Fighting in Chad should prompt EU re-think

If the European Union is to succeed in Chad, it will need to design an integrated response, covering political, development and military action alike

What if they declared an ESDP mission and nobody came?  Days before the EU was set to deploy a new military mission to the Chad-Sudan border to protect refugees from Darfur this month, preparations ground to a halt as the Chadian government (supported by France) fought off a rebel attack on the capital.

After a week of as yet unquantified brutality – we know only that “hundreds” are dead and “thousands” displaced – the worst of the fighting seems to be over.  Chad’s leaders are appealing for the European deployment to recommence promptly.  But the EU cannot simply pretend that the events of the last week did not take place, sending up a prayer that they won’t be repeated.  This episode has pointed to deeper flaws in how the Union does peacekeeping and statebuilding.

One thing should be clear: there has long been a powerful case for deploying to Chad.  The humanitarian situation there is dire. There are an estimated 170,000 internally displaced people and a further 230,000 refugees. Many of these people are vulnerable to raids by Khartoum-backed militias from Darfur.

But while few would deny these people need help, many European governments do not believe they can or should deliver security in such a scenario. Last September, the UN Security Council authorised the deployment of a European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) force to Chad and the Central African Republic.  But there was little enthusiasm amongst European states for the mission, and a shortage of helicopters prevented its initial deployment in December.

While sufficient aircraft were eventually scraped together, the proposed mission had already had enemies.  Anti-government forces suspect that its real purpose is to reinforce a long-standing French garrison that has protected President Idriss Déby in the past.  Sudan fears that it is a back-stop of intervention in Darfur.   So it wasn’t a huge surprise rebels from the United Front for Change – a coalition led  from bases in Darfur –  laid siege to N’Djamena, the capital, reaching Déby’s palace. Reports of Sudanese air attacks in eastern Chad corroborate the belief that Khartoum encouraged the attack to keep the EU out.

If the politics strike seem confusing, don’t worry, they are.  UN and African Union negotiators working on the Darfur and Chad files freely admit that the precise balance of interests and forces in the region is incredibly difficult to follow and has, if anything, been made even more complex by Darfur’s long war.

But the EU should recognize a more straightforward lesson in Chad, because it’s a lesson that it has been taught before in the Balkans.  Sending troops to resolve a humanitarian crisis is a laudable and sometimes essential task.  But it will have little impact, or even be counter-productive, if there is no political track.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, European governments notoriously attempted to protect safe areas without tackling the causes of the long conflict there.  The result: Srebrenica.  Even after peace was made, NATO concentrated on narrow military matters while efforts to build a civilian peace were initially overlooked.  In Kosovo, a force of 50,000 troops was stood up in 1999 – nearly a decade later, the EU, Serbia and Russia seem as far from a political solution as ever.

Similar dilemmas loom in Chad. The fundamental source of instability there is poor governance. President Déby seized power after a civil war in 1990 and has hung on to power through fraudulent elections and by scuppering any organized opposition. The state is plagued by winner-take-all politics.  The state comes 172 out of the 179 states ranked in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index – equal, the EU should note, with Sudan and Afghanistan. 

It does almost exactly as badly in UNDP’s Human Development Index, coming in at 170.  The country’s judicial institutions are unable to check executive power and the government is unable to deliver basic services. A recent influx of oil revenues has accentuated, not diminished, inequalities and corruption.

Nobody would pretend that deploying a military force along the Chad-Sudan border was going to address these issues.  And, it should be repeated, sometimes humanitarian action is a necessity in its own right.  But a case like Chad requires an integrated response, covering political, development and military action. An EU policy for lasting peace would need to include initiatives to combat corruption, promote the responsible use of oil revenues, encourage a more inclusive and representative government, and professionalize the military and police to reduce human rights abuses and increase public confidence.

The EU has a number of levers at its disposal: the bloc is Chad’s primary trade partner and the largest provider of development assistance. But despite this, the EU response remains stove-piped, with no overarching strategy tying the military to the money. If the ESDP mission to Chad is to succeed – and even become a progenitor of Europe foreign policy to come – the EU needs to help tackle Chad’s underlying problems, using the breadth of its institutional machinery.

All very easy to say.  But the EU can’t repeat the approach it took in the Balkans, where the international community ended up with executive or quasi-executive powers in Kosovo, Bosnia and parts of Croatia.  Afghanistan’s recent rejection of Paddy Ashdown, fuelled by unfair accusations that he wanted to be a “viceroy” in Kabul, is a reminder of the obstacles to statebuilding.  The challenge for the EU in a Chad-type case is to network its forms of influence, with the Commission, Council, member-states and agencies coming at the problem from different directions – a coordinated but not monolithic response.

How can the EU create such a network, and coordinate its activities?  Frankly, no-one really knows.  Over the next year, ECFR is going to undertake a project looking at the post-Balkan generation of EU civilian interventions, which have spread from the Congo to Indonesia.  In the meantime, the EU (and, of course, France as the decisive European state in the case) should have a clear message for Mr. Déby: you want the ESDP force in place?  Very well.  But if you want support for your government and your state, start thinking very hard about how you govern and tell us (and your people) how you’ll start doing it better.

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.


Associate Senior Policy Fellow
ECFR Alumni · Former Senior Policy Fellow

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