The EU asserts itself in Somalia*

Lynx helicopter photographed from the Dutch frigate HNLMS Evertsen (Photo: Radio Nederland Wereldomroep / Flickr)As EU leaders prepare to travel to Chicago to attend the NATO summit this weekend, it has been pointed out that they won’t have much to brag about regarding the EU Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). Nonetheless, Tuesday’s news coming all the way from the Somali coast may give them something to show.

According to the European Union Naval Force (EUNAVFOR) website:

EU forces conducted an operation to destroy pirate equipment on the Somali coastline…in accordance with the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1851 and has the full support of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia. The focused, precise and proportionate action was conducted from the air and all forces returned safely to EU warships on completion…At no point did EU Naval Force ‘boots’ go ashore. Rear Admiral Potts went on to say “The EU Naval Force action against pirate supplies on the shoreline is merely an extension of the disruption actions carried out against pirate ships at sea…

Here you can read the NYT’s more vivid account of the operation (with helicopters involved). And here is the statement by the HR/VP Catherine Ashton’s spokesperson.

This is the first operation on the Somali coastline carried out by EUNAVFOR , and it was made possible thanks to the Council conclusions on 23 March, in which the EU:

“prolonged the EU’s counter-piracy operation Atalanta by two more years, that is until December 2014…(and) also extended the force’s area of operations to include Somali coastal territory as well as its territorial and internal waters.”

On this same date the EU approved the establishment of an EU Operations Centre in the Horn of Africa to support CSDP missions there.

Although this week’s operation is by all counts small, its implications (although not yet clear), may be substantial in the longer term. Given its strategic importance, the Horn, and specially Somalia, are becoming increasingly militarised. An AU mission (AMISOM), Ethiopian and Kenyan forces are all deployed in Somalia, and there is an important US and EU presence – mostly in the form of logistic support and training. Following the Kenyan invasion of Somalia last October, the EU reaction was a deafening silence (I wrote earlier about this). But now, and hidden behind all the Euro-crisis talk, it seems that the EU is indeed taking steps to become more involved on the region.

The question is: what can be expected from this? Will we see a European military deployment on Somali territory as some fear? Or will operations remain limited to air strikes aimed to strengthen the international collaboration to end piracy ?
More broadly, Somalia is becoming the focus of numerous initiatives that aim to bring stability to the country – last February’s London Somalia conference being the most high profile move. This week has shown that the EU seems increasingly engaged both politically and militarily. Somalia (including the end of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) mandate in August, and the upcoming Istanbul and Rome meetings) was discussed during last Monday’s Council meeting.

So, it seems that the EU’s CSDP is moving ahead on a region that is becoming strategically important. If effectively articulated with existing international initiatives, without crowding out Somali voices themselves, this may not only be something to show in Chicago, but also help to bring closer a durable solution for Somalia.

*This post originally appeared on The FRIDE Blog

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