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The ramification of NATO’s intervention in Mali

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FILE PHOTO: A NATO flag is seen at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol/File Photo

By Koffi M Kouakou

“No, we cannot rule it out. This issue was not brought up during the discussions in Madrid because the summit is devoted to defining the framework for NATO’s action. If necessary and if there is a threat to our security, we will certainly do so,” Spanish foreign minister, Jose Manuel said.

In a statement to the official radio station RNAE allegedly on the sidelines of the Northern Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) summit as it closed in Madrid last week, Albares emphasised that “it hasn’t been on the table at the talks in Madrid because this is a summit that is laying out, so to speak, the framework for NATO action … If it were necessary and if there was to be a threat to our security, of course it would be done”.

What was the Spanish foreign minister talking about in this cryptic yet undiplomatic language?

Well, less than a day after Albares’s aggressive statements were widely broadcast in global media, seasoned diplomatic Malian foreign minister Abdoulaye Diop summoned the Spanish ambassador in Mali to his ministry for clarification and issued a strong protest against the statement during an interview on state television in Bamako.

As it turned out, Albares was responding to a hypothetical question about whether a NATO intervention mission in Mali, to quell large scale terrorism that threatens Europe stability, could be ruled out. He repeated: “No, we can’t rule it out.”

In saying so, he set in motion the vivid image of another threat of NATO’s intervention in an African country and unleashed a diplomatic crisis with Mali. Surely, this reminded Malians and many Africans of the brutal invasion, bombing, and destruction of Libya and more so the assassination of Muammar Ghaddafi, Libyan leader in 2011.

So, after minister Diop summoned the ambassador, he also announced by tweet that he spoke to his counterpart Spaniard minister about the diplomatic row his statements had caused.

Ambassador Albares “denied the remarks and expressed his attachment to friendly relations and cooperation with Mali”, Diop wrote.

Moreover, “Spain did not ask during the NATO summit or at any other time for an intervention, mission or any action by the Alliance in Mali,” said a statement signed by the Spanish ambassador in Mali that overrode and undermined the quality of the diplomatic seniority hierarchy.

In short, Spain has retracted the comments and denied them, publicly. In doing so, Spain has admitted making a diplomatic mess and created unnecessary worries in West Africa and the rest of the continent. Thus, Spain quickly moved to cool the row with Mali on Saturday.

But can the withdrawal of these emphatic Spaniard comments be taking lightly, brushed off and considered a diplomatic victory for Mali and Africa?

Not yet. These comments were not made in jest.

They mean something big about NATO’s involvement in Mali and West Africa. I remain suspicious of this quick diplomatic calculated retreat of publicly made strong statements by a high-level European Union minister that may reflect the inner workings and future NATO policy decisions towards Africa. Although diplomatically calmed, these belligerent comments must be interrogated further. More important, what is NATO planning for Africa and especially in the Sahel where it is already operating under the umbrella of many UN military missions. Furthermore, the NATO summit in Spain had very clear agenda with urgent and nervous strategic goals this year.

NATO has a dual agenda. Official, overt and public on one hand. And unofficial, covert and private on the other.

While full of generic ideals under the motto of “progress towards an equitable world”; and the lofty vision of a democratic, free, fair, peaceful, and secure world, the most prominent running theme within the overt and covert agenda in the new NATO 2022 Strategic Concept could be called a “war agenda”. It lays the belligerent policy framework for actions with wider sanctions against Russia as an enemy, China as a “systemic threat” to the US-led West and those who side with them.

The concept claims to set “sweeping changes to the western military alliance” to include increased military defence spending target of 2 percent of GDP across its membership, expansionary footprints in Asia with increasing troop levels at NATO members’ Eastern borders with Russia, and a coercive passive-aggressive nuclear weapons menace option cautiously directed at Russia and China without naming them.

Strangely, the new concept hardly mentions Africa, but in passing. Seemingly, Africa is almost invisible or overlooked within it. But many shrewd observers will detect very quickly that Africa is in fact of greater strategic importance than the concept, instead of dismissing the continent, would publicly admit. In three paragraphs, under the key strategic themes of “terrorism, conflict, fragility and pervasive instability in Africa and the Middle East”, Africa suddenly matters for the comprehensive strategic security future of the Alliance.

The ramification of any NATO interventions in Mali or anywhere else in Africa are enormous. They go beyond the geopolitics of natural resources asset ownership and management, and touch the core of pan-African freedom and long-lost continental sovereignty.

NATO is trouble for Africa, if not constantly checked and monitored. Its covert agenda may not quite be about fending off terrorism in the Sahel and the horrendous human waves of migrants that constantly besiege and invade Europe from the South.

Recurrent rumours about discoveries of huge deposits of natural resources, minerals, oil, gas, gold, uranium, rare metals and large bodies of water in the desert and Sahel could be indicative of NATO’s covert agenda. Pardon the pun of the overt conspiracy here. But the immense energetic wealth of West Africa is a serious cause of covetousness from NATO leaders whose recent energy troubles on the back of the Ukraine war and crisis compel them to finally and seriously pivot to Africa, in addition to Asia, with the misleading pretext of fighting terrorism and Jihadists.

And this is exactly what should concern keen African observers about the goals of NATO in Africa, within the context of the unwarranted and misplaced intervention comments of Spain foreign minister Albares.

So, while Malians and Africans are celebrating a temporary diplomatic victory over the retraction of inconsiderate and aggressive statements, they should be careful and vigilant about a possible remake of NATO’s Libyan foray in their vast and insecure country in Africa’s Sahara Desert.

Kouakou is Africa Analyst and Senior Research Fellow at The Centre for Africa-China Studies, University of Johannesburg

This article is original to The African. To republish, see terms and conditions.