Will development be short changed in Europe’s externalized foreign policy?

Peace & Security,Sahel Watch31 Jul 2017Rojan Bolling, Annemarie van de Vijsel, Karlijn Muiderman

EU support in the Sahel region is part of an emerging European foreign policy that externalizes its security. The recent financial and political support for a new 5,000-strong security force of soldiers from five Sahelian states is part of this trend. Yet if support for top-down security initiatives dominates development support, neither can be achieved. As development actions are increasingly being brought under the umbrella of top-down security and migration management, the EU’s commitment to a combined security and development approach could tip the balance in favour of the former. 

On 2 July, the ‘G5’ Sahel countries of Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad formally established a joint force of 5,000 soldiers. This force will focus mainly on countering terrorism and illegal cross-border trafficking in three border regions between these countries. It also has a mandate to support development and humanitarian action in the region, which is needed to support the population living in these conflict-torn areas. Wholly composed of African troops, the force, which is modelled on the multinational force fighting Boko Haram, follows after the deployment of the French counterterrorism mission, Barkhane, and the UN stabilization mission, MINUSMA, and will closely cooperate with the two. However, meeting its proposed 423 million euro budget will be challenging. After contributions from the five Sahel countries, the EU and France, a gap of over 300 million euro remains. Further European support will, thus, be crucial.

Externalizing EU security

EU support for the G5 force is in line with the EU’s trend of outsourcing the management of its outer borders. The Sahel is seen as part of the ‘arc of instability’ surrounding Europe to the south and east, where the EU is attempting to ensure greater border control and stability to counter the perceived threat of terrorism and migration. Mali and Niger’s insecurity is especially threatening as they are crucial transit countries for West African migration. These countries are poorly developed and unstable, which is an ideal mix for people smugglers and violent extremist groups. The projection that Africa’s population will grow by another billion over the next 30 years means that a sound partnership with these countries is important for European nations looking to improve conditions in the region and better manage increasing population and migration flows.

Interlinked goals of security and development?

The EU Strategy for Security and Development in the Sahel expresses as much. It is the EU’s most important strategy document for the region and sees the security of the Sahel as the security of Europe. The link between development and security is a central feature of this core document, which guides the roughly 8 billion euros in development aid that has been committed by the EU and its member states. Yet when security and development goals are mixed in such a fashion, a risk emerges that Europe’s more pressing short-term security needs, like border management, may overtake the long-term focus of development actions in the Sahel.

The focus on border management and the inclusion of support for humanitarian and development actions in the G5 force’s mandate are a case in point. In the context of a security-oriented mission like the G5 force, they risk becoming an afterthought. The sustainability of integrating security and development rests with the careful consideration of how such actions will support each other. As the mission is supposed to add to the various currently-deployed security interventions that are focused on providing security top-down, it risks inducing a form of mission creep or, in this case, ‘security creep’. In this process, initial goals of combining security and development issues in a synergistic manner could be supplanted by a more ‘pragmatic’ approach that seeks to consolidate (top-down) security gains, leaving behind development and reform. However, it is exactly this bottom-up development-focused approach that will ultimately provide more sustainable people-centred security. EU support for security and development interventions in the Sahel region could then come into conflict, rather than strengthening each other. Some African nations could even start using this shift in commitment as a bargaining chip, seeking to exchange development support for contributions to regional (top-down) security interventions.

Will the G5 force tip the balance?

The G5 force is a welcome initiative during these times of ongoing violence in the Sahel. It could very well provide the much-needed boost to security in the region and enable further development to take place. It could also help put in place the conditions under which the Malian peace agreement can be implemented. But international and European support should not come at the cost of genuine reform and should not jeopardize the sustainability of development efforts, which is bound to happen if development and security goals start to conflict. Framing development action in terms of European security is attractive when faced with an increasingly sceptical public at home. However, development goals should not be short changed when brought under the umbrella of security and migration management. If anything, the balance should be tipped in favour of development.