27th Nov 2022

First job for Rapid Deployment Force

Central Africa today offers a unique opportunity for Europeans to demonstrate a sense of responsibility they often collectively lack, by making their claim to care about Africa converge with the security tools they are building, through a concrete act: stabilising Central Africa.

A hot issue in 2003

Let us take defence and security for instance, certain to be a hot issue in 2003. For the EU, this year is meant to see the establishment of its ability to act as one on security and defence issues: taking over Bosnian police force and that of Macedonia. In addition, under France and Germany leadership, moving towards a European Armament Agency, and finally building Rapid Deployment Force with 60,000 soldiers.

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Meanwhile, with the unavoidable referenda for the ratification of the future EU constitution, the credibility of the EU to preserve the European’s security and to promote regional and global stability, is becoming a major political challenge in demonstrating Europe's political maturity. Anticipation and political relevance call for it. But leadership is still missing. Will it come in 2003? Central Africa will be the test.

Destabilised Africa is mass of major threats for Europeans

If Central Africa is left allowed to languish in its current state, in a few years time, terrorists from Al Qaeda or other networks will prosper on this continent rather than in Asia. Crumbling states, lawless regions and tribal wars offer indeed a perfect environment for terrorists training camps.

Meanwhile exasperated populations will increase clandestine immigration to Europe and entire regions will become ideal fields for the outbreak of disease and epidemics. And all those NGOs and countries dedicated to Third World Aid will end up moving away, leaving dozens of millions of people in the hands of soldiers of fortune, ethnic cleansers, robbers, hunger and deadly viruses. Big success for Europe: Africa's closest neighbour, former colonial power and provider of public and private aid.

Africa's woes are Europeans' best shared burden

Whether it goes through EuropAid or bilateral aid, Africa ranks first, by far, among continents supported by Europe. Many European countries (France, UK, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal,) are former African colonial powers, living up with historic links with this continent.

Most European countries are welcoming African immigrants. All Europeans, at least since the Biafra War, have shared deep concern about Africa’s woes and disasters, giving money to relief organisations and other NGOs.

More European NGOs are active in Africa than anywhere else in the world. All that, added up with the fact that the two major players of European defence, UK and France, were the biggest former colonial powers in Africa and that their two languages are spoken all across the continent, makes a very good case for the political relevance of European intervention in Central Africa to prevent further destabilisation of the continent.

Military deployment first of all to stop further destabilisation

The coming Rapid European Deployment Force (REDF) is exactly the tool for such a purpose. Whether it was planned for this does not matter really as the challenge in Africa is not a military one. Indeed Central Africa does not host major military forces which can pose any serious threat to the REDF.

The force would aim at stabilising predominantly by preventing further destabilisation; at setting up conditions allowing democracy to gain a foot hold, health care and education to be implemented and economy to operate in peaceful conditions. Basically, issues for which Europe and the Europeans have been working on for 40 years and which are now collapsing from Rwanda to Liberia to the Ivory Coast.

France or UK? Leadership in the field of defence will come from acts, not words

Leadership does not come by itself or because objectively one is stronger than the other. Leadership grows from a combination of recognition of a specific expertise, trust from other players, and a willingness to put one's own interests behind that of the group. Without these components, no leader can emerge save in words.

To continue with unilateral state action as France in Ivory Coast today or UK in Sierra Leone did a few years ago will be to commit a historic mistake. Problems in Central Africa are exactly the size and nature fitting the EU's emerging security and defence policy: out of major US focus, usual spot for many European armies, a myriad of links to Europe, it is expected by many Africans, there are cross-borders and dictating a regional approach to be necessary.

Europe defence and security waits for its leader

This leadership will require putting both Europe's interests (a peaceful, stable, prosperous Africa) and Africa's interest (a long term partnership with Europe ensuring both socio-economic development and political stability) atop of the agenda.

On one hand, it will require the shaking up European countries which are always ready to ‘cry over Africa's disasters' but do not want to risk a soldier's life to help secure countries falling into chaos; on the other hand, it will imply sharing decision making and military planning with other European countries willing to pay their tribute to our continental neighbour's stability.

An obvious leader for European security and defence policy

We already missed our Yugoslavian responsibilities; let us not miss our African ones otherwise tomorrow we will pay a high price for it: growing clandestine immigration, new terrorist prone regions, diseases, …and loosing even more European citizens support for the EU. One thing is certain: the country paving the way in 2003 for a European stabilisation force in Central Africa (with UN consent of course), will become an obvious leader in European security and defence policy.

FRANCK BIANCHERI is Director for Strategy and Studies of Europe 2020, a trans-European think-tank based in Paris. He is currently starting a democratic premiere, the "Newropeans Democratic Marathon", by touring, until June 2003, 100 cities in 25 European countries, in order to debate the future of Europe directly with the citizens.

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