Friday, September 30

Albares avoids a third diplomatic front with Mali after those of Algeria and Morocco

The ground that Spanish diplomacy treads on the ‘southern flank’ is slippery, and it is always one step away from tripping. A month ago, Algeria launched a diplomatic order against Spain, suspended the Treaty of Friendship and froze part of the bilateral trade. Algiers bristled at the rapprochement with Morocco, and precisely for this reason calm was expected with the Moroccan neighbor. But ten days ago avalanche of immigrants harshly repelled by his security forces on the border turned on the alarms again. An undetermined number of immigrants died (Rabat recognizes at least 23).

In this context, the person in charge of Foreign Affairs, José Manuel Albares, could hardly afford another conflict. That is why, when the Government of Mali made his statements ugly about a potential NATO intervention in the country and called the Spanish ambassador to ask for explanations, the reaction was quick. In less than 48 hours, the Spanish embassy published a statement clarifying his position and Albares called his counterpart to fix the situation.

The words of the person in charge of the Spanish diplomacy had taken place in the context of the NATO summit in Madrid. For months, Spain had asked the organization to include in its strategic mandate for the next decade an explicit reference to the Sahel, and the problems that persist there: terrorism by Daesh affiliates and Al Qaeda in the Sahel itself Mali, Niger or Burkina Faso; presence of Russian Wagner mercenaries; and the use of migration and energy sources as a political weapon, something that Spain has already suffered both with Morocco and with Algeria.

NATO finally included the “hybrid threats” coming from the southern neighborhood of Spain. “NATO’s southern neighbours, in particular the regions of Middle East, North Africa and the Sahel, face interconnected security, demographic, economic, and political issues […] This situation provides fertile ground for the proliferation of non-State armed groups, including terrorist organizations. It also favors the destabilizing and coercive interference of strategic competitors”.

The language was generic and did not target any country. But Albares specified in Mali. In an interview on Radio Nacional de España, he was asked: “Can a mission in Mali be ruled out, where the presence of European troops has been so controversial until very recently?” And he replied: “No, it should not be ruled out.” “If it were necessary, and a threat to our security materialized, of course it would be done. The Sahel is the epicenter of international terrorism,” he added. Albares welcomed the inclusion of “everything that Spain had requested” in the NATO Strategic Concept: “Both hybrid threats and the political use of immigration or the control of energy flows are perfectly delimited as a threat. Even, at a certain level, it could mean that the entry of article 5 of collective defense could be requested, ”he said.

The Military Junta of Mali jumped like a spring and called the Spanish ambassador José Homero Gómez to ask for explanations. And Spain gave them, with a statement (of only four lines) posted on the website of the Spanish embassy in Bamako: “Spain has not requested, neither during the NATO summit nor at any other time, an intervention, mission or any type of action in Mali of the Alliance”, he said.

To cauterize any possible wound, José Manuel Albares reinforced the movement with a call to his Malian counterpart, Abdoulaye Diop. This posted a tweet emphasizing that Albares he had expressed the deep friendship that united both countries. In addition, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Ángeles Moreno Bau, has also held “technical” talks with the person in charge of Mali’s Foreign Affairs for strategies in the Sahel, Abdoulaye Tounkara.

It is not known what these conversations. And, at the close of this edition, the Malian embassy in Spain has not responded to questions from this newspaper about whether or not it considers the diplomatic matter clarified.

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“The focus of Spanish diplomacy on the risks that come from the ‘southern flank’ is shared by countries such as France, the United Kingdom or Italy,” explains Barah Mikaïl, director of the political science program at Saint Louis University in Madrid. “But I don’t think NATO is going to open a confrontation with Russia in Mali under the banner of the fight against terrorism. They have learned from past missions [como en Libia]. And they know that if there is a military intervention, it must be taken into account if the local populations are predisposed to the presence of the Alliance”.

The diplomatic scuffle with Mali just as the operations of the European military force have officially ended Takuba in the country. European soldiers (from Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Sweden) had been fighting for more than two years to prevent the establishment of the Islamic State of the Greater Sahara in the “zero zone” of the jihadism, that of the three borders shared by Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali.

But after two separate coups in 2020 and 2021 in Mali, France, which was leading the mission, considered that conditions of sufficient trust were not met to continue fighting alongside the Malian Armed Forces. Bamako had accused Paris of espionage after publishing images of Wagner soldiers burying bodies in a town. The country’s Armed Forces increasingly have Russian mercenaries from the organization, controlled by Moscow, as military advisers and operatives.

Also Spain is planning a drastic reduction of the contribution to another of the active missions, the EUTM-Mali of the European Union. There are around 400 Spanish soldiers helping the Malian Army to improve its military capabilities so that it can recover the territorial integrity of the country (there were 600, half of the mission).

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But, as announced by the Chief of the Defense Staff, Teodoro López, after the departure of France and after the Malian Government’s refusal to accept the points proposed by Brussels to continue the mission, “the EU has decided not to continue with the training at the tactical level of the units of the Malian Armed Forces”, according to words collected by InfoDefense. Among other things, because they have not given guarantees that those forces trained by the EU “would not be used later with Wagner.”

There is another United Nations mission, the minusma, which tries to protect civilians in the midst of conflict. However, he is also having difficulties, as the Malian government makes it difficult for him to move around the country. The Sahel has become a terrorist hornet’s nest and a diplomatic swarm. And not only for Spain.

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