On Monday, July 31, Mali’s Minister for Territorial Administration, Abdoulaye Maiga, warned against military intervention in Niger in a statement on national television.
The joint declaration issued by Burkina Faso and Mali warned that “any military intervention against Niger would be tantamount to a declaration of war against Burkina Faso and Mali.” To be precise, any attack on Niger will be an attack against Burkina Faso and Mali. The joint declaration also warns of the disastrous consequences of a military intervention in Niger, which could destabilize the entire region. Both countries also refused to apply the sanctions against Niger, calling them “illegal, illegitimate, and inhumane.”
This extraordinary solidarity that has developed in Africa and the “attack on one = attack on all” equation shows its resemblance to North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and through this joint declaration by these two Sahel countries, it may pave the way to form a broad collective defense pact in West Africa or expand it to other African regions, due to changes in the balance of power on the African continent, in particular, and on a global level in general.
While countries like France and the US once dominated Africa, they are now being replacing by Russia and China. That’s why Mali-Burkina Faso-Niger (MBN) defense alliance reminds the evolution and subsequent establishment of the NATO and also its expansion since 1949.
NATO: A Textbook for Military Alliance
Regarding NATO, its Article 5 is considered the heart and soul of the organization. Sometimes, in scholarly works or in media editorials, Article 5 is only limited to the “attack on one = attack against all,” but tends to omit the rest of the clause, which clearly underlines the role of the United Nations (UN), especially the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and Article 51 of the UN Charter.
Article 5 states, “The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all, and consequently, they agree that if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defense recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area. Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall immediately be reported to the Security Council. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.”
Three countries of NATO, namely the US, UK, and France, are the UNSC permanent members. This means that if NATO decides to proceed with any “security measures” and if it is reported to the UNSC, then it will not get affected due to the veto power of UNSC permanent members. Realistically speaking, Article 51 of the UN Charter can be use as a tool for creating a pre-war narrative and to give the ‘moral-legal-inevitable license’ to go ahead with the NATO operation.
It is important to remember the persistence of UK Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin to form this alliance. The name, which is not as much celebrated as US President Truman or British Prime Minister Churchill, Bevin, is considered the father of the Washington Treaty and the brains behind Article 5 of NATO. Bevin was convinced that the Western powers needed to unite to defend against Joseph Stalin’s expansionist aspirations and Soviet military might in December 1947, following the failure of the four-party talks between France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States on the future of Germany. But US President Truman and Secretary of State George C. Marshall were unsure about Bevin’s argument.
However, Bevin didn’t give up. In January 1948, Bevin made a famous speech to the House of Commons in which he advocated for the founding of a Western European Union as a preliminary to a transatlantic accord. The Brussels Treaty, an agreement that includes a robust mutual-defense clause, was signed on March 17 by the governments of Belgium, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. The procedures to form a collective defense organization with the European nations were started in Washington after President Truman enthusiastically embraced the Treaty.
A Trench from Atlantic to Red Sea?
I am not comparing the economic-military might of the Burkina Faso-Mali-Niger defense alliance with NATO. As we know, Sahel is the region that suffers from huge multidimensional poverty and lack of economic-political stability. What I am trying to argue is that the joint statement by Abdoulaye Maiga now sets an example for Africa to form defense pacts among countries that pursue common national interests. Anti-US, anti-French, and anti-colonial sentiments can attract the approval of citizens. The most attractive part of this pact will be the insurance of two invisible hands; i.e., Russia and China.
While Russia can provide military security to the region, China can provide economic assistance. The Russian private military firm Wagner group already has a significant presence in Sahel, and every country in the Sahel is a member of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Wagner group is active in the Central African Republic and in Chad. In Chad, there is a chance for a coup, as the country is now surrounded by countries that support Russia, and Wagner group is also assisting the Chadian rebels. The fall of Chad will lead to the growth of the Sahel alliance. If Senegal and Sudan follow the path, then it means the organization will gain access to the Atlantic Ocean and Red Sea, which will increase the influence of Russia and China exponentially in the maritime politics. The defense pact can also use the trump card of Article 51 of the UN Charter, and in this scenario, Russia and China, UNSC permanent members, will provide the shield of veto for the organization.
Even though by GDP, the Sahel organization may not be as powerful as NATO countries; but they have abundant deposits of natural resources that can influence the GDP of NATO countries once they start controlling the export of critical minerals to the West. Niger has already suspended the export of Uranium and gold to France, which is going to affect the French energy sector. As winter is on the doorstep, this will be a huge concern for Western European countries. If Niger succeeds in making an advantage by exporting its natural resources to countries like Russia, China, and India, then for sure, other countries in the region will also follow the suit. In this scenario, the upcoming BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) summit in South Africa will be a crucial turning point, where BRICS is planning to introduce a common currency and to expand its membership by including emerging economies and resource-rich countries.
Connecting the Patterns
Previously, African countries mainly relied on western technologies to extract minerals from the underground. The heavy influence of France in its former colonies, especially in the form of CFA Franc, made African nations extremely difficult to diversify their economy. But now, Africa can go to China, Russia, India, and even Iran for technology for mining and mapping the natural resources. By using religion as a soft power, countries such as the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Qatar, and Egypt can enter into Sahel chessboard with the blessings of Russia and China.
It is also important to connect the recent developments that happened in West Asia with the possible events that may happen in Africa, including the development of the MBN alliance to a wider Pan-African defense alliance. The rapid geopolitical paradigm shift of West Asian countries such as, recent successful diplomatic missions, which is primarily engineered by China, and eagerness to become members and to work with BRICS and Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), etc., have cemented strong relations with Russia and China. This Arab-African partnership, with the support of the Sino-Russian axis, will be crucial for the Africa in the coming days.