While the world’s attention has been focused on the US-led military interventions in Iraq and Syria a quieter build-up of military assets has been ongoing along the newer, western front of the War on Terror as the security crises in Libya and northeast Nigeria escalate and the conflict in northern Mali proves to be far from over. In the face of revolutionary change in Burkina Faso, the efforts of outsiders to enforce an authoritarian and exclusionary status quo across the Sahel-Sahara look increasingly fragile and misdirected.
Following the abduction of over 200 school girls from Chibok in northern Nigeria, clarion calls on social media for action in Africa have once again become an excuse to flex military muscle, as the rhetoric of ‘humanitarian’ interventions is increasingly outfitted with the tactics of the war on terror.
Whatever the benefits for Mali, the French-led eviction of jihadist groups from northern Mali may have made the wider Sahara a less safe place, and has done little to lower the capacity of such groups to threaten European interests.. In 2014, France is implementing a major redeployment of its forces in Africa into the Sahel and Sahara. Meanwhile, the US has been quietly extending its military reach from Djibouti to Mauritania. However, as elsewhere, the western military approach to countering Islamist insurgency in the Sahel rests on very unsteady foundations and the potential to provoke wider alienation and radicalisation is strong.
2014 is a time for looking backwards and forwards. While the dynamics of the war on terror are still very much in play, the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the re-escalation of violence in Iraq and Libya present an opportune context for sincere reflections on the disastrous consequences of war without borders. Such inquiry needs to look forward too, to the implications of the current administration’s ‘war-lite’ and the unstoppable proliferation of remote control technologies.
The recent announcement that the so-called Geneva II conference would finally convene on 22 January 2014 is overdue but good news. What are the chances of it bringing peace? With an interim deal signed on Iran’s nuclear programme, Richard Reeve discusses what chance the great powers, Middle Eastern diplomats and the mediators of Geneva have as they turn their attention to ending the war in Syria.