UN inches closer to approving ECOWAS intervention in Mali

Last week, the situation in Mali received some attention at the UN Security Council, which resulted in the council adopting Resolution 2071. However, if you look closely at the wording of the resolution, you’ll see that we’re still a ways from an ECOWAS-led military intervention in Mali.

You may recall that back in July, UNSC passed Resolution 2056 which expressed the council’s readiness to “further examine the request of ECOWAS once additional information has been provided regarding the objectives, means, and modalities of the envisaged deployment and other possible measures.” Later that month, the ECOWAS Technical Assessment Mission (TAM) that had been assembled to develop a roadmap for the restoration of Mali’s territorial integrity presented its findings to Mali’s Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra. ECOWAS Chiefs of Defense Staff (CHoDs) met in August and September – presumably to develop in greater detail a concept of operations (CONOPs) for an intervention in Mali, which according to Resolution 2056 would be a prerequisite for a UN resolution sanctioning such an intervention force. The CHoDs developed a three phase CONOPs for an ECOWAS Standby Force Mission in Mali (MICEMA) that would:

  1. Secure the transitional government institutions in Bamako;
  2. Train and reorganize the Malian Armed Forces; and
  3. Commence military operations to retake the north.

ECOWAS proposes that the force strength of MICEMA would be approximately 3,245 soldiers, of which, the majority would come from Nigeria (694), Togo (581), Niger (541), and Senegal (350). Unfortunately, I do not have visibility of the current status of the Malian Armed Forces, so I do not know how many troops might be available to work with the ECOWAS force for Phase III.

Like Resolution 2056 before it, Resolution 2071 again stops short of providing ECOWAS with a mandate for intervention. Instead, the Security Council asks the Secretary General to provide the African Union (AU) and ECOWAS with military planners to assist in efforts to respond to requests made by the transitional government in Mali for an intervention force, and asks the Secretary General to submit a report within 45 days that would include the “means and modalities of the envisaged deployment, in particular the concept of operations, force generation capabilities strength and support financial costs.”

Notice UNSC’s request for additional details on force generation capabilities and financial costs. If we, for a second, look across the continent at the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), in its recent resolution on Mali, the Security Council knowingly or unknowingly identified two key weaknesses that constrained AMISOM’s ability to be effective for the majority of the five and a half years it has been in Somalia. Thus, before it receives the blessing of a UN mandate, ECOWAS must provide not only a concept of operations, but must also demonstrate that it has incorporated future force generation and financial costs into its planning – especially if the intervention ends up being more complex than anticipated.

So, given what we know about the continuing development of plans for military intervention in Mali, here’s a few questions to consider:

  • How does an end to the transitional government and the return to constitutional rule fit into the equation? Clearly, national elections are impossible while the north remains outside of Bamako’s control, but there is simultaneous pressure for elections before military action. However, because the north is outside of Bamako’s control, it would not be able to participate in elections, which would then run the risk of making the de facto separation of the country more tangible. Talk about a Catch 22.
  • To what extent are the transitional government in Mali, the Malian Armed Forces, and ECOWAS on the same page vis-à-vis the three phase CONOPs for MICEMA? Although the transitional government requested foreign support to recapture the north, it has wanted that support to be restricted to the provision of equipment, intelligence, and logistics, and has resisted the deployment of foreign troops. (For a more thorough analysis of the government’s balancing act on foreign intervention, I refer you to a post by Alex Thurston)
  • Will Algeria and Mauritania play constructive, ambivalent, or spoiler roles in Mali? Algeria and Mauritania are not members of ECOWAS, but they are still key players in regional security. Algeria is in favor of a negotiated solution, in part because it is concerned about potential spillover from an ECOWAS intervention (See Peter Tinti’s excellent article on Algeria’s northern Mali policy). Meanwhile, Mauritania has ruled out military intervention in Mali because it’s too complex and they don’t have the solution. These countries may not sign on for an ECOWAS intervention, but they could play a constructive role by increasing surveillance and patrols of their own borders with Mali to cut off the supply of arms and manpower to the armed groups (Ansar Dine, MUJWA, AQIM, MNLA, etc) that currently occupy the northern part of the country.
  • What’s the timetable on intervention? This I am not sure of, although I doubt that ECOWAS would get boots on the ground in Mali before the end of 2012. A more important question to me, however, is how long might an intervention last, and is there a realistic chance that it may be taken over by the AU or UN? Your guess is as good as mine.
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  1. [...] Mohamed Vall: “Why Sorting Out Mali Remains an Uphill Task.” For more on the state of play with the United Nations Security Council, the Economic Community of West African States, and the situation in Mali, see Lesley Anne Warner. [...]

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