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Ideas for a fairer world

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The EU has its own nation-building problems

By Richard Gowan. Source: Monday April 19 2004

Richard Gowan argues that Europe has nation-building shortcomings of its own.

In a month in which US hubris has met its nemesis in Najaf, Europhiles are indulging in some of their own. Speaking to the Financial Times, Gustav Hägglund, outgoing chief of the EU's staff, speculated that Brussels may oversee a UN sponsored intervention in Sudan this year.

Sudan, as the former home of Bin Laden, is a better candidate for the "war on terror" than Saddam's Iraq ever was. For six months International Crisis Group has been calling for action as some 670,000 people flee ethnic cleansing in the west of the country. While a defeat of ethnic cleansing in Africa ten years to the month after the Rwandan genocide would be a triumph for the nascent EU foreign policy - there are serious questions about how the EU should conduct an intervention. Robert Kagan's formulation that Americans intervene leaving the Europeans to nation build afterwards, or 'wash up', no longer holds. Now, it seems Europe's own dishes are mounting in the sink.

European countries did act decisively to stabilise both eastern Congo in 2003, in last year's EU-flagged if largely French 'Operation Artemis' - and Kosovo last month. While German politicians refuse to send troops to Iraq, 2800 were deployed in Afghanistan. Every member state - Luxembourg included - has fielded soldiers abroad in the last five years. The EU is now committed to taking over security from NATO in Bosnia.

But it is the follow through of European operations that should be questioned. That European soldiers had to be rushed to Kosovo raises doubts about the efficacy of the 1999 intervention in the province. In the eastern Congo, the impact of the EU's intervention was marred by poor co-ordination between civilian and military agencies.

In both cases, Europe has proved that it can shift troops to crisis spots, but that it can't necessarily deal with the political and legal problems needed to build a lasting peace. Its new battle-groups, agreed as part of January's hawkish European Security Strategy, will number up to 1500 troops each and be sustainable for 120 days: excellent for short-term operations but hardly proof of the EU's commitment to nation building.

It is a long-term approach that Sudan requires. The current bout of violence follows some progress on peace talks between the countries' factions - a theoretical ceasefire exists in the region of ethnic cleansing. If European governments are to give some substance to that ceasefire, they must also address the issue of what non-military support they will offer to move from a ceasefire to a more durable peace regime. Few would imagine that Sudan will be another Kosovo or Bosnia, in which soldiers are accompanied by a large-scale civilian peace-building effort. But if the EU's intervention is to convince local leaders of their lasting interest in the country, their troops must be accompanied by at least a minimum grouping of human rights observers and rule of law monitors. The UN has launched a ten-day mission to investigate human rights abuses in western Sudan - only a much more durable monitoring presence can guarantee stability.

Soft security resources may now be harder to locate than military: there are growing fears in Brussels, for example, that having implemented police support operations in Bosnia and Macedonia, the EU lacks the manpower to mount similar activities elsewhere. Western governments will not easily provide vulnerable civilian peace-builders to Sudan after this month's events in Iraq. The UN's civilian capacity is already overstretched. If the EU sends soldiers to Sudan their presence may have little long-term impact - long accused of being too soft, we risk being seduced by the illusions of being hard.