Stopping Mali from Becoming Somalia

The United States needs to prevent Mali from turning into another failed state in the heart of Africa.

The parallels are striking: A government collapses in a divided country, militant jihadist groups quickly fill the vacuum, and a humanitarian disaster breaks out, threatening to breed chaos throughout the region. These factors have long been associated with Somalia, the world's most enduring failed state. But for months now they have begun to describe Mali, located across the continent to the west, which is now poised to assume Somalia's unenviable status as Africa's most troubled nation. And just as Somalia's instability ripped through the Horn of Africa, so too could the chaos in Mali mean trouble for the larger Sahel region in West Africa.

Things first started to go south in March, when soldiers staged a coup in Bamako, overthrowing President Amadou Toumani Toure only weeks before a new president was to be selected. Quickly thereafter, Tuareg rebels, who have had grievances with the Malian government since the early 1960s, aligned with jihadist forces, defeated the national army, captured the key cities of Timbuktu, Kidal, and Gao and declared the northern part of the country the breakaway nation of Azawad.

Since then, Islamic extremists have gained the upper hand. According to one source, Islamist factions have pushed indigenous Tuaregs out of northern Mali completely. The government in the south is weak, technocratic, and has been without its interim president, Diacounda Traore, since he left the country for Paris following a beating in his office on May 21 by backers of the coup. And there are no indications that the interim Mali government has the ability to pursue a political or military settlement with the Islamists in the north.

Mali had been the model counterinsurgency program for the United States in Africa. The sudden collapse of this program, in which the Pentagon had invested tens of millions of dollars over the last decade, suggests that Washington had significantly misread the environment in Mali. As a result, al Qaeda in the Islamic Margreb (AQIM) and its ally, Ansar Dine, now have control of several relatively significant urban areas from which they can plan attacks on American targets in West Africa and send resources to al Qaeda affiliates in other regions.

Today, the northern half of Mali is now a virtual no-go area for journalists and humanitarian workers; Ansar Dine controls the northern cities and AQIM fighters have free rein throughout the countryside. Together they have instituted a harsh form of sharia law and destroyed centuries-old monuments including ancient Muslim shrines in Timbuktu -- actions reminiscent of al-Shabab and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

But while the situation in northern Mali has deteriorated rapidly, the international community has not responded in kind. Earlier this month, the U.N. Security Council deferred a request by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for authorization to deploy 3,200 troops in Mali until it received "additional information" related to the goals and objectives of the proposed intervention. ECOWAS has also called for the creation of a government of national unity and elections. But State Department officials following this issue suggest that it might take up to 12 months to structure a force that could stabilize the north of Mali. During this time frame, State Department officials envision that elections would be held in Mali, possibly by May or June 2013, and a newly elected Malian government would be in place to signal its support for a U.N.-authorized ECOWAS force to take on the Islamists in the north.

By that time, however, northern Mali is likely to be an al Qaeda stronghold and a significantly larger force than ECOWAS is proposing would be needed to dislodge the jihadists. Together, AQIM and Ansar Dine currently can count on up to several thousand armed fighters. AQIM has generated millions of dollars from ransoms paid by kidnapped Europeans and illicit drug transactions, and will likely work to strengthen the military capabilities of the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram in northern Nigeria, adding more pressure to the challenges being faced by the Nigerian government, Washington's key strategic partner in the region. As Gen. Carter Hamm, the commander of Africom, recently remarked, the linkages between AQIM and Boko Haram are the "most worrisome" of any security threat facing the United States and African nations.

The conflict in northern Mali has already created more than 350,000 internally displaced persons and refugees who have fled to the neighboring states of Mauritania, Niger, and Burkina Faso. In Mali, 4.6 million people face food insecurity and further food shortages are looming. Mali has also lost hundreds of millions of dollars in suspended aid from the United States, the World Bank, and the EU, not to mention the loss of revenue from tourism and foreign investment.

ECOWAS is right to want to move quickly to challenge the influence of the Islamic extremist groups in the north. If the international community waits another 12 months to intervene, al Qaeda will have grown stronger in northern Mali and the human costs will be significantly higher. It is appropriate that ECOWAS try to negotiate a national unity government to restore Mali's territorial integrity. The reality, however, is that al Qaeda does not negotiate. An intervention force will be necessary.

The African Union (AU) seems to have grasped this, signaling cautious support for an ECOWAS intervention. At a recent meeting, the African Union Peace and Security Council adopted a resolution endorsing the plan to deploy regional forces under a Chapter VII resolution. The council also supported the ECOWAS call for a 12-month transition in Mali and the organization of a credible presidential election. The AU is not going to war, but ECOWAS wants to intervene -- and it is a credible objective, especially with the appropriate support as we've seen successfully implemented in Somalia.

The question is whether the AU or the U.N. Security Council is prepared to support the deployment of a stabilization force before there is a democratically elected government in Bamako. In the end, there may be little choice. There is no indication that Diacounda Traore, the country's 70-year-old transitional president, will return from Paris any time soon to head up the interim government. In fact, neither Traore nor Prime Minister Cheikh Modibo Diarra participated in the July ECOWAS summit in Burkina Faso that was convened to develop a road map for tackling the crisis, suggesting a genuine power vacuum in Bamako.

Moreover, the Malian military is in complete disarray. Even with an election, it is unlikely that a new Malian government would be able to defeat the jihadists in Timbuktu and elsewhere, let alone exercise effective administration of the nation in the next 12 to 24 months. In fact, it was the frustration over the Toure government's inability to pursue and sustain the brewing conflict with the Tuaregs that was a key contributing factor to the March coup. (Another contributing factor was the NATO-supported overthrow of Muammar al-Qaddafi. Many of the Tuareg fighters who had been hired by Qaddafi to strengthen his forces returned to challenge the Malian government with newly acquired arms.)

If there is any lesson to be learned from two decades of crisis and conflict in Somalia, however, it is that inattention and inaction by the international community fuels instability and enables conflict to spread beyond borders. Thus, as the international community deliberates over how and when to restore order and governance in Mali -- hopefully, sooner rather than later -- it is clear that NATO can, and has a certain obligation, to play a supportive role to the ECOWAS force.

Another painful lesson from Somalia is that there needs to be a legitimate government to consolidate the security gains that any U.N. or AU-authorized force might make. Malians are the ones ultimately responsible for restoring a credible government -- but the country's Western partners would be well served to invest as much, if not more, in governance, civil society, and job creation than in counterinsurgency in order to achieve that outcome.



The End of the Affair

Four years after Barack Obama's landmark Berlin speech, the transatlantic alliance is fading fast. What went wrong?

John McCain may have called Barack Obama the biggest celebrity in the world, but the place that has held the U.S. president closest to its collective heart has always been Europe. When he took to the stage in Berlin on July 24, 2008, a crowd of 200,000 Germans abandoned their usual reserve to flood screaming and cheering into the Tiergarten.

They came to see an aspiring American president give flesh to all of Europe's fantasies about American leadership: multiethnic and multilateral; pragmatic and peacefully minded; social democratic in his goals and so eloquent in their expression. Obama promised to purge the sins of George W. Bush and give new impetus to the alliance for a new century. "America has no better partner than Europe" he said.

The paradox is that while Obama successfully healed the transatlantic rift, he may also be the American president who presided over the end of the West as a political community.

Four years on from Berlin, Obama would still trade his approval ratings in any European country with those in his native United States. In June, the Pew Global Attitudes Survey showed that nine out of 10 voters in France (92 percent) and Germany (89 percent) would like to see him reelected, as would large majorities in Britain (73 percent), Spain (71 percent), Italy (69 percent) and the Czech Republic (67 percent). And at a tactical level, Europeans and Americans are cooperating more closely -- on a range of issues from Iran to Syria -- than they have for many years.  Even when they disagree, they do so with civility and a surprising absence of rancor.

But Obama's stellar personal ratings in Europe hide the fact that the Western alliance has never loomed smaller in the imagination of policymakers on either side of the Atlantic.

Seen from Washington, there is not a single problem in the world to be looked at primarily through a transatlantic prism. Although the administration looks first to Europeans as partners in any of its global endeavors -- from dealing with Iran's nuclear program to stopping genocide in Syria -- it no longer sees the European theater as its core problem or seeks a partnership of equals with Europeans. It was not until the eurozone looked like it might collapse -- threatening to bring down the global economy and with it Obama's chances of reelection -- that the president became truly interested in Europe.

Conversely, Europeans have never cared less about what the United States thinks. Germany, traditionally among the most Atlanticist of European countries, has led the pack. Many German foreign-policy makers think it was simply a tactical error for Berlin to line up with Moscow and Beijing against Washington on Libya. But there is nothing accidental about the way Berlin has systematically refused even to engage with American concerns over German policy on the euro. During the Bush years, Europeans who were unable to influence the strategy of the White House would give a running commentary on American actions in lieu of a substantive policy. They had no influence in Washington, so they complained. But now, the tables are turned, with Obama passing continual judgment on German policy while Chancellor Angela Merkel stoically refuses to heed his advice. Europeans who for many years were infantilized by the transatlantic alliance, either using sycophancy and self-delusion about a "special relationship" to advance their goals or, in the case of Jacques Chirac's France, pursuing the even more futile goal of balancing American power, have finally come to realize that they can no longer outsource their security or their prosperity to Uncle Sam.

On both sides of the Atlantic, the ties that held the alliance together are weakening. On the American side, Obama's biography links him to the Pacific and Africa but not to the old continent. His personal story echoes the demographic changes in the United States that have reduced the influence of Americans of European origin. Meanwhile, on the European side, the depth of the euro crisis has crowded out almost all foreign policy from the agenda of Europe's top decision-makers. The end of the Cold War means that Europeans no longer need American protection, and the U.S. financial crisis has led to a fall in American demand for European products (although U.S. exports to Europe are at an all-time high).

What's more, Obama's lack of warmth has precluded him from establishing the sorts of human relationships with European leaders that animate alliances. When asked to name his closest allies, Obama mentions non-European leaders such as Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Lee Myung-bak of South Korea. And his transactional nature has led to a neglect of countries that he feels will not contribute more to the relationship -- within a year of being elected, Obama had managed to alienate the leaders of most of Europe's big states, from Gordon Brown to Nicolas Sarkozy to Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. Americans hardly remember, but Europe's collective nose was put out of joint by Obama's refusal to make the trip to Europe for the 2010 EU-U.S. summit. More recently, Obama has reached out to allies to counteract the impression that the only way to get a friendly reception in Washington is to be a problem nation -- but far too late to erase the sense that Europe matters little to this American president.

Underlying these superficial issues is a more fundamental divergence in the way Europe and the United States are coping with their respective declines. As the EU's role shrinks in the world, Europeans have sought to help build a multilateral, rule-based world. That is why it is they, rather than the Chinese or the Americans, that have pushed for the creation of institutionalized global responses to climate change, genocide, or various trade disputes. To the extent that today's world has not collapsed into the deadlocked chaos of a "G-zero," it is often due to European efforts to create a functioning institutional order.

To Washington's eternal frustration, however, Europeans have not put their energies into becoming a full partner on global issues. For all the existential angst of the euro crisis, Europe is not as weak as people think it is. It still has the world's largest market and represents 17 percent of world trade, compared with 12 percent for the United States. Even in military terms, the EU is the world's No. 2 military power, with 21 percent of the world's military spending, versus 5 percent for China, 3 percent for Russia, 2 percent for India, and 1.5 percent for Brazil, according to Harvard scholar Joseph Nye. But, ironically for a people who have embraced multilateralism more than any other on Earth, Europeans have not pooled their impressive economic, political, and military resources. And with the eurozone's need to resolve the euro crisis, the EU may split into two or more tiers -- making concerted action even more difficult. As a result, European power is too diffuse to be much of a help or a hindrance on many issues.

On the other hand, Obama's United States -- although equally committed to liberal values -- thinks that the best way to safeguard American interests and values is to craft a multipartner world. On the one hand, Obama continues to believe that he can transform rising powers by integrating them into existing institutions (despite much evidence to the contrary). On the other, he thinks that Europe's overrepresentation in existing institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund is a threat to the consolidation of that order. This is leading a declining America to increasingly turn against Europe on issues ranging from climate change to currencies. The most striking example came at the 2009 G-20 in Pittsburgh, when Obama worked together with the emerging powers to pressure Europeans to give up their voting power at the IMF. As Walter Russell Mead, the U.S. international relations scholar, has written, "[I]ncreasingly it will be in the American interest to help Asian powers rebalance the world power structure in ways that redistribute power from the former great powers of Europe to the rising great powers of Asia today."

But the long-term consequence of the cooling of this unique alliance could be the hollowing out of the world order that the Atlantic powers have made. The big unwritten story of the last few decades is the way that a European-inspired liberal economic and political order has been crafted in the shell of the American security order. It is an order that limits the powers of states and markets and puts the protection of individuals at its core. If the United States was the sheriff of this order, the EU was its constitutional court. And now it is being challenged by the emerging powers.

Countries like Brazil, China, and India are all relatively new states forged by movements of national liberation whose experience of globalization has been bound up with their new sense of nationhood. While globalization is destroying sovereignty for the West, these former colonies are enjoying it on a scale never experienced before. As a result, they are not about to invite their former colonial masters to interfere in their internal affairs. Just look at the dynamics of the United Nations Security Council on issues from Sudan to Syria. Even in the General Assembly, the balance of power is shifting: 10 years ago, China won 43 percent of the votes on human rights in the United Nations, far behind Europe's 78 percent. But in 2010-11, the EU won less than 50 percent to China's nearly 60 percent, according to research by the European Council on Foreign Relations. Rather than being transformed by global institutions, China's sophisticated multilateral diplomacy is changing the global order itself.

As relative power flows Eastward, it is perhaps inevitable that the Western alliance that kept liberty's flame alight during the Cold War and then sought to construct a liberal order in its aftermath is fading fast. It was perhaps inevitable that both Europeans and Americans should fail to live up to each other's expectations of their respective roles in a post-Cold War world. After all, America is still too powerful to happily commit to a multilateral world order (as evidenced by Congress's reluctance to ratify treaties). And Europe is too physically safe to be willing to match U.S. defense spending or pool its resources. What is surprising is that the passing of this alliance has not been mourned by many on either side. The legacy of Barack Obama is that the transatlantic relationship is at its most harmonious and yet least relevant in 50 years. Ironically, it may take the election of someone who is less naturally popular on the European stage for both sides to wake up and realize just what is at stake.