Just over three years ago, Spain and France signed a joint initiative that they took to the Council of General Affairs of the European Union to put forward a “European strategy for Sahel”. Back then, both countries were suffering, first-hand, the threats and the blackmail of a, as yet, budding AKMI that kidnapped citizens and was just beginning a series of destabilizing actions in the Yellow Belt of the Sahel. Neither France’s eloquent intervention nor the firm support of Spain were enough to convince our European partners, and the document drafted by both countries enjoyed the rest of the righteous in the drawers of European bureaucracy.
We have had to wait until March 21 for the Council of External Relations to urgently approve the strategy we had proposed. Up until then, our arguments as regarded the terrorist threat that stretched from Afghanistan to the Atlantic, did not persuade our European partners. The States of the European Union seemed to ignore these threats and considered that the great challenges of European security would come, as almost always, from the East.
Despite our constant insistence on the challenges that lay to the South, the European countries of the North and the East approved other strategies, such as those of the Caucasus, Central Asia or the Balkans and, once more, ignored the political and strategic interests in the South, looked upon as the backyard of Europe.
Now the events of the Sahel are causing a great commotion; we can gauge its importance if we take into account that the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, has postponed his speech on the future of the United Kingdom at the European Union to speak about the South because, what a paradox, “British interests” have been gravely affected.
After the terrible death count and the suffering during the hostage situation at In Amenas, the “hypocrisy” and the lack of solidarity shown by Europeans in general as regards the French President François Hollande’s decision to put an end to the spreading of the Islamist Forces to the North of Mali is more patent than ever.
Europe finally awakens and seems to understand what the true challenges the Sahel poses are: security challenges, and not just because they directly affect the lives of our citizens, but because the whole region could tilt towards permanent instability. And these are challenges that point towards a flare-up of the polarization between Islam and the West. These risks underline the obvious shortcomings as regards historical and strategic vision, shortcomings that could lead us to the loss of all hope in the future development of an area so vital to all our interests. There are also economical and financial challenges, because the Sahel is still a region rich in raw materials and energetic products that, managed correctly, could guarantee the prosperity of these nations and their people.
The current situation should be used to learn and urgently reformulate the security strategy of the European Union, prioritizing actions in that area, and recovering the EU’s traditional actions in post-crisis operations. What can be averred is that the European Union, although unsuccessful at resolving crisis, has always been successful in the consolidation of “post-conflict” processes: The Balkans, the Middle East… The following statement is true: The EU doesn’t play but they pay.
Over the last years, this valuable contribution of the EU has not been patent. There have been shortages as regards follow-up and action so that, after the legitimate intervention of the International Alliance and the Europeans in Libya, the consolidation of stability in the country and the region, guaranteeing the control of the borders to the South of Libya in order to avoid the contraband of Kaddafi’s military arsenal, has been impossible. This fell, just like manna from heaven, in the hands of the “katiba” and the insurgent groups in the Sahel, allowing them to rearm and attack the North of Mali. Any new military intervention in the region must not leave in oblivion the poor example of Libya and should foresee the “day afterwards”.
This portended chronicle of the crisis in the Sahel has its origins, in great part, in the absence of stability and cooperation in Northern Africa, and in the absence of an Algerian-Moroccan agreement to consolidate a united Maghreb. We must salute the fact that, confronted by the conflict in Mali, for the first time, Algerians and Moroccans are on the same side and back the legitimate French intervention. Now, we will have to wait for Algiers and Rabat to arrive at the same conclusion now that they share a common enemy and the same future challenges. The time has come to open the borders between both countries and achieve a reconciliation and, above all, to find a definitive solution to the problem of Western Sahara.
The Sahel cannot become the refuge of radical Islamists and of violence, because European security and the growth of the countries in this region depend on its stability; countries that have not had the support of the EU when their situation was, more than a foreseeable reality, a chronicle already written.