The potential consequences of the Eurozone crisis on peacebuilding in Africa

Whilst a considerable amount of attention has been given to the economic consequences of the Eurozone crisis on Africa,(2) little has been specifically directed at both the short- and longer-term repercussions for peacebuilding on the continent.

This paper represents a tentative attempt to fill that gap, and to look at both the theoretical impact the financial crisis may have on the concept of ‘liberal’ peacebuilding and how the practical considerations of Europe’s defence and foreign policy could affect Africa.

The complexity of the European Union’s (EU) economic crisis is coupled with that of a deeper, underlying trend – its longer-term downward trajectory as a global power broker. In essence, it represents what Youngs terms “… a ‘crisis-upon-decline.'”(3) The Eurozone crisis brings into acute focus a festering, yet fundamental, question – namely how European nations should respond to a rapidly changing world during what is described as the ‘Asian century.’(4) Whilst the Asia-Pacific region may indeed be an area of geo-political/economic re-alignment, the significance of Africa in terms of both security and strategic importance cannot be ignored. Whilst it is perhaps tempting – if dangerous – to see Europe’s current financial crisis solely in economic terms, it is nevertheless inextricably interlinked to its foreign policy and its presence on the international stage. Thus, whilst all eyes seem to be focusing on the economic fallout of a possible ‘Grexit’ and its knock-on effects for African markets and currencies (particularly the CFA zone), this paper believes it is pertinent to begin considering the wider implications the long term ‘Euro-uncertainty’ may have on peacebuilding in Africa. Above all, it is not simply an economic issue; it is also a political one that has the potential to affect the foreign policy and security interests (including peacebuilding), not just in Europe, but also in the United States (US) and Africa.
This CAI paper briefly looks at the ‘choices’ currently facing the Eurozone before arguing that the crisis may well undermine the liberal democratic notions inherent in the hegemonic practice of contemporary peacebuilding projects. It then suggests that for Europe to engage more proactively and sustainably in Africa, its defence policies need to become more streamlined, flexible and ‘enabling’. It concludes by suggesting that although the EU’s financial problems may erode its symbolic ‘soft power’, it will not sound its economic and political death-knell, so long as opportunities that lie within a re-ordered West are undertaken pragmatically and intelligently. Ultimately, Europe may not be a ‘great power’ or even a ‘soft power’, but by embracing innovative engagement and multilateral cooperation in Africa and beyond, it may still retain influence in a fluid, enigmatic world order.
What next for Europe?
Beyond the hyperbolic headlines and doomsday discussions concerning the future of the Eurozone, the coming weeks and months are likely to be of critical importance for both Europe and the world. Rather than seeing specific events such as the Greek election and the G20 summit as issuing in a ‘perfect storm’, marking a Damascene moment that heralds the end of the Euro-world as we know it, it is the cumulative effects of indecisiveness and an over-reliance on ‘elastoplast’ policies that is of critical concern. The results of the Greek election, whilst extremely significant, are unlikely to be a catalyst for immediate exit. The outcome is likely to be messy, drawn-out and convoluted. A definitive answer to the question ‘will Greece leave the euro?’ is unlikely to be answered overnight or even in the next few weeks. As is the case with many European decisions, it is likely to be postponed, debated, and postponed some more, leaving Europe’s economy (and future) at the mercy of ricocheting emergencies, which not only erode international perceptions of the EU but also its ability to be seen to act coherently and decisively.
In the short term, the Eurozone crisis has caused the fragmentation of Europe into three main groups – the core Eurozone countries with strong economic performances, the peripheral countries with poor economic performances and the EU members outside the Eurozone.(5) Are we, therefore, about to witness the dawn of a two, or even three-speed Europe? Or perhaps only a small number of member states may be marginalised,(6) left out in the ‘cold’ by core countries bent on a bunkering form of closer integration and increasing isolation.
Carnage in Greece, contagion in Europe – whatever the outcome the upcoming talks, negotiations, bargains and brinkmanship may have on the future of the EU, a degree of unravelling and reappraisal is likely, yet the form it will take remains unknown – complete dissolution, (staggered) individual exits or separation between core and periphery? The complexity of the crisis and the fact that it is grafted intricately onto Europe’s strategic decline make predictions doubly difficult; it also calls into question some of the founding principles contemporary peacebuilding rests upon.
The repercussions for peacebuilding
The liberal peacebuilding agenda, founded on liberal market democracy, has internalised the liberal political and economic values of powerful, industrialised, Western nations. Peacebuilding initiatives of the post-Cold War era have, in general, attempted to impose both the values and institutions of a supposedly ‘superior’ form of governance – liberal democracy – onto other states, to varying degrees of success. This form of peacebuilding has been especially marked on the African continent, where there have been a plethora of both military-security and socio-economic (development) interventions. Somewhat ironically, the bottom five ‘least peaceful’ countries in the world – the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan and Somalia(7) – are those that have been on the receiving end of most recent and concerted international peacebuilding initiatives.
The Eurozone crisis has fundamentally questioned previously dominant assumptions concerning (European) peacebuilding. Euro-optimism at the start of this century arguably conceived peacebuilding as an asymmetrical, if over-simplified duality, between the powerful stability of the ‘peacebuilders’ and the fragile instability of the receivers. But in today’s world, Europe is no longer a zone of peace and stability. It is no longer perceived as the benchmark for successful economic and political cooperation, a model to be employed and transposed on other regions of the world. Africa, for instance, followed the EU concept with its own African Union (AU) and with the development of economic initiatives such as the East African Community (EAC) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). It would be overstating the case to suggest that the financial crisis has heralded the immediate end to the ‘European-way’ of building peace, but one of the most significant impacts of the current economic problems is that it has exacerbated criticism not only of economic liberalism but alsoof political liberalism.
The resonance of European ‘soft power’ in Africa and elsewhere depended in the past upon it being a democratic, free-market role model, one that placed importance on integration and sovereignty.(8) Now, instead of delivering affluence, it is seen as delivering austerity, poverty and division. Compounding this important shift in global perception is the rise in Europe of ‘technocracy’ over ‘democracy’ and increasingly extremist political parties in Europe. Thus, European ‘power’ (and credibility) rests not only upon a strong economy, but also upon the immutability of liberal values.
Peacebuilding in an era of austerity
In the short term, it has been argued that the impact of the Eurozone crisis on European foreign policy has been relatively small,(9) with Libya being held up as example – this despite the intervention highlighting Europe’s reliance on the US for vital support.(10) Furthermore, European nations have cut defence budgets that, although not as substantial as previously imagined, will still have a significant bearing on military capacity and capability. For example, Germany will reduce defence spending by 10% and the United Kingdom (UK) by 8.5% over the next few years.(11) Such spending cuts may also exacerbate American resentment at Europe’s lack of defence burden-sharing, potentially accelerating the US’s slide towards a more Asian-centric approach to foreign policy.
Yet it is in the longer term that the impacts will be felt greatest. The desire amongst European nations to engage in peacebuilding is likely to wane. Overseas engagements are, by their very nature, expensive politically and economically, which could lead to increased isolationism amongst European countries unwilling (or unable) to devote both time and costly resources to foreign missions where the outcome is unclear and the conditions challenging, such as in the DRC. Flanagan, for example, paints a bleak – albeit unfortunately realistic – picture of the future, one which is marked by a decline in Europe’s defence capabilities and a reduction in ambitious foreign policy initiatives,(12) leaving it (and also, perhaps, Africa) to some extent emasculated and at the mercy of other powerful political and economic hegemons such as China and the United States.
However, ‘liberal’ peacebuilding – out-moded and out of touch with the elastic, eclectic nature of contemporary security challenges – has proved to be difficult and unpredictable to promote. The heady days of the early 1990s, when democratisation and marketisation were seen as magic bullets, able to initiate war to peace transformations have long gone. Instead a more nuanced, holistic and critical approach to peacebuilding has started to appear, one that is tied to “… society’s social, cultural, political, spiritual, economic and developmental fabrics.”(13) There has also been a shift in perception from seeing intervention (military or otherwise) as the responsibility of external agencies and actors towards an appreciation of the role internal, indigenous peacebuilding agencies are able to play.(14) It is here that the ‘new’ Europe, looking for strategies to maintain influence and peace in Africa, yet unable to hold on to unaffordable modes of hard power, could embrace and encourage alternative forms of conflict resolution and peacebuilding. Threatened by the economic crisis, the Western monopoly on peacebuilding must adapt to new challenges and new constraints. It is only through embracing more innovative, sustainable forms of strategic influence (forms that China and the US may be unwilling to undertake) that Europe can maintain and develop its influence.
Doing more with less
This paper sees European governments as facing two stark choices. The first is to reduce their military and strategic ambitions in line with the demands of financial austerity. With minimum involvement on the African continent and throughout the world, this would see Europe enfeebled and at the mercy of a variety of security threats. The second and most viable option is to initiate a streamlining of resources and a ‘leaner, meaner’, more flexible force that is capable of reacting quickly to security challenges as and where they arise. The Eurozone crisis has exemplified the fact that generally EU leaders embrace a fire extinguisher mentality to dealing with troubles – they respond to a problem only when it has reached crisis proportions, before applying a temporary fix in order to buy more time. If a similar method is employed in the face of new threats and challenges on the African continent, Europe risks losing any residual influence it may once have had, leaving itself vulnerable economically and politically to transnational threats and permanently undermining its strategic position there. Thus, whilst smaller, more agile forces may be a necessary aspect of Europe’s ‘reduced’ peacebuilding potential in Africa, they also have to be effective, sustainable and cheap – a huge challenge.
Recent events in Africa, such as the Egyptian elections, bombings in Nigeria, unrest in Libya and the endemic violence in Eastern Congo point to a myriad of security challenges facing not only Africa but also Europe. In today’s transnational, globalised world, the Gaia effect is acute. It requires highly trained, specialised peacebuilding forces that are capable of operating sensitively in a multinational arena and of working cooperatively with local actors.
Concluding remarks
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Africa will have the world’s fastest-growing economy in the next five years (15) – nevertheless, the stresses of the Eurozone’s spillover effect into Africa remain very real both economically and politically. Yet there is also the added concern that Euro-fragility may detrimentally affect any green shoots of growth in Africa. Indeed, it has been suggested that weak economies are often synonymous with weak, fragile states and the presence of violent conflict, which in turn also leads to economic stagnation.(16)
Yet beyond the economic consequences of the Eurozone crisis, this paper has attempted to show the significance it may have upon Europe’s foreign policy (and peacebuilding projects) in Africa. The economic crisis may certainly weaken Europe’s effectiveness in the global arena and its longer-term loss of power. But conceptions of ‘power’ are transitory and ephemeral, reliant less on hard or soft power but more on ‘smart power’. The intelligent use of existing European military resources and expertise, coupled with a willingness to look at more innovative, non-traditional forms of peacebuilding could well strengthen and improve the practice of peacebuilding in Africa.
Consultancy Africa Intelligence (CAI) is a South African-based research and strategy firm with a focus on social, health, political and economic trends and developments in Africa. CAI releases a wide range of African-focused discussion papers on a regular basis, produces various fortnightly and monthly subscription-based reports, and offers clients cutting-edge tailored research services to meet all African-related intelligence needs. For more information, see
(1) Contact Alison Brettle through Consultancy Africa Intelligence’s Conflict and Terrorism Unit ([email protected]).
(2) See for example ‘The Impact of the European Debt Crisis on Africa’s Economy: A Background Paper’, United Nations Economic and Social Council Economic Commission for Africa, 5th Joint Annual Meetings of the AU Conference of Ministers of Economy and Finance and ECA Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 26-27 March 2012,; ‘Lagarde on how the eurozone crisis will affect Africa’, BBC News, 20 December 2011,
(3) Youngs, R., ‘European foreign policy and the economic crisis: what impact and how to respond?’, Dahrendorf Symposia Series Working Paper 2012-06.
(4) Groff, P., ‘Will this be the ‘Asian century’?’, The Guardian, 18 April 2012,
(5) Flanagan, S., Conley, H. and Scheffler, A. 2011. A Perfect storm hits Europe. A Diminishing Transatlantic Partnership? The Impact of the Financial Crisis on European Defence and Foreign Assistance Capabilities’ Centre for Strategic and International Studies, pp. 1-7.
(6) Youngs, R., ‘European foreign policy and the economic crisis: what impact and how to respond?’, Dahrendorf Symposia Series Working Paper 2012-06.
(7) ‘Global Peace Index 2012′, The Guardian, 12 June 2012,
(8) Techau, J., ‘European Foreign Policy and the Euro Crisis’, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 29 February 2012,
(9) Ibid.
(10) Flanagan, S., Ciploletti, T.J. and Scheffler, A., ‘Outlook for Defense: Doing Less with Less?’ A Diminishing Transatlantic Partnership? The impact of the financial crisis on European defence and foreign assistance capabilities. Centre for Strategic and International Studies, May 2011.
(11) Stokes, B., ‘Why the Euro Crisis Matters’, The German Marshall Fund of the United States, 1 February 2012,
(12) Flanagan, S., ‘A Diminishing Transatlantic Partnership? The impact of the financial crisis on European defence and foreign assistance capabilities.’ Centre for Strategic and International Studies, May 2011,
(13) Karbo, T., 2008. “Peace-building in Africa”, in Francis, D. (ed). Peace and Conflict in Africa. Zed Books: London and New York.
(14) Miall, H., Ramsbotham, O. and Woodhouse, T., 2010. Contemporary Conflict Resolution (2nd edition). Polity Press: Cambridge.
(15) ‘Regional Economic Outlook: Sub-Saharan Africa, Sustaining Growth amid Global Uncertainty’, International Monetary Fund, April 2012,
(16) Bakrania, S. and Lucas, B., ‘The Impact of the Financial Crisis on Conflict and State Fragility in Sub-Saharan Africa’, Governance and Social Development Resource Centre, July 2009.