Last week the Dutch parliament came to an agreement to participate in the UN peacekeeping mission (MINUSMA) in the African country Mali. And the Dutch military will set up an intelligence agency in the capital Bakomo and support and protect the Malian army and MINUSMA forces in the north of the country in the city of Gao. The Dutch mission is part of the greater MINUSMA goals that aim to “recover the areas occupied by armed groups and restoring the country’s territorial integrity, fully re-establish the State authority in the north, reform the armed forces, keep dialogue with groups who renounce military struggle and adhere to the unitary nature of the Malian State and its Constitution, help with the return of refugees and displaced persons, and fight against impunity.” These goals and the Dutch participation in them aligns with the Dutch philosophy of the 3Ds (Defense, Diplomacy, and Development) in its foreign affairs as stipulated in the Regeerakkoord 2012 (coalition agreement of 2012).
The nature of the Dutch mission seems clear, set up an intelligence agency and support the troops, but the actual interest the Dutch government has in the greater MINUSMA mission is ambiguous. Without the actual defined interest in Mali, the mission can be seen to lack the 3D focus and more as an appeasement to the greater international political theater instead of a genuine attempt to help develop Mali. Before we actually send our ‘boys’ over to the desert, the Dutch people might want to question the Dutch mission and ask why the Netherlands needs to be involved in Mali.
So what’s wrong in Mali?
A lot. Besides the fact that Mali has one of the lowest Human Development Index (ranking 182 out 186), which is already bad in itself, the country has been in political turmoil for almost a decade and in a serious civil war for the last two years. In short, the decade reign of former President Touré, who was pretty much in power because of a sham democracy, came to an end after the extremist Tuareg rebels from the north, who left Libya after the Gadhafi regime ended, staged a coup d’état. This resulted in a conflict between the Malian army and the Tuareg rebels and ultimately in a civil war. After deliberate discussions the UN agreed to start a peacekeeping mission to restore the legitimate authority to the Malian President Keïta, who won the 2013 presidential elections in the country. The mission is a continuation of an earlier mission led by the French Army to restore peace in the country. The Wikipedia article of the conflict probably describes the complex situation better and more detailed than I can in one paragraph.
Our Dutch ‘boys’ in Mali
Now that the Dutch Parliament came to an agreement in the participation of MINUSMA, 378 Dutch army personnel will leave for Mali before the end of this year. Their primary mission is to help the Malian army set up an intelligence agency that will help the Malian government effectively gather intelligence about the Tuareg rebels. A secondary mission is to support the Malian and French army in the conflict area in the north of the country. Interestingly, the Dutch army has little to no experience in carrying out the primary mission. Earlier Dutch participation in peacekeeping missions (Afghanistan, Iraq, Sebrenica) were strongly focused on the enforcing of dialogue between the two fighting sides through reconstruction of the country or the training of army and police forces. This focus, also called the Dutch Approach, fits very well with the 3Ds; help a country develop through strengthening its defense and creating diplomacy between the two sides. In addition to a lack of experience in the intelligence sphere, since MINUSMA is unofficially led by the French army in a French speaking country, the fact that setting up an intelligence agency is largely an administrative task and will require very good French language skills, something that the Dutch army does not possess, makes the reason for the primary mission even more questionable. Top this off with the potential dangers of the mission and the reason we are going to Mali seems even stranger. If the Dutch army is not adequately qualified to fulfill the requirements of the primary mission, why on earth are we sending 378 men over to Mali? What’s in it for us?
Who knew the French could actually fight?
Bert Koenders and the Global Stage
It seems awfully coincidental that the Netherlands will be participating in a peacekeeping mission that seems out of our comfort zone, but at the same time is headed by a former minister of our own. Bert Koenders, Minister of Development Cooperation (Ontwikkelingssamenwerking) under the Balkenende IV cabinet, serves as the Special Representative and Head of MINUSMA. It could very well be that the two, Bert Koenders and an assigned mission that does not make a lot of sense, are linked together. If that is the case the reason why the Netherlands is going to Mali seems debatable. Instead of willingly participate in a UN peacekeeping mission to better the current conditions in Mali, the Dutch participation can be seen as a forceful entry onto the global political stage to leave a stamp on something that we probably do not even want to leave a stamp on. The Dutch interest in Mali is most likely not to help out a country suffering from political turmoil, but to improve its own standing in the global political theater. Initially, this might not seem to be a problem. After all, countries often participate in missions to politically benefit from it. However, if it is done under the pretense of a philosophy of Defense, Diplomacy, and Development and it concerns a mission that we are not fully prepared for, the actual interest in the Mali mission might be problematic. Add to it that the Netherlands wants to become a major player in the intelligence universe as pointed out by Giles Scott-Smith and the questions about the Dutch interests in Mali keep rising.
Mali and the Dutch: Conclusion
Of course the Mali mission is not all black and grim. There is no doubt that the Dutch military personnel going to Mali will have the best intentions to actually better the conditions in Mali, even if they are not completely qualified to do so. Nonetheless, the Dutch public needs to be aware that the mission is not solely meant to be a humanitarian one and that underlying factors create a different interest in Mali. In this case the appeasement to the global political stage is in conflict with the Dutch philosophy of its foreign affairs. If it is not for the betterment of the Malian people, the Dutch public seriously might ask itself what really the reason is for the Dutch participation in MINUSMA.