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Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Where is the Euro-Army? Another clumsy attempt for a military mission

It’s on! Discussions have been persistent how a possible European intervention in Mali could look like. Now, after weeks and months of discussions and in the middle of a deep economic crisis some action is finally under way. Last weekend, France has launched a military mission in the Western African state of Mali to prevent further spread of Islamist movements in the country and to assist the Mali government and army.

At the very beginning it seemed to be an exclusively French military intervention, now more alliance partners declared to assist France’s mission. The US and the UK already announced significant military assistance and NATO welcomed the French step towards military action. Shortly afterwards all views went straight to Germany, waiting for some reaction from Berlin. As predicted, reactions came in a persistently hesitating form.

Germany’s sudden “response”

Surprisingly, it didn’t take that long for Berlin to respond. Just yesterday, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle announced that Germany will support France in its military actions in Mali in terms of logistics, transport and medical assistance. This actually goes beyond previous announcements in the prequel to the Mali mission that Germany would only commit itself in training missions under an EU CSDP mandate. In the view of previous behaviour in German Foreign Policy – specifically regarding the abstention policies towards Libya and the UN observer statute for Palestine, this announcement sounds like a quantum leap.

Evidently, this strategy is not even remotely close to a complete U-turn in German foreign and security policy. It is rather more a slight adaption as a result of an absence of significant foreign policy action, combined with a self-limitation towards any form of military intervention or decision making that could potentially alter Germany’s general foreign policy positions. In detail, Germany’s assistance will be merely a provision of Transall military transporter planes, but without stating where exactly and for which purposes they might be used for. These details shall follow on Thursday.

Although Germany has finally announced to contribute to the Mali mission (though on a relatively limited scale), it is obvious that its own contribution is far below of what Germany could potentially do. Even the UK and the US have announced to assist France on a wider scale, through material and even the use of unmanned aerial reconnaissance vehicles. The reasons for this continuous self-limitation might be explained with Germany’s general reluctance towards any kind of military involvement (no matter how minor it seems like) and the pre-election condition Germany is currently preparing for. If you want to lose an election, you have to be involved in military action. Germany is stuck in a dilemma, caught between its international obligations towards its alliance partners to support the mission and not promote soft policy approaches on the other hand.

Single nation action – Lessons not learnt for CSDP

France as a former colonial power in Africa is heavily intervening in Africa and also did it on past ESDP/CSDP missions – such as in Congo in 2003 and in Chad in 2008 as the single lead nation. For a common European security and defence policy single nation lead mission are not necessarily beneficial for common strategy implementation and they do not promote the CSDP as a whole. However, this is not France’s fault.

All EU member states should be obliged to assist France in Mali in any possible way, since Mali is a severe security risk for the immediate EU neighbourhood policy. Potential terrorist movements may use Mali as a hub for future actions against Europe, especially since Mali is in the middle of vast refugee transit routes towards the Mediterranean Sea. Islamist terrorist groups can and will use the commotion of mass refugee movements to camouflage own groups on their way to key targets.

For Europe it is essential and vital to take immediate action in Mali, therefore it seems absurd that the EU proves nearly no collective security position. It is in fact even more absurd that other EU member states keep such a conspicuous reluctance for more contribution. Past missions in the Congo and in Chad should have been sufficient as bad examples for counterproductive single nation operations. These two missions were limited in success also because of the short-term mandates (mostly for a year). If Europe is serious about its own common security and defence policy then there should be more collective action and coordination among its member states, and they will have to be committed for long-term missions ensuring sustainable effects. The way it is right now will neither lead to more efficient counter terrorist measures, nor to a strengthened European alliance.

Ready … Aim … Talk … and keep talking!

Usually, people learn from the past, especially when they don’t want to repeat mistakes. It is not the case with European Security and Defence. For the moment it appears that the EU remains negotiating about the actual scale of the mission in Mali. In the meantime, France continues to impose action, unravelling the dilemma of the whole CSDP that even after the first mission has been launched back in the Western Balkans in 2003 there is still no consensus or common strategy when immediate action is strongly required.

In an interview with the German newspaper “Die Welt”, the chairman of the German Soldiers’ Association (“Deutscher Bundeswehrverband”) – Colonel Ulrich Kirsch – excludes any military involvement and criticizes that the entire Mali mission’s objectives have not been laid down properly ( It is questionable if the whole mission will have any sustainable long-term effects that go beyond the “fire fighting” actions by France.

The CSDP was originally created so that the EU could provide strong security keeping measures outside the NATO frame, independent from the predominant US led alliance. However, even the latest attempt is nothing but a single nation mission rather than a common one. Like that, even the legal and political implications of the CSDP will be reduced to absurdity.


There is no strategy without common position, and there cannot be any strategy without strong actions – and actions are currently far more urgent than notorious consultations and self-withdrawal. Especially Germany’s unwillingness is irresponsible in the view of the full security risk Mali is providing in the long-term in case of further non-action.

Germany is very well advised to have the courage to commit itself more than just through transporter planes and assist its closest European partner – it would be a sign of reliability and European decency.

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