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You are here:Home>>Strategic Research & Analysis>>ECOWAS and Mali: Military Intervention should adopt Powell Doctrine
Thursday, 15 November 2012 15:45

ECOWAS and Mali: Military Intervention should adopt Powell Doctrine

Written by Emeka Chiakwelu

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) leaders in Abuja made a resolution to militarily intervene in the Islamist stronghold of northern Mali, to liberate and stabilize the undersigned land.


A stipulated contingency plan of 3200 force were assembled principally from Nigeria, Niger, Burkina Faso and non-ECOWAS countries in Africa to carry out the liberation and stabilization mission.


It is a good news that Africans are coming together to solve the problems in Africa. The price and cost of instability and insecurity in Africa especially in the hot spots of sub-Saharan Africa cannot be overemphasized. The political and economic implications have contributed tremendously to lower economic output and productivity in Africa. Therefore it is a good thing that  African leadership is leading the way in this development. ECOWAS in this case deserves the praise and respect the world is bestowing to her for being decisive.


This will not be the first time that ECOWAS and African Union (AU) have undertaken such a initiative and task.


In 2003, the Nigeria led ECOWAS military deployment chased away Charles Taylor, former president  from Liberia .Since then democracy has flourish in Liberia and Charles Taylor has been convicted by United Nations backed International court of justice for  war crimes and crimes against humanity.


In same year of 2003, there was also an African peacekeeping mission in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)  and Sudan in 2004 to resolve the western Darfur atrocities. Some of these missions can be characterized as success while others like western Darfur were a failure.


Even the successful interventions were sometimes muddled and disorganized, out of track without a well thought plan. Many civilians were misplaced and the collateral damages could have been minimized. But this does not mean that ECOWAS or AU will not be given thumps up and kudos for their initiatives and interventions in hot spots of Africa.


It is important to take a close look at the failed Darfur intervention in Sudan and make sure that the stubborn  things that brought about the failures were taken into account and reviewed for corrective measures;  while simultaneously watching out for vulnerabilities in future operations.


Council of Foreign Relations (CFR) gave a well rounded analysis  on the failed Darfur peacekeeping mission:


“Like many of the peacekeeping operations that came before it, the Darfur mission has failed because the force is not big enough and the mandate is too limited, experts say. There are currently only about 8,000 AU troops in Darfur, Lyman says, charged with patrolling a desolate, isolated area the size of France.

The mission is meant only to monitor the situation and report ceasefire violations, but is not authorized to protect civilians from attacks by janjaweed, government-backed Arab militias, severely limiting its effectiveness. The force is expected to be ramped up to 13,000 by March 2006, but that goal may be hard to reach, since the force "is having a hard time meeting its commitments now," Lyman says. This is partly an issue of resources.

"We and others underestimate the expense [of such operations at the beginning], and later on have to undertake stronger efforts," Lyman says. Some experts are pessimistic about the mission's future. "At this stage of the game, I don't see any effective intervention force in Darfur," says Robert Collins, an Africa specialist and professor emeritus of history at the University of California, San Diego. "The magnitude of the task is so great, no western nation wants to touch it."


It is imperative and intrinsic to make a solid arrangement and strategic overview plan that will define the mission, procedure and withdrawal accurately, so to enable optimum management of scarce resources to be  sustainable and to minimize collateral damage.


Retired Gen. Powell photo: state Dept


This is where the application of Powell Doctrine on military intervention will be beneficial.  But what is Powell Doctrine?


According to Oxford Dictionary of the US Military, Powell doctrine is defined as “An approach to the use of military force named for U.S. Army Gen. Colin L. Powell, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Persian Gulf War (1991), which states that United States forces should be committed to combat only when the political objectives of such use of force are clear and then in sufficient force to overwhelm the enemy quickly and achieve decisive results.”


Powell Doctrine has a universal application and it can become  a means to checkmate  cost of war with its casualties and collateral damages.  The retired Four-Star General Colin Powell emphasized that "political, economic, and diplomatic means" must be exhausted before military intervention becomes apparent, therefore making sure that war must be the last resort.

Although,  some may argue that Powell Doctrine may not be applicable to African peacekeeping missions due to varying locations, resources and interests.  But that  is not necessarily the case for Africa even with its limited resources shares universal outcome when the ultimate task is  successfully accomplished and the intended task completed.  African leadership together with its policy makers and military strategists should plan prudently with the limited resources to avoid landmines of tactical waste and strategic pitfalls.


According to Wikipedia, “The Powell Doctrine states that a list of questions all has to be answered affirmatively before military action:

1. Is a vital national security interest threatened?

2. Do we have a clear attainable objective?

3. Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed?

4. Have all other non-violent policy means been fully exhausted?

5. Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement?

6. Have the consequences of our action been fully considered?

7. Is the action supported by the American people? (In this case African people)

8. Do we have genuine broad international support?”


ECOWAS 3200 soldiers  strong  that will be deployed to the  Mali war theater to drive away the entrenched hard core peace obstructionist must be fully equipped for the mission. These soldiers have families and relatives who will be waiting for them to return home in a whole piece not in body bags. Therefore it is necessary that military planners and policy makers in ECOWAS must not left any stone un-turned in the pursuit of benefiting military strategy that will enable these men and women in the military uniforms to accomplish the targeted goal.


The core center and fundamental pinpoint  of a sound military deployment is what characterized the Powell doctrine especially with the regards to clear mission of operation and exit strategy. To know when to proclaim victory and hand over to the local authority not buckling down to providing local defense and policing especially in Mali  where scarce resources are limited.


The key point to be highlighted  is that military intervention must be the last resort, not the only pathway to resolving conflict. It becomes necessary that all the diplomatic pathways have to be exhausted before military intervention. Therefore ECOWAS must strategically plan and implement peace plan that will make victory possible and enable the peace consolidation to be successful and sustainable in Mali.


Emeka Chiakwelu,  Principal Policy Strategist at Afripol. Africa Political & Economic Strategic Center (AFRIPOL) is foremost a public policy center whose fundamental objective is to broaden the parameters of public policy debates in Africa. To advocate, promote and encourage free enterprise, democracy, sustainable green environment, human rights, conflict resolutions, transparency and probity in Africa.   This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Last modified on Monday, 19 November 2012 15:55

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