Tuesday, December 18, 2007
The EU peacekeeping mission to Chad is either, a) an important milestone in the development of a European defense component; or b) a remake of "The Keystone Kops Go To War", but with sound. So far, events seem to be pointing to the latter:
The deployment of a European Union peacekeeping force in Eastern Chad has fallen behind schedule amid fears that its French-dominated troops could come under attack after setting foot in the troubled African state.
Initially, the EU had signalled its desire to have the 3,000-strong force, known as Eufor, operational by mid-November, when the dry season was expected to begin.
Not only was that deadline missed, there has also been a fresh outbreak of fighting between soldiers loyal to Chad President Idriss Deby and rebels commanded by Mahamat Nouri. Nouri's Union of Forces for Democracy and Development (UNFDD) declared Nov. 30 that they were "in a state of belligerence against the French army or any other foreign force on the national territory." His rebels accuse France of bias in favour of Deby.
The French government has argued that the resumption of hostilities increases the need for a peacekeeping force as quickly as possible. But other EU governments have asked if the neutrality of the force would be compromised.
Norbert Darabos, Austria's defence minister, has warned of a "danger of direct engagement of Eufor in armed confrontations".
Of course, Mr. Darabos is right. There's always a "danger of direct engagement" when you send troops into a warzone. But it's one of the risks most armies are willing to take.
Seriously, though, this is precisely the sort of identity crisis the EU will have to resolve if it wishes to assume a more assertive role in global affairs. Of course, the willingness to project force presupposes the willingness to fund the defense budget. Which means that the EU has a lot of soul searching to do before it arrives at an answer. But the Chad mission, if it ever touches down in Africa, will almost certainly be a formative step in the process.