25. August 2016
by Manuel Lafont Rapnouil
France and Germany already cooperate closely in prevention, stabilisation and peace-building. In the Sahel, Germany was a key contributor to the European Union (EU) training mission for the Malian armed forces, a decisive component of the peace-building efforts, even before Berlin decided to contribute troops to the United Nations (UN) there after the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris. In the Central African Republic (CAR), another crisis of prominent importance for France, Germany joined French-led efforts to set up an international Trust Fund, called the “Bêkou Fund” and managed by the European Commission under rules adapted to stabilisation emergencies and post-conflict needs.
Both foreign ministers Jean-Marc Ayrault and Frank-Walter Steinmeier recently penned a contribution in which they stressed the importance of Europe investing “more in preventing conflict, in promoting human security and in stabilising its neighbourhood and regions affected by crisis all over the world.” They pursued by reiterating that “[t]ogether, France and Germany will strengthen their civilian crisis management tools and reaffirm their commitment to support and sustain political processes of conflict resolution.”
Yet, France isn’t precisely known for its investment in prevention, stabilisation or peace-building. The recent period has rather exhibited its ambitions and assets in military interventions (Libya, Mali, CAR) and hard-security crisis management (Syria, Iran), sometimes in tandem with Germany (Ukraine). And even though it was involved in major stabilisation operations in that period, France didn’t develop the kind of doctrines and structures other major NATO powers have established, usually as a legacy to the debates prompted by military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
This is not to say that France belittles those issues. Its two recent White Papers on Defence and National Security, from 2008 and 2013, insist that prevention, stabilisation and peace-building are key to its security strategy. Still, there have been only few doctrinal or organisational consequences to these statements, which have often fallen short of operational prescriptions. As an illustration, the Crisis and Support Centre at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs established in 2008 has only a limited role in stabilisation and peace-building policies.
At some point, France even looked like an outlier in international efforts to improve stabilisation policies. In Afghanistan, for instance, French reluctance towards the US-originated Provincial Reconstruction Team concept was obvious for quite some time. But France didn’t even bother to articulate its own response to the need for an integrated civilian-military approach or structure. More generally, France seemed to rather focus on its goal to remain able to play a role in high-intensity situations, on both the military and diplomatic sides. Its limited investment in preventive policies beyond development assistance is a good illustration of this positioning.
And yet, in what some would characterise as a very un-French way, Paris has been doing in practice what it has neither theorized, nor institutionalised. France didn’t participate in Iraq, and drew its own lessons from Afghanistan. But it has deployed in many other theatres since 2001, and subsequently had many opportunities to face the evolving nature of armed conflict, but also to feel the tight financial constraints on its ability to mobilise military and civilian resources. This clearly stressed the need for better stabilisation and peace-building policies, if only to allow for the military’s exit strategies (at least through handing over part or all of the stabilisation tasks to other militaries on the ground).
In Mali and in the CAR, France has had no choice but to commit to civilian efforts to stabilise the situation and consolidate the peace, and to interlock them with its robust military operations as well as with other military forces deployed there. Côte d’Ivoire is another case in point. Since 2011, France has led an integrated strategy including military stabilisation, security sector reform, disarmament, development assistance and – naturally – political efforts. The result is far from perfect, for instance in terms of reconciliation or disarmament. But the improvement of the situation was deemed sufficient for the UN Security Council to decide that the peacekeeping operation established in 2004 will terminate next year.
For all its talk about a “comprehensive approach”, France focuses first and foremost on institutional politics and security rather than humanitarian assistance or development, for instance. On the former, France insists on the re-establishment of legitimate political authorities. Its determination to hold early elections in Mali and the CAR, against vocal reservations in both cases, illustrates this mind-set, notwithstanding the fact that the political needs go far beyond and much deeper than elections. On security, France focuses strongly on the military dimension, but still mobilises a broad array of policies, from sanctions and Security Sector Reform (SSR) to transitional justice.
For this purpose, France displays a strong ability to make the most of international capabilities. It usually acts through the United Nations to establish a clear political and legal framework, which makes others’ contributions easier. It also resorts to UN assets where they have added value, whether on peacekeeping, political mediation or humanitarian assistance. It calls on regional organisations for additional capabilities and leverage. And obviously, it leads the European Union to step in areas where it has comparative advantage and experience, such as SSR and development.
In this endeavour, France needs partners to complement its own efforts. In this regard, Germany’s growing activism is much appreciated. Paris has moved on from the time it mostly saw Berlin as a key to access financial contributions – national, European and multilateral. France is already taking advantage of Germany’s support on some of its forces’ key capability gaps, such as strategic airlift or logistics. It also does recognize German assets, in particular military assistance, as demonstrated in the Sahel or in Iraq, or intelligence, which is a key German contribution to the UN mission in Mali. And it very much appreciates Berlin’s inclination to strengthen its engagement, including in new areas such as Africa, and in particular the Sahel.
But France should be expecting more than Germany just complementing French efforts and capabilities. Paris needs partners who can act on their own and join French efforts when needed, including militarily on the ground. And it needs such partners within the European Union, even more after Brexit. Ambitions highlighted recently by Germany go in this direction. Of course, France knows that the military full-spectrum ambition put forward in the recent White Paper on German Security Policy is more aspirational than real for the time being. But such aspiration is needed, rather than a preference to aim for lower intensity, less complex, less volatile situations. Not only does today’s international security environment call for able contributors to be willing to step up to a variety of potentially robust engagements. But, in addition, even post-conflict situations call for a versatile presence, able to shift from civilian-military peace-building activities to robust peacekeeping to asymmetric warfare to direct combat. Germany cannot hope to contribute to international peace and security while being able to tackle only the lighter part of the spectrum of military operations, even if deployed only in stabilisation contexts.
More than anything, France needs partners willing to act. Paris, too, has room to improve. It could enhance its inter-agency coordination, or consider resource pooling. It would certainly have a few things to learn from Berlin’s own reflexions and practice, for instance on the police component of stabilisation operations. But seen from Paris, more than a modernised toolbox, an updated whole-of-government doctrine or an adapted institutional set-up, the key lies in the willingness to take risks so as to project much-needed security and stability.
Manuel Lafont Rapnouil is Head of the Paris office and Senior Policy Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR). From 2011 to 2015, he headed the Political Affairs Division of the Department for UN Affairs at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
ECFR does not take collective position. This contribution represents only the view of its author.
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