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29th Mar 2023

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EU wargames fictional crisis in West Africa

  • Mali: The EU is planning new military missions in West Africa (Photo: eutmmali.eu)
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The EU is preparing to wargame a fictional crisis in a West Africa-type setting, shedding light on how Europe sees its threats and military ambitions.

The month-long drill, called Integrated Resolve, starts on 19 September and is meant "to enhance the capacity of the EU to respond to (transboundary) crises and to hybrid threats," according to an internal EU dossier seen by EUobserver.

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  • Map of Kronen region in fictional EU exercise

Hybrid warfare refers to a mixture of military and non-military attacks, such as economic or information assaults.

The exercise will see senior officials, diplomats, and military staff in Brussels and national capitals scramble to send an EU military mission to save Seglia — a fictional country in a region which resembles West Africa.

In the exercise, Seglia, a "young democracy", seeks EU help amid threats by an aggressive neighbour called Kronen.

Kronen is also splattering anti-Western propaganda and working with a hacker group on anti-EU cyberattacks.

Meanwhile, Kronen's ally, Proxyland, is funding anti-Seglia terrorists and cutting EU gas supplies.

And to complicate things further, they are all located next to Freeland, which recently joined the EU, adding fears of a spillover of instability into EU territory.

The situation suddenly flares up according to a secret script to be revealed on 19 September.

"A worsening of the crisis, notably due to hybrid threats, will be simulated," the EU document says.

EU ambassadors will role-play meetings and pore over fictional intelligence assessments and satellite images to test the institutional engineering behind a European armed response.

The 173-page Integrated Resolve dossier goes deep into the fictional politics, economics, and history of Seglia and Kronen, showing the intellectual side of EU thinking on military interventions.

The dossier is also peppered with realistic touches, such as a mocked-up text of a UN arms embargo or the names of Kronen officials under EU sanctions — "Nujennif Ecfamrefis" and "Major Zapot".

Real threats

And while the fictional crisis is not directly modelled on any current conflict in the EU neighbourhood, Integrated Resolve pulls together elements from what is really going on in The Sahel and Ukraine.

The EU is planning new military missions in Burkina Faso, Niger, and the Gulf of Guinea to protect EU-friendly countries from jihadist terrorists just like the fictional "NEXSTA" group in the EU exercise.

Mali and Russia are pumping out anti-Western propaganda like Kronen.

Russia is attacking its peaceful neighbour also like Kronen, which the EU document describes as "an autocratic country increasingly assertive about its potential economic world power and military strength".

Real Russia-linked hacker groups, such as Fancy Bear (APT28), have been harassing European institutions for years.

Russia is cutting EU gas supplies like Proxyland and there's a real threat the Ukraine war might spill into new EU states, such as Poland, recalling Freeland.

The mix of Integrated Resolve threats — conventional warfare, terrorism, cyberattacks, energy cuts, "instrumentalisation of migratory flows", and propaganda — reveals how the EU sees its neighbourhood today.

The exercise shows ambition because the EU has never before sent military missions overseas to protect "young democracies", as envisaged in Seglia.

The EU has 17 ongoing military and civilian missions mostly in the Western Balkans and Africa, but these mainly do local training while leaving heavier tasks to Nato or individual member states.

Integrated Resolve comes amid EU plans, championed by France, to create a European rapid-reaction force by 2025 that is capable of being parachuted into Seglia-type scenarios.

French vision

But for all that, the exercise also points to the limits of the EU vision of what some, including French president Emmanuel Macron, have called a future "European army" and "strategic autonomy".

Despite drawing on Russian elements, such as hacker groups, Integrated Resolve foresees EU military intervention in regional conflicts more resembling The Sahel than geopolitical ones like Russia.

It foresees a future EU armed capability on a scale that would not play a role in European territorial or nuclear defence.

And that kind of EU force better reflects French concerns about defending its old African colonies than Polish or Estonian ones about keeping Russia at bay.

There would be "reputational risks for the EU and its MS [member states] with respect if a regime, [which has] engaged in a strategic partnership with the EU and has demonstrated a shared commitment to EU values, succumbs to violence", the EU dossier noted in passing, bringing to mind Europe's failure to protect Ukraine.

The Integrated Resolve document did not game out combat scenarios, focusing instead on the decision-making that would precede a military response.

It would take more than 20 high-level meetings over a month-long period in Brussels alone to give the go-ahead for European boots on the ground, the EU planning indicated.

And any armed intervention would provoke a media storm, the EU expects. It would require an "intensive … campaign to better position the EU on the media battlefield", the Integrated Resolve paper said.

"At the midday briefing [in Brussels], journalists" would be "told that the 'EU is committed to promoting stability, security and development' with partner countries," it said.

Macron pledges troops in Niger after Mali exodus

The pullout from Mali raises fresh doubts about European military resolve. But Macron said troops would return to fight jihadists in the region from bases in Niger and Nigeria.

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