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Cosmetic EU operation In Congo

With 2,000 soldiers, the coming operation is largely cosmetic. Like most cosmetic operations, it is more about European form than African substance, comforting rhetoric than relevant action.
The mission's rationale has more to do with French-German cohesion and with the EU's desire to bolster the credibility of the European Security and Defense Policy after the fiasco over the European constitutional treaty's rejection in referendums in France and the Netherlands. The actual reality on the ground in Congo is only a secondary factor.
The operation, to be led by Germany, will reinforce the 17,000-strong UN mission already in place. Expected to last four months, it is intended to enhance security during the elections in Congo, currently scheduled for July 30.
Germany and France will provide more than two- thirds of the EU force, with the remaining third contributed by a total of 16 other European states, including Turkey.
Far from demonstrating Europe's willingness to become a relevant peacekeeper, however, this mission underlines its current incapacity to be a strategic actor.
To begin with, it took many months to get the mission off the ground. The UN request was made in December 2005, but it was not until March 2006 that the EU answered in the affirmative. Such a time frame reflects the difficulty of reaching even a minimal consensus among EU members and inside governing coalitions. It is a sure indication that the mission is not about urgent crisis management or pressing strategic interests.
But it is not about failed states and democratic governance either. If the Union was serious about the electoral process in Congo, it would deploy troops where troubles are likely to arise, in the east, not in Kinshasa. Eastern Congo, however, is precisely where EU forces will not go.
(More broadly, if the EU was serious about human rights, it would have intervened two years ago to prevent a genocide in Sudan, now spreading into Chad, by at least policing the refugee camps in Darfur.)
The force generation process is slow and constraining. Yes, it is encouraging to see Germany and other European countries accept military responsibilities in Africa. Yet, the operation is limited, brief, risk-averse and ultimately ineffective. Of the 780- strong German contingent, only about 100 soldiers will actually be deployed in Kinshasa. The overwhelming majority will be on standby next door in Gabon. Their mandate will not start before election day.
National caveats and rules of engagement will further constrain their performance. How the EU force, under these circumstances, is supposed to create a safe environment for elections is hard to see. Deterrence is supposed to be the key goal, but such a limited and dispersed force is an invitation for provocations.
EU officials will point to the success of Mission Artemis in Congo in 2003. It was indeed a beneficial venture, mostly because the French were ready to take risks and conduct off-mandate operations on the ground. It is unlikely that the Germans will accept such risks.
To use force is what soldiers usually do and are trained to do. But Germany and many other EU states perceive the use of force as an exceptional component of military tasks.
Ultimately, Europeans need to debate and answer the fundamental question: What are their military forces for? Certainly not to respond to intricacies of EU politics, or to generate a feel-good factor among European bureaucrats.
Troops should be sent to achieve strategic objectives, and should be sent where they could make a difference. Eleven of the 18 contributors will only send symbolic contribution, just to add their flag to the European pole, whether it makes operational sense or not.
Leaders should do what is strategically necessary, not just what feels convenient in the name of Europe.