PARIS – France’s military intervention in Mali is proceeding apace, with the recent fall of Timbuktu representing a significant milestone in the effort to rout the Islamist rebels who took control of the north of the country. More broadly, the intervention’s apparent success underscores three key points.
First, it confirms that France retains the ability to act as Europe’s prime mover. France has a large and rapidly deployable military force, as it demonstrated in Libya in 2011. Furthermore, this military capability is tied to a worldview, rather than just to the defense of economic interests.
In Mali, France is not seeking to lay claim to resources, export democracy, or extend a Françafrique in which it no longer believes. More prosaically, France seeks to stabilize a country that is subject to violent forces that are not always led by Malians, and that are likely to disrupt the whole sub-region while threatening Europe.
Second, the intervention once again highlights the strategic insignificance of the European Union, which is promoting a “comprehensive strategy” for Mali and the whole region in order to avoid the crucial question: Under what conditions will Europe use force?