Place de la liberté, Bamako


As President Obama used his second inaugural address to make the statement that ‘a decade of war is now ending’ the battleground seems only to have moved; from Afghanistan and Pakistan, still as fractious and volatile as they were ten years ago, to North Africa. Each country seems to have their own set of problems to face, but with French intervention in Mali and a new branch of terrorist threat in the Maghreb, one question has yet to be asked: is another decade of war now beginning?


Questions about colonialism arise when a former ruler of a former colony intervenes in its affairs because it is effectively powerless to act under its own sovereignty. The more things change, arguably, the more things stay the same. But this coming decade could also become the decade in which the new style of warfare, called ‘new wars’ by academics, becomes the main style of military conduct carried out by states against their aggressors who, now, are almost never other sovereign nations.


Indeed, the international situation at the end of 2022 could very well look quite similar to the international situation at the end of 2012. While Senator John Kerry, who is shortly expected to take up the role of Secretary of State from Hillary Clinton, declared quite brazenly that the West would abandon Afghanistan should there not be a truly democratic election in 2014, one only needs to look to Egypt to see where Afghanistan might be two years down the line even if this rather unlikely event comes off.


Egypt had their revolution and participated in a relatively democratic election, comparative to many states in similar positions, which brought to power the Muslim Brotherhood under Mohammed Morsi. The fashioning of an Islamic State and an uncertain curtailing of the judicial arm of the Egyptian state machinery, however, sounds like an edging closer towards a dictatorial, though not necessarily despotic, regime. Though the West has always seemed to stand at the periphery of the Arab Spring and its aftermath, except in humanitarian cases such as Syria, it begs the question where the global powers will decide to stake their spot in a world system which seems at the moment to be in flux.


In North-West Africa France is already heavily involved. Though they are slowly forcing the rebels back up to the North of the country it is uncertain what Francois Hollande’s end game might be. The President does not appear to be someone who wants to become involved in the tricky and often hopeless situation of nation building- indeed, the French came in primarily as rescue force for the Malian Government. When the job is done it would be unsurprising if the French left as quickly as they came.


Syria, when all the bloodshed ends, will emerge either as a rump state controlled by a despot or will find itself in a similar situation to that of Libya post-revolution. It’s infrastructure and its towns, at least in the areas that do not support Assad, will be shot to pieces. The West must then decide where it goes from there on issues of regional security and nation-building, though the idea of intervention on the scale of Iraq and Afghanistan anywhere in North Africa seems vaguely unthinkable. Libya is being left to recover on its own, Egypt is watched closely but with nothing like the same nudging that the Bush and Blair Governments gave to the countries which they had attempted to liberate whilst countries like Mali and surrounding nations are only now just coming into the mainstay of Western foreign policy consideration.

French Troops in Bamako

French Troops in Bamako


Algeria, having been unfazed by the Arab Spring, now looks to be an unlikely collaborator with Western powers against insurgents inside its own borders. The statement by the Foreign Minister that they were wrong to have refused offers of foreign help when attempting to handle the BP hostage crisis could be read as an offer of closer collaboration with countries that are willing to count themselves as allies. Whether this means that a more covert presence in North Africa will be the mainstay of Western foreign policy for the next ten years remains to be seen.


Whatever the outcome of the region-to say nothing of Iran, which at least one former-British Prime Minister believes to be a ticking time bomb, and to say nothing of Israel and Palestine-it seemed a glib comment for President Obama to make, even if, in semantic terms, he was completely correct. Though intervention on the scale of Iraq and Afghanistan may be a thing not seen for the next ten years, if nothing else because of budgetary constraints, it seems unlikely that the Western powers will assume a stance of non-intervention in a region which is seen as a threat to global security.


What is more, Senator Kerry’s statement that ‘China is all over Africa’ and that the US needs to exert more influence over the continent as a whole feels like a calling card for the next stage of US global management. Between 2013 and 2017 there will be four elections, three of them in Europe and one in the United States. New, modern warfare’s manifestation will depend on how much money Governments have, and who is running them. The last ten years, unfortunately for Mr. Obama, may be the model on which the next ten are built.


Stuart McMillan


Image Credits:


Place de la liberté, Rgaudin


French Troops in Bamako, Idrissa Fall