Desert War

BERLIN/PARIS/BAMAKO | | malifrankreich

BERLIN/PARIS/BAMAKO (Own report) - The German Foreign Minister has confirmed Berlin's readiness to become involved in the war in Mali. To his French counterpart, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, Guido Westerwelle offered Germany's "political, logistical, medical, and humanitarian" support for the intervention in France's former colony. However, the German Minister of Defense, Thomas de Maizière, declared that there would be conditions to be met. Only when "the prerequisites are clarified and fulfilled" would Berlin be able to take part in the military mission. These statements from the German government show evidence of a dual strategy. On the one hand, Berlin is insisting on concessions to strengthen its position in French-dominated West Africa, and on the other, a German participation is supposed to thwart French-British unilateralism, as in the case of Libya. Berlin feels threatened by this sort of unilateralism, because since some time, Paris and London have been strongly enhancing their military cooperation, leading some in the German capital to suspect - not without reason - that this could be a means to escape Germany's EU predomination, at least in the domain of military policy. In the meantime, the war in Mali has intensified after only a few days.

Prelude to War

Over the weekend, French troops had initially been successful in beating back the insurgent Islamists, who had captured the northern part of Mali last year, occupying the most important cities in the area - Timbuktu, Gao, and Kidal. Paris lays claim to the right to restore order in its former colonies - Francophonie. In addition, France pursues economic interests in the Sahara - in Niger, Mali's neighbor, the French Areva Co. is mining large quantities of uranium. Yesterday, the Islamist militias in northwestern Mali, staged a successful counter attack. They were able to take the city of Diabali, about 400 kilometers to the north of the capital Bamako. Paris expects the war to be over in a matter of weeks, at the latest, but critics are doubtful. The insurgents are well-armed and very experienced in desert warfare, and are, at least to a certain extent, well anchored in their populations. How the West African troops are to be readied within only a few weeks to supposedly free northern Mali, is another persisting question. It is very doubtful that the war can actually be ended quickly.

Eurocorps and Afrikakorps

German-French rivalries over the past twenty years have conditioned the German government's attitude toward the war in Mali. Already back in the 1990s, France and Germany were in disagreement over where and in whose interests the EU should intervene in the future. At the time, Bonn blocked Paris' plans to have EU troops intervene in France's interests in Francophonie Africa. "The Eurocorps is no Africa Corps," fulminated Volker Rühe in 1994, at the time German Minister of Defense.[1] The 2003 and 2006 EU missions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which Berlin conceded to Paris, were promptly terminated on schedule. However, when France subsequently sought an EU intervention in eastern Chad, to be in a better position to have influence in neighboring Sudan, the German government sabotaged the project, which then quietly never materialized.[2] Throughout this entire period, the wars and occupation measures covering Yugoslav territory, made it clear that the EU, at all times, was at the disposal - even militarily - of German interests. Only in 2011, did Paris successfully extract itself from the German grip on military policy, and wage war - also in France's interests - with other European countries.

The New Entente Cordiale

A military policy alliance between Paris and London, concluded in November 2010, formed the basis of this enhanced strategic position. Within this alliance, the governments of both countries finally, after a protracted period of convergence, agreed to an assortment of arms trade and military projects, including the establishment of a common intervention force and joint testing of nuclear weapons.[3] The strategically conceived military cooperation was first put to the test in the attack on Libya, where France, after losing several of its closely allied dictators, sought to revive - under strong German opposition - its former prominence in North Africa. In alliance with London - and with support from Washington - Paris' success was more than merely overthrowing Gadhafi. In fact, the French and British armed forces are carefully assessing their performances in the war from the perspective of future joint operations. The close cooperation between Paris and London is worrying Berlin. "Because, in the past, Germany had blocked numerous French diplomatic and military initiatives, France is now turning to Great Britain," according to the specialized journal "Internationale Politik."[4] This is why, since some time, German government advisors are insisting on decisive countermeasures being taken.

A Dual Strategy

For this reason and - unlike in the case of Libya - Berlin is not completely refusing engagement in a military intervention in Mali, even though this intervention would take place in a Francophonian country, where the dominating influence of the former colonial power has been impenetrable for Germany. Already in October 2012, the Chancellor promised that the Bundeswehr would participate in training Malian soldiers,[5] a promise that since has been reaffirmed. The objective is to show presence - not at the front line, because French interests are particularly at stake, but with a non-negligible contingent. Berlin would also like to have this contingent serve as a bargaining chip to strengthen its position in Mali. Two benefits could be achieved, the enhancement of the German position in West Africa and the prevention of an exclusively Franco-British military alliance. Recent declarations of the German government have been based on this strategy.

German Participation

Last weekend, German Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière declared that Berlin is "politically fully supporting" the French operation in Mali, but if the Bundeswehr should participate in the intervention, it has to be clear "who is leading the country."[6] Germany will participate in the military intervention "if the prerequisites are clarified and fulfilled," according to the defense minister. Berlin is imposing conditions to reinforce its position in the former French colony. However, when the UK and the USA announced last weekend that, like in the war on Libya, they would support France at least logistically, Berlin came under pressure - after all a repetition of the Libya scenario must be avoided, to be able to impede the enhancement of British-French cooperation. Yesterday, the German foreign minister, therefore, extended the offer of German "political, logistical, medical and humanitarian" support to his French counterpart Laurent Fabius.[7] According to media reports, Guido Westerwelle would like to accelerate EU plans for European military personnel training Malian soldiers. All this seeks to keep France within the framework of an EU operation, and avert a new British-French cooperation, as in the case of Libya.

Overriding Considerations

In Berlin, there is nearly a consensus in favor of participating in the operation. Yesterday, two opposition parties, the SPD and the Greens forged ahead, calling for participation in the war. "If France needs help for air transport, Germany should come to its aid," demanded Rainer Arnold, a military specialist of the SPD.[8] The Greens' foreign policy expert, Jürgen Trittin demanded that "Germany constructively examine its partner's or the EU's requests for assistance - for example in the fields of logistics or training."[9] Objections that the catastrophic situation in northern Mali could only be resolved through political means, and that the use of arms would only lead to another protracted war, play no role. From Berlin's perspective, overriding strategic considerations demand that Germany participates in the war, at least on a limited scale.

[1] Kein Triumphgeheul; 18.07.1994
[2] see also Hegemonic Rivalry and Transatlantic Front
[3] Weitreichendes Militär-Abkommen unterzeichnet; 02.11.2010. See also The New Entente Cordiale
[4] Claire Demesmay, Ronja Kempin: Goldene Hochzeit in Katerstimmung, Internationale Politik 1/2013
[5] see also A Country Teetering on the Brink
[6] "Wir sollten den Einfluss des Westens nicht unterschätzen"; Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 14.01.2013
[7] Außenminister Guido Westerwelle telefonierte mit französischem Außenminister Fabius zur Lage in Mali; 14.01.2013
[8] SPD fordert deutsche Beteiligung an Mali-Einsatz; 14.01.2013
[9] Trittin begrüßt Kriegseinsatz in Mali; 14.01.2013