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Training the coast guards in Yemen and Djibouti: a new PeSDC mission?

star of the Yemeni coast guard (credit: French Ministry of Defence)

A new project for a common European defense mission (PeSDC) in the Indian Ocean should quickly be put on the table of the 27 Member States.

The objective of this mission is, alongside direct action at sea (Eunavfor Atalanta) and training action for Somali security forces (Eutm Somalia), to come and strengthen local maritime capacities for the fight against pirates (training, tactical training, conditioning, etc.). Two "test" countries would be chosen to start the operation, located on the edge of the Gulf of Aden: Djibouti and Yemen.

These coast guards would have simple missions at the start: patrols in the area, information and intelligence on boats in circulation, simple accompaniments or relays of international forces along the coasts. It does not mean a " total security. You must not dream. but it could allow better coverage of the area. And also to release European and international forces from certain missions” specified a European expert in Brussels2.

A slow, very slow, reflection

The project of such a common European defense mission is not really new for those who regularly follow the news on this blog. It has even been talked about for almost two years in European circles. It was in July 2009, in fact, that the Ministers of the "27" agreed on the need for such a mission. So we have two projects on the table: the training project for the Somali security forces and "possible CSDP action to strengthen regional maritime capacity in the Horn of Africa". Only the first one will go, then, to its term under the name of EUTM Somalia. But various misadventures prevented the realization of it.

Regarding the maritime aspect, a "strategic military options paper" was well developed in the fall of 2009 and presented in December 2009. Discussions began in the spring of 2010 in the working groups (CIVCOM and the political-military group). In June 2010, at the Council of Ministers in Luxembourg, the ministers revoked the subject, by addressing the future of anti-piracy actions in the Indian Ocean, in the presence of Rear Admiral Hudson, who commands Operation Atalanta. But that's the end of it... The changes underway within the diplomatic service, the change of leader on the military committee and at the head of the Atalanta operation, partly explain this latency.To this must be added a certain lack of impetus from the High Representative, Cathy Ashton, who then had other cats whipping and other priorities.

Today, we are not yet at the start of the operation. But, at least, the debate will be able to be revived among the Member States; which begins the decision-making phase.

Action more comprehensive than "containment" is required

As British General Buster Howes, who currently commands Operation Atalanta, explained to Defense Ministers in substance in December, we know very well that in the Indian Ocean, we " contain the phenomenon of piracy. But nothing more. Piracy continues to increase. It is necessary, very quickly, to think of an additional device to reinforce its effectiveness. We must go back to the sources of piracy ».

The maritime capacity building mission in Yemen and Djibouti would be part of this new European involvement. It would be accompanied, we explain to the European diplomatic service, by action on the ground, on the one hand to better fight against insecurity "by strengthening judicial structures (Somali prison and justice), on the other hand, by " more assertive development action ". Other actions, more police, to trace complicity in piracy, particularly in the laundering of ransom money, are also being considered and applied.

Why Yemen and Djibouti?

The maritime capacity building mission would take place in Yemen and Djibouti for several reasons. On the one hand, there is already a well-defined framework (the “Djibouti code”) which constitutes the international political framework allowing such action. It provides, among other things, for the establishment of a regional training center in Djibouti, financed by the European Union and Japan, and an information sharing center (in Yemen). Then, it is in these two countries that Europe would have the most "added value". In the southern Somali basin, action is already well under way in the Seychelles (with the United Arab Emirates and India for equipment, the Europeans for the legal aspect and training) and soon in Mauritius. And an additional European boost would not be as "perceptible" as in the northern slope of the Indian Ocean. In Somalia itself, difficulties of another order arise (see below). Finally, it is not useless to specify that strengthening maritime capacities in Yemen as in Djibouti is of equally major interest in other aspects of security such as the fight against the various illegal trafficking (human beings, smuggling, etc.). and to prevent a possible terrorist threat.

It should also be specified that in Yemen, several countries of the European Union (France, Italy and the United Kingdom) as well as the United States and Japan, have already initiated, on a bilateral basis, training or structuring coast guard forces. And other countries, such as Germany, the Netherlands, and to a lesser extent Denmark and the Czech Republic, provide financial support for the development of the country, which is one of the poorest on the planet. Ditto in Djibouti with some of the actors already mentioned (France, Germany, as well as the United States and Japan very present).

The European Union also intervenes directly in the framework of humanitarian and development aid in Yemen to deal with the influx of refugees (174.000 have arrived recently), displaced persons (340.000 people in northern Yemen) and the ravages of inner conflict. The European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid, Kristalina Georgieva, who was visiting Yemen on Saturday (January 15), and opened an office of the European Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO), has also announced the increase European humanitarian aid. This will increase from 10 to 15 million euros. This is without taking into account EU development aid which already reaches 17 million euros per year on average (70 million euros for the period 2007-2010).

Why not Somalia directly

Creating a coastguard corps in Somalia would be more risky. At European level, the Member States won't do anything until we have a minimum of 100% control" explains an expert on the subject. Everyone remembers the previous experiment conducted by the international community, training Somali coastguards. An experiment " rather successfule”, adds an observer ironically. These coastguards have, in fact, turned against the boats they had to protect and were the first of this new line of Somali pirates who are currently all the rage in the Indian Ocean. Concretely, on the European side, we want to keep feeding the fire ". Without serious safeguards, tomorrow we risk finding these coast guards on the piracy front, on the other side, with more training and equipment ».

We also remember the long and lively discussions to convince certain Member States of the need for a mission to train Somali security forces (the EUTM mission). Forming coastguards would present “ more serious difficulties because we could not count on the on-site supervision provided by AMISOM, Ugandan and Burundian troops.

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Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).