European Military Contributions to UN Peace Operations in Africa

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Richard Gowan

European forces have played a very limited military role in United Nations (UN) peace operations in Africa over the last two decades. In some periods, European personnel have accounted for less than 2% of the blue helmets on the continent. Yet there is now new momentum among NATO and European Union (EU) members to play a more significant part in UN operations – although still on a selective basis and through focused, light deployments – largely resulting from concerns over the spread of violent extremism and unregulated migration. This paper considers how these strategic dilemmas affect current UN operations, European contributions to those missions and cooperation with African governments. It then addresses three related sets of policy questions:

1. Can the UN define a strategic/operational concept for containing or mitigating (as opposed to fighting) extremist violence in Africa?

2. What specific roles can European forces play in implementing such a concept?

3. How can European governments and militaries most effectively partner with increasingly assertive African counterparts within the UN framework?

The paper draws on recent research by the Center on International Cooperation (CIC) and other organizations on current and recent European experiences of UN missions in Africa. It argues that, by offering both advanced military assets and expertise on tackling asymmetric threats, European militaries can help the UN tackle violent extremism. This will, however, mean addressing sensitive issues – such as the linkages between peacekeeping, stabilization operations and peace enforcement – that remain problematic despite the recent High-Level Panel on Peace Operations (HIPPO) and follow-up work by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

This paper refers to both the HIPPO report and Ban’s response, and makes concrete policy proposals about how European states can build on these papers in military terms. However, it is not a comprehensive review of either document, and does not address many of the important non-military issues (such as conflict prevention and institutional reforms at UN headquarters) that they raise. Its goal is to identify concepts and opportunities that European armed forces can use to engage more effectively in UN peace operations in Africa, in light of Europe’s security concerns.

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