Security in the Sahel
Recent events in Mali have brought the world's attention to a group of states in Africa notable for their underdevelopment and poverty. This week, Atlantic Community will turn its attention to the Sahel zone, asking the question: How should the United States and Europe respond to threats to peace and security in the Sahel? We will publish articles on this topic throughout the week and invite you to share your thoughts by commenting and engaging in the debate.
As one of the poorest and least developed regions in the world, the states of the Sahel face considerable obstacles to democratic progress. Underdevelopment is the underlying cause of many of the region's problems. Inadequate agricultural systems, for example, mean that, even in years of good harvest, severe food shortages are common. Frequent periods of drought, which are likely a consequence of climate change, only compound the problem.
On top of this, conflict, security issues, and political instability make effective governance difficult, and have contributed to the region's current image as an ideal breeding ground for terrorist activity. Qaddafi's fall from power in Libya exacerbated the problem, providing access to stores of powerful weaponry which terrorists and rebel groups have used to create further regional instability. In addition, the Sahel's largely porous borders mean that the problems of one country soon become problems for its neighbors as well.
The main concern for Western powers is that the Sahel might degenerate into a safe haven for terrorists, dangerously close to European shores. Terrorist activity clearly poses a threat to stability in the Sahel, but debate exists as to how the transatlantic community should approach the situation. It is this which our Theme Week aims to address.
The respective policies of the transatlantic partners, in tackling the region's problems, vary. As a short-term measure, the French, among others, have employed military intervention to address issues of regional concern. However, military policies like these fail to address the region's underlying problems and often carry considerable, and unforeseen, risks and consequences. Trade and development aid comprises a more long-term approach, based on the premise that stable economic growth and poverty reduction will lead to increased development. Yet, while well-intended, it is questionable whether the manner in which aid is being deployed, and the forms which it takes, are really the most effective.
Articles written by both atlantic-community.org members and experts from around the world will be published throughout the week:
- Paul Melly, Journalist and Associate Fellow at Chatham House, assesses future prospects for transatlantic policy in the Sahel
- Annette Lohmann, Director of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in Mali, outlines a five-point plan for achieving long-term stability in the Central Sahara
- Francisco Galamas, an international security and nonproliferation analyst, and Rui Azevedo, a Portuguese Army officer and Master's student at Instituto Superior de Ciências Sociais e Políticas, both of whom are members of the Young Atlanticist NATO Working Group, offer a three-step approach to securing Mali
- Derek Catsam, Associate Professor at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin and Foreign Policy Association's Senior Blogger for Africa, argues that the real problem at hand is the transatlantic community's lack of serious engagement with Sub-Saharan Africa as a whole
- Liana Fix, Mercator Fellow on International Affairs, addresses the problem of mercenaries
- Landry Signe and Alexander Homan Neill, a Lecturer and a Master's student at Stanford University, focus on how the transatlantic partners can best encourage security and development in the Sahel
- Ciaran Laird, Master's graduate from University College Dublin, explains the role education might play in ensuring long-term security and stability in the Sahel
- Vikas Kumar, Assistant Professor at Azim Premji University in India, highlights the importance of long term engagement with local communities, in the fight against terrorism
We encourage all of our members to get involved through commenting on these articles, discussing the ideas put forward, and contributing new ones. At the end of the week, those who have contributed most significantly to the debate will be invited to participate in our Memo Workshop. Here, we will produce an Atlantic Memo, setting out policy recommendations on how the transatlantic community should respond to threats to peace and security in the Sahel.
Photo: Magharebia (CC BY 2.0)
UPDATE: This theme week has now successfully concluded. The Atlantic Memo, which details the best policy recommendations from the debate, has been published online, alongside feedback from Dr. Thomas Bagger, Head of the Policy Planning Staff of Germany's Federal Foreign Office.