There’s a real thought-provoker buried in The French Mess In Mali and Libya by Prof. Rajan Menon today – the entire piece about the chances France may find itself in a quagmire in Mali is worth a read but this caught my eye:
France could find itself in just the pickle it wants to avoid. And the United States and Britain, who have said they’ll limit themselves to providing France and the African troops indirect support (logistical and intelligence), may have to decide whether to let France twist in the wind. Doing so would hardly be good for NATO solidarity.
The French exit-strategy from Mali is not well defined: stated objectives include a return to democratic governance and preventing the state becoming a potential launchpad for Islamist terror attacks, but it is very unclear whether local African allies can stand up and do the jobs they’ll need to, while France’s current force of 2,500 is woefully inadequate to do nation-building in a state larger than all of France itself. Still, those troops are probably enough to prevent the Tuaregs or Islamist extremist forces in the North from taking the South (given they are inclined to do so) and to keep the capital safe. The chances of an extended occupation, utilizing local poorly-trained proxies as cannon-fodder a-la-Afghanistan, seem pretty high to me. It’s worth wondering how such a protracted occupation will affect NATO alliance members and their own grand plans.
British forces are on alert for an emergency deployment to Mali as David Cameron commits the UK to a fully-fledged battle against al-Qaeda in northern Africa.
The Times understands that units from the Army, Royal Navy and RAF are on “high readiness” to deploy if requested in support of France, which is attempting to repel Islamist extremists from the north of the country.
At the end of the day, I think France has Britain over a barrel, and that in turn makes a U.S. refusal to get more heavily involved too unlikely. If France insists that it is a case of Britain sending ground troops to assist or be seen as breaching the spirit of the 2010 “Entente Frugale”, then I don’t think Cameron will hesitate. Ending that defense agreement would have two immediate effects – ending the UK nuclear deterrent force, and ending the British navy’s procurement of two new aircraft carriers – which would see Cameron swept from office by a vote of no confidence and a popular nationalist reaction the very next day. The U.S. baseline foreign policy consensus is also heavily committed to Britain keeping its nukes and flat-tops, and Cameron would be frantically calling Obama and asking for assistance. Obama would agree as well – he’d have to – even if he prefers a Reagan Doctrine stance personally.
From there. other NATO members would fall into line – especially the Germans, who are already leaning off the fence about getting involved:
having let down its allies by staying out of Libya, Germany is eager to demonstrate its dependability and readiness to take on responsibility again, as evidenced by its deployment of Patriot missile defense systems and 170 soldiers as part of a NATO mission to Turkey. But Mali is arguably different. Moving beyond logistical and humanitarian support to become directly involved in fighting might lead to an intervention fraught with risk that many Germans fear, for good reason. A lasting defeat of the Islamist extremists and the establishment of long-term stability in Mali will require a lengthy and demanding operation. Hardly anyone believes in the initial French promise of an early troop withdrawal.
Yet Berlin also has good reasons to assume a more active role in the conflict. For one, Germany cannot stand on the sidelines while its neighbor, fellow NATO ally and EU partner France defends African and European security alone. Moreover, an extended conflict in Mali risks destabilizing the Arab Spring transition in North Africa and could result in growing refugee flows to the north, which would affect Germany as much as France. Finally, any German reservations about developments within the mission will carry much more weight if Germany articulates them from the position of a central partner rather than as an external observer.
…Several influential politicians have demanded that Germany act more forcefully in Mali — among them the leader of the Green opposition party Jürgen Trittin, the president of the German parliament Norbert Lammert and the chairman of the parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs Ruprecht Polenz, the last two both members of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling Christian Democratic Union.
With France perhaps still in the lead, we’d then have the U.S. and Europe’s big three all committed to yet another decade-long occupation to build a nation that may not even be buildable and with far more opportunity for mission-creeping into other nations than Afghanistan ever did.