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A Hollandesque Imperial War of Aggression is Afoot

Published: Thursday 17 January 2013

After I saw that there was another war in Mali I shook my head in dismay. I had predicted this war back in November, saying it would be fought under the guise of fighting terrorism, but would actually be about securing gold deposits, undiscovered oil and the drug trade. There is one aspect I didn’t necessarily predict which was that America would not lead this war. The “socialist” in France, Francois Hollande who was elected with messages mirroring what propelled Obama into power in 2008, is leading the war effort but the U.S. is the secret force behind this intervention. As Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! put it “the U.S. has backed France’s offensive in Mali…ferry[ing] hundreds of additional French troops to Mali…[and] U.S. officials say they’re also making plans to send drones or other surveillance aircraft.” In addition to this, France also wants 3,300 troops from West African states to “deploy in support of the Malian army.” The questions that must be asked are: why would France engage in such a imperialistic war in its former colony, does this war violate international law and what should we do about it 

First, the background of this war is important to understand. Glenn Greenwald lays this out in his piece in The Guardian. He writes that the war in Mali will be the eighth war in which “western powers…have bombed and killed Muslims,” saying it will fuel anti-western extremism. Greenwald further notes that the war for oil in Libya, which I described in May as an imperialistic intervention, caused instability in the country, noting that time and time again “western intervention ends up…sowing the seeds of further intervention.” Later, he writes that just like with the war in Afghanistan, the Western powers are fighting the same forces they “trained, funded and armed,” since the overthrow the country’s government was because of defected soldiers who had been previously armed and trained by the US. Greenwald also warns that wars like the one in Mali are waged undemocratically and that war propaganda (which is prohibited by Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) used to justify this war is scary because “any western government that wants to bomb Muslims [can] simply [call them] "terrorists"…and any real debate or critical assessment [of the war]…ends before it can even begin.” Owen Jones, a columnist for The Independent writes in the same vein, noting that there wasn’t even a vote on the war, which he describes as “disturbing.” He notes that “British aircraft are flying to Mali while France bombs the country, arguing that Islamist militia must be driven back to save Europe from the creation of a “terrorist state”” He further notes that the war has its roots in European colonialism, saying that “like the other Western colonial powers that invaded and conquered Africa…France used tactics of divide-and-rule in Mali, leading to entrenched bitterness between the nomadic Tuareg people – the base of the current revolt – and other communities in Mali.” He even notes that at first, the French Foreign Minister declined to intervene because of France’s colonial legacy in the country. Like Greenwald, Jones suggests that “this intervention is itself the consequence of another” and that “the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi’s dictatorship had consequences.” He notes that armed Tuaregs, who were part of the anti-Gaddafi rebel forces, “returned to their homeland…[after Gaddafi’s overthrow and] awash with weapons from Libya’s own turmoil…[they] saw an opening for their long-standing dream for national self-determination.” Eventually this resulted in the deposing of the “democratically elected President…in a military coup.” Still, Jones warns his readers to not have “sympathy for the militia now fighting the Malian  government,” saying it is led by radical Islamists who do not want to create “an independent Tuareg state, [but]…have far more sweeping ambitions…[and have committed] horrendous atrocities. However, these atrocities are mutual, with the Malian government forces killing Tuaregs and executions of Muslim Dawa preachers. Jones final notes that experts were not listened to, noting that the “International Crisis Group urged a focus on a diplomatic solution to restore stability” and Amnesty International warned that human rights violations would increase under a military intervention Finally, Jones notes like Greenwald that a “Western intervention led by France, supported by Britain and with possible US drone attacks on the way will undoubtedly fuel the narrative of radical Islamist groups” and could spread “further chaos in the region” even if it achieves its short-term goals.

Now, I’ve explained the basic background, but what are the economic reasons for going to war? “Socialist” French President French Francois Hollande tells us that France’s war in Mali “is not pursuing any special interest other than securing friendly nation.” Can we trust him? In fact, we can’t. The reason is that this conflict clearly fits the idea of the imperialism, which the New World Encyclopedia defines as the “forceful extension of a nation's authority by territorial conquest or [through]…economic and political domination of other [non-colonial] nations.” On a recent show of Democracy Now! Al Jaazera May Ying Welsh explained France’s aim behind this war: “France has very important economic interests…in Mali…[and] northern Niger, which is also a Tuareg area…[which] is a uranium-rich area.” He further explained that “France has a huge economic interest in northern Niger… one of the world’s biggest reserves of uranium…[which is]…a major component of…France’s military-industrial entity” and that “uranium…from Niger…was a key for France in its own development.” As for Northern Mali,  he notes that the region in particular “has a large amount of uranium…has been divided up into exploration concessions, and…a number of companies that are just waiting for the chance to get in” and the presence of oil and gold. Some of these ideas go back to what I wrote opposing this war. A Reuters article published recently also reveals that Mali is “Africa’s third biggest gold producer, with London-listed Randgold the biggest investor and other foreign firms such as Anglogold also having investments,” meaning that the war could also be about helping big western mining companies as well. Walsh later explains why the U.S. would back the war in the first place. As one could expect, it has do with what David DeGraw called the “war on terror racket,” since the “the United States government has been supplying Mali…and other countries of the Sahel with counterterrorism assistance [which is]…millions and millions of dollars every year in equipment and training.” Interestingly enough, much of this aid “was actually diverted to fight the Tuareg rebellion in the north.” Even with these economic aims, some people in Mali are praising the more than French troops on their country’s soil, with some calling the French President “Papa Hollande.”

One must next consider if this war is even at par with international law at all. The first measure of this is to look at Security Council Resolution 2085 which was passed at the end of last year. Section 9 is especially of note as it explains what the forces in Mali are supposed to do. The resolution authorizes “the deployment of an African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA) for an initial period of one year, which shall take all necessary measures, in compliance with applicable international humanitarian law and human rights law and in full respect of the sovereignty,  territorial integrity and unity of Mali to…contribute to the rebuilding of the capacity of the Malian Defence and Security Forces…support the Malian authorities in recovering the areas in the north of its territory under the control of terrorist, extremist and armed groups and in reducing the threat posed by terrorist organizations…while taking appropriate measures to reduce the impact of military action upon the civilian population…[to help maintain]  security and consolidate State authority through appropriate capacities…to support the Malian authorities in their primary responsibility to protect the population…[to support the Malian authorities to create a secure environment for the civilian-led delivery of humanitarian assistance and the voluntary return of  internally displaced persons and refugees…[and]  to protect its personnel, facilities, premises, equipment and mission and to ensure the security and movement of its personnel.” Considering this intervention was not a UN operation (there aren’t UN troops on the ground, there are French troops), it was done nine months before the UN intervention was supposed to occur, this already doesn’t fall into the rules about the UN force. However, Secretary of the UN, Ban Ki-Moon, said that this imperialist intervention with partners like Belgium, Canada, Denmark, UK and the United States, is “consistent with the spirit” of the UN resolution. Really? The resolution notes that all those who fight in the country must “ensure the safety and security of humanitarian personnel and supplies…[and] safe  and unhindered access for the delivery of humanitarian aid to persons in need of assistance across Mali.” After noting that the Malian government has a “primary responsibility to protect civilians in Mali” due to its international obligations, it says that support from the UN, “regional and subregional organizations and Member States in…[a] military operation in Mali shall be consistent with international humanitarian and human rights law and refugee law.” In this case, since France is doing the bulk of the fighting against the Malian rebels, this clause covers their actions and the actions of the Mali government. Soon according to Niger’s foreign minister, one battalion of 500 soldiers will join the fight along with the ECOWAS force which hasn’t arrived.

Where do the laws of war fit in here, you might wonder. Consider that according to an Associated Press article posted recently that France has engaged in a “punishing, five-day campaign of aerial bombardment [while] the…rebels have continued to advance south, seizing a strategic military camp in central Mali, and embedding themselves in villages.” Some of the targets of French bombing included the supposed “headquarters of the Islamic police, which handed down [harsh] punishments.” An Associated Press article the day before noted that “French fighter jets have been pummeling the insurgents' desert stronghold in the north since Friday” and that “leaders of ECOWAS…stressed that the north of Mali is mostly desert, and that it would be easy to pick off the convoys of rebel vehicles from the air.” Such strikes included the bombing of a rebel convoy, and the destruction of a Mali rebel camp, which like all the other airstrikes, were unilaterally authorized by Hollande. Supposedly these strikes have resulted in gains, with the death of only a few helicopters while bombing has intensified in some areas, resulting in at most 100 deaths, according to a senior Malian commander. According to a story in Common Dreams, the “spokesman for the Islamist fighters…say they are not affiliated with al Qaeda…and claim that airstrikes aimed at their soldiers by the French have so-far killed mostly innocent civilians.”

Whether there have been gains from these military strikes is not worthy of debate, because what should be more important is if this war even follows international law at all. In my article back in November criticizing the Israeli war of aggression against Gaza, I used the definition of war of aggression as put by the Nuremburg Tribunal. The Tribunal in its submission to the UN General Assembly of the ‘Nuremberg Principles’ defined this as a crime against peace which includes the “planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances.” The Chief American Prosecutor noted that “to initiate a war of aggression…is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime…that…contains…the accumulated evil of the whole.” I believe that France has committed a war of aggression, since this war does violate international treaties.

How can this be the case? One must look at the treaties France has ratified and then one can conclude there have been a good amount of violations. To my knowledge, France did not “agree to use their best efforts to insure the pacific settlement of international differences” or mediation in this case, violating Articles 1 and 2 of the two Conventions  for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes in 1899 and 1907 which repeat the same message. Secondly, since this war was a secret one which wasn’t announced, it would seemingly violate article one of the Convention Relative to the Opening of Hostilities but Mali is not party to the treaty so it does not apply. Since at this time no one is reporting that the French have captured prisoners of war, this part of the laws of war does not apply (unless this changes). However, the bombardment of the town of Goa and other living areas violates Article 25 of the addendum to the Convention Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land which says that “the attack or bombardment, by whatever means, of towns, villages, dwellings, or buildings which are undefended is prohibited.” In a Wired Magazine article there is an interesting statement from the militant spokesman who noted that “some planes came and bombed some civilians. A woman was killed. It’s a well-known scenario. There wasn’t even combat. Planes bombed a mosque. That’s it.” Now, if planes did bomb a mosque, then this act violates to sections of international law clearly including Article 1 of the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict which France ratified back in 1957 and Article 27 of the addendum to the Convention Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land (1910). Then again, the bombing itself could violate Article 23 of both Conventions Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land (1899 and 1910) if this is considered to be “employ[ing] arms, projectiles, or material of a nature to cause superfluous injury.” Also, since the UN resolution mentioned earlier is being violated, due to these killings, there are numerous breaches of the UN charter, including but not limited to Article 1 clauses 1 and 2, Article 2 clauses 3 and 4 and Article 33 clause 1, along with not having the UN’s authorization for this war. Violations of international law by other nations are possible if BBC Africa’s tweet, quoting a Mali army officer, is correct in saying that “soldiers from Senegal and Nigeria are also involved in the operation against Islamist rebels.”

Now, what do the people think about this war? In a poll of readers in The Independent, 43 percent say British should not assist in the Mali intervention while 41 percent say they should. Another 16 percent would support it if British troops were involved. What about the French populace? According the Christian Science Monitor, “the French Institute of Public Opinion (Ifop) found that 63 percent of those surveyed support the French intervention in Mali while 37 percent oppose it [at the same time]…55 percent of respondents in October 2001 supported the participation of France in the US-led intervention in Afghanistan.” There are some voices that stand against this conflict like Jean-Luc Melenchon who says that “the advantages to be gained from an external military intervention to resolve the problems that have developed in the North of Mali are questionable. To decide the fundamental interests of France, according to the head of state himself, and those of the African troops now committed, on something which does not touch fundamental French stakes, opens up a debate.” Even former Prime Minister Dominque de Villepun criticizes the intervention in an Op-Ed in a French newspaper as a concern because we fears the France has not “learn from the decade of lost wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya” and that wars such those “promote separatism, failed states, the iron law of armed militias.” Villepun further notes that “a political process is only able to bring peace to Mali [which takes]…a dynamic national rebuilding [of] the Malian state…[and] a political momentum for isolating Islamists” which he believes is France’s responsibility. Other critics make an interesting point, that if the Mali war is humanitarian then “are people in Syria not human enough to be offered assistance?” and why is Mali chosen over Syria. I believe these statements are not grounded in looking at the imperialist backing of the war. Ken Olande of the Socialist Worker Online, a British anti-capitalist newspaper described the war in more stark terms. Olande wrote that it is false to call the rebellion Islamic because the country is 90% Muslim, that “the north [of Mali] is not controlled by a unified Al Qaida force, but three Islamic militias with differing agendas” and finally that imperialism by Western powers does not bring democracy to the countries that are invaded. The same day, another article by published by the Socialist Worker Online noted that “very few people have come out against this latest imperial venture…[while]…the new scramble for Africa is a battle for resources and strategic interests.” As the article further notes, “the arrival of foreign troops strengthens the Islamists’ argument that a small elite benefits from neoliberalism, and has succumbed to Western values and capitalist greed.” David Whitehouse of the Socialist Worker adds onto this view with his own twist. Whitehouse writes that “The French claimed to have killed 120 rebels in the assault to take back the village of Konna” and that “the roots of the insurgency…lie not in ideology but in the political and economic marginalization of the Tuareg minority…[who have] risen up four times since Mali became an independent country in 1960.” He further says that the civil war will be long and drawn out with no clear victor, that “military intervention would make things worse” for the country’s residents, thousands who have fled their homes and finally the kicker: “the imperialists don't exactly care who wins--as long as they back the winner.” The slightly similar criticism comes from the Richmond, Virginia-based Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality who write a long and well-researched article on the War is A Crime website that “important independent forces within Mali and in the sub-region are calling for an end to outside pressure and a peaceful resolution to both the coup and the rebellion…Under the umbrella of its Africa Command…the U.S. has been systematically developing ties with the militaries of African countries, including Mali… No one will say how many U.S. military personnel are based in Mali, but there is no doubt that AFRICOM sees Mali as highly strategic to its goals in Africa.” The Defenders continue on, noting that Mali has vast oil deposits, also saying that “the U.S. is well-positioned to start flying military aircraft into northern Mali,” they have a powerful retort, saying that “only the people of Mali have the right to decide their own destiny”  and declare: “U.S. Hands Off Mali! No Troops, No Sanctions, No Interference of Any Kind!” What none note is that Hollande by committing this war is dishonoring the idea of socialism, as it is a theory of human liberation by democratizing human life through “communal responsibility and equal rights.” I feel that in order to hold to this standard, one must assert that imperialism is imperialism, whoever it is done by, whether it be African countries, China, America, France, Britain, Russia or whoever else.

This war has already claimed the lives of eleven civilians have already been killed and possibly displaced as many as 30,000 people. As the UN Human Rights Center noted, “clashes over the weekend between the French-backed Malian army and Al Qaeda-linked Islamist groups in northern and central Mali have resulted in new population displacement – both within Mali and into neighbouring countries.” This is on top of the fact that as reported by France 24, “Islamists vowed to strike back at France” with the leader of the Mali-based Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) said openly that “France has attacked Islam. We will strike at the heart of France” across Europe, and “everywhere.” Other nations as I mentioned earlier are assisting, with many countries committing planes, Algeria opening up its airspace to the French and the U.S. providing sharing assistance for intelligence but not committing troops. What’s scary is that the U.S. is offering its resources of the invasive surveillance state to help France, which doesn’t bode well, meaning the U.S. will be an accessory to the violence committed. We cannot let this war prolong the war on terror, while endangering civil liberties (there was a domestic security clampdown by Hollande after the offensive began), we must push to end it. While France is mainly fighting in the country, it is always possible that other countries could get more involved like America or the UK for their own reasons, so we must pressure our leaders to not support the French offensive. A top Republican on foreign affairs, Ed Rdyce of California said Obama, who supports the war, should give the aid to France for the war they asked for; drones & surveillance equipment,   which if granted would embroil America more in the war. Although France says this war will be swift, that is what commanders thought at the beginning of the deadly World War in 1914, which dragged on for four years, so this sentiment should not be trusted. Worst of all, this war could lead to blowback and put French citizens are risk from terrorist attacks. We as citizens of the world must act to stop this atrocity! Write letters to your congress members to stop U.S. assistance in this war of aggression, engage in militant non-violent protests and other activism against the war to encourage others to push for peace as a solution to this civil war, stop interventionism by the advanced industrialized countries in Mali  and highlight the war crimes being committed by the French government and other governments which may become involved soon enough. 

ABOUT Burkely Hermann
Burkely Hermann is a writer, activist, and researcher who tries to challenge perceptions about the world we all live in and pushing for the creation of discussion spaces to talk about pertinent issues. In doing this, Burkely has not only written articles but also used his tech savvy skills to aggressively fight for an internet that serves the masses.
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