The German engagement in the Sahel. The moment of truth for Berlin, and for Europe too…

(B2) Germany always seems so reluctant to engage more robustly in the Sahel, which seems contradictory. But some of the reflections in Germany should make us think

EUTM Mali’s simulation exercice of an IED explosion (credit : Bundeswehr)

Between saying and doing, it’s hard to reconcile

Today, Germany is s entangled in contradictions and confronted this moment of truth. Its multiple statements in favour of a Defensive Europe, of creating a European Army even, of a more active Germany on the international scene and the security scene, the creation of a European Security Council even, have to face the reality of the actions: the refusal of engaging more in the Sahel (read: Un engagement dans Takuba au Sahel : ‘Nein’ confirme Berlin. Réfléchissons d’abord), as well as a reluctance in going to the Strait of Hormuz (read: An operation in the Strait of Hormuz comes back to the surface. The result of a french manœuvre). The government of Angela Merkel will now have to align the stars. Either its statements are only illusions, intended for occupying the conversations, to give an illusion of wanting to be power, or it is a real political will and the Angela Merkel government has to clarify its position and commit.

An also contradictory France

At the same time, we should not be throwing the first stone to Berlin while singing the famous French ‘cocorico’ triumphantly. France cannot escape a few incoherencies either: Emmanuel Macron also often underlines the importance of the European Union, of acting as Europeans. France wants to activate a mutual assistance clause, more European countries engagements in defence, but it prefers, whenever it can, to act in ad hoc coalition rather than through the more restrictive formats of international organisations (1). The examples are numerous: the European Intervention Initiative, the European operation in the Strait of Hormuz, Operation Barkhane and now Takuba (2).

Tactical success but no strategic victory

The will of having a deeper reflection on the topic officially showed by Berlin is not to be rejected from the outset. The strategy followed by France in the Sahel since 2013 has indeed not showed clear success on the long term. Yes, there have been some tactical victories. Press statements about having neutralised tens of ‘terrorists’, of some local leaders, and arms seizures keep being published. Nevertheless, the jihadist presence keeps being just as strong. The rebels seem to be rebuilding their destroyed forces progressively. Their presence is now spread over three countries in the zone (Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso). The armed local forces are incurring important losses, with ‘daring’ attacks from the jihadists – rebels that nothing seems able to discourage. The Malian state is still just as weak, to the point where the internal destabilisation threat (such as a coup d’état) is not to be excluded.

Is it time to reflect?

In this complex context, it is not clear if the establishment of a force of a hundred special forces, more mobile, will be enough to change the state of play. Admittedly, it could give some confidence back to the local forces, but would it be enough? A strategic reflection seems necessary. Still, in order to do that, Europeans should stop burying their head in the sand and finally address (and solve) some questions: What is not working with the Sahel states? Can we keep this entrenched position of non-negotiation with the ‘jihadist’ groups? What is the level of implication of the ‘allied’ countries (Saudi Arabia, Turkey…) that parasitise, or thwart even, the efforts of the Europeans? Etc. Awkward questions.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

  1. A strategy that is very similar to the Americans.
  2. Read : Many European countries are thinking about engaging in Mali (operation Takuba)

Nicolas Gros-Verheyde

Rédacteur en chef du site B2. Diplômé en droit européen de l'université Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne et auditeur 65e session IHEDN (Institut des hautes études de la défense nationale. Journaliste depuis 1989, fonde B2 - Bruxelles2 en 2008. Correspondant UE/OTAN à Bruxelles pour Sud-Ouest (auparavant Ouest-France et France-Soir).