ECOWAS and Mali: Military Intervention should adopt Powell Doctrine

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

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

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.

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

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.

Mr. Emeka Chiakwelu is the 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.

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