Cross border criminality in West Africa: Framework and limits of regional strategies

In a changing regional context, facing multifaceted risks, West Africa has become one of the centers of the global organized crime. Taking advantage of the weakness of the rule of law and of an acute poverty in some countries, organized trafficking networks multiply illegal activities (arms and gems smuggling, drugs, etc.) in border areas poorly managed by the state apparatus. The countries of the subregion have yet developed in recent years a set of legal instruments and control strategies that could be relevant if they were properly implemented. 

Boko Haram – Fact Sheet (4th October 2012)

The threat posed by armed and terrorists groups on peace and security in West Africa deserves our utmost attention. This updated datasheet on Boko Haram aims to follow the evolution of this Islamist movement active in Northern Nigeria and to highlight the main developments of its ideology, its claims and its connections. It also provides information about its modus operandi and presents an overview of its area of influence. The datasheet is also exploring its various sources of funding. Finally, the most significant actions of this armed group are listed. This datasheet is part of a series of fact sheets on armed groups in West Africa.

Climate change and agro-pastoral conflicts in the Sahel

Conflicts between farmers and herders in the Sahel are sometimes portrayed as a correlate of climate change, and a threat to international stability. Yet, environmental degradation is one factor among many others that can contribute to conflict in the Sahel as elsewhere. Socio-economic and political considerations are crucial. Climate predictions themselves are subject to criticism and hence provide little substance to perceived causal relations between the environment and conflicts. Agro-pastoral conflicts thus generate more questions than answers. Still, they open a wide field of analysis and action and constitute an excellent opportunity to venture into the deep and complex process of transformations undergone by Sahelian societies trying to adjust to contemporary environmental, social political and economic challenges. 

Rare earths : a Chinese shadow on the « green economy »

The “green technologies”, many technological objects of everyday life, but also the development of sophisticated weapons systems depend on 17 metals such as neodymium and dysprosium, called “rare earths”, wich the European Union - as well the United States or Japan – do not control the production and supply. China holds between 20 and 30% of known world reserves of these metals, but being practically alone to exploit the extraction (with disastrous environmental conditions), it provides 97% of world production. Export quotas imposed by China burden the development of a “green economy” but also military capabilities. Whatever the outcome of the dispute before the WTO, a long-term thinking is needed. 

Review Conference of the Programme of Action on Small Arms: Failure is not an Option

As the future of an Arms Trade Treaty remains uncertain, existing instruments on small arms and light weapons (SALW) must be reinforced. The Programme of Action and the International Tracing Instrument are unique instruments at the international level for which a consensus exists and whose relevance is unquestionable. States must use the Review Conference (27 August - 7 September 2012) to renew and strengthen the commitments undertaken within the PoA. This Review Conference should also tackle the need for assessing progress made so far by States in their implementation of the PoA. 


The statistics on homicides in Brussels: are they a complete approach?

A study recently published by Eurostat, whose objective was to compare the statistics on crime and criminal justice in Europe, offers a quantitative analysis of offenses recorded by the police between 2006 and 2009. Among the recorded crimes, homicide has attracted the attention of the Belgian press. According to Eurostat, Brussels is one of the most deadly city in Europe, with a average homicide rate of 3.09 per 100 000 inhabitants over the period. The number of deaths by homicide is well counted by the international, European and national statistic studies. Certainly this information is important, but it is only a basis for an approach aiming to prevent and fight against homicides in Brussels. Numbers hide many others facts, which are key to answer this phenomenon. 

Monitoring of regional stability in the Sahel region and in West Africa : Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Senegal (April - June 2012)

This quarterly monitoring is part of a 3 years project (2011-2013) on “Improving human security, conflict prevention and strengthening the rule of law in eight countries in West and Central Africa” funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Since 2011 it monitors the security situation in West Africa with a focus on Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Niger and Senegal, and other countries of the region depending on the news (Nigeria for this trimester too). It examines in particular issues related to regional tensions, terrorism and cross-border trafficking, production and transfer of arms and cooperation mechanisms in the fight against terrorism and transnational organized crime. 

Armed groups in Northern Mali

This datasheet offers an overview of the situation in northeastern Mali, suffering from a worrying instability since the beginning of 2012. It is the presence of various armed groups, including Islamists, which most worries the central government and external observers. Although the offensive in last January was launched by a Tuareg separatist movement it now appears that Islamist groups (AQIM, Ansar Dine MUJAO) have broader roots in this area. This note intends to provide a clear overview of these groups, studying their modus operandi, foundations and ideologies (for the new ones), the evolution of those already studied in previous notes (AQIM) and finally what they have in common, their various alliances and their differences.

The difficulties of civilian arms export controls

This GRIP Analysis addresses the current difficulties that exist to distinguish military and civilian firearms, and the implications for controlling civilian firearms international transfers. In the first part, we discuss the criteria generally used to categorize these two types of weapons, and the limits of each of these criteria. We then analyze national systems of transfer controls set up by the four leading European exporters of small arms and light weapons (namely, Germany, Austria, Belgium and Italy) and by Croatia (future member state of the European Union). Finally, we present some recent cases of misuse or illegal use of civilian firearms originating in the difficulties to differentiate between military and civilian firearms.

Arms trafficking by sea: A phenomenon difficult to monitor

Emma Maersk (Nick Souza Photography –

This Paper analyses the main dynamics of arms trafficking by sea. It first explains the magnitude and the complexity of the operation of maritime transport. It goes on exploring the main aspects of arms trafficking by sea, in particular the use of flags of convenience and containerization. Although it is difficult to monitor and control the volumes of goods transported daily by sea, several State authorities have a role to play in the fight against arms trafficking by sea: State port control, customs and arms licensing authorities. 

Marking and tracing of small arms: Current challenges and new trends

For the first time in the history of the United Nations process on small arms, an open-ended meeting of governmental experts was held in New York in May 2011. This was a rare opportunity for pragmatic debates on concrete issues about the implementation of the three pillars of the UN International Tracing Instrument (ITI). The discussions shed light on the challenges States currently face in their implementation of the ITI and highlighted emerging trends in the field of tracing, often representing new areas of concern. This meeting also allowed to discuss new ideas on how to improve the relevance and the efficiency of tracing requests. 

BRICS’s higher military spending: worrying or reassuring ?

Since the early 2000s, alarming voices have criticized the increasing scale of military spending by Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, better known under the acronym BRICS. What is myth and what is reality? Why do these emerging powers increase their defense budget and to which purpose? Should the Western world fear a new arms race, or is this a chance for the European defense industry which suffered from severe budget cuts related to the economic and financial crisis? These and other questions are dealt with in this paper.

Defense and security industry promotion: actors and practices

The legitimate mission of the defense and security industry is to provide national governments and their allies with the necessary capacities to implement their defense and security policies. The groups of this industry, most of which used to be state-owned, have been privatized and are now submitted to a logic of market competitiveness and profitability. Because of the EU’s willingness to gradually regulate this area, the defense industries intend to relay their interests at the highest level of decision-making. In this context, many structures interfere to promote and represent the interests of that particular industry. 

European Union arms embargoes: symbolic measures?

Arms embargoes are used by the European Union as a means to change behavior patterns of States or other entities. Recent cases of suspected violations of EU arms embargoes have highlighted the weaknesses of this form of sanctions. The lack of clarity in the phrasing of arms embargoes allows for flexibility in their interpretation by EU Member States and therefore flexibility in their implementation and application. This situation is also made possible due to the lack of oversight and monitoring by the EU of the follow-up of its decisions, although an authority has been created for this purpose. To overcome these shortcomings, the EU should clarify the ambiguities in the phrasing of its arms embargoes, put in place a transparent mechanism to monitor their implementation and application and make a clear and responsible decision on the arms embargo on China. 

The Africa-EU partnership to the test of the Libyan crisis

The impact of the Libyan crisis in the sub-Sahelian subregion clearly recalls the interdependencies that link, because of their contiguity or connectivity, the major African geopolitical areas. The transformation of Libya into a center of instability and regional destabilization is due to a large extent to differences of approaches, or even a conflict between political agendas of local actors, regional organizations and their international partners. The marginalization of the African Union‘s (AU) efforts for a negotiated solution to the Libyan crisis may appear a posteriori as one of the factors exacerbating the crisis. Recognition of the role of regional organizations in preventing and resolving conflicts is yet part of recent trends towards strategic partnerships that tend to a renewal of global governance. 

Mouvement national de libération de l’Azawad – Fact Sheet

The activities of various types of armed groups in West Africa represent a tremendous threat to the region’s stability, and hence require our utmost attention. These groups use violence for multiple purposes: religious fundamentalism, rebellion against the state, separatism... This datasheet considers the MNLA, one of the most active among them. It aims to provide information about the historical and ideological foundations of this Malian separatist movement, active since the beginning of 2012. It focuses on its complex structural organization and its goals. The most recent actions of this armed group are listed as well as its armament and its operation zone. This datasheet is part of a series of fact sheets published by the GRIP on armed groups in West Africa. 

Between financial, political and strategic imperatives: the continuation of Russian-American commitments against through thick and thin

Three years after the "reset" of Russian-American relations, tensions are palpable again, particularly on the issue of NATO missile defense shield. Yet, in spite of political obstacles and financial constraints, a real desire to move forward is noticeable in several signs, suggesting the continuation of a positive dynamic between Russians and Americans. 

Monitoring of Regional Stability in the Sahel Region and in West Africa Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Niger, Senegal (January to March 2012)

This quarterly monitoring is part of a 3 years project (2011-2013) on “Improving human security, conflict prevention and strengthening the rule of law in eight countries in West and Central Africa” funded by the 
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. It aims to monitor the security situation in West Africa with a focus on Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Niger and Senegal, and other countries of the region depending on the news (Nigeria for this trimester notably). It examines in particular issues related to regional tensions, terrorism and cross-border trafficking, production and transfer of arms and cooperation mechanisms in the fight against terrorism and transnational organized crime. 

What are the accomplishments of the 2010 franco-british cooperation?

In November 2010, the conclusion of the two treaties between France and the United Kingdom sparked numerous suspicious reactions in Europe. This article is led by a double question. More than one year after they have been concluded, what are the achievements of the treaties in terms of cooperation? Do the accomplishments allow to have a better view of their impact on the European Security and Defence Policy? Without jumping to conclusions, it is already obvious that the progress is tenuous because of several technical and political obstacles. While the operation in Libya highlighted the European shortage in military means, a strict bilateral cooperation among the two European states is more than ever questionable. In an era where the world is in permanent mutation, a deeper European political integration seems to be necessary. 

The Iranian nuclear crisis: towards new negotiations?

A few days after announcing further improvements in its nuclear program, Iran refused again to answer questions from the IAEA inspectors and to allow them access to a site suspected of harboring military nuclear activities. International actors are divided on the measures to be undertaken. The military option is on the table but Israel does not obtain the consent of the majority of great powers who prefer the policy of sanctions /negotiations. The question is whether, after this succession of provocations, the 5 +1 group will accept the Islamic Republic offer to resume negotiations. 

The responsibility to protect: a new concept for old practices?

Torn between the conflicting notions of national sovereignty and humanitarian intervention, the international community has long been in search for a way to cope with mass atrocities. The debate around the UN response to crisis situations has evolved quite substantially through the years. In 2000, the introduction of the concept of “responsibility to protect”, as a new milestone, paved the way to a possible reconciliation of national sovereignty and humanitarian intervention in particular crisis situations. Adopted by UN Member States in 2005, this new principle was first put into practice in 2011, in Libya and Ivory Coast. Yet, it remains to be seen whether this implementation resulted from a new and larger consensus within the so-called international community, or simply reflects the mere pursuit of national interests by UN Member States through interventionist policies.

Ivory Coast and instability in West Africa : roots of the post-election crisis 2010-2011

The conflict in Ivory Coast after the Ivorian presidential election of November 28, 2010 is not a new or surprising phenomenon. It follows a decade of crisis which finds its origin in various internal causes, crystallized around the concept of “ivority”. Moreover, these internal tensions were exacerbated by an unstable regional context. This study on the origins of the Ivorian conflict is complemented by a report on the impacts of the Ivorian crisis. 


Armed groups, conflict and governance in West Africa : a reading grid

In spite of recent developments including the marked expansion of democratic spaces, West Africa remains particularly affected by outbreaks of latent conflicts, related to the presence or activity of armed groups. Beyond specific backgrounds –local or national– these players and sources of instability are part of underlying and interdependent dynamics, which are real "conflict systems" with sub-regional implications. This briefing note completes and puts into perspective data available in our briefing notes dedicated to armed groups in West Africa. These fact sheets provide condensed information on the historical and ideological foundations, objectives, operation and procedures of armed groups in West Africa. 

Entre l’Aigle et le Dragon : l’Australie à l’heure des choix face à la Chine?

Dans un monde en pleine transformation, la Chine se trouve au centre d’une dynamique poussant le continent asiatique de plus en plus vers le devant de la scène géopolitique mondiale. Dans la région d’Asie-Pacifique, ce phénomène remet en question les tenants traditionnels de la stabilité régionale, d’autant plus que les intentions stratégiques de long terme de Pékin restent sujettes à polémique. Les pays confrontés à ce processus déstabilisateur ont jusqu’à présent adopté des positionnements différenciés. Parmi eux, l’Australie a développé, face à la Chine, une stratégie composite mixant certains réflexes classiques d’équilibre des forces et de dissuasion avec des comportements accommodants dans des domaines ciblés. Labellisée « diplomatie de puissance moyenne », cette stratégie vise à lui conserver un statut privilégié dans la région. Dans cet article, Bruno Hellendorff tente de comprendre la logique de Canberra lorsqu’elle tend la main à la Chine, d’évaluer si l’actuelle emphase mise sur le multilatéralisme par les diplomates des deux camps supplante, complète ou recouvre seulement les liens bilatéraux et autres mécanismes traditionnels de realpolitik, et de déterminer si cette tendance est durable ou non.