With this “khaki pact”, the three countries (Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger) are almost formalizing their split with ECOWAS, especially with the implications of Article 6 (equivalent to NATO’s Art 5), known as “casus foderis” in military alliance law. This principle now provides a legal basis for mutual assistance between allied states in the event of aggression or armed attack, for example if ECOWAS were to consider military intervention.
The Malian Minister of Foreign Affairs recalled this at the 78th Session of the United Nations General Assembly. But, in addition to a real challenge to the regional collective security mechanism, there is a new fact: in the event of a rebellion under the terms of Article 6 of the Charter, theoretically, Niger and Burkina Faso soldiers could now support Malian forces against armed groups in northern Mali already at war with Bamako. Article 6 clearly states: “Any attack on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of one or more contracting parties shall be considered as an aggression against the other parties and shall give rise to a duty of assistance and relief on the part of all parties”, whereas ECOWAS has defense pacts signed since the 1970s (non-aggression and mutual assistance in the event of aggression).
Certain provisions of this charter therefore nullify any possibility of non-diplomatic sanctions within the ECOWAS system. The dislocation of ECOWAS may already be underway, as the question now arises of the compatibility between membership of ECOWAS and adherence to a scheme that runs counter to its founding objectives.
A major geopolitical shift for the region
The Charter marks the emergence of a collective defense alliance of three countries that now perceive the ECOWAS collective security mechanism as a strategic threat. As it stands, it represents a clear regression in the security situation of the ECOWAS region, as a homogeneous area of collective security cooperation, where the risks and threats of inter-state conflict had been virtually eliminated.
What’s more, should the Charter’s provisions become operational, the new situation would make the security environment even more complex, radically calling into question ECOWAS’s peace and security architecture, exclusively geared towards creating a sub-regional order of peace, security and economic prosperity, based on democracy, good governance and respect for human rights, as a means of preventing intra-state conflicts, identified as the main threat to sub-regional peace and security, with mixed and reversible success.
Alliance of Sahel States: geostrategic upheavals in sight?
In addition to the negative consequences for a number of regional projects (oil, road and energy pipelines) with a strong economic and integration impact (Nigeria, Niger, Benin, Morocco with substantial Chinese and US funding), the Niger crisis, which has just been made more complex by this Charter, will trigger unprecedented upheavals in the sub-region and beyond.
Among the many other consequences of the Alliance on the sub-regional (ECOWAS) and regional (AU) geopolitical and security context, we can note a break with the sub-regional vision of an integrated and economically prosperous West Africa, in a context of peace and security founded on democracy, good governance and respect for human rights; where the seizure of power by unconstitutional means would be banned, and where disputes between member states would have to be resolved peacefully.
There is no doubt that the announcement of this Charter, if followed by action, will have enormous consequences, including:
– The weakening of ECOWAS and the tacit disappearance in sight of the G5, which were key players in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel and West Africa in general.
– Fragmentation of regional counter-terrorism efforts: with the Alliance of Sahel States other states may feel excluded or marginalized, thus undermining the cooperation and coordination needed to effectively tackle common security challenges.
– A negative impact on the AU’s efforts: The AU’s role will be weakened, as this new initiative will complicate its attempts to coordinate its security efforts on a continental scale:
A tough test for the African Union (AU)
In any case, the establishment of such an alliance, should it come to fruition, would be a severe test of the cohesion and unity of the AU, which has made the promotion of democracy and good governance a credo of its own. This dissident military alliance will be seen as a clear retreat from these long-held values. Today, more than ever, there are huge risks of division within the AU, with real obstacles to these efforts at continent-wide coordination.
In another respect, this Alliance undermines the legitimacy and credibility of the AU: the AU’s mechanisms would be called into question by the emergence of military regimes, which are a challenge to these principles. This could affect the perception of the AU at continental and international level, where it had gained much with the Senegalese Presidency and the acquisition of a seat at the G20.
In the field of regional cooperation and coordination, this Alliance will weaken the role of continental coordination in other areas beyond counter-terrorism, economic, social and other cooperation. Similarly, the fragmentation of regional efforts in the Sahel could hamper these efforts.
Uncertainties about collective defense and the future of democracy
If the Pact were to become a reality, it would inevitably have a negative impact on the AU’s role in mediation and conflict resolution. As a result, the enduring presence of military regimes in alliances could make it difficult for the AU to exercise its role as neutral mediator, and make its conflict resolution role in the regions more complex.
But, at the same time, these many uncertainties about the collective defense clause raise real concerns about the implementation of this Alliance. In fact, military regimes may have divergent interests and priorities over time. What’s more, since these regimes are transitional, we may well wonder about the attitude of the future democratic governments that are likely to be set up following the current military transitions.
What about regional and international reactions?
Since the announcement of this Alliance, observers have been closely monitoring the reaction of other states, sub-regional organizations and, above all, international partners. After all, every alliance identifies its enemies and potential risks. In the case of the Alliance of Sahel States, the potential enemies are clearly ECOWAS and, indirectly, France. We still don’t know what kind of support Russia and China, on the one hand, and the West, on the other, might provide.
Similarly, without being alarmist, this announcement raises many concerns about the risks of an East-West ‘proxy’ confrontation, which would be disastrous for the fight against terrorism and regional integration, built up step by step since the 1970s.
It now remains to be seen whether these three regimes, which have the world’s greatest difficulty in controlling their territories and even ensuring security within their borders, have the operational means to implement the provisions of this Charter. In all objectivity, can the alliance of weaknesses lead to real strength?
Source: -Timbuktu Institute – September 2023