The EU and Iran

The EU and Iran

The EU and Iran

Written by Rem Korteweg, 15 March 2013

In Mali, now comes the hard part

In Mali, now comes the hard part

In Mali, now comes the hard part

Written by Rem Korteweg, 22 February 2013

Last month, French military forces freed the main population centres in northern Mali from jihadist control. Progress on the military front has created new political momentum as Malians plan to go to the ballot box this summer, ending 15 months of interim rule. But as the European Union deploys a training mission to build the Malian armed forces, the hardest work still lies ahead. A fragile transition phase approaches as the French get ready to hand over responsibilities to AFISMA, the African-led mission. Recent clashes in Gao and a car bomb in Kidal show that the peace has not yet been won. Political reconciliation is a long way away, regional spillover of the conflict is increasing and a jihadist threat remains. Superficial comparisons with the EU’s effort in Somalia are misleading; European member-states will need to play a more central role and commit for the long term to increase the prospects for stability in the Western Sahel. Four challenges in particular stand out.

The first is to continue to pursue the jihadists. This requires sustained counter-terrorist operations and considerable human and signals intelligence efforts. The military phase has now concentrated on the inhospitable Adrar des Ifoghas mountain range on the Mali-Algerian border. Chadian forces, US and British surveillance assets and US, British and Italian refuelling aircraft are supporting the French. The threat of ambushes, improvised explosives and shoulder-fired missiles, coupled with the unknown terrain, means that the operation may last several weeks or months. Concern for several European hostages - thought to be held captive in the Ifoghas – also commands caution.

The counter-terrorist operations impact the region at large. Close co-operation with Algerian security forces is necessary, to avoid their side of the mountains becoming a place of refuge. Jihadists have made their way to Algeria, Mauritania, Niger and perhaps further afield. Mauritania recently arrested nine people suspected of links to the jihadists. Spill-over to Algeria or Niger could jeopardise key mining areas. In response, the United States and France have strengthened their military presence in uranium-rich Niger. As the AFISMA mission continues to deploy, it is drawing in states from the region, placing their soldiers in harm’s way. An offshoot of the Nigerian Boko Haram terror group attacked Nigerian soldiers en route to Bamako, killing two. Kidnappings in Nigeria and Cameroon show that instability may spread at the expense of Western interests. A bomb-scare on February 4th at the airport of Ouagadougou in the Central African Republic involving a Malian Tuareg has put other states on edge as well. Further out, Al Qaeda’s Yemen-based sister organisation has similarly called for a jihad in the Sahel. Although regional security services are on high alert, they are also at risk of becoming overstretched. It is necessary to co-ordinate security efforts and share intelligence. European intelligence services, in particular in the UK, should assist in this process. On the military front, European states should sustain their commitment to the French operation with logistics and surveillance support.

The second challenge is to consolidate the gains made thus far. Mali is vast and in many places the government has a limited presence. The French operation focused on the main urban centres, and has left smaller villages and rural areas untouched. This creates the risk of a power vacuum that local militias or remaining jihadists can exploit. The African-led stabilisation mission is meant to fill the void, yet it is suffering from corruption, insufficient capabilities and lack of local knowledge.  There are plenty of practical concerns. For instance, while Malians and many AFISMA troops are French-speaking, the operation’s Nigerian commander is not. The mission could turn out to be a case of the deaf helping the blind. Due to these and other concerns, the United Nations is gearing up to take command of the mission. This may also enable non-ECOWAS states, such as Algeria and Chad or EU countries, to join the operation under a single command. It would however slow the deployment for several weeks, leaving parts of Mali vulnerable. This means that Paris's March deadline to withdraw its forces may not be realistic, requiring France to stay longer.

Although the EU Training Mission starts soon, its mission is focused on rebuilding the Malian armed forces so that they can re-establish control over the country. Brussels is taking its cues from its experience in Somalia, where some 120 EU trainers have helped reform Somalia’s military. Confidently, the EU has called that training mission a ‘European success story’. The parallels with the plan for Mali are striking. As in Somalia, the objective is to support the ailing government by training its armed forces to restore territorial integrity and rout jihadist rebels. As in Somalia, the EU operates alongside a UN-mandated stabilisation operation composed of African forces. As in Somalia, the training mission is part of a regional comprehensive approach, consisting of a patchwork of several EU missions. In the Horn, a small-scale EU civilian mission is helping develop a coastal police force while European navies are fighting pirates in the Gulf of Aden. In the Sahel, the EUCAP-SAHEL civilian mission is focused on strengthening the rule of law and the justice system. It is now only active in Niger, but will expand to Mauritania as well. An EU mission to help secure Libya’s borders is also likely.

Yet this is where the parallels stop. In Somalia, the training takes place in neutral Uganda. In Mali, the training centre is just north of the capital Bamako. In Somalia, a previously non-existent state is slowly expanding its influence over the south of the country with the help of the African Union. In Mali, an embattled and corrupt state is struggling for survival. Two decades of civil war, years of political negotiations, external military intervention and a wholesale collapse of the state have created war fatigue in Somalia. While this means progress in Somalia will be slow and uncertain there are grounds for optimism. Mali’s lethal cocktail of emerging tribal tensions, a power vacuum, jihadist presence, a deteriorating food crisis, foreign intervention and supplies of small arms is much more recent. In Somalia the Transitional Federal Government has international legitimacy, while in Mali civil-military relations are a mess. The interim government is the product of a coup d’état, while in-fighting among different factions of the Malian armed forces raise doubts over who the EU will be training. In an environment where Somalia looks good in comparison, the job surely is difficult.

The EU’s objective is to train the military so it can maintain and enforce territorial integrity. It will rearm Malian forces and prepare them for offensive operations. This puts pressure on the traditional image of Europe as a ‘civilian’ power. On paper, the EU trainers are excluded from combat, but they could be drawn in to give practical training and advice should an insurgency pick up steam. It may create fissures within Europe. The French have already criticised Germany for not responding more quickly with military support when the intervention started. Now Berlin’s ‘culture of military restraint’ must digest a combat training mission.

Since 2010 the EU has trained 3,000 Somali forces. Although the EU is sending twice as many trainers to Mali as to Somalia, some 240 in total, the fifteen month timeline for the operation is wholly inadequate. The EU should ensure that the Malian army is of good quality. Previously the United States attempted to build a Malian military capable of dealing with the insurgent threat. As became painfully clear, it did not pay enough attention to human rights and civil-military relations. While some US-trained forces played a leading role in the Tuareg insurgency, others starred in the coup d’état meant to counter it. The EU should conclude that investing in quality is the only option. This calls for a long-term effort. Crucially, given the mounting ethnic tensions, the trained Malian forces must reflect the tribal composition of the country and respect human rights.

This leads to the third challenge. Political reconciliation that addresses mounting ethnic and tribal tensions in Mali is essential. If unsuccessful, this can destabilise the western Sahel. Looting and reprisal killings are pitting tribal communities against each other. Lighter-skinned Malians – whether Arabs or Tuaregs – are no longer safe in southern Mali. Kill-lists are circulating and vigilantism is on the rise.

In the north, a worrying development is that the Tuareg Mouvement National pour la Liberation de l’Azawad (MNLA) and the Islamic Movement of Azawad (MIA) ‘liberated’ Kidal, the regional Tuareg capital. They have made clear that no Malian or West African forces are allowed to enter the city, creating a de facto division in the country. The French do not want to be seen as occupiers but AFISMA is not welcome either. Several Tuareg groups aspire to a significant degree of regional autonomy. Although the EU is committed to maintaining the territorial integrity of Mali, it has not excluded a possible measure of Tuareg self-rule.

While giving the Tuaregs special status in the Malian state might clear a path for political reconciliation, this may be unpalatable to the government in Bamako. It would also make Mali’s neighbours nervous. The Azawad, the term for the Tuareg homeland, stretches well beyond Mali’s borders into Algeria, Libya and Niger. In Mali, while Kidal is the main Tuareg capital, Timbuktu and Gao have mixed tribal populations. These cities could become flash points in the absence of political reconciliation. The Tuaregs themselves are also divided, with some backing Bamako and others vying for independence. Other tribes have so far kept relatively quiet, but if Tuareg demands are met at their expense, this may well change. The immediate priority for the soon to be appointed EU Special Representative for Mali is to cajole the different factions to the negotiating table.

Finally, the fourth challenge is to remain vigilant for terrorism against European interests. As the recent kidnappings make clear, European nationals in the region can increasingly become a target. The EU military presence is also a factor in the conflict dynamic. The longer that French and European forces stay in Mali, the greater the danger that Mali and its environs will become a magnet for foreign jihadists. A longer presence might also fuel local xenophobic and ‘anti-colonial’ sentiments. Unfortunately, a longer presence is precisely what the EU should prepare for. The French and other European member-states may have to outstay their welcome to stop the crisis in the Sahel from deteriorating.

Rem Korteweg is a senior research fellow at the Centre for European Reform.

EU leaders vow to boost Europe's defence capabilities

EU defence

EU leaders vow to boost Europe's defence capabilities

Written by , 14 December 2012

Link to press quote:
http://www.trust.org/alertnet/news/eu-leaders-vow-to-boost-europes-defence-capabilities

FR-UK defence forum roundtable on 'The European dimensions of Franco-British defence co-operation'

FR-UK defence forum roundtable on 'The European dimensions of Franco-British def

FR-UK defence forum roundtable on 'The European dimensions of Franco-British defence co-operation'

17 December 2012

Speakers included: Julian Braithwaite, Philippe Errera, Nathalie Errard, Ludwig Decamps and Lieutenant General Ton Van Osch.

Location info

Brussels

Event Gallery

US foreign policy after the presidential election: What should Europeans expect?

US foreign policy after the presidential election

US foreign policy after the presidential election: What should Europeans expect?

Written by Clara Marina O'Donnell, Clara Marina O'Donnell, 25 October 2012

Burma: An EU foreign policy success

Burma: An EU foreign policy success

Burma: An EU foreign policy success

Written by Charles Grant, 23 August 2012

Disunity is bad but pluralism is good. The story of EU policy on Burma illustrates this point. Disunity is normal: sovereign states with varied histories and traditions might be expected to disagree. The remarkable thing is that in the end, on Burma as on much else, the EU manages to achieve a common policy. The policy may even be better for being the product of disagreement and debate. Unfortunately the EU tends to do its disagreeing in public but when it reaches a sensible consensus often conceals the fact.

On Burma the disagreements start with the name. EU documents refer to Burma/Myanmar. Can one really have a policy on a country when one cannot agree on the name?

This disagreement is in fact not so unreasonable. On one side is the argument that if the UN, its neighbours and some people in the country call it Myanmar, the EU should follow suit.  But the argument on the other side is also strong: an early act of the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), one of the nastier manifestations of the military in its 50-year term of office, was to change the official name in English to Myanmar. The SLORC claimed that this name had the advantage of including minorities not from the predominant Bamar (or Burman) ethnic group. But this argument is largely false since ‘Burma’ is in fact a colloquial form of ‘Myanmar’ and the one the British rulers opted for. Furthermore, Aung San Suu Kyi and her supporters gave the name political significance by refusing to follow the SLORC’s decree. The lady now uses Myanmar when speaking the Burmese (or Myanmar) language, thereby offending some of her supporters, but insists on using Burma in English, thereby offending some generals. Too much energy has been wasted on this rather unimportant issue.

On the more critical issue of sanctions there are respectable cases to be made both for and against. Let us leave aside the EU’s visa bans and asset freezes on members of the regime, which have certainly discomforted those targeted. The arguments against broad sanctions are that they corrupt and distort an economy; they impoverish people; they often create illegal trade from which the primary beneficiaries are those in power; and they provide a convenient alibi for the government’s own economic mismanagement. If sanctions bite, the intention is that they will hurt people and thus encourage them to overthrow the government through elections or revolution.  That makes them particularly ineffective when dealing with military regimes. Besides, it is contact, not isolation that brings about change. Trade leads to more extensive relations with other countries; it opens countries up, eventually creating the middle class that is essential for democracy.

But there are also valid arguments on the other side. The damage done to the Burmese economy by EU sanctions has always been small compared with the damage inflicted by the military government. Spending on health and education has been minimal, while the defence budget as a proportion of GDP – officially 4.9 per cent, though the true figure is certainly much higher – surpasses that of any other country in the Association of South-East Asia Nations (Indonesia and the Philippines both spend 1 per cent, Malaysia and Thailand 1.5 per cent, Vietnam 2.5 per cent and Singapore 3.6 per cent, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies). 

The sanctions did have one powerful effect, namely, to signal to European companies that the Burmese regime was unacceptable, and that they should stay away. Almost universally, they took this advice. The sanctions also gave moral support to the opposition, thousands of whose members have been beaten and locked up.
The arguments of those who opposed sanctions nevertheless had an impact on what the EU did. Its sanctions were designed to limit direct damage to the livelihoods of ordinary Burmese. They were selective and targeted on the extractive industries – mainly timber and gem stones – where the military and their cronies are dominant (though the sanctions’ effectiveness was impaired by some of these goods being rebadged and exported via Thailand).
The EU matched sanctions with a commitment to provide humanitarian support, not just at the time of cyclone Nargis in 2008, but on a continuing basis, with an emphasis on health and rural poverty. The US chose a very different path, applying an enormous and complex web of sanctions to Burma, similar to those in force against Iran. The US blocked World Bank lending and cut off Burmese banks from the international financial system. Congressional restrictions obliged the Global Fund (which ran programmes to fight malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS) to pull out of Burma in 2005. The EU led a consortium to replace the work of the Global Fund. In sympathy with those who argued against having anything to do with the Burmese regime, the EU ran all its programmes through NGOs.
Western sanctions were probably not the main cause of the thaw in Burma. When authoritarian regimes decide upon profound reform, foreign pressure may be a factor but is often less important than the ambitions of key leaders. Mikhail Gorbachev pursued glasnost and perestroika because he was a communist patriot.  In South Africa, F W de Klerk saw that his country had no future with apartheid. U Thein Sein, who became Burma’s president in March 2011, appears to be a man who wants the best for his country, and who knows that he cannot tackle poverty and under-development without first engaging in political reform and reconnecting Burma to the world.

Perhaps change would have happened without sanctions. But if so it would have happened differently. It is hard to imagine that representatives of the National League for Democracy (the NLD, the party led by Aung San Suu Kyi) would have spent hours in the Ministry of the Interior going through lists of political prisoners if their release had not been one of the conditions for suspending sanctions. And would the NLD have even been there at all? It was always an EU demand that all political forces should participate in the political process. That was code for Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD, as well as Burma’s too-often forgotten ethnic minorities.

Then there is the China factor. Burma’s leaders were becoming worried about not only their economic dependency on China – a major trading partner and source of investment – but also their reliance on its diplomatic protection in international organisations. They wanted to balance the ties to Beijing with closer ties to the West, and that required reforms that would persuade the EU and the US to remove sanctions.

As it turns out, Western sanctions provided not only the opposition with a card it could play, but also reformists within the government. A government trying to reform cannot easily show benefits to sceptical conservatives, at least in the early stages. But greater respect from foreign powers – Hillary Clinton, David Cameron and Catherine Ashton have been among the recent visitors – and the removal of sanctions are visible rewards that a government can point to when it is fighting difficult internal battles.

In the case of Burma the opposition has been a cause worth supporting. Not only Aung San Suu Kyi herself, but also her supporters are fully committed to democracy and the rule of law. She has shown that she is ready to compromise – contrary to the propaganda persistently put about by the regime. Her approach to the government, the constitution and the parliament has involved many compromises. And on the question of sanctions, she and her party have, understandably, been somewhat ambiguous. She believes that Burma has a long way to go before it is free and democratic, and she has not called for the US to end all sanctions. But she has gone along with the EU’s suspension of sanctions and favours responsible foreign investment to create jobs.

On certain points, such as corruption and the fair conduct of elections, Aung San Suu Kyi remains immovable. This should be welcome; too many countries in Asia have become accustomed to a kind of semi-democracy, in which elections are held but are not particularly fair, in which the rule of law functions but not in quite the same way if you have friends in high places, and in which corruption is a part of the system. It is good that for once that a senior political figure in Asia is supporting high standards. If the Burmese are lucky, eventually she will prevail – and hopefully set an example to other Asian countries.

The Burmese government’s announcement this month that it is scrapping press censorship suggests that it is still bent on reform. But in June, violence between the Muslim Rohingya minority and Buddhists in the western province of Rakhine left dozens dead and nearly a hundred thousand homeless. Burma’s leadership continues to ignore the basic rights of Rohingyas. The opposition says too little about their plight – and some of its leaders have even questioned whether the Rohingyas belong in Burma. Several other ethnic conflicts continue to fester in various corners of the country. Further EU development aid should be conditional not only on continuing progress on human rights, but also on the regime seeking to achieve reconciliation with the ethnic groups.

The EU can offer its own expertise – from countries such as Spain – in building political structures that accommodate minorities. The EU should also encourage the army to retreat from political life, while recognising that this process will inevitably be slow. In Turkey the army has spent more than 50 years – with many ups and downs – gradually relaxing its grip on the political system. One suspects that Egypt’s generals will continue to control large swathes of that country’s economy for several years to come.

This year the EU has, to its credit, stepped up aid and opened an office in Rangoon. Its policy on Burma has looked a bit messy: in the past, pursuing sanctions but not across the board, and giving aid but not working with the government; and now, suspending rather than lifting sanctions while not insisting that every single political prisoner should first be released – while continuing to press the case of those who remain. Messy is what you expect when 27 countries debate and compromise. But the common line forged by the EU has helped to change Burma for the better.


Charles Grant is director of the Centre for European Reform.

The unravelling of the EU

The unravelling of the EU

The unravelling of the EU

Written by Charles Grant, 03 July 2009
From Prospect


Download: grant_prospect_july2009.pdf
 

European defence post-Kosovo

European defence post-Kosovo

European defence post-Kosovo

Written by Charles Grant, 04 June 1999

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