Lundin, L.E. 2016. Should Europe pay to enhance military capabilities in Africa? ECDPM Talking Points blog, 9 December 2016.
The second contribution to our series of blogs ahead of the 2017 Challenges Paper is by Mr. Lars-Erik Lundin, Distinguished Associate Fellow at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). Looking ahead into one of the critical debates that will shape discussions on EU external action financing in 2017, Mr. Lundin raises the question whether the European Union should provide more capacity building assistance to military actors in Africa to promote security and development, and briefly assesses the benefits and the risks involved.
There are many reasons why the European Union should assist African countries regarding security issues. Some of these reasons are explicit and legitimate, others are less easy to enumerate in official declarations. However, promoting development through security does have a pivotal role to play in EU-Africa relations.
The link between security and development is highlighted in Agenda 2030 more than in any previous global framework. Indeed, the farmer needs peace and stability in order to be able to cultivate his field, and children’s right to education is constantly jeopardised by wars.
Preventing further irregular migration from Africa to Europe is another objective that links security and development. Countering terrorism on both continents too is a vital means to achieve peace and, thereby, to respond European interests. At the same time, the configuration of European assistance relates to a genuine fear: it is a great concern for the exporters of security capabilities to avoid European casualties on the ground.
Everyone likes success stories where swift operations bring new conditions for peace and development. The military often point to situations where civilian counterparts have failed in creating the necessary conditions for peacebuilding after military operations, such as in the case of Libya.
What we are concerned with within the scope of this blog is, however, something else: how to avoid supplying security capabilities that can be used for military actions other than the ones intended by the supplier, now or later. The history of US and Russian military exports to clients abroad is replete with failed attempts to clearly delimit recipients’ capabilities.
Security suppliers have notably disregarded two types of risks when it comes to security capacity building. The first regards what happens over time following their contribution, as illustrated by Charlie Wilson’s War in Afghanistan and by the 20.000 Soviet advisers thrown out of Egypt in 1972.
The second risk they run touches upon what happens on the other side of the conflict, as demonstrated by the high correlation between the given aid to both sides of a conflict and escalation, as illustrated by the assistance given to both sides in the Arab-Israeli and Iran-Iraq conflicts. If the net effect of aid is an escalation to a higher level of conflict, then the only ones who remain happy might, in the end, be the contractors.
Security capabilities can change owner, leading to instability in other areas and countries, as illustrated by the aftermath of the intervention in Libya. The owner may change his allegiance – yes, here the gender is most often masculine – becoming more or less vulnerable to corruption.
However, and here is a significant counterargument, is Europe not already supporting security capabilities when it provides generic budgetary support to various countries in Africa? Does this not open up for higher defence budgets, as witnessed in the Balkans in previous decades? Does not the fact that the West pays for almost the whole Afghan national budget in itself constitute military assistance‚ albeit indirect?
Finally, does this not mean that, if Europe wishes to enhance security capabilities, it should do so in very specific contexts through assistance, thereby avoiding an unintended use of the latter? Cases in point include complementing Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) training missions in countries such as Mali and Somalia, where the necessary conditions to make these missions successful on the ground are missing.
The EU is not entirely new to assistance related to lethal capabilities. The African Peace Facility (APF) has been operational for more than a decade, financed outside the official EU budget through the European Development Fund (EDF). More than 15 years ago, the European Union also found a legal basis to finance demining through various community budget lines. Yet, the attempt to do the same concerning small arms led to a protracted and embarrassing court battle over many years and, when the Commission tried to set up the Instrument for Stability a little more than ten years ago, co-legislators rejected the idea to include a link to military equipment.
Now, the idea is again on the table. This time, though, intended for the revamped Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP). This legislative proposal enjoys strong support from some member states. It represents one of the overarching objectives in the security-defence package, which is up for discussion in the European Council at the end of 2016. This, in turn, is the first more concrete manifestation of the implementation of the EU Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy.
In a Europe that is more and more focused on domestic political battles fighting populism, it is important for governments to be able to point to substantial efforts to dealing with terrorism and irregular migration outside European borders.
A major threat for the future may be the demographic evolutions in Africa, with its projected 2 billion inhabitants by the year 2050. The case of Nigeria illustrates these concerns. According to projections, Nigeria will become the third most populous country on earth by 2050. Hence, assisting Nigeria in fighting Boko Haram is one of the first proposed concrete EU projects. This is less than a surprise: Boko Haram has produced more deaths outside the Iraqi-Syrian battleground than almost all other terrorist organisations in the world. Also, regarding organised crime (including human trafficking), Nigeria already figures on top of the statistics in some European countries.
As some wise voices have pleaded, if the initiative of financing military actors is to go forward, it will require intelligence in the widest sense of the word. In the coming years, a comprehensive analysis that looks ahead into the future and draws lessons from the past is truly needed to make this strengthened vector of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) at least a relative success.
This seems a much more important discourse than the somewhat legalistic argument which states that using development money for security-related assistance is wrong, either at the level of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) or with reference to EU treaties. Legal services have important arguments, as do those NGOs that fight to preserve the integrity of development assistance. But, since the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so the proof of policy effectiveness lies in its impact.
In 2017, as well as in the years to come, it is important for policy makers to keep in mind that security and development must necessarily go hand in hand.
Photo courtesy of Defence Images via Flickr.
Lars-Erik Lundin is Distinguished Associate Fellow at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). He has previously worked, inter alia, as Deputy Political Director of the European Commission and Ambassador in the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of ECDPM or SIPRI.
Mr. Lars-Erik Lundin