some African countries are comparatively stable and prosperous, and the continent possesses a youthful population that will soon top 1 billion people, abundant mineral reserves, and an inherent dynamism.
At the same time, we in Europe cannot afford to dismiss Africa’s troubles as if they had no impact on our own societies. The European project has been built on values that we deem to be universal, and we must make a very real effort to uphold them, not only as a moral imperative, but also because it is in our strategic interest. The EU is by far the largest export market for African goods, and it also offers a home to large communities from almost every African country. Likewise, a large number of European citizens and dependents are scattered throughout Africa.
In the early stages of a crisis, European intervention–through political and financial assistance, diplomatic intervention, and even military action–can prevent it from erupting into violence. Moreover, when a crisis is winding down and there are openings for moderating influences, outside intervention can prove instrumental in enforcing peace and bringing warring factions to the negotiating table.
In countries that have experienced the horrors of civil war, the arrival of an effective military force from outside is generally welcomed, as was the case in both the 2003 and 2006 Congo operations. Just by virtue of being there, the force shows the goodwill and commitment of the nations that sent it, and, by projecting a sense of law and order, it provides valuable leverage for honest brokers trying to mediate a peace deal.
Europe’s policy toward Africa may suffer shortcomings, but at least there is a policy, which is based on supporting African states and regional organizations like the African Union whenever practicable, necessary and, above all, requested. The ESDP takes into account the larger European policy, and aims to provide assistance in planning, training, and logistical support to missions and forces created by African states or groups of states. For example, the recent concept of “European reinforcement of African capabilities in prevention, crisis response and conflict resolution (known as “Recamp ) openly calls for African ownership of this process.
Europe has never claimed to have the means of redressing all the strategic imbalances that exist in Africa–nor does it have any intention of doing so. Yet, taken together, the EU countries possess a considerable array of assets, including the military capability needed to conduct decisive operations. Yet their most valuable asset is cultural: soldiers who are willing and able to interact with the local population, who are cautious in their use of lethal force, and who are ready to accept the many shades of gray that exist between conflicting parties.
Nevertheless, European military capabilities are limited, requiring that European planners look for “minimal options, with the drawback that smaller commitments generally require a long-term perspective. The ESDP has not functioned long enough to establish a clear track record. Yet our modest ongoing endeavors in Congo–a police advisory mission known as EUPOL and a defense reform mission called EUSEC–and in Sudan, where 60 Europeans are providing staff support to the African Union’s AMIS II mission in Darfur, offer grounds for hope.
The EU members must above all recognize that Africa’s ills have to be dealt with by Africans. This is as much a matter of principle as of cold, strategic calculation, and it is here that the ESDP has much to offer: a long-term view, supported by a powerful economy with the assets needed to carry out humanitarian operations, conflict prevention, crisis management, and security support.
Foremost among the ESDP’s advantages is Europe’s cultural knowledge and understanding of Africa. Today, former colonial powers have evolved significantly, just as have their former colonies. On both shores of the Mediterranean, generations have passed and new connections have been formed. It is the knowledge, understanding, and mutual respect that remain, and that are the cornerstones on which Europe’s policy for Africa must be built. Michele Alliot-Marieis France’s interior minister. She was defense minister from 2002 to 2007. THE DAILY STAR publishes this commentary in collaboration with Project Syndicate-Europe’s World © (www.project-syndicate.org and www.europesworld.org).