Security and stability in Northern Africa

September 22, 2016 - nr.101

Summary, conclusions and recommendations

Summary and conclusions

Today the fate of Europe is tied to that of Africa more than ever before. In this report, the AIV focuses on the countries of North Africa, the Sahel, West Africa and the Horn of Africa, and especially on Mali and Libya. It uses the term ‘Northern Africa’ to refer to this region. Joint solutions have to be found for the enormous problems the region faces.

The prospects for Northern Africa are sombre and the security and stability of Europe – and therefore of the Netherlands – are directly threatened by the security risks prevalent in this part of Africa. These include terrorism and religious extremism, drugs and people smuggling, weapons proliferation and large-scale migration flows. The AIV assumes that these security risks will persist in the short and medium term and that the prospects for the long term are also unfavourable. Climate change and high population growth in Africa – prognoses suggest an increase of 1.2 billion people to a total of 4.4 billion by 2100 – are structural factors that help exacerbate the situation. Climate change is leading to desertification and water scarcity, with results including falling food production, increasing refugee flows and rising tensions. The substantial rise in population in Africa is not being paralleled by strong economic development, making migration from Africa to Europe not a temporary phenomenon but an issue that Europe will have to address permanently and to an increasing extent.

Where North Africa was formerly a buffer zone for the European continent, since 2011 it has become a source of instability. The chain of authoritarian states in the region has disappeared, and the situation is now highly differentiated, with a new authoritarian regime in Egypt, moderately authoritarian regimes in Algeria and Morocco, chaos in Libya, and a moderately positive situation in Tunisia. In addition, the problems of terrorism, uncontrolled migration and organised transnational crime have become much more severe. Partly as a consequence of shifting power relations in the Middle East, more and more Arab countries – including the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia and Qatar – as well as Turkey are showing an interest in Northern Africa and are trying to extend their influence in the region. The consequences of the Arab Spring are being felt in the adjoining regions of the Sahel, West Africa and the Horn of Africa, where there are many fragile states.

Europe finds itself in a new constellation. In recent decades, the EU’s political position and influence in Africa have weakened considerably. The EU needs Northern Africa at least as much as Northern Africa needs Europe, and that calls for new, more equal relations. Furthermore, the EU has never been and is still not the only significant actor there. The UN plays a crucial role, alongside the AU and regional organisations like ECOWAS and the recently established G5 Sahel. Individual countries like the Arab states, the US, France, the UK, Italy and China are also active in the region.

Security problems
Terrorism, cross-border crime and migration are not new phenomena in Northern Africa but, as a result of the current instability in the region, they have grown explosively and are causing serious problems. The security situation in the various countries is complex and conflicts are therefore increasingly diffuse in nature. There are of course considerable differences between the different countries and regions, but they share a number of common features. Armed conflict not only arises from political disagreement, but is also driven by criminal motives, extremist ideologies and violent militias. The number of rebel movements, militias and terrorist organisations is increasing. There is a clear link between the security problems in North Africa and the Sahel and it is therefore important to consider them together in a cross-regional approach.

Islamic extremism is spreading in Northern Africa, and the presence of weak states is an important reason for the advance of jihadism in Africa as a whole. Jihadist movements are gaining footholds mainly where central government does not control the whole country and people in peripheral areas lack security and public services. Local and regional conflicts create a fertile breeding ground for the emergence of extremist movements, and these movements in turn are a cause of conflict. Jihadist movements are highly appealing to young people who are politically, socially and economically marginalised and are wrestling with their identities. The influence of radical Islamic groups in Africa makes the continent vulnerable to the influence of IS, as can be seen from the current situation in Libya.

Most countries in Northern Africa are having to deal with organised crime, people smuggling and trafficking in humans, arms and drugs. The Sahel has traditionally been a major transit region. Long-running conflicts and the fall of Gaddafi, who exercised control over a large proportion of the criminal networks in the region, have led to an enormous increase in illegal trade through the Sahel. There are close ties between criminal and terrorist groups. The chaos in Libya and the lack of border controls has made the country the perfect hub for transnational criminal networks. Existing smuggling routes are used intensively and the south of the country in particular is a haven for smugglers of arms, drugs and migrants. Refugees and migrants from Africa come from conflict areas like Eritrea, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia, and others – including Nigeria, Senegal and Gambia – which they are more likely to leave for economic reasons.

War, conflict, poor governance, environmental degradation and declining prospects for local food production, as well as systematic violations of human rights, are the main causes of the high numbers of refugees. Other major reasons are weak regional economies and chronic poverty. Europe is also attractive to well-educated young people because it offers better prospects for the future. Routes for migration, people smuggling and human trafficking have passed through Africa for centuries. The number of people being transported along these routes has risen considerably in recent years because of the increasing instability in North Africa. The region has developed close ties with criminal and terrorist networks. Libya and Egypt are the main points of departure for refugees and migrants. In 2015, 150,000 people made the crossing to Europe. Along the way, they are exposed to robbery and forced labour. Thousands drown in the Mediterranean Sea. These are shameful conditions to which the international community cannot close its eyes.

International actors
Many international organisations, including the UN, the EU, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Arab League and, to a lesser extent, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), as well as individual countries, concern themselves with peace and security in Africa. Africa also has a number of organisations active in this area, including the African Union (AU) and the regional economic communities (SADC, ECCAS, ECOWAS and IGAD). It is a patchwork of organisations that sometimes work together and sometimes work at cross purposes. The AIV attaches the greatest importance to better coordination and more effective cooperation between the various international organisations. In Somalia, for example, IGAD, the East African Community, the Arab League, the AU, the UN, the EU, individual countries in the region and bilateral donors are all active, each with their own approach. This leads to situations like checkpoints with Somali troops dressed in five different uniforms, trained by different countries with different doctrines – an exceptionally undesirable situation.

The international community has a tendency to respond when a crisis erupts and then withdraw again once the worst is over. The intervention in Libya in 2011 is a good example. The current situation in the country shows the disastrous consequences of such short-sighted policy. It is therefore important to identify crises at a much earlier stage and take prompt action. The EU Conflict Early Warning System is a useful instrument for this purpose1 Knowledge and information from NGOs are also indispensable. It is easier for the EU to take action than the UN, where there is always the risk of a stalemate in the Security Council. There is a close link between fast security (political and/or military intervention) and slow security (structural measures to promote stability, such as stimulating economic growth). There are situations in which fast security is required, but ideally it should be preceded and followed by slow security measures. In the AIV’s opinion, when designing missions, it is especially important to bear in mind the long term: the mission’s political aim, its various phases, capacity building in the long term (‘train the trainers’) and the desired end state. An early civil assessment, including a very thorough analysis of social and cultural factors, is particularly essential. Because of the cross-border nature of security problems, it may be necessary to give a mission a regional basis. The availability of military materiel and enablers like strategic transport and medical support often proves to be an obstacle. That calls for specific investments. For a sustainable result, it may be necessary to persist with a mission for a longer period.

The countries of Northern Africa are Europe’s close neighbours. The two regions have close ties as a result of their shared colonial past. The EU has a wide range of instruments at its disposal, ranging from trade to crisis management missions, and would be well advised to transform its largely defensive approach into a constructive agenda of dialogue, aid and cooperation. Security, development and political reform (governance) should be integral parts of such an agenda. Given the rising tensions in the region, the AIV believes that the EU should make the promotion of security and stability in Northern Africa a main priority of its policy, with a special focus on the Sahel countries, because of the region’s key position. This focus on stability must, however, not lead to other issues being removed from the agenda. The EU could place its relations with Northern Africa within the general framework of the European Neighbourhood Policy and the Union for the Mediterranean, which emerged from the Barcelona Process. The existing individual Mediterranean Partnerships also offer the scope to take account of countries’ diverse characteristics and ambitions. The AIV does, however, have a critical comment on the way in which the EU deploys its wide range of civil, military and Community instruments, alongside the activities of individual EU member states. There are so many programmes, bodies and activities that a coordinated approach is impossible from the outset, which undermines the EU’s effectiveness. The effectiveness of some of the instruments can also be questioned. The AIV considers it crucial for EU institutions and individual member states to make a greater effort to increase the effectiveness of European programmes in Northern Africa.

The security risks on Europe’s eastern flank require attention too, of course, but these are in the first instance NATO’s responsibility. On the southern flank, it is up to the EU to play a leading role. That calls for structural improvements in coordination between EU bodies and between these bodies and member states. There are benefits to be gained in Brussels from better streamlining and coordination of EU instruments. EU bodies and Delegations, member states’ embassies and NGOs could work more closely together in the field. Given the instruments at its disposal, the EU is best equipped to contribute to slow security, while the member states are better placed to focus on fast security because they have the necessary resources, including intelligence and military materiel. For that reason, the AIV feels that the EU should focus more on training missions, leaving more classical crisis management operations to be led by member states, especially the larger ones, in coalitions of the willing. The AIV expects NATO to continue to play a limited role in North Africa in the future.

The refugee and migration issue has a prominent place in the EU’s internal and external policies. The EU has taken measures, including through the Frontex Operation Triton and EUNAVFOR Med/Sophia, to improve security on its external borders, combat people smuggling and save people from drowning. In the AIV’s opinion, establishing a European border and coastguard and a European asylum system (including a humane refugee policy and the possibility of legal migration) are necessary measures. The agreements made at the Valletta Summit and the establishment of the EU Trust Fund, which explicitly focus on preventing large-scale migration flows, are a good starting point for a sustainable partnership between the EU and the countries of the region. The amount set aside for the EU Trust Fund, €1.3 billion for 23 countries, is however on the low side, certainly compared to the €6 billion for Turkey. One major concern is the way in which countries like Eritrea, which is suspected of being involved in human trafficking, comply with the EU’s agreements with African governments to limit migration. The question is whether the financial support pledged by the EU will genuinely lead to a reduction in migration and refugee flows.

The EU has concluded mobility partnerships with a number of countries, including Morocco and Tunisia, which aim to prevent illegal migration and facilitate legal migration. Similar partnerships could be agreed with other countries in Northern Africa. Lessons could also be learned from the recent agreements between Spain and Morocco and between the US and Mexico. After a history of unilateral border controls and closure, these countries have made more wide-ranging agreements to manage their shared borders better and more humanely. The core of these agreements is that closing strategic parts of the borders is not enough and that there should be regulated routes for asylum seekers and migrants. People seeking asylum in Spain, for example, can apply in the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla and there are legal migration channels for, for example, seasonal workers and students.2

The UN and its crisis management operations play an indispensable role in Northern Africa. The AIV supports the AU’s ambition to take responsibility for security and stability on the continent in the long term, but that is not yet possible as the AU still needs to overcome serious shortages of materiel and trained troops. The AIV considers it important for European countries to continue to contribute to UN operations so as to raise them to a qualitatively higher level. Dutch participation in MINUSMA since 2014 marks the end of a period in which the Netherlands did not take part in large-scale UN operations in Africa. In the AIV’s opinion, the Netherlands should continue to invest in UN operations in the region, partly because the AU cannot yet play its desired prominent role. If an international mission is to be sent to Libya, the Netherlands should consider taking part.

The Netherlands
In light of the serious and complex problems in Northern Africa, the AIV advises the Dutch government to focus its policy on promoting stable, peaceful development in the region. It is important to acknowledge that furthering electoral democratisation, economic progress, peace and security, the rule of law and other desirable policy goals simultaneously is often not feasible in practice. So many problems need to be addressed at the same time, mostly with modest resources, that it is better to focus on achieving feasible results one step at a time and in pragmatic order.3

In making these pragmatic choices, Dutch policy could be guided by the principle that it should contribute as concretely as possible to improving the mostly very difficult daily lives of the people of these countries. That means prioritising a policy that strengthens their security, fosters a stable society, promotes employment, gradually reinforces the rule of law, and helps make progress on the position of women and gender issues in general. A one-sided focus on electoral democratisation has had disappointing results in a number of countries. Democratic, participatory governance requires much more, including the development of a middle class, independent trade unions, education, free media, a balanced system of political parties, institutions that can safeguard constitutional rights and a pluriform system of checks and balances to curb the tendency of social elites to abuse their power. Because of the cultural and ethnic composition of African societies, this will have to take a different form than in Western Europe. The fact that electoral democratisation is not a precondition for cooperation does not mean that we can continue to be involved in a country if its government pursues a policy of severe and widespread repression and lawlessness.

A results-oriented policy must not be based on general goals and policy formulas that apply to all countries. The reality of the country itself, its history, its political, cultural and economic situation and other factors that differ in each country also affect the feasibility of policy. This means that the Dutch government must consider the nature of its partnership with each country individually. Similarly, it has to strike a balance between measures that help improve security in the short term (fast security) and policy aimed at addressing structural issues in the long term (slow security). It will also have to decide which bodies in each country it can or cannot work with. This inevitably requires a certain degree of pragmatism, as well as awareness that the central government is not always necessarily the first or only choice of cooperation partner in a country. A policy that tries to achieve a little of everything and can be applied consistently to all societies may seem attractive in an abstract sense for policy discussions in the donor country but there is a serious risk of achieving little improvement on balance or even being counterproductive due to a lack of focus and prioritisation.

In addition, Dutch policy is only a small part of a wide range of policies pursued by many other actors. This means that the best results will be achieved by concentrating on areas where the Netherlands is relatively strong, such as the agrarian sector (including water management) and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), including gender issues and gender-related healthcare. It is also advisable to support efforts to promote the gradual development of the rule of law (including support for police and military security organisations) in countries with governments that are amenable to such support.

The direct and immediate effects of insecurity and instability in Northern Africa for the Netherlands seem foreseeable for the time being. As yet, there are no indications of foreign terrorist fighters returning to the country from the region. Nor is there a large influx of refugees or migrants from Africa (with the exception of Eritrea). The Netherlands is, however, a major destination for drugs smuggled from Africa. Northern Africa is currently not a priority area in Dutch foreign, security and development policy, with the exception of the Horn of Africa and Mali. Dutch economic interests in the region are relatively small. This situation can change, however, so that the consequences for the EU and thus also for the Netherlands can increase in the longer term. As an EU member state, the Netherlands must take account of the risks for the EU in Northern Africa and cannot neglect its responsibilities.

The Dutch government has not published a policy document on Africa since 2003. The AIV believes it is important for a new integrated strategy on Northern Africa to be developed. Given its comparative advantages, it is logical for the Netherlands to focus on slow security. Migration has become an important focus area in Dutch foreign policy and receives a great deal of attention from both the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation. The Netherlands contributes to both bilateral and multilateral initiatives on migration. Within these initiatives, it strives to work with African countries and invest in employment for young people. The AIV encourages the government to tackle underlying causes. Africa’s rapid population growth requires paying attention to the complete range of human rights described in the Vienna Declaration. Serious deficits in the observance of fundamental rights to education, healthcare and economic development severely exacerbate the problems described in this report, and it is essential to address these negative developments in the preventive approach that the AIV considers necessary in Northern Africa.

Because of the importance of sharing risks, even smaller countries like the Netherlands must be prepared to make a proportional contribution to fast security. The AIV has observed a striking tendency in the Netherlands to view French military activities in Africa with suspicion, as though France were acting purely in its own interests. The AIV believes that this is a misconception given that France’s military operations in Africa, as shown by its crucial intervention in Mali, are of great value to the EU and Northern Africa and therefore deserve appreciation and support.

Any deployment of the armed forces in Northern Africa must depend on reasonable chances of success. Military support for countries with a manifestly heinous regime that uses its armed forces only to safeguard its own interests is counterproductive. Dutch involvement in a unilateral operation can also be a problem if the people of the country see it as only serving the interests of the country conducting it.

The Dutch armed forces have the highly trained personnel and materiel capabilities to contribute to security sector reform (SSR) and strengthen regional crisis management capacity to undertake, for example, counterterrorist, anti-piracy and border control activities. In the coming period, they will most probably be more active in Northern Africa, in order to prepare Dutch units for deployment through training and exercises and engage in operational cooperation with partner countries. Besides the broad terrain of SSR, specific focuses in deploying Dutch armed forces are the use of special forces, counter-IED, gender, coastguard capacity building, border control and intelligence.

Given the increasing importance of all three of the main tasks of the Dutch armed forces and these forces’ considerable shortcomings, the deployment of Dutch military units in Northern Africa in the coming period will continually have to compete with the deployment of units elsewhere and with readiness instruction and training programmes. The deployment of enablers like logistical end engineering support, transport helicopters and intelligence capacity – for which there is great demand on the African continent – jeopardises the Dutch armed forces’ readiness, in as much as joint training and exercises with African armed forces does not itself bolster that readiness.

The focus in deploying the Dutch armed forces will have to lie on participation in UN and EU missions and support for the AU’s regional security organisations. In providing this support, the absorption capacity of the countries and/or security organisations should be taken into account. In addition, these countries and security organisations should be amenable to support. Some countries do not welcome large-scale military intervention, despite the problems they face.

The AIV expects the armed forces to be called upon more in coming decades to address the security threats from Northern Africa. This will substantially increase the pressure on a defence budget that is already far too low. The armed forces are already performing tasks for which no adequate funding has been provided, at the expense of investment and other necessary budget items. Additional financial resources need to be allocated to enhance the Netherlands’ focus on its integrated security and stability policy on Northern Africa. Partly in light of this urgent need for funds, the AIV repeats its earlier plea for the defence budget to be substantially increased.4


The AIV is of the opinion that many necessary programmes and activities aimed at Northern Africa can best be conducted by or through the EU. For that reason, before presenting its recommendations for the Netherlands, it will make a number of recommendations relating to the EU and the Netherlands’ role within it.

European Union

  1. The EU member states should make promoting stability and security – and human security in particular – in Northern Africa one of the main aims of European foreign and security policy in the coming period, together with responsible economic development, political reform and respect for universal human rights.
  2. The AIV considers it necessary that, when cooperating with groups and governments in Northern Africa, the EU bear in mind the specific situation in the various countries and be guided by pragmatism, exploring where there is room for improvement and what contribution it can make in each individual situation. This does not change the fact that financial and other support for regimes that violate human rights on a large scale should only be provided under strict conditions.
  3. The AIV believes that EU member states and institutions should make every effort to optimise coordination and cooperation on Northern Africa. To that end, member states should coordinate and channel their programmes and financial contributions to Northern Africa as much as possible through the EU. The EU itself should take steps to remove the barriers between the various categories of expenditure – especially between the EEAS and the European Commission. It will also have to be more flexible in implementing programmes so that resources are allocated in the most effective way. In addition, cooperation between the various EU institutions and Delegations, member states’ embassies and EU experts can be improved.
  4. The AIV considers it necessary that greater attention be paid prior to the start of a CSDP mission to the setup of the mission, including a timely and thorough civil assessment, study of the units the Netherlands will be working with, a follow-up programme (‘train the trainers’) and a clear idea of the desired end state. Given the cross-border nature of the security problems in Northern Africa, regionalising CSDP missions is advisable.
  5. The EU should invest in training and instructing AU military units in the future, so that in the long term they can take responsibility for security and stability themselves. It should also provide basic training in the norms of international law and respect for human rights. This could include AU units attending and participating in EU Battlegroup training activities and exercises.
  6. EU member states should step up their police and intelligence cooperation on combating terrorism and crime. The EU should also be given greater counterterrorism powers so that it can be more effective both internally and externally. The possibilities should be explored for improved police and justice cooperation between the EU and African countries, so as to better combat international crime, including human trafficking and people smuggling.
  7. In the AIV’s opinion, EU member states should explore the possibility of joint acquisition of enablers such as strategic transport and medical support, which are in great demand in crisis management operations and in the affected countries. They should also investigate how the EU could finance such investments.
  8. The AIV believes that, if a government of national unity in Libya appeals for help from the international community, the Netherlands should consider contributing to a civil or military mission. In cooperation with foreign oil companies, a start could be made on resuming oil production, as long as supporters of the former Gaddafi regime and terrorist groups do not benefit. Unfreezing financial assets could also be considered, under the same conditions. This would enable Libya’s economic development to recover. In addition, if the situation in Libya allowed it, the EU could provide assistance in reconstructing the country’s armed forces.
  9. The EU should develop a humane and fully harmonised European asylum and migration policy.5 Together with the UN, it could fund the building and management of efficient refugee centres in the regions, from where the member states could set up routes for asylum and migration to the EU, regulated in close consultation. The instruments for joint European border control and migration regulation need to be energetically improved. Member states should provide sufficient resources, people and funds and be prepared to exercise their sovereignty jointly.
  10. The EU will have to make a robust contribution to the sustainable protection of refugees in countries in the region. It must not only ensure their physical safety – protecting them from persecution and violence – but also to offer them future prospects in the host country through work and education. Seaports, airports and other locations will have to be designated on the EU’s external borders with adequate provision for receiving and screening refugees and migrants. European support for the member states concerned, through the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) and Frontex, will be required to ensure these hot spots operate effectively. European information campaigns in third countries must make it clear that people who want to migrate to the European Union without prior permission from a member state will have to report to one of these specially designated transit ports.6

The Netherlands

  1. The AIV advises the government to draw up a strategy document on Northern Africa, with an enhanced policy focus on counterterrorism, religious extremism, cross-border crime, uncontrolled migration and promoting employment. These issues are a part of both internal and external policy and therefore require a government-wide, integrated approach for the short, medium and long terms. The role of preventive measures should be given a prominent role in the strategy document. The AIV advises the government to devote considerably more financial resources to Northern Africa, both for the enhanced policy focus on integrated security and stability policy and for development cooperation, specifically in the areas of education, healthcare and economic development. In addition, the number of embassies and military attaches in Northern Africa should be increased, and their staff expanded.
  2. Because of the scale and complexity of the problems in Northern Africa, Dutch development policy needs to be modified. The emphasis should lie even more on the region, and the Sahel in particular, with special attention to regional cooperation, capacity building, structural economic development and employment for young people. The AIV considers it advisable to develop a multi-year strategic plan for future Dutch programmes in the Sahel.
  3. In discussions on Association Agreements, the Netherlands should press in the EU for further lowering of all European trade barriers to the import of agricultural and industrial products and services from Northern Africa.
  4. The AIV advises the government to continue to contribute to improving infrastructure in Northern Africa. Large multilateral development banks and the European Investment Bank can play a prominent role in this respect. In addition, the Netherlands should continue to work on developing new technologies for agriculture, horticulture and efficient water use.
  5. To promote balanced demographic development and increase women’s autonomy, the AIV considers it necessary for the government to continue to give priority to promoting SRHR, especially in Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Mali, Niger and Nigeria.7
  6. The AIV recommends that Dutch military interventions in Africa, alongside defence activities elsewhere on the continent, should focus more than previously on Northern Africa. That includes posting defence attaches and gathering intelligence. Because of the armed forces’ limited , this will require extra investments that are part of the substantial increase in the defence budget that the AIV has called for earlier.
  7. The AIV believes that the Dutch armed forces have the highly trained personnel and materiel capabilities to contribute to security sector reform (SSR) and strengthen regional crisis management capacity to undertake, for example, counterterrorist, antipiracy and border control activities. In the years ahead, they could also be more active in Northern Africa in preparing Dutch units for deployment through training and exercises and engaging in operational cooperation with partner countries. Besides the broad terrain of SSR, focuses in deploying Dutch armed forces are the use of special forces, counter-IED, gender, coastguard capacity building, border control and intelligence.
  8. Because of the increased importance of SSR missions and the great demand this generates for experienced officers and NCOs of operational units involved in readiness programmes, the AIV recommends setting up (and financing) a separate armed forceswide unit with a rotating pool of experienced officers and NCOs to be deployed for SSR. This would mean creating more room in the Ministry of Defence staff establishment. It is also important to ensure that the officers have sufficient command of the relevant languages (besides English, also French in particular) and knowledge of the local culture.
  9. Although the AIV believes that there is great demand for enablers like transport helicopters, engineering support and intelligence capabilities on the African continent, these are also indispensable in readiness programmes for all the main tasks of the Dutch armed forces. Given actual and potential commitments elsewhere, it will always be necessary to consider whether a contribution with such niche capabilities is responsible and for how long.
  10. In the case of new missions in countries of origin or transit, it is advisable to include migration as a focus area in the mission’s mandate. The Netherlands could contribute to such missions by supplying migration experts from Border Security Teams or elsewhere. In the case of current missions, it is important to consider carefully whether the mandate can be modified and when, and whether more attention can be paid to migration issues.


1 See: < warning_en.pdf>.
2 The same idea underlies the current talks between the US, the UN and a number of Latin American countries on building refugee centres in countries like El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, where UN officials will decide which asylum seekers qualify for refugee status. The US would then be willing to resettle 9,000 of these people per year. For lessons to be learned from the management of American borders, see Cyrille Fijnaut, ‘Pleidooi voor de vorming van een Schengen II: Versterking van de controle aan de buitengrenzen and van de politiële and justitiële samenwerking binnen de Europese Unie’, in Frans Bieckmann and Monika Sie Dhian Ho, De belofte van een ander Europa, Amsterdam: Van Gennep, forthcoming in 2016.
3 See: AIV advisory report no. 91, ‘The Netherlands and the Arab Region: A Principled and Pragmatic Approach’, The Hague, November 2014.
4 See also AIV advisory report no. 94 ‘Instability around Europe: Confrontation with a new reality’, The Hague, April 2015.
5 See also AIV advisory letter no. 28, ‘The Future of Schengen’, The Hague, March 2016.
6 See also Cyrille Fijnaut, ‘Pleidooi voor de vorming van een Schengen II’.
7 SRHR is one of the four priority themes of Dutch development policy (together with security and the rule of law, water and food security). The policy devotes attention to the following topics: sex education and services relating to sexuality for young people; better access to contraception, anti-retroviral drugs for AIDS and other medicines; SRHR as part of accessible and affordable basic healthcare; more respect for the sexual health and rights of victims of discrimination and vulnerable groups, including gay men, drug users, prostitutes and child brides.
Advice request

Professor Jaap de Hoop Scheffer
Chairman of the Advisory Council
on International Affairs
P.O. Box 20061
2500 EB The Hague

Date    26 May 2015
Re       Request for advice on security and Africa

Dear Professor De Hoop Scheffer,

Africa’s position on the world stage has changed dramatically. The increased standard of living in and growing self-confidence of many African countries create prospects of an expanded relationship with the continent. Of course, there are still countries and regions which confirm traditional stereotypes of poverty, poor governance and violent conflict. In many other places, though, impressive economic growth figures are giving rise to new prospects, which can contribute to stability, sustainable development and human dignity, and which must therefore be consolidated wherever possible.

The variety of relationships with Africa is increasing dramatically, and this calls for a comprehensive approach. The Netherlands is interested in working with Africa where we have common interests, such as regional stability, trade, migration, climate change and security.

The security situation remains troubling in many areas. The policy letter ‘Turbulent Times in Unstable Surroundings’ describes North Africa and parts of Sub-Saharan and West Africa as elements of an arc of growing instability and conflict around Europe. More specifically, the letter notes a deterioration in the security situation in northern Mali and Libya. This also applies to South Sudan. Although Somalia is becoming politically more stable, violence still flares up there on a regular basis. In addition, the Ebola epidemic in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone shows how shortcomings in states’ ability to respond swiftly and adequately can have economic, political and social repercussions. Finally, migrant flows from the continent are only expected to further increase, partly as a result of demographic developments. Many young people in African countries see no hope for the future and instead choose to make the perilous crossing to Europe.

At the same time Africa offers opportunities. The availability of natural resources, cheap young labour and targeted foreign investment have led to progress. Over the past 10 years many African countries have developed into fully fledged economic and political actors with the confidence to make their own choices and the willingness to take responsibility for promoting security and stability in their own regions. Global economic and political power relations are in flux, leading to a different dynamic on the continent. The Netherlands and other European countries have to respond to this new reality, one of significant sub-regional differences, with clusters of instability and fragility interspersed with growth centres.

The government believes that any choices made by the Netherlands in its dealings with Africa, whether unilaterally or multilaterally, should be informed by certain principles. First of all, these choices should be the outcome of a clear assessment of the various interests at play. In this way the government seeks to foster public support for Dutch foreign and security policy. Africa’s relevance to the Netherlands’ security is obvious, but our exact level of engagement in terms of policy merits closer examination.

Secondly, in the policy letter mentioned above, the government concluded that the nature of conflicts in North and Sub-Saharan Africa demand an integrated and targeted approach in the framework of either the EU or UN. The Netherlands is already active in a number of missions in Africa: it provides a substantial contribution to the UN mission in Mali, participates in the UN mission in South Sudan, supplies both military capabilities and expertise for the training and instruction of African armed forces in multilateral and bilateral settings, and also makes port visits in order to cement relationships. These examples are indicative of an integrated approach whereby analyses and assessments are informed by development interests and efforts. A military operation is not carried out in isolation, but in tandem with other foreign policy instruments. This approach has been described at length in previous policy documents and parliamentary papers, and it remains our point of departure in such situations.

Within these frameworks the government feels a need for a more detailed analysis of what Dutch interests are at stake in Africa, what opportunities and threats have arisen in the new security context, and what responses make the most sense. A detailed overview of this multifaceted continent will enable the government to make more informed choices with regard to Africa. The advisory report should shed light on the role of and deployment opportunities for the armed forces in relation to other Dutch policy tools (development cooperation, diplomacy, and economic missions). The government asks the AIV to draw up an advisory report that addresses the following questions:

  • What Dutch security and other interests are being affected by developments on the African continent?
  • The policy letter ‘Turbulent Times’ makes the point that ‘fast security’ should be coupled with ‘slow security’, aimed at finding an enduring solution to a crisis. With a view to the various interests at stake, what parts of Africa are suitable for a multi-year, structural approach to the underlying causes of instability?
  • What changes does the AIV see in EU member states’ willingness and ability to promote security, stability and development on the African continent in an EU or UN framework (or in some other framework), including through the commitment of military capabilities?
  • What developments does the AIV see in regional organisations like the African Union and ECOWAS with respect to security issues, and what opportunities for cooperation does this create for the Netherlands?
  • The Dutch armed forces must be able to respond swiftly and carry out and sustain a range of missions in different areas simultaneously on a sufficient scale. What role should the armed forces play in protecting the various interests at stake on the African continent? What factors are most relevant when assessing the possibility of a military commitment?

This request for advice is provided for in the work programme for 2014. We look forward to receiving the AIV’s recommendations.

Yours sincerely,

Bert Koenders
Minister of Foreign Affairs    

Lilianne Ploumen
Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation

Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert
Minister of Defence

Government reactions

Letter of 17 February 2017 from the Minister of Foreign Affairs Bert Koenders, the Minister of Defence Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert and the Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Lilianne Ploumen to the House of Representatives on the advisory report ‘Security and Stability in Northern Africa’ by the Advisory Council on International Affairs

This letter outlines the government’s response to advisory report no. 101 ‘Security and Stability in Northern Africa’ by the Advisory Council on International Affairs (AIV).

The government appreciates the AIV’s in-depth analysis of this issue and the recommendations it has made. In this letter the government will first respond to the AIV’s general recommendations. A more detailed discussion of Dutch efforts will follow, organised along the following lines: tackling the effects of instability, addressing root causes, international actors and the importance of coordination.

The government sees no reason to draw up a separate strategy document in addition to this letter. The Netherlands will focus chiefly on the multilateral frameworks and regional strategies drawn up by the UN, the EU and NATO.

Core of the AIV’s advisory report

The AIV states that the prospects for Northern Africa are sombre and that the security and stability of Europe – and therefore of the Netherlands – are under direct threat. Terrorism, cross-border crime and migration have grown explosively as a result of the current instability in the region. The AIV assumes that these security risks will persist in the short and medium term. Climate change and high population growth in Africa are structural factors that exacerbate the situation. The AIV is of the opinion that the EU needs Northern Africa as much as Northern Africa needs Europe and that this calls for the establishment of new, more equal relations.

The Advisory Council identifies clear links between the security problems in North Africa and the Sahel and recommends considering them together in a cross-regional approach. In addition, the AIV attaches the greatest importance to coordinating the cooperation between the various international organisations (EU, UN and African Union (AU)) more effectively.

In light of the serious and complex problems in Northern Africa, the AIV advises an integrated approach that will promote stable, peaceful development in the region.

The AIV expects the armed forces to be called upon more in the coming decades to address the security threats emanating from Northern Africa. The AIV states that Dutch armed forces can contribute to security sector reform (SSR) and help strengthen regional crisis management capacity aimed at counterterrorism, combating piracy, border control and more. This will further increase the pressure on an already limited defence budget. In deploying the Dutch armed forces, the focus will have to be on participation in UN and EU missions and support for the AU’s regional security organisations.

General government objectives

Integrated approach
The government agrees with the AIV that it is important to adopt a broad approach to security in Northern Africa. This integrated approach is central to Dutch efforts in fragile states and conflict areas, where social, political, economic and security aspects must be addressed in combination. Tackling root causes and managing the effects of crises calls for an integrated approach. Attention must be paid not only to crisis management and prevention, combating crime and terrorism, and managing irregular migration, but also to upholding the rule of law, addressing youth unemployment, strengthening women’s sexual and reproductive rights and mitigating the effects of climate change.

The government shares the AIV’s view that for reasons related to security, stability and migration the Netherlands and the EU must also prioritise Northern Africa in their foreign policy. It is no accident that the Netherlands has been participating in the UN’s MINUSMA mission since early 2014. Both the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have increased the number of staff deployed in the region. In this way, the Netherlands is making an important and tangible contribution to stabilising Europe’s southern flank. The government agrees with the AIV that our focus in deploying the Dutch armed forces should be on multilateral efforts.

Regional focus
Paying extra attention to the Sahel, as called for by the AIV, is in line with the policy advocated by the government. The challenges relating to migration and security transcend national boundaries and require a regional approach. The problems in the Sahel region are clearly connected to the situation in the Maghreb and the countries along the West African coast. In addition to considerable Dutch efforts in the areas of development cooperation, security and the peace process in Mali, the Netherlands also supports various regional initiatives aimed at combating cross-border crime and strengthening integrated border management. Other objectives are to improve regional trade, water management and food security. The Sahel is a priority region for Dutch foreign policy.

The government recently announced that the changing relationship and phasing out of programmes in ‘transitional countries’ will, in time, create scope for relations with new partner countries (see Parliamentary Paper 33625 no. 226). Countries in the Sahel region will be considered first.

Tackling the effects of instability


The AIV advocates enhancing the focus on integrated security and stability policy for Northern Africa and substantially boosting the defence budget. In addition, the AIV is in favour of contributing to security sector reform (SSR) by means of a pool of staff and strengthening regional crisis management capacity aimed, for example, at counterterrorism activities. The AIV also discusses the great demand for enablers like transport helicopters, engineering support and intelligence capabilities, and the fact that these are equally indispensable in readiness programmes for all the main tasks of the Dutch armed forces.

The AIV also points out that migration from Africa to Europe is an issue that Europe will continue to face in the coming years, due in part to demographic trends on the African continent. This calls for greater internal and external action by Europe and the Netherlands, and increased cooperation with African partners. The AIV recommends making provisions for reception and screening at the EU’s external borders.

Government objectives:

Since the publication of the government’s International Security Strategy and the policy letter ‘Turbulent times in Unstable Surroundings’, the problems in the arc of unstable countries surrounding Europe have remained a priority for the Dutch armed forces and Dutch foreign policy. The government wishes to emphasise that choices must always be made. Its capacity to deploy the Dutch armed forces is, after all, limited.

The Netherlands is prepared to contribute significantly to improving security in the region. It is actively involved in various military missions on the African continent, in which our armed forces, with their highly trained personnel and material capabilities, contribute to peace and security. These missions include the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS), the European Union Training Mission (EUTM) in Mali, the EUTM in Somalia, the EU Capacity Building Mission (EUCAP) Sahel Mali and African Contingency Operations Training and Assistance (ACOTA). Through these contributions the Netherlands is actively helping to improve security in the region. Through its participation in MINUSMA (at a cost of €80 million annually) the Netherlands is helping to restore security and stability in Mali.

As regards the AIV’s specific recommendation about Libya, the government decided on 9 September 2016 that in autumn 2017 a Dutch naval vessel will join the EU’s Operation Sophia, which is aimed in part at training the Libyan coastguard.

As regards the need identified by the AIV for enablers including transport helicopters, engineering support and intelligence capabilities, it must be noted that these capabilities are in short supply and under continuous pressure. Their use will always be subject to political considerations that balance their importance from a foreign policy perspective against existing commitments (e.g. to the NATO Enhanced Forward Presence and the NATO Response Force/Very High Readiness Joint Task Force) and the wisdom and feasibility of contributing such niche capabilities. It is essential, now more than ever, to determine in advance whether and for how long these capabilities can be deployed and how this will impact the deployability of the armed forces as a whole. In this connection the Netherlands is pleased that the UN is now working on a formal framework for the force generation process, including rotation schedules, for troop-providing countries.

The Ministry of Defence also conducts exercises in Northern Africa (readiness activities), usually together with international partners as part of exercises by the United States Africa Command. These contributions must be weighed against Dutch efforts elsewhere and assessed in the light of other commitments, including deployment through NATO. The Ministry of Defence focuses its African readiness activities on Northern Africa.

The Netherlands also attaches great importance to boosting Africa’s own security capacity and invests in strengthening military units in Africa. Capacity building and supporting the African Union’s African Peace and Security Architecture are key parts of the African Peace Facility. EU missions train army units in Mali, the Central African Republic and Somalia.

In light of increased instability, armed conflicts and the threat of terrorism, the Dutch government has taken measures to strengthen staff capacity in the security sector. One such measure is the appointment by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of six regional security coordinators, three of whom have been posted to Africa since the beginning of 2016. Dutch embassies in Northern Africa have also been strengthened with funds made available as a result of the motion by MP Bram van Ojik (Van Ojik et al. Parliamentary Paper 34 000, no. 22). The Netherlands currently has defence attachés posted in North Africa, West Africa, East Africa/the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes region. The decision was made recently to increase staff capacity at the embassy in Tunis – which in practice also houses the Dutch embassy to Libya – by posting a defence attaché, who will also be accredited for Libya. In Tunis and Dakar liaison officers have been appointed who are responsible for promoting cohesion between Dutch policy measures in the Maghreb and in the Sahel. This has resulted in increased efforts in areas including migration. This intensification of efforts in Northern Africa will continue for as long as necessary.

Security Sector Reform
The government shares the AIV’s view that the importance of SSR has grown. With relatively modest efforts, SSR can have a major impact, including as a preventive instrument at the start of a conflict. The Ministry of Defence is currently developing a multi-annual approach to further strengthening the armed forces, with special attention for SSR capabilities. The required knowledge can be enhanced, for example, by focusing more strongly on SSR when training officers, non-commissioned officers (NCOs) and civilian actors. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs seconds civilian experts from a ‘civilian mission pool’ to international missions, and their expertise includes SSR.

The idea of an ‘SSR pool’, as suggested by the AIV, has been proposed before. Previous attempts to set up such a pool did not have the desired effect because the time frame and need for expertise differed from expectations. Given the organisation’s current size and composition, in combination with the pressures on deployment and readiness, it would be ill-advised to free up such personnel for a specific SSR pool.

The government agrees with the recommendation to carry out a sound contextual analysis when setting up an EU mission. The Netherlands is itself one of the driving forces behind the EU-wide strategic framework to support SSR that was introduced by the European External Action Service and the European Commission on 5 July 2016. The framework underlines the importance of contextual analysis and a shared long-term vision. It also emphases the relation between development and security.

Radicalisation and terrorism
The presence of dozens of terrorist/extremist organisations in Northern Africa, including Boko Haram, Al Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Islamic State (IS), compels the international community to step up its efforts to tackle radicalisation and terrorism.

In the fight against terrorism and extremism the Netherlands focuses mainly on prevention. Combating violent extremism calls for a broad approach aimed at socioeconomic development, interfaith dialogue, supporting democracy and the rule of law, restoring trust in the security sector and promoting true civic engagement. Terrorism is in part the result of failing political systems which are not inclusive enough. In 2016 the Netherlands invested €10.1 million in combating radicalisation in Northern Africa and other at-risk regions. This investment will be continued until 2020, with a view to achieving more lasting results. The issue requires a country-specific approach, with distinct local ownership. Examples of preventive activities include conducting an inclusive dialogue about radicalisation with young people in Tunisia, and bolstering resilience among young people in Nigeria to Boko Haram’s propaganda.

The Netherlands is actively working to improve coordination with other countries on these issues, so that our various efforts reinforce one another. The Netherlands advocates expanding the role of the EU, the UN and regional organisations like the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, the AU and the G5 Sahel countries (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger). One important multilateral forum for cooperation on counterterrorism is the Global Counterterrorism Forum, which the Netherlands and Morocco currently co-chair.

Cross-border crime
By contributing to several regional initiatives in the Sahel and West Africa, including programmes run by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the Netherlands is supporting the coordinated campaign against cross-border crime in West Africa (e.g. people smuggling). In Mali, MINUSMA and the EU training missions are investing in strengthening the Malian police service. The Netherlands is contributing directly by deploying up to 30 police officers and members of the Royal Military and Border Police as part of the UN Police force. Through the bilateral development cooperation programme the Netherlands also invests in strengthening the rule of law in Mali.

The EU has made available funds from the EU Trust Fund for addressing the root causes of irregular migration and instability in order to foster cooperation with military police units in the G5 Sahel countries. Proposals are also being developed for judicial cooperation regarding people smugglers and, by extension, combating irregular migration and human rights violations.

The government supports the AIV’s analysis with regard to the need to step up efforts to reduce migration. To be effective, any approach to the issue of migration must focus on addressing the root causes of migration flows (failing states, conflicts and violence, non-inclusiveness and socioeconomic prospects).

The Netherlands strongly supports the migration compacts proposed by the European Commission with seven key countries of origin, transit and reception. Five of these are in Africa: Ethiopia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal. The government is committed at both bilateral and European level to accelerating the follow-up to and implementation of the Valletta action plan for better cooperation between the EU and African countries and to making concrete agreements on migration with countries of origin and transit, and other countries in the region.

Members states are responsible for the proper reception and screening of migrants. The government feels it is important that member states facing a sharp increase in migrant numbers receive support from other member states if necessary, to help them manage migration flows, as is already the case in Greece, Italy and other member states on the EU’s external borders. In the future this will become simpler and more effective through the establishment of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency and the transformation of the European Asylum Support Office into an EU Agency for Asylum.

The government is committed to improving reception in the region and providing refugees with lasting protection and alternative future prospects in their region. Education and employment have an important part to play in this regard. In the Horn of Africa, for instance, the Netherlands has a leading role in the EU’s Regional Development and Protection Programme which strives to permanently improve refugees’ prospects. The government endorses the AIV’s recommendation to devote attention to migration when devising and carrying out military and civil missions (Parliamentary Paper 32317 no. 399 on the implementation of the motion by MPs Fred Teeven and Raymond Knops).

Addressing root causes


The AIV states that due to the scale and complexity of the problems in Northern Africa, Dutch development policy needs to be modified. Greater attention should be given to Northern Africa, and the Sahel in particular, with a focus on regional cooperation, capacity building, structural economic development and employment for young people. 

The AIV is of the opinion that the government should prioritise policy that strengthens human security, fosters a stable society, promotes employment, gradually enhances the rule of law, and helps improve the position of women. A one-sided focus on electoral democratisation has had disappointing results in a number of countries.

To promote balanced demographic development and increase women’s autonomy, the AIV believes that the government needs to continue prioritising efforts to promote sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).

In discussions on Association Agreements, the Netherlands should press the EU to further lower all European trade barriers to the import of agricultural and industrial products and services from Northern Africa.

Government objectives:

Poverty and inequality
Improving people’s socioeconomic prospects requires a wide range of measures and efforts. The government’s aid, trade and investment agenda is highly relevant in this region. Ultimately, the key to inclusive economic development lies with the countries themselves.

The desired focus on Northern Africa also affects how development funds (ODA resources) are spent. Over the past two years a start has been made. Despite a decline in ODA resources and the cost of first-year reception of asylum seekers, funding has been made available, in consultation with the House of Representatives, for economic development. The phasing out of programmes in ‘transitional countries’ will create scope for relations with new partner countries, and when selecting those countries the government will look closely at those in the Sahel region. However, pressure on budgets is high and a more effective approach will require extra resources.

In addition to the existing instruments for economic development, the government has set up several new programmes aimed specifically at both preventing conflict and improving young people’s position and socioeconomic prospects in Africa: the Addressing Root Causes Fund (ARC – €125 million), the Local Employment in Africa for Development programme (LEAD – €25 million) and the Dutch Good Growth Fund (DGGF – €700 million revolving fund). The Netherlands also contributes to the EU Trust Fund for Africa. The EU considers a substantial increase in investment in the region is needed over the next few years (see EU Global Strategy).

Democracy and the rule of law
The security issues in many of the countries in question are a direct result of failing or fragile states and of state institutions functioning poorly or not at all. The government therefore believes in the importance of contributing, where possible, to the development of democratic societies governed by the rule of law and based on the principles of inclusion and diversity. This is key to a well-functioning security apparatus and the delivery of services like water, healthcare and education. The Netherlands is currently supporting various judicial programmes in Northern Africa, for example in northern Mali, where the Netherlands is working with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on the rehabilitation of courts, so that citizens can submit their complaints to a court. The Shiraka programme, which focuses on the Middle East and North Africa, supports initiatives that promote socioeconomic and political transition in the region.

Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR)
Rapid population growth is exacerbating the challenges many African countries face. Africa currently has a population of 1.2 billion. This number is expected to quadruple to 4 billion by 2100, if policies remain unchanged. High population growth is already absorbing economic growth, leaving public services like education and healthcare lacking. Explosive population growth is leading to urbanisation and increased pressure on the climate, food security and stability. Better healthcare has reduced infant mortality but, except in the Maghreb region, this has not resulted in lower birth rates. Gender inequality and the high status associated with having a large family mean women have limited access to birth control or do not wish to use it.

The government shares the AIV’s conclusion that it needs to continue prioritising SRHR in Northern Africa in order to promote women’s autonomy and balanced demographic development. The AIV specifically mentions Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Mali, Niger and Nigeria.

The Netherlands currently supports SRHR programmes in countries including Benin, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali and Nigeria, in collaboration with national governments and through civil society organisations and multilateral agencies. Promoting better sex education for young people and access to reproductive healthcare, eliminating child marriage and strengthening sexual and reproductive rights form the core of our SRHR policy. This policy has been a success. In Benin, for example, 300,000 couples are using birth control thanks to public and private clinics supported by the Netherlands. In Ghana awareness campaigns have reached more than two million young people. The government is looking for ways to reinforce its efforts in this region.

The Netherlands is raising its contribution to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) by €3 million to fund population policy in the Sahel based on freedom of choice. The Netherlands also provides funding for the multiannual strategy (2016-2020) of Marie Stopes International (MSI). In consultation with the Netherlands and other countries, MSI is currently stepping up its efforts in the Sahel region. The Netherlands also supports a network of NGOs that work together with the Partenariat de Ouagadougou. This partnership brings together the governments of nine French-speaking West African countries with the aim of improving access to modern forms of birth control.

The government welcomes the AIV’s conclusion that the Netherlands has a comparative advantage both in the field of promoting women’s rights and autonomy and in the field of SRHR, including promoting gender equality. This remains a key priority of the Dutch government.

The Netherlands continues to press for further lowering of all European trade barriers. The EU strives for a fair and open global trade system, for example by working towards Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with various regions in Africa. The Netherlands also facilitates bilateral programmes aimed at inclusive economic development, for example through a programme stimulating regional trade. We rightly focus on countries suffering from conflict and fragility, but we have a tendency to overlook relatively peaceful countries. Supporting countries’ development and creating jobs can help build beacons of relative stability in unstable regions.

This kind of preventive strategy demands a proactive and multiannual programme-based approach to economic diplomacy, combined with more political and development-oriented efforts from the government and an emphasis on public-private partnerships. The aim is to effectively combine existing economic diplomacy resources (e.g. trade missions) with private sector development (strengthening the local enterprise climate) and the Shiraka programme (promoting good governance). By combining people and resources in this way the Dutch government and private sector can make a real difference. Examples include the trade mission to Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria led by Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Lilianne Ploumen and the business roundtable held during Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s visit to Tunisia.

International actors and importance of coordination


The AIV emphasises the importance of optimising international coordination and cooperation on Northern Africa within the UN and the EU and with regional partners. The AIV advises EU member states and institutions to coordinate and channel their programmes and contributions to Northern Africa through the EU wherever possible. Other areas for cooperation are crisis management, police and intelligence services and counterterrorism.

Government objectives:

EU level
The government agrees that EU member states must improve their coordination on Northern Africa. The government is pressing for the establishment of general principles, as was done in the EU Global Strategy and the revised neighbourhood policy, and their conversion into specific activities. As described in the Global Strategy, the EU will invest in the resilience of countries, including those that fall under the EU neighbourhood policy and other countries in Africa. All the instruments available to the member states and the EU must be considered as a whole. The EU will play a part at all stages of a conflict, from prevention to lasting stabilisation. The Sahel strategy and the Iraq/Syria strategy are examples of where the EU has operationalised this approach. The government is pressing for regional strategies of this kind to be refined and introduced more widely.

With regard to police and judicial cooperation between the EU and African countries, efforts are currently under way to strengthen capacity in African countries. Although national security falls within the exclusive competence of member states, the EU does have related competences, including in regard to counterterrorism. In the field of external security the EU plays a role in coordinating and promoting cooperation on counterterrorism with third countries.

Like the Netherlands, the EU encourages cooperation and joint acquisition of strategic capabilities (enablers). The EU Global Strategy states that investment in security and defence is urgently needed. The EU requires a full spectrum of military capabilities. Cooperation on defence must become the norm in order to acquire and maintain many of these capabilities; this also applies to strategic capabilities. The European Defence Agency provides opportunities for members states to work together in an EU context on acquiring capabilities. Joint acquisition and funding is incidentally one of the most far-reaching forms of cooperation. Other options are the formation of pools or rotation of EU member states’ and other Western countries’ capacity in international missions.

In 2017 the Netherlands will continue its substantial contribution to the UN mission in Mali (MINUSMA). It has also invested in the capacity of UN missions by raising their use of intelligence to a higher level, enhancing the professionalism of troops through force generation, and training non-Western UN peacekeepers. The UN, with Dutch support, is currently working to develop a helicopter rotation schedule for MINUSMA. The government plans to continue its initiatives to increase the effectiveness of UN missions, and feels supported in its approach by the AIV report.

African partners
Dutch efforts are aimed at helping countries and organisations in Africa to fulfil their own responsibilities. That is why its activities are designed to tie in as far as possible, and preferably in an EU context, with the work of local and regional organisations, such as the AU, the Economic Community of Western African States and the G5 Sahel. The AU in particular plays an important political role in the region and has proven its effectiveness with regard to coordinating regional policy. The government will continue to support the AU in these roles.

The government takes a positive view of the cooperation between Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger in the G5 Sahel. Strengthening regional capacity is essential in order for these countries to eventually be able to deal with security challenges unaided. The EU contributes to this goal through its Sahel strategy.

North Africa neighbourhood policy
The Netherlands is also pressing for a more effective EU approach in North African countries that fall under the EU neighbourhood policy. In the 2015 review of the EU neighbourhood policy, the Netherlands’ guiding principle was that it was essential to pay more attention to the security dimension of the external borders. Partnership priorities are being laid down for each country. The government supports this tailored approach and will ensure that our bilateral relations dovetail with it. In addition, cooperation with UN missions and organisations, like the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, is of great importance.


In its advisory report the AIV has again confronted us with the facts: the turbulent developments unfolding in Northern Africa have serious consequences both for the region itself and for Europe and the Netherlands.

Preventing and managing conflicts at the EU’s external borders are central aspects of the government’s foreign policy. The link with our own security is evident. In the current situation it is clear that a broad approach to security is necessary, including long-term investment in addressing root causes. Finally, a comprehensive analysis must be made of how scarce resources can be deployed evenly. The right balance must be found between investing in direct security and addressing root causes, and this must be based on the multilateral frameworks described above. As part of the arc of instability surrounding Europe, Northern Africa will retain a prominent place in this policy. The Netherlands will, in coordination with all its partners and building on its earlier efforts, continue to pursue this integrated approach.

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