EU intervention in Congo: a milestone on the way to a military Europe?

IssueJuly to August 2006
Feature by Andreas Speck

Disguised as a “humanitarian intervention” and giving “support to building democracy”, the second major EU military intervention in Congo began this June. As Peace News goes to press, 2,000 EU troops from 20 EU countries (plus Turkey) are being deployed in Congo, to safeguard the elections in the DRC. Officially, the EU mission (named EUFOR RD Congo) aims to support the 19,000 UN “peace keepers” already in the country.

The UN force (MONUC) became famous recently for contributing to the systematic destruction of civilian-occupied villages1. Separately,the EU will provide mapping sup port to MONUC via the EU satellite centre2. EU interests in DR Congo The European Defence White Paper of 2004 states: “As the wars of Yugoslav succession have demonstrated, but also the collapse of Sierra Leone or the rising chaos in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the harmful consequences of failing states have a tendency to spread."3

The 2004 “Food for thought”paper on European battle groups, produced by Britain, France, and Germany, points out that the EU battle groups (to be operational by 2007) should be used (but not limited to) “failed or failing states (of which most are in Africa)”4.There is a big question in how far European colonial history and their present-day economic interests contribute to the “failing” of states. The DRC was a Belgian colony which became independent in 1960 and its first elected president was Patrice Lumumba, killed with the support of Belgian forces in 1961. During the Cold War, the West supported the dictator Mobutu. He was overturned by Laurent-De'sire' Kabila in 1997 (who was assassinated in January 2001, to be replaced by his son). A civil war - or perhaps African World War - involving troops from Uganda, Rwanda, and other African countries, waged in the country, leaving more than three million people dead. This war officially ended with a ceasefire in 1999, but fighting continues up to today. A 2002 peace agreement demanded that elections take place by June 2005, with a final deadline of July 2006. The country currently has an interim government, with president Joseph Kabila, and four vice-presidents. The democratic credentials of this government:all but the opposition representatives are war criminals5.

Europe's high tech

But it's not just about “failing states” - it's also about resources. The Democratic Republic of Congo is one of main suppliers of coltan, a rare metal used in high tech products such as mobile phones and computer chips. It is mined by warlords to finance their own militias. Three companies - Cabot Inc of the United States, Germany's HC Starck and China's Nigncxia - are the only firms with processing plants to turn coltan into the coveted tantalum powder6.

HC Starck7 produces about 50% of the world's tantalum powder and is a subsidiary of Bayer, one of Germany's major chemical and pharmaceutical multinational companies (although the company announced on 27 March 2006 that it wishes to sell HC Starck8). HC Starck is not involved in mining itself, but buys its coltan from companies such as the UK-based A&M Minerals and Metals, and Belgium based Sogem, both of which get some of their coltan ore via Uganda, and can therefore not be certain that is isn't mined in the DRC9, and is helping to finance the militias10.

As well as coltan, the country also has rich resources of copper (estimated to be worth more than US$450 billion 11) and cobalt. Congo-Brazaville and the DRC both also hold oil reserves of interest to EU countries. The country's most significant oil and gas fields are offshore, along the country's 22 km Atlantic Ocean coastline, at the estuary of the Congo River which is sandwiched between the prolific off -shore producing region of northern Angola and its oil-rich enclave of Cabinda (another conflict zone). Of these, the Mibale field, discovered in 1973 by Chevron, contains 48% of the Coastal Basin's recoverable reserves and remains Congo's most productive field. The gas field discovered here has not been exploited yet12.

In 2004 the German under -Secretary of State in the Ministry of Defence, Friedbert Pflu”ger, wrote: “Because, according to the OECD, Europe increasingly has to import energy from other regions, it is important to be more aware of the oil wealth of Africa as a potential to diversify energy supply”13.

EU interventions in DRC

The present EU intervention - though small compared to the UN force (MONUC) - is highly significant, partly because the EU has chosen to send its own intervention force, and does not contribute significantly to the UN troops operating in the country. While EUFOR DR Congo is sanctioned by the UN, it is deployed under EU command - something which sounds very familiar from past US “peace enforcement” operations in the Balkans and elsewhere.

This is not the first and only EU intervention in Congo. In 2003, Operation Artemis was the first - and larger - military intervention by EU military forces without NATO support. It took place between June and September 200314. Artemis was a testing ground for autonomous EU military operations, and was mainly under French command. After three months the troops left the country: nothing had changed. In 2004, the EU began its operation EUPOL Kinshasa, to monitor, mentor, and advise the Integrated Police Unit (IPU) - special units of the Congolese police, tasked to protect institutions and personnel of the interim government. The EU says it wants to train more than 1,000 police officers.

During opposition protests against the postponement of elections in June 2005, the Congolese police cracked down on peaceful protesters. It is not clear whether officers trained by the EU took part in these actions. In 2005, EUSEC DR Congo was launched to support EUPOL Kinshasa with a military component, “to provide advice and assistance for security sector reform”. As part of this mission,military advisers would be assigned to the “following key posts within the Congolese administration: the private office of the Minister for Defence, the combined general staff, including the integrated military structure (IMS), the army general staff, the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (CONADER), the Joint Operational Committee”15. On top of all this, the European Union is financing 80% of the expenses for the upcoming elections.

There are serious doubts about the motives for the EU's engagement in Congo.

The military wing

So far, all these EU activities have not contributed very much to security in the DRC - the Eastern provinces, where Artemis was deployed, are still an area with a lot of fighting,and abuse by militias, government, and UN forces. With the training of police and military by EUPOL and EUSEC, the EU contributes to the strengthening of the present interim government - made up of war criminals and not too popular with the Congolese people. The military presence during the elections this year can also be seen as a statement of support to the present government - and it has to be seen what will happen after the general election results have been announced on 19 July.

There are fears that violence might erupt again, especially if the power struggle, which has been partly transferred from the battlefield to the polling booth, does not bring the results desired by the (former) warlords, supported by EU money and prestige. Rather than providing real support to the people of the DRC, the EU interventions in the DRC establish the “military arm” of the European Union, and help to establish the European Union as areal global player , which can rely not only on its economic power to enforce its interests, but can also act militarily when needed. In this sense, EUFOR DR Congo is not only worrying for the people of Congo, but should also be of concern to peace activists in Europe.