24 Mar 2014

Wearing no clothes during a dubious mission

Written by  Adekeye Adebajo

No. 295: Wearing no clothes during a dubious mission / Adekeye Adebajo / Business Day
25 March 2014

The EU must not undermine the United Nations' primary responsibility for maintaining global peace and security, writes Adekeye Adebajo

The Danish author, Hans Christian Andersen, published his famous fairytale, The Emperor's New Clothes, in 1837. Building on a medieval Spanish folk tale, the story is about two dishonest weavers who convince an emperor to buy a new suit of clothes that would be invisible only to anyone who is "hopelessly stupid" or incompetent. As the emperor does not want to be appear to be either, he wears what the weavers pretend to be his new clothes and parades through the streets in full view of his subjects. A child cries out that "the emperor is wearing no clothes" and the shout becomes a chorus. The embarrassed emperor continues to march, but realises he has been deceived.

The present efforts by the 28-strong European Union (EU) to play a security role in Africa contains a similar cautionary tale. The rhetoric from Brussels seeks to portray the institution (which in 2012 won a Nobel Prize for peace — but significantly not economics!) as a potential military power and "ethical" force for good in the world. European scholars have also described the EU as a "normative power", "soft empire", and "metrosexual superpower". Since 2003, the organisation has launched three small, short-term military missions in the Democratic Republic of Congo — twice — and Chad/Central African Republic (CAR).

More recently, the EU has delayed launching a 1,000-strong mission in the CAR, where 2,000 French and 6,000 Central African troops — under United Nations (UN) command — are seeking to stop religious-fuelled slaughter. The European Union Force (Eufor) is to be led by French general Philippe Pontiès. An angry French statement recently accused its EU partners of shirking their responsibilities to promote global security. France, Estonia, Portugal, and Latvia have pledged troops to the mission, but significantly not the other two big EU military powers: Germany and the UK.

Many EU partners consider the mission in the CAR to be too dangerous; suspect parochial French interests are at play; and are distracted by events closer to home in Ukraine. Nearly 1-million people have been displaced in the CAR and thousands killed. It is, however, critical that the EU not simply subsidise French interests in this mineral-rich country, which has historically been a Gallic sphere of interest. A genuinely international force under United Nations (UN) command is essential, and the EU must not undermine the UN's primary responsibility for maintaining global peace and security.

It is also important that any EU force learn lessons from previous missions. In 2003, France led a 1,000-strong EU force during Operation Artemis, which helped to protect 20,000 civilians in the Congo's volatile city of Bunia. The EU force was deployed for three months until 2,400 UN peacekeepers took over from it. Though helpful in stabilising the situation, this force had as much to do with Brussels' attempts to find a testing ground for its evolving rapid-reaction force.

Another 2,000-strong Eufor was deployed to the Congo for four months in 2006 to support 20,000 UN peacekeepers in providing stability during national elections. Amid wrangling between Berlin and Paris, Germany reluctantly agreed to lead the force. Berlin was suspicious of French intentions from its experiences in Operation Artemis. The EU mission belatedly arrived just two weeks before the first round of presidential polls. Nineteen EU governments contributed troops to the mission, though most of Eufor's troops were in Gabon, leading to widespread ridicule. Requested to stay longer to help ensure stability in the post-election phase, a surly Eufor refused, saying it was determined to get home in time for Christmas turkey.

Following a rebel attack on the Chadian capital of N'Djamena that nearly led to the removal of Idriss Déby in 2006, France provided military support to save Déby's regime and then asked its EU partners to provide humanitarian assistance to eastern Chad. Germany was again reluctant, and many EU members regarded the mission as an ill-disguised bid to support an unsavoury French client, and refused to dispatch troops.

Just before Eufor's deployment in 2008, Chadian armed groups attacked the capital of N'Djamena in a bid to topple Déby. French military forces again helped the Déby government to survive. Eufor governments, anxious not to appear as auxiliaries of Gallic foreign policy, grew more concerned. The European Parliament pointedly called for the mission to remain neutral, and to distinguish itself from the French military mission, which had a long-established base in Chad. Though 19 EU countries contributed, France provided 2,000 of the force's 3,700 troops, reinforcing the notion that Eufor was a tool of French foreign policy.

As the EU prepares to enter the CAR, it must be careful not to expose its military nudity to the world.

Adebajo is executive director of the Centre for Conflict Resolution in Cape Town and co-editor of The EU and Africa

This article is part of a series of fortnightly columns written by Adekeye Adebajo for Business Day every other Monday.

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