Chad mission points to EU military's peaceful role


Eufor deployment is a far cry from peace campaigners’ predictions of a militarised Europe, writes TONY KINSELLA.

IT’S NEVER easy, and not always cathartic, to admit that you got something wrong. The higher your profile, the greater your responsibility, and the more serious the consequences of your mistakes are likely to be. Gordon Brown, as the former chancellor of the exchequer and current prime minister of Britain, has begun to edge towards a public, and for him politically vital, mea culpafor the UK’s economic morass.

He told the US Houses of Congress that he had learned “many things” during recent events. He went a little further in a subsequent Channel 4 News interview: “We took action on the financial sector, but we should have done more and I accept that we should have done more.”

It is a journey that our Taoiseach and former minister for finance has yet to embark on. Regretfully informing the Dáil that 450,000 people may be unemployed by the end of the year is a far cry from admitting some responsibility for that sorry mess.

The principle also holds true further down the political food chain, although the degree with which claims and assertions are examined tails off rather quickly. Our European partners are likely once again, albeit with a certain degree of puzzlement, to deny any secret passion to build a European military entity around our 13,000-strong Defence Forces. So we will be asked to vote on the Lisbon Treaty again next autumn.

Irrespective of the nature or content of those assurances, our peace campaigners will emerge blinking into their restored limelight to warn us of the dire consequences for our neutrality and for our grandchildren, of voting in favour of the treaty.

The deployment of Eufor troops to Chad last year was an occasion when such warnings flowed thick and fast. It was all part, we were told, of a sinister plot to have others shoulder France’s neo-colonialist burden in that central African nation.

Roger Cole of the Peace and Neutrality Alliance told us last July of president Sarkozy’s attraction to “Napoleonic imperialism” and that he was seeking “to massively accelerate the process of the militarisation of the EU and to establish a 60,000-strong EU army”. Leaving aside the awkward fact that no such army is envisaged, it is impossible to see what 60,000 troops would add to the 1.9 million under arms across Europe today.

In November Andy Storey, of human rights group Afri, cautioned the Oireachtas sub-committee on the future of the European Union that “if French support for the Chadian government persists, there is a real risk that Eufor will become a party to this conflict”. A Sinn Féin staffer concurred that Eufor would be “propping up a discredited, dictatorial regime” in Chad.

While president Idriss Déby of Chad is never going to win good governance awards, he is something of a national hero having, as army commander, defeated Libyan invaders in 1984 and 1987. He has won three less than perfect presidential elections since 1996 in a country where dictatorship was the norm.

In 2007, UN Security Council Resolution 1778 approved the deployment of refugee protection forces in Chad and the Central African Republic. These were to be complemented by the (yet to deploy) joint African Union-UN UNAMID force in the neighbouring Darfur region of Sudan. Given the urgency of the situation, the UN requested an emergency EU bridging deployment for a year while the UN force was assembled. The EU response revealed something a far cry from the scaremongering denunciations of a “militarised Europe”.

While there are almost two million personnel in the 27 EU member states’ armed forces, very few are deployable. Much cold war-era equipment is useless for peace missions and most inventories include unserviceable helicopters and vehicles.

It would take months to assemble troops from the member states and then months more to overcome the logistical nightmare of deploying them in eastern Chad. While Eufor, under the command of the Irish Lieut Gen Patrick Nash, became operational in March 2008, its Russian-built helicopters and crews only arrived last summer.

In a week or so, Eufor will hand over to the UN Minurcat force. One important reality is that for the 400,000 refugees in the inhospitable, remote desert region which straddles the unmarked desert frontier between Chad and Sudan, Eufor has provided much-needed security. Lieut Seán Byrne of the 98th Infantry Battalion wrote in these pages of meeting village chief Bako Moustafaon on his farewell patrol. The chief shook his hand and placed the other on Lieut Byrne’s shoulder and said “shokran” (thank you). Lieut Byrne’s analysis of his four-month mission was “we have made a difference here. It’s small elements that cross the border and cause suffering at a local level that we’re here to prevent. That’s exactly what we’ve done”.

Nicholas Kristof of the New York Timesconcurred when he filed from the Djabal refugee camp last month: “When I was here in the Chad-Sudan border area in 2006, Sudanese-sponsored Janjaweed militias were rampaging through black African villages in Chad, killing and raping. These days, overall security is hugely improved, largely because [of] a European military force.”

Eufor’s deployment may have been slow, messy, even inadequate. At the demand of the UN it happened, helping desperate people caught up in a complex, hideous war. It points a way towards transforming the EU’s military establishments from their historical, if crumbling, aggressive stances into global peace tools. No mean challenge, but one we need to face despite, rather than because of, the unapologetically frozen analysis of our peace campaigners.