Integrating China and Europe’s security approach in Africa

Europe's World

Asia, Africa & Emerging Economies

Picture of Andrew Tchie
Andrew Tchie

Research Fellow for Conflict, Security and Development at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS)

Picture of Flore Berger
Flore Berger

Assistant Research Analyst for Sub-Saharan Africa, Conflict, Security and Development at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS)

Photo of This article is part of Friends of Europe’s upcoming discussion paper on global governance reform.
This article is part of Friends of Europe’s upcoming discussion paper on global governance reform.

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Since the founding of the ultimately ill-fated League of Nations in 1920, global governance has been dominated by a succession of supranational bodies, culminating in the foundation of the United Nations and the diverse Bretton Woods institutions at the end of the Second World War. These organisations have largely worked to ensure peace between the Western powers in the security sphere but also in finance and trade.  In a changing world, however, with the rise of new powers, it is imperative that the voices and needs of emerging nations are also adequately reflected. Given that 21st century global concerns focus far more than ever before on hybrid threats, human rights and the environment, is it time to draw a line under the past 99 years of global governance and look to re-evaluate and reform our established systems?

This article is part of Friends of Europe’s upcoming discussion paper on global governance reform, in which we ask the ‘unusual suspects’ to share their views on what reforms are necessary to make the rules-based order work for us all.

Africa is at a crossroads. Traditional rebel groups, primarily active in the 1980s and 1990s, are now being replaced by a diverse multiplicity of fractioned, but localised, militant armed groups. These new factions operate with fluidity and embed themselves amongst civilians in both urban and rural areas. They use insurgency tactics to achieve their goals and are often influenced by factors such as the global war on terror, exploitation of natural resources, transnational organised crime, globalisation and spillover from interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria.

President Trump’s administration’s decision to stop paying its full United Nations Peacekeeping Operations (UNPKO) bills is unfortunate. He has opted to prioritise countering Chinese influence over pursuing counterterrorism. Fortunately, this development gives China and the European Union (EU) the opportunity to fill the gap by collaboratively rethinking multilateral approaches to peacekeeping. They should seize this moment to form stronger ties to help fund and support – but not run – African peace and security efforts. To achieve this, greater cooperation between the EU, China and their African partners – the African Union (AU) and Regional Economic Communities (RECs), in particular – is required.

Out of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (UNSC), China is the second-largest funder (after the United States) and contributes the most troops to peacekeeping operations. It has increased its troop contributions from 52 participating military personnel in January 2000 to 2,437 in July 2019. Most of these troops have been deployed to the missions in South Sudan and Mali.

European and Chinese peacekeepers do not engage in dangerous missions the same way that African peacekeepers do

Beijing takes a pan-African approach to security on the continent. Its activities range from training Rwandese troops to supplying weapons and equipment for Africa’s armies. Chinese personnel also help plan further cooperation with African countries on staff training, logistics, peacekeeping missions, healthcare and relief operations. Likewise, European countries have been heavily involved in African security for decades, helping to form a comprehensive development and security strategy across the continent. However, China and the EU are yet to develop a strategic partnership to support their African counterparts.

By far, African contributions to UN missions on the continent win them the distinction of leading troop-contributing countries (TCCs), a trend that is mirrored when comparing origins of law enforcement officers participating in these missions. They also suffer the most fatalities while serving under the UN.

European and Chinese peacekeepers do not engage in dangerous missions the same way that African peacekeepers do. The division of labour is very clear: European and Chinese troops typically stay in MINUSMA’s headquarters, rarely leaving their bases, while African troops conduct most of the challenging and dangerous operations. Yet, African countries do not always play a principal strategic role in these operations.

European and Chinese security actors must work together to create an integrated capacity-building approach with all international partners

However, to secure Africa’s security environment, China and the EU need to develop a long-term strategy with the AU and, above all, the RECs. These communities often have better insights into the regional and local contexts that shape a conflict. While there is an acceptance that not all RECs function efficiently, established ones like the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have swiftly addressed potential political security risks in the Gambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) when former presidents tried to extend their presidency. Despite previous successful political and stabilisation efforts by RECs, member states are still reluctant to empower RECs to deal with regional level peace and security issues.

Given Africa’s growing challenges such as adverse demographics, climate change and the growth of militant insurgencies, Africa must look inwards and examine how it conceptualises peace, security and counterterrorism undertakings. Thus, the EU and China, through the RECs, should aim at fostering coordination and outreach during operations, as well as improving multilateral discussions to enhance dialogue between all stakeholders. These exchanges should extend to militias, armed groups and different communal identity-based group, as was done in Iraq and Afghanistan.

European and Chinese security actors must work together to create an integrated capacity-building approach with all international partners. Vital to this approach is the inclusion of communities and civil society organisations grounded in a people-focused approach. This effort should also address the funding gap by enacting better policy goals. This can only be done by forgoing short-term, donor-focused thinking lacking the directionality created by forming a longstanding exit strategy. Careful analysis of what is taking place on the ground should inform policy and funding.

Finally, creating synergy amongst international partners within peacekeeping missions and towards conflict prevention, counterterrorism and conflict mitigation is crucial. This should include early warning and early response mechanisms that include local and traditional community efforts.

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