Peace and Security

How to respond to the situation in the Sahel

In fighting the growing insecurity in the Sahel the EU has to choose between strategic stubbornness and a willingness to rethink.

Coups, conflict and instability have increased in the Sahel without the root causes of insecurity being addressed. The Analysis Paper “Insecurity in the Sahel: Rethinking Europe’s response”, authored by Lucia Montanaro, Head of Saferworld Europe, outlines the trend of securitisation in EU foreign policy and states that EU and member states need to urgently consider how to adjust their responses and integrate the lessons learnt from Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

With a view on the current geopolitical upheavals and their repercussions on European Foreign Policy the author explains why she fears that civilians are once again caught between international Agendas. The questions were posed by Annette Schlicht.


You welcome the EU’s 2021 Strategy on the Sahel as an opportunity to re-focus on a people-centered strategy tackling the root causes of insecurity. Also, you formulate recommendations to be taken into account by the EU. What are the most urgent ones to be put into practice in light of the growing physical and economic insecurity in the region?

In light of the EU’s revised Sahel strategy calling for a civilian and political leap forward, it is fundamental that there is a shift from state-centered stabilization towards more civil society and community engagement, including with women-led organizations, as the basis for a peace-centered response. There is a need to address longer-term structural drivers of insecurity. These include severe inequalities, weak and corrupt governance, violence against civilians, impunity, criminality, gender-based violence, conflicts between farmers and herders restrictions on freedom of movement, internal displacements, environmental vulnerabilities, food and water security, coping with rapid demographic increase, poor access to livelihood opportunities and to health and education.

The EU should prioritize human security and apply a conflict-sensitive and gender-transformative lens to all its initiatives. Also, the security assistance should focus on people‘s security and justice needs, and on civilian protection, strengthening the democratic governance of the security sector and building trust between security/military forces and civilians.

Lastly, its important that safeguards, monitoring, evaluation and accountability be strengthened.


On 28 February 2022, the EU has for the first time in history decided to provide lethal equipment to a third country by mobilizing the European Peace Facility (EPF) in face of the war in Ukraine. Is this another step towards securitization in EU external action or does it rather prove the use of EPF as a flexible tool in different crisis settings? Does this decision have implications in both Germany and for the situation in the Sahel?

The Council decision to provide 1 billion to support the capabilities of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, combined with the EU’s recently adopted Strategic Compass and compounded by the massive increase in Germany’s and other EU member states’ defense budgets, are definitively a consolidation of European securitization. This represents a historic shifting of gears, accelerating the securitization trend in foreign policy. Germany is soon to become the third biggest defense power in the world after the US and China. Germany’s motivations for securitization have been predominantly its ambitions for a stronger global role, migration containment and territorial defense, as well geopolitical leverage. It has however been pulled into the European counter-terrorism paradigm led by France. The question is: what will Germany do with this triple combo of major political, economic and defense power?

Will the EU and Germany take stock of the disastrous results (where violence against civilians in G5 Sahel countries has increased tenfold) in the Sahel to finally rethink and readjust their response? Will they examine the failures of security assistance in Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, Iraq and the Sahel to rethink the wider and longer-term impacts? Security is not a linear process, and ‘security first responses’ such as those used in the Sahel risk exacerbating violence against civilians and ultimately risk being complicit in harm – by training, equipping and emboldening security forces operating in a context of impunity.

The choice is one between an attitude of strategic stubbornness that has not brought about peace and stability (quite the contrary); or rethinking and rebalancing the response to focus on people-centered strategies that address structural drivers of insecurity.


You cite the interplay between France and Germany as decisive for shaping the EU’s growing role as a global security actor. The strategic shift towards a stronger role in international (military) security since 2014 that you describe for Germany has been accelerated tremendously through the recent decisions to significantly augment defense budget spending. How does this resonate with the civil society organizations active in the field of peacebuilding and crisis prevention based in Brussels?

I believe we have moved from narratives of counter-insurgency to counter-terrorism, then to what we have now: the geopolitics of competing blocs, where time and time again civilians are caught between international agendas. Numerous civil society organizations both in Brussels and across the globe are concerned about the predominance of simplified security responses to complex multidimensional conflicts. Moreover, at Saferworld we are also concerned about the gap between the European policy commitments (security sector reform, Women, Peace and Security, human rights, protection of civilians, and the German guidelines on preventing crises, resolving conflicts and building peace) and the reality of current practices. The focus on combat effectiveness rather than on the transformation of often predatory security forces risks exacerbating abuses of civilians, rather than contributing to peace and security for the people.

Montanaro, Lucia

Insecurity in the Sahel

Rethinking Europe's response
Bonn, 2022

Download publication (210 KB, PDF-File)

Contact Person

Annette Schlicht
Annette Schlicht
+49 30 26935-7486
Zeitenwende – Into a new era
Tiergarten Conference 2022

Zeitenwende – Into a new era

The Tiergarten Conference is our most important conference on foreign and security policy. Tuesday, 21 June 2022 from 9:00 bis 15:30 hrs (CEST). more

New FES vlog examines the EU’s role in the Indo-Pacific

New FES vlog examines the EU’s role in the Indo-Pacific

3 questions, 3 answers, 3 minutes: Asian and European thought leaders unpack what the EU’s upcoming Indo-Pacific strategy means for the region. more

Security Policy in the Southern neighborhood

Security Policy in the Southern neighborhood


The Future of NATO

The Future of NATO

Mapping national debates on the future of the atlantic alliance more

nach oben