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Can Europe Build a Nato for Africa

By Richard Gowan. Source: The Globalist, 14 January 2005

Africa's ongoing crisis — from the genocide in Darfur to civil conflicts in other countries — continues to defy easy solutions. Richard Gowan of the Foreign Policy Centre argues that the EU should partner with the African Union to provide security and stability. He outlines how an organization modeled on the role NATO played during the Cold War could get the job done for Africa.

Can Europeans continue to send troops to Africa, as several European countries — including France and Great Britain — do on occasion to stabilize areas of conflict?

Inevitably, memories of empire undermine the legitimacy and efficacy of such efforts to address problems such as civil war, regional conflicts and bad governance in former colonies. A formal commitment and a tailor-made institution to tackle Africa's problems would be a valuable step towards preventing future Rwandas and Darfurs.

France's recent intervention in Côte d'Ivoire's civil war, for example, has been bitterly denounced by African observers.

Yet, a strong case can be made that Europe should become more, not less, forcefully involved in addressing Africa's security crises — and that this will be the basis for a "new deal" that moves beyond the colonial legacy.

This is not simple idealism. If anything, we have become over-familiar with Africa as a "scar" on our consciences. The question is what can be done on the ground in a hands-on fashion to contribute to regional stability in conflict areas in Africa. The international community's painful slowness to act on Darfur in 2004 underscored that the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 has not led to a reassessment for Europe's role in preventing such horrific acts.

More broadly speaking, the memory of Rwanda has also not led to the creation of new humanitarian norms that would call for intervention even before a similar crisis erupts. But there is increased U.S. and European interest in African problems, largely driven by strategic calculations. One of these calculations is that West Africa combines the Saudi formula of oil and emergent Islamism.

Because of the EU's relatively modest military resources, NATO assets would be crucial for medium and large-scale African missions. Another is that the ever-volatile Congo boasts an abundance of natural resources — not least uranium. In addition, the "new threats" of terrorism, weapons proliferation, AIDS and uncontrolled migration increase the need to confront underlying conflicts and state failures across the continent.

There is a real opportunity for a new approach to these challenges. While Iraq ostensibly discredited the concept of multilateral action, Africa provides encouragement: 50,000 soldiers are currently involved in peace operations across the continent.

If the Balkans were the peacekeeping laboratory of the 1990s, both the UN and EU have recently conducted new experiments in Africa. In the summer of 2003, the EU launched Operation Artemis — its first autonomous military operation outside Europe — in north-eastern Congo.

The mission's aim was to reassert order in a region where a UN force had effectively lost control — a welcome opportunity for Brussels to assist New York. Carried off without casualties, Artemis was a short, sharp military success.

If the Balkans were the peacekeeping laboratory of the 1990s, both the UN and EU have recently conducted new experiments in Africa. In the same year, the UN launched a groundbreaking "integrated" mission in Liberia, involving soldiers, policemen and civilian experts. Even though the effort was flawed for a number of reasons, it was at least an attempt to transfer to Africa the techniques that have worked in Croatia and Bosnia.

But the most significant initiative has, crucially, been of African origin. In 2002, the "African Union" replaced the sclerotic "Organization of African Unity." Its bold Constitutive Act explicitly declares that the Union can override sovereignty in cases of "war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity".

The African Union has hinted at its potential by sending forces to Burundi in 2003 and Darfur in 2004 — and gained significant international support.

The European Commission created a 250 million African Peace Facility to support African Union missions, offering some 92 million for Darfur.

While Iraq ostensibly discredited multilateral action, Africa provides encouragement: 50,000 soldiers are currently involved in peace operations across Africa. The African Union could well be the institutional partner that the international community so desperately needs in order to gain legitimacy. Yet international cooperation with the African Union has so far been poorly coordinated, racked by institutional rivalries, and sometimes self-defeating. The EU and the UN have failed to agree on a unified response to Darfur. And even within Brussels, there are ongoing tensions between the European Commission and Council over relations with the African Union. NATO, meanwhile, has interpreted the EU's new interest in Africa as a bid for an autonomous sphere of influence — and responded by declaring its own interest in African operations.

The United States has been promptest to act, offering logistical support to African forces while others bickered. Nor has the African Union found it easy to act on its principles. While African leaders' commitment to find a solution in Darfur is genuine, they have been extremely reluctant to condemn the Sudanese government for its role in the crisis.

The United States — heavily committed across the world — should be glad to see Europe getting serious about hard security.

This shows that state sovereignty is still a daunting barrier that few African leaders dare to cross. Moreover, African diplomats have expressed concern that the West wishes to turn the African Union into a military subcontractor — not a strategic partner. Asked to conduct peace operations in the Côte d'Ivoire in late 2004, the AU declined.

How can these challenges be resolved? While a plethora of organizations may wish to play a part, Africa needs a new and simplified security framework.

The EU's cooperation with the African Union through the Peace Facility may provide the best available basis for this innovation. Rather than working on an arbitrary case-by-case basis, the EU and African Union should conceptualize and implement a single, unified security organization — a "NATO for Africa".

Just as NATO was designed to give Europe confidence that the United States would defend it in the event of a Soviet attack, so a NATO-style arrangement for Africa would compel Europe to respond to genocide, invasion, civil conflict and humanitarian disaster.

The key innovation of an EU/AU partnership would be to give African nations a greater say on their security arrangements for the new century. It would enable the African Union to request EU assistance in dealing with the security threats defined in the act, while European leaders would have the right to request African Union participation in joint operations. Of course, the treaty's security guarantee would differ substantially from NATO's Cold War Article V, designed to address the threat of invasion by another state. It would instead be oriented towards the "new" problems of failing states and non-state actors.

This would not necessarily create a clash with the rest of the international community. The AU/EU arrangement could — and should — be negotiated with reference to Chapter VIII of the UN Charter, which allows for "regional arrangements" to play a part in global security.

More problematic would be tensions with the United States and NATO. But an AU-EU organization could not succeed without Washington.

Because of the EU's relatively modest military resources, NATO assets would be crucial for medium and large-scale African missions. While a plethora of organizations may wish to play a part, Africa needs a new and simplified security framework.

Ultimately, the United States — heavily committed across the world and systematically retreating from "entangling alliances" — should be glad to see Europe getting serious about hard security.

Similarly, NATO could find a new, post-Cold War identity in assisting its African counterpart.

The key innovation of an EU/AU partnership would be to give African nations a greater say on their security arrangements for the new century.

Some European nations always doubted whether the United States would, when it came down to it, risk world war and a nuclear holocaust to defend them from a Soviet invasion. Similarly, African leaders may well be skeptical about the firmness of Europe's security guarantee. But a formal declaration of commitment and a tailor-made institution to tackle Africa's problems would be a valuable political step toward preventing future Rwandas and Darfurs.