Tag Archives: Mali

The Politics of Multilateral Peacekeeping

French Soldiers Deployed in Mali

French Soldiers Deployed in Mali

The French government last week called on West African leaders to “pick up the baton” and support military operations against Islamic insurgents in Mali. France has already deployed more than 2,000 soldiers and is currently conducting air and ground operations authorized by a United Nations Security Council resolution. Other governments, including Chad, Nigeria, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Niger, Togo, Benin, Ghana, and Guinea have committed to sending soldiers, and Britain, Denmark, and Belgium are providing material support. The United States has offered to provide communications support, but has declined so far to commit soldiers or air support.

It is clear that France has already moved beyond the original UN-backed strategy, which called for Western governments to provide training and material in support of an African-led military intervention. Rather, French forces appear to be taking the lead in operations, with other governments in the region responding more slowly.

The politics of military coalitions are always interesting. Basic behavioral economics suggest that there is little incentive for a government to pay for something it can get for free. In game theory, this is referred to as the free-rider dilemma. In global politics, more powerful countries (often the hegemon) pay a disproportionate cost. The United States, for example, has borne the lion’s share of the costs associated with interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But recent developments in Libya and Mali suggest a slightly different strategy at play. In both cases, the United States appeared willing to let others—France in the case of Mali, and the European Union in the case of Libya—take the leading role.

Does this represent a shift in American military thinking? Likely, the answer is no. While the Obama administration expresses a stronger commitment to multilateralism than the Bush administration did, it has already shown a willingness to undertake unilateral action when it perceives the national interest is at stake. The ongoing drone strikes in Pakistan are case in point.

However, where it sees the US national interest is less at play, the Obama administration appears far more willing to let other states pursue policies that align with US interests abroad.

United Nations Intervention in Mali: The Changing Face of the “War on Terror”

Rebels in Northern Mali.

Rebels in Northern Mali.

The United Nations Security Council yesterday unanimously approved a resolution supporting an African-led military intervention in northern Mali intended to dislodge Islamic militants operating in the region. The resolution calls for nonmilitary measures, including political reconciliation, elections, and training of Mali’s military forces before as a precursor to deployment of a 3,330-strong force backed by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

The government of Mali has been struggling to counter the growing influence of al Qaeda-linked groups in the northern part of the country. Two groups, the National Movement of the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) heave been pushing for greater independence.

Blogging at Turtle Bay, Colum Lynch notes that the Security Council resolution provides broad authorization for foreign governments to “take all necessary measures” and provide “any necessary assistance” in support of Mali’s fight against Islamic extremists. Such measures could range from the deployment of military advisors and the provision of training and material support, to the use of drones or other forms of direct military intervention in northern Mali.

The Security Council’s decision was somewhat surprising, particularly given the fact that the organization had been so hesitant to consider the situation in Mali previously. However, the decision also reflects a new tactic in the war on terror. Rather than engaging directly in operations against Islamic extremists, the United States and other western nations are deferring to local and regional governments in the region to address the issue. This tactic raises an interesting question. What happens if the regional peacekeeping forces are unable to address the threat? How far should U.S. support go? At what point does the United States transition from “advice and support” to “direct intervention”? Would such a (revised) role require Congressional approval? Would Congress even support such an initiative? And more generally, would such a move transition the role of the United Nations from peacekeeping to peacemaking? Take the poll below or leave a comment and let us know what you think.

The Role of Technology in Development

Mali Rice Farmers

Rice Farmers in Mali (photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Discussion of international development often centers on the need to promote the use of new technologies. In this respect, technology is too often seen as a magic bullet to solve the problems of development. If there are hungry people, we need genetically modified foods to feed them. If there are people who lack access to clean water, we need improved water technologies like desalination or improvements in water pumps. If there are illiterate people, we need affordable computers. The list goes on and on.

But the emphasis on technological innovation to address the challenges of development ignore the social dynamics of the process itself. This is perhaps clearest in efforts to address hunger, as a recent post by Oxfam’s Duncan Green points out. While developing new technologies to increase agricultural output in the global south could certainly represent one component of a strategy to address global hunger, we cannot assume that technological improvements necessarily address social challenges. The Nobel Prize winning economist Amartya Sen in the 1970s articulated an entitlement theory of hunger. Using a comparative analysis of food production and hunger in famine zones around the world, Sen observed that hunger did not necessarily result from a lack of food. Often, famines occurred in areas where food production had actually increased in recent years. Rather, Sen argued that famine results when people cannot access the food that is produced. This subtle shift revolutionized our understanding of famines and hunger, but unfortunately did not fundamentally shift our policy strategy for dealing with them.

Duncan Green’s example, delivered at the Westminster Food and Nutrition Forum last week, was taken from efforts to increase food production in Mali (see the discussion beginning on page 59 here). Rather than seeking (often expensive) technological fixes such as  new seed varieties, Green argues that agricultural output was increased by 10-20% simply by providing farmers with access to reliable, appropriate seasonal weather forecasts, thereby giving farmers the information necessary to make better decisions. This approach required no new technology whatsoever. Farmers could receive the weather forecast from radios (which they already own) or by word of mouth.

In the broader context, Green’s analysis highlights the dichotomy between “nice” and “nasty” technologies in the development community. Nice technologies include information technologies and the internet, mobile phones, and vaccines. Nasty technologies are GMOs, nanotechnology, geoengineering, biofuels, and nuclear power. The distinction, Green notes, is based on the degree to which the technology centralizes or decentralizes power. Nice technologies empower people, especially the poor, while nasty technologies tend to centralize power (via patents or high costs), thereby excluding the poor.

The “nice vs. nasty” technology distinction is useful, but it is also possible to frame the debate in a slightly different way. Appropriate technologies are those technologies developed with specific consideration for the environmental, cultural, and economic context within which they will be used. Much like Sen’s analysis of famines, appropriate technologies take as their starting point the social dynamics of their use. Development based on the use of appropriate technologies would not seek to displace labor in the production process, and would be cognizant of the gender dynamics of production. Above all, appropriate technology is accessible technology. And this is something that is desparately needed in the world of development assistance.