German Bundeswehr and MINUSMA in Mali – Any chance of success?

This article was initially published on my discontinued blog ‘Just Peace and War’ on 25/11/2017 and a few editorial changes were made for republishing it on this website. The article is partly based on my earlier German article “Die Bundeswehr im UN-Einsatz in Mali – Ein Einsatz ohne Erfolgsaussichten?“.

This week the German Bundestag discussed among other Bundeswehr deployments the future participation in the United Nations peacekeeping mission MINUSMA (Mission Multidimensionelle Intégrée des Nations Unies pour la Stabilisation au Mali) in Mali. The 12-month mandate for this mission expires in January 2018 and the German caretaker government asked the German parliament (Bundestag) to extend the mandate for another 3 months until 30 April 2018, hoping that until then a new government will be installed. The parliament will finally decide at the beginning of December, but there is not much reason to doubt a majority for the extension. But does the mission and the German participation therein have the affordable reasonable prospect of success to justify the high-risk deployment to Mali?

Currently the deployment to Mali is the biggest mission abroad of the Bundeswehr with a maximum of 1,000 soldiers in the UN mission MINUSMA and an additional 300 soldiers in the European Training Mission for Mali (EUTM Mali), which is part of the security sector assistance for Mali. Germany contributes two attack and two transport helicopters, a reconnaissance unit, various remotely piloted aircraft systems (RAPS) for aerial reconnaissance, and force protection units to MINUSMA in the city of Gao, in north-eastern Mali. MINUSMA is the most dangerous UN peacekeeping mission and according to the latest report of the UN Secretary-General from September 2017 “the political and security situation has [again] significantly deteriorated” since his last report in June this year.

The condition of reasonable prospect

The condition of reasonable prospect (or reasonable chance) of success is one of the traditional conditions of the just war theory, as e.g. Helen Frowe’s book “The Ethics of War and Peace” explains. Some authors like Seth Lazar subsume the condition of reasonable prospect under the condition of last resort. This is comprehensible in cases of war, but especially for the application of the just war theory on military operations other than war the differentiation makes the theory more applicable. The condition of reasonable prospect is also among the just war conditions, which were adopted as so called precautionary principles by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) in their report “The Responsibility to Protect”. In the later stages of the development of the doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect and especially in the adoption by the UN World Summit 2005 the precautionary principles were dropped because of insufficient political support as Alex J. Bellamy states in the journal International Affairs. But since an ethical reflection is not bound by this decision and because the UN Security Council is explicitly referring to the Responsibility to Protect in the resolution authorising MINUSMA, I will use the condition of reasonable prospect to ask, if the military deployment to Mali can be justified particularly in respect to the undeniable risk for the lives of the deployed soldiers.

The mission and its problems

The main objectives of MINUSMA, among others, are:

  • support to the implementation of the Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation in Mali,
  • protection of civilians and stabilisation, including against asymmetric threats,
  • countering asymmetric attacks in active defence of MINUSMA’s mandate,
  • promotion and protection of human rights and humanitarian assistance.

These are demanding objectives for a military force (all following figures as of October 2017) of 11,615 men and women and additional 1,745 police personnel and an operational area of approx. 800,000 square kilometers, which is twice the size of Germany. Furthermore, in the top ten troop contributors Germany is the only industrial nation with 593 soldiers on place 8, while the Netherlands come 13th with 255 men and women. (The difference to the before mentioned 1,000 German soldiers results from the fact, that Germany is also counting troops as part of MINUSMA, who are stationed in Niger on a forward air base needed for medical evacuation (medevac) purposes.) Certainly, Germany and the Netherlands do contribute important capabilities like helicopters for air support and medevac operations and reconnaissance capabilities by RAPS and ground troops. But the particularly endangered infantry units are contributed by African or Asian nations like Burkina Faso, Bangladesh, Chad, Senegal and Togo (the top five troop contributors). These mostly badly trained and equipped troops carry the biggest risk as the fatalities statistic shows with 124 of the 150 killed peacekeepers in Mali coming from the top seven troop contributors.

TCC PCC top 10
Source: (downloaded on 24/11/2017)

Researchers of the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS) rightly find that the large number of casualties “exposes considerable inequalities between African and non-African soldiers in terms of individual safety.” The troop structure of few highly trained and well equipped troops from industrial countries and a majority of badly trained and equipped infantry units from third-world countries questions the reasonable prospect to reach the main objectives of MINUSMA. These doubts are supported by the last report on the situation in Mali by the UN Secretary-General. Focusing on the participation of the Bundeswehr in MINUSMA it is questionable whether the present contingent, which without doubt contributes important capabilities to the UN mission, is sufficient or if Germany could make a stronger contribution with e.g. a well equipped infantry unit to take a fairer share of the general risk for the peacekeepers. Besides, Germany could use such a unit in a partnering program with other troop contributing countries to improve their training, like the DIIS demanded in their report “African Peacekeepers in Mali”. Another possibility is the training of future peacekeepers in their home countries like the German army did this September in Egypt. The question of a reasonable, sufficient and fair contribution by Germany to MINUSMA will become of even greater importance, when, on the one hand, Germany recalls its helicopters as planned in the second half of 2018 and, on the other hand, Germany wants to apply again for a seat in the UN Security Council in 2019 and 2020.

Ground Sign Awareness: German soldier training his Egyptian comrades for their deployment with MINUSMA in Sep. 2017 in Egypt. ©Bundeswehr/Stephan Schmidt

The importance of the civilian component to crisis management

For the reasonable prospect of MINUSMA an increase in the military force of the mission could be necessary to enable the peacekeepers to guarantee for security in northern Mali, but for an overall success it would not be sufficient at all. Instead, a stronger civilian component is necessary, which is a lessons learned of the international crisis management in Afghanistan. This was one of the conclusions of the speech held by the former Senior Military Adviser to the UN mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), brigadier general Kay Brinkmann, in January 2017 in Bonn. Germany’s civilian commitment to the crisis management includes measures by the Federal Foreign Office and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, such as support for the Malian Ministry for Reconciliation or for the establishment of federal structure in Mali. This support is very positive but compared with its military engagement, Germany spent less than 30 million euros on the civilian component in 2017, while the deployment of the Bundeswehr cost approx. 163 million euros. The discrepancy between the expenses for the military and the civilian contribution to the crisis management in Mali leads to the question whether the civilian component of the crisis management is taken seriously enough.

It is out of question that Germany could possibly solve the myriad problems of Mali on its own and this is also not Germany’s responsibility. But taking the condition of reasonable prospect seriously it is not justifiable to sent soldiers in a conflict zone without a reasonable chance for the success of their mission. But this applies not only to the German but to all soldiers serving for the international community in Mali. In this case, the just war theory provides two options: to stop the military engagement or to make sure, that the condition of reasonable prospect is met. If the international community takes the Responsibility to Protect seriously, it can only choose the second option. Germany as one of the wealthiest nations of the world has to contribute a fair share to this option by military and civilian means, particularly if it aims for more international influence through a (permanent) seat in the UN Security Council.

Feature Image: A TACTICAL CIMIC TEAM (TCT) of the mixed reconnaissance unit (ISR Coy) of the 4th German contingent to MINUSMA walks on the weekly market in Wabaria near Gao/Mali, on 07/02/2017. ©Bundeswehr/Sebastian Wilke

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