Sat, Jul 07, 2007 - Page 9 News List

Europe's mission in Africa

Large parts of Africa need support and the EU can and must lend a hand. Raw military might is one means of assistance

By Michele Alliot-Marie

The EU's military mission to ensure free and fair elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has shown what the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP) can achieve in Africa.

A contingent of roughly 2,500 troops from 22 countries went to the DRC in mid-2003 to support UN troops, and provided a rapid reaction force that snuffed out disorder in Kinshasa before it could erupt into full-blown may-hem. Three years later, Operation Artemis, a comparable EU mission in the eastern province of Ituri, again has demonstrated Europe's resolve to use military capability to underpin a long-term peace process.

For some people, raw military might is the only true measure of power. But the 16 EU military missions that have now been carried out in support of the ESDP have much more to commend them. Large parts of Africa need support, and Europe can and must lend a hand. Nor is the EU's new style of political-military engagement in Africa a throwback to colonialism.

True, many African countries currently suffer from instability, state failure, regional strife, violent internal political competition and other assorted ills, including, massacres and large-scale brutality, civil war, massive movements of refugees, economic disruption and environmental damage. Yet the big picture in Africa is not uniformly bleak. Some African countries are comparatively stable and prosperous, and the continent possesses a youthful population that will soon top one billion people, abundant mineral reserves, and an inherent dynamism.

At the same time, we in Europe cannot afford to dismiss Africa's troubles as if they had no impact on our own societies. The European project has been built on values that we deem to be universal, and we must make a very real effort to uphold them, not only as a moral imperative, but also because it is in our strategic interest. The EU is by far the largest export market for African goods, and it also offers a home to large communities from almost every African country. Likewise, a large number of European citizens and dependents are scattered throughout Africa.

In the early stages of a crisis, European intervention -- through political and financial assistance, diplomatic intervention, and even military action -- can prevent it from erupting into violence.

Moreover, when a crisis is winding down and there are openings for moderating influences, outside intervention can prove instrumental in enforcing peace and bringing warring factions to the negotiating table.

In countries that have experienced the horrors of civil war, the arrival of an effective military force from outside is generally welcomed, as was the case in both Congo operations. Just by virtue of being there, the force shows the goodwill and commitment of the nations that sent it, and, by projecting a sense of law and order, it provides valuable leverage for honest brokers trying to mediate a peace deal.

Europe's policy toward Africa may suffer shortcomings, but at least there is a policy, which is based on supporting African states and regional organizations like the African Union whenever practicable, necessary and, above all, requested. The ESDP takes into account the larger European policy, and aims to provide assistance in planning, training, and logistical support to missions and forces created by African states or groups of states. For example, the recent concept of "European reinforcement of African capabilities in prevention, crisis response and conflict resolution" (which is known as "Recamp") openly calls for African ownership of this process.

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