Europe and African Defense

WASHINGTON, DC – The European Union already faces considerable risks concerning its structure, uncertain economic recovery, north-south imbalances, and British ambivalence about membership. Exposure to bad outcomes in Africa, with its myriad security problems, increases those risks.

Much of Africa north of the equator continues to be violent and potentially explosive. The showers of the Arab Spring have not produced an attractive crop of leaders, let alone a harvest of democracy. Anarchy, banditry, and terrorism by Al Qaeda affiliates and wannabes, exhibited in Algerian gas fields and Mali, may develop into more than a lethal nuisance.

With the United States an increasingly reluctant world policeman as it reconsiders, reduces, and realigns its strategic commitments, European countries – especially the United Kingdom and France, given Germany’s retreat from military participation – will have to bear principal responsibility for dealing with African security issues. Fortunately, European powers have clearly shown some willingness to do so, demonstrated by their intervention in Libya and Mali.

This is appropriate, because, even as the US retains a strong interest in and responsibility for Northeast Africa (owing to the region’s relationship to the Middle East), Europe is more directly affected by events in the rest of Africa than is the US. Europe depends on energy imports from the Maghreb, and its geographic proximity and past colonial relationships make it a destination, not always welcoming, of African immigration. The same factors also make Europe more vulnerable to terrorist activities originating in Africa.