Europeans Hope to Keep Sahel Stable

Source: Getty
Op-Ed New York Times
Summary
The EU and its European External Action Service, led by Catherine Ashton, are particularly concerned about the activity of terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
Related Topics
Related Media and Tools
 

Ever since the European Union sank into the euro crisis more than two years ago, the bloc’s foreign and security policy has taken a back seat. Brussels and the member states have continued to pay attention to Russia as well as Syria. But such attention, so far, has not been underpinned by long-term strategies.

That might be changing as the European External Action Service, or E.E.A.S., an E.U. body led by Catherine Ashton, implements a new strategy toward, of all places, the Sahel, which includes Mali, Mauritania and Niger and is one of the poorest regions in the world. Drought and famine, drug and human trafficking, criminal gangs and weak states plague people there.

And to make matters worse, the expulsion of Al Qaeda from Afghanistan and the aftermath of the NATO operation against Libya last year have had a profoundly negative impact on the Sahel. “There is the possibility that Mali could become the next wellspring of instability and terrorist sanctuary in this part of Africa,” said Valentina Soria, a security expert at the Royal United Services Institute, an independent think tank in London. “The E.U. has a big stake in preventing this from happening.

E.U. diplomats and regional experts also realize that if Al Qaeda and its offshoots establish footholds in the Sahel, they could use them as launch pads into Libya and other vulnerable post-Arab Spring countries. Eventually, the wave of terrorism could reach Europe.

The combination of these circumstances has forced the Union to think strategically about the Sahel. “What happens in the Sahel will have a huge impact on North African and Middle East countries,” said Barah Mikail, a regional expert at the Foundation for International Relations and Dialogue, an independent research center in Madrid. “It’s interesting how the E.U. is taking the Sahel very seriously.

When Al Qaeda was forced to leave Afghanistan in 2001 after the U.S. invasion, Western diplomats in the region have said, it relocated some operations to Yemen, but also to Mali, which analysts said was a strategic choice.

Ansar Dine, an Islamic fundamentalist group with close ties to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, was quick to exploit the divisions inside the multiethnic country and the fallout from the Arab Spring. After the collapse of the Qaddafi regime in Libya, Tuareg mercenaries from northern Mali, Niger and Algeria, who had been in the pay of the late Muammar el-Qaddafi, returned home.

The influx of well-armed fighters into northern Mali gave the Tuareg separatist movement there such a lift that it managed to drive out the Malian military and, last month, proclaim an independent state called Azawad. The Tuareg nationalists, in spite of being a secular movement, then teamed up with the well-armed and well-financed Ansar Dine. This Islamist movement has since vowed to introduce Shariah law and ban all non-Muslim nongovernmental organizations.

Mali’s government has been unable to prevent the breakup of the country.

In March, the army staged a coup in the capital, Bamako, partly because it was frustrated that it had not been given sufficient resources to defeat the rebellion in the north. The military has since agreed to support an interim civilian government but is still very much in control, say E.U. diplomats.

No wonder that Mali’s neighbors — Mauritania to the west and Niger to the east — are extremely concerned about contagion, both by separatist movements and Ansar Dine.

Brigi Rafini, the prime minister of Niger, was in Brussels earlier this month to seek E.U. help. “Niger state institutions are simply not strong enough to cope with what is happening in Mali,” Mr. Mikail said.

France, the former colonial power in much of the Sahel, is deeply worried about the toxic mix of separatism and Islamic radicalization in the region.

In March, the French foreign minister at the time, Alain Juppé, was warned by Mali’s neighbors that the region risked becoming a “West African Afghanistan” if Ansar Dine gained control of the north.

With support from France, the Union has begun to look for ways to react to the events in Mali and prevent contagion.

It is trying to shore up the civilian government in southern Mali by distributing food and working with regional organizations like Ecowas, or the Economic Community of West African States, and the African Union. They are aghast at what is taking place in Mali and fear that it will spread, Mr. Mikail said.

E.E.A.S. diplomats say that distributing aid is only part of a longer-term strategy.

Only a regional, integrated and holistic strategy will enable us to make progress,” says the E.E.A.S. Strategy Report. But there is no quick fix, it acknowledges. It will need several years to tackle security and development and governance issues.

In the immediate future, beginning in August, the Union will establish a police training mission in Niger aimed at fighting terrorism and organized crime because Niger’s institutions are too weak.

Further steps will have to follow, analysts said. Europe cannot afford to ignore the new dangers of the Sahel or their implications for the wider world. At least, they add, the issue is finally getting some attention.

This article was originally published in the New York Times.

End of document

Comments

 
Source http://carnegieeurope.eu/2012/06/25/europeans-hope-to-keep-sahel-stable/cf9o

More from The Global Think Tank

In Fact

 

45%

of the Chinese general public

believe their country should share a global leadership role.

30%

of Indian parliamentarians

have criminal cases pending against them.

140

charter schools in the United States

are linked to Turkey’s Gülen movement.

2.5–5

thousand tons of chemical weapons

are in North Korea’s possession.

92%

of import tariffs

among Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru have been eliminated.

$2.34

trillion a year

is unaccounted for in official Chinese income statistics.

37%

of GDP in oil-exporting Arab countries

comes from the mining sector.

72%

of Europeans and Turks

are opposed to intervention in Syria.

90%

of Russian exports to China

are hydrocarbons; machinery accounts for less than 1%.

13%

of undiscovered oil

is in the Arctic.

17

U.S. government shutdowns

occurred between 1976 and 1996.

40%

of Ukrainians

want an “international economic union” with the EU.

120

million electric bicycles

are used in Chinese cities.

60–70%

of the world’s energy supply

is consumed by cities.

58%

of today’s oils

require unconventional extraction techniques.

67%

of the world's population

will reside in cities by 2050.

50%

of Syria’s population

is expected to be displaced by the end of 2013.

18%

of the U.S. economy

is consumed by healthcare.

81%

of Brazilian protesters

learned about a massive rally via Facebook or Twitter.

32

million cases pending

in India’s judicial system.

1 in 3

Syrians

now needs urgent assistance.

370

political parties

contested India’s last national elections.

70%

of Egypt's labor force

works in the private sector.

70%

of oil consumed in the United States

is for the transportation sector.

20%

of Chechnya’s pre-1994 population

has fled to different parts of the world.

58%

of oil consumed in China

was from foreign sources in 2012.

$536

billion in goods and services

traded between the United States and China in 2012.

$100

billion in foreign investment and oil revenue

have been lost by Iran because of its nuclear program.

4700%

increase in China’s GDP per capita

between 1972 and today.

$11

billion have been spent

to complete the Bushehr nuclear reactor in Iran.

2%

of Iran’s electricity needs

is all the Bushehr nuclear reactor provides.

78

journalists

were imprisoned in Turkey as of August 2012 according to the OSCE.

Stay in the Know

Enter your email address in the field below to receive the latest Carnegie analysis in your inbox!

Personal Information
 
 
Carnegie Europe
 
Carnegie Europe Rue du Congrès, 15 1000 Brussels, Belgium Phone: +32 2 735 56 50 Fax: +32 2736 6222
Please note...

You are leaving the Carnegie–Tsinghua Center for Global Policy's website and entering another Carnegie global site.

请注意...

您离开卡内基 - 清华全球政策中心网站,进入另一个卡内基全球网站。