Europe’s Return to UN Peacekeeping in Africa? Lessons from Mali

John Karlsrud and Adam Smith

In a break from recent tradition, European member states are currently contributing significant military capabilities to a United Nations (UN) peacekeeping operation in Africa. Europeans are providing more than 1,000 troops to the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) by staffing a wide range of operations including an intelligence fusion cell, transport and attack aircraft, and special forces.

Yet for European troop-contributing countries (TCCs) that have spent several years working in North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) operations in Afghanistan, participating in a UN mission has been a process of learning and adaptation. For the UN, the contributions of key capabilities by European countries have pushed the UN system to adjust to the higher expectations of the new European TCCs, which has proved difficult in Mali’s complicated operating environment and political situation.

The report examines this complex relationship and shows the challenges and opportunities for both the UN and its European member states participating in MINUSMA. In terms of challenges, the report identifies obstacles facing European TCCs as they adapt to the UN peacekeeping system, the domestic political concerns of European TCCs, and the need for increased partnership among TCCs within the mission. In terms of opportunities, the report finds the potential of European military contributions to strengthen UN peacekeeping operations facing capability constraints and the UN’s ability to learn and adjust to increasingly asymmetric threat environments, as it responds to the needs of European TCCs.

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