Fighting terrorism is now morphing into clamping down on human migration, as far as the European Union is concerned. France’s President Emmanuel Macron is leading the charge, claiming at a conference in Paris last week that terrorism and human trafficking are part of the same problem, requiring the deployment of a military force spread across Africa.
The melding of the two concepts provokes serious legal and moral questions. But so desperate, it seems, is the EU to halt illegal migration into the bloc that it is moving to militarize the problem in Africa – under the guise of “fighting terrorism”.
This is tantamount to European Neo-imperialism. That is, attempting to sort out deep-seated socio-economic problems down the barrel of a gun. Not only that, but using futile heavy-handed methods to deal with problems that European powers themselves are responsible for creating.
Such an approach will only worsen humanitarian problems for millions of displaced war-torn and impoverished people. In typical arrogant imperialist fashion, the EU is not addressing root causes of the problem – its own role in shattering African societies from illegal wars and predatory economics.
The panicky reaction this week in Brussels to the formation of the new Austrian government led by populist Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (pictured with Heinz-Christian Strache) shows that the other European powers are still rattled by the rise of nationalistic politics across Europe and the underlying long-term problem of migration into the EU.
Kurz’s People’s Party has formed a coalition government with the Freedom Party. Both share anti-immigration policies and are deeply critical of the EU. The new Austrian administration has been described with trepidation in the news media as the first “far-right” government in the European Union. That epithet appears to be aimed at demonizing the new Austrian authorities with the taint of “fascism”.
However, what seems to be the real concern among the pro-EU governments of Germany and France is that Austria rekindles wider fears in regard to large uncontrolled flows of refugees entering into Europe and the knock-on effect of rising anti-EU populist politics that those fears tend to fan.
Another sign of the EU’s concern over the flow of migrants into the bloc is the attempt by France, Germany and Italy to morph the issue of refugees into one of “fighting terrorism”. This is an audacious, not to say reprehensible, step of treating a humanitarian crisis with military force. But because the emotive “anti-terror” card is invoked, the intention is to mask the controversial, unethical move with a veneer of humanitarianism.
Last week, French President Emmanuel Macron hosted a summit in Paris which was billed as countering terrorism in the Sahel – the vast Northwest desert region of Africa. Macron has taken the lead earlier this year in forming what is known as the Group of Five (G5) countries straddling the Sahel region, comprising Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mauritania.
The leaders of the G5 were hosted by Macron at a chateau near Paris on December 13. Also in attendance were German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italy’s premier Paolo Gentiloni. Significant, too, was the attendance at the summit by the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
In a brazen appeal for financial funding, Macron asked the Saudis and Emiratis to stump up money for the G5 military force. Both the oil-rich states responded with pledges of $100 million and $30 million, respectively. Other donors to the G5 “anti-terror operations” were the EU and the United States, each pledging $60 million. In other words, the Saudis and Emiratis are bankrolling the G5 “anti-terror” military coalition to the tune of nearly half its total budget.
The G5 comprises some 4,000 troops from the five mentioned African countries – all of them former French colonies. The French forces in the region are believed to number around the same. There are also American special forces operating, as was shown by the dramatic deadly shootout in Niger in October when four US troops were killed in an ambush.
What Macron is claiming to do is to replace the French forces with local troops from the G5. That move will save Paris millions of euros it is currently shelling out on the presence of its military in the Sahel. Knowing that these poor African countries would never be able to finance the operations, the French president is deftly involving the Saudis and Emiratis in the funding.
Macron’s proposal beggars belief. Given the record of the Gulf Arab hardline Sunni regimes in sponsoring terrorism across the Middle East, it is absurd to propose that these same regimes could support “anti-terror” operations in the Sahel.
The contradiction raises the real issue and purpose: France, Germany and Italy, on behalf of the EU, are actually using the moral and political cover of “fighting terrorism” in Africa to further their agenda of stemming the flow of migrants from the continent to Europe. And getting the Gulf Arabs to pay for it. The latter get PR value in return.
It is reckoned that the total African population will double in the next three decades to some 2.5 billion people. That presents European leaders with a formidable headache of worsening migration flows. Already in the last two years, there is estimated to have been 1.5 million refugees entering the EU, many of them from Africa. That phenomenon has, in turn, fueled anti-immigrant political parties across Europe who blame the EU political establishment for the problem. The populist backlash poses a threat to the cohesiveness of the EU. It was one of the issues that drove the British electorate to vote last year for leaving the bloc.
Rather than sniffing at “populist” politics in Austria, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Denmark, France, Italy, Netherlands and Germany – and denigrating it as “fascist” – European leaders need to question their own responsibility. It is understandable that European communities can feel unnerved by the sudden influx of foreigners into their country. Given the relentless socio-economic austerity imposed on communities by Neo-Liberal capitalist governments, the anxieties over scarce public resources are accentuated, and understandable.
Moreover, the European members of the US-led NATO military alliance bear direct responsibility for opening the migration floodgates when they destroyed the state of Libya in an illegal war for regime change in 2011. France, Italy, Britain and Germany, among others, were complicit in that criminal war.
France too went on an illegal military expedition in Mali in 2013 to “defeat terrorism” – and its forces remain in that country today. The real reason for that French intervention may likely have been securing uranium ore mines in Mali and Niger.
All those illegal military interventions by the Europeans in Northwest Africa unleashed militants, migration and human trafficking on a massive scale.
A report last week by Amnesty International also openly condemned European governments for colluding with human traffickers in Libya by forcibly sending would-be migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean back into the clutches of the traffickers on land.
Europe is so desperate to stem the flow of migrants because it is destabilizing the internal politics of the EU. So desperate is Europe that it is willing to force refugees back into the human trafficking networks to a fate of slavery in order to impede the flow into Europe.
Macron’s military “solution” for the Sahel is part of the same futile problem-solving. The French president, with the support of Germany, Italy and the rest of the EU, is using military force to combat “terrorism and human trafficking” which he equates as the same.
Furthermore, Macron and the EU are trying to do it on the cheap, by getting the Saudis and Emiratis to pay a large part of the budget.
This militarist policy is nothing short of a Neo-imperialist agenda in Europe, which can only make matters much, much worse.
European powers, as with the Americans, must stop interfering militarily in the affairs of Africa.
What is needed is a radical new economic and political model of massive public investment in Africa and Europe. The money is there, from the trillions of dollars that European corporations have stashed away in global tax havens. In short, what is required is a repudiation of neoliberal capitalism and the militarism that goes with it.
But there can be no solution under the current political leadership in Europe, as epitomized by French President Emmanuel Macron. Under the cynical guise of being a “liberal progressive”, he is offering the same old destructive policies that end up digging ever deeper holes for societies and the wider world. So much for his recent corny slogan copying Trump, “Make the Planet Great Again”.
The false solution of dealing with European migration as a military problem of “terrorism” and “human traffickers” only lets the real perpetrators of the problems off the hook. France and the other European NATO powers have created their own problems from illegal wars and predatory economic policies. Now they want to “solve” those problems by adding more of the same problems. Make the Planet Groan Again.
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