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France in the Driver’s Seat: Analysis of the EUFOR Chad/CAR military operation

Dernière mise à jour : 7 mai 2020

Written by Marie Bassine

The border area between Sudan, Libya, Chad and the Central African Republic (CAR) has been the subject of violent national and regional power struggles for decades. Since 2003 the crisis in the Sudanese region of Darfur has generated a climate of instability and insecurity that has spilled over into Chad and the CAR, due in particular to the floods of millions of refugees (Report Defence Committee, 2008).

In view of the complex conflicts raging in the region, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) unanimously adopted Resolution 1778 on 25 September 2007 in order to achieve a safe and secure environment on the territories of Chad and the CAR. Acting under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, the UNSC approved the establishment of a UN Mission in the CAR and Chad (MINURCAT) and expressly authorised the European Union (EU) to deploy an operation in those countries for a period of twelve months. The objectives set out for the EU were « to take all appropriate measures » to (i) contribute to protecting civilians in danger, particularly refugees and displaced persons, (ii) facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid and the free movement of humanitarian personnel and (iii) contribute to protecting United Nations personnel and activities. Pursuant to this mandate, the Council of the EU adopted the Joint Action 2007/677/CFSP on 15 October 2007 on the Military Operation in Eastern Chad and North Eastern Central African Republic (EUFOR Chad/CAR). This mission was intended to be the military bridging component of MINURCAT and the UN took over from EUFOR on 15 March 2009 in both Chad and the CAR.

On the face of it, this mission does not raise any particular problems: the authorisation of the UNSC was unequivocal and both Chad and the CAR welcomed Resolution 1778. The operation therefore seems to reflect an uncontroversial case of recourse to peacekeeping mechanisms under international law. Nevertheless, the analysis of EUFOR Chad/CAR serves a twofold purpose from the perspective of the EU law of foreign relations. First, the operation factors into the broader ambition of the Union to ascertain itself as an ever more present actor and decision-making power on the international security scene (Section I). Second, apart from the goals described in the official mandate, it can be contended that other historical and political motives informed this European deployment; and that certain EU Member States are generally more strategically positioned to further their national objectives (Section II).

I. The EU as an increasingly relevant and decision-making peacekeeper

Crisis management and conflict prevention form the heart of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) of the EU. Article 42(1) TEU allows these objectives to be pursued outside the realm of the Union and it is precisely by relying on this possibility that the EUFOR Chad/CAR mission was launched.

The European model of crisis management is based on a global approach that clearly reflects the EU's ambitions on the international stage. Through its numerous interventions in the sub-Saharan region, the Union seeks not only to contribute to the peacekeeping efforts of the international community, but also to demonstrate its relevance within the global security architecture. The establishment of this power status is rendered possible by the institutional, material, human, operational and financial capacities of the EU (Langenhove and Maes, 2012). These available means allow the Union to increasingly implement large-scaled EUFOR missions on the African continent. Therefore, one year after the EUFOR DRC Congo mission, it felt like the right time for a new military operation in Chad and the CAR to further assert the EU’s strategic identity and role in relation to external actors, particularly NATO, the UN and the United States (Bagayoko-Penone, 2009).

Always with the view of amplifying its impact, the EU aims to become more relevant by engaging in inter-organisational cooperation (Ramunno, 2015). The EUFOR Chad/CAR operation reflects the EU’s commitment to multilateralism through partnerships with the UN, in line with the Joint Statement on UN-EU cooperation in Crisis Management adopted on 7 June 2007. The EU’s willingness to allocate resources to peacekeeping to enhance its profile as a security actor can serve to solve the UN’s limited capacity problem, while the UN’s universal nature grants greater legitimacy to EU operations (Charbonneau, 2009). In addition, this collaboration is premised on the fact that, since a Joint Action by the EU is not a sufficient legal basis for military intervention, previous UN initiative and authorisation are needed for EU military action under international law (Crum and Palm, 2019). The idea is that the EU is dependent upon the actions of the UN. In that sense, the role of the Union is one of support of UN’s decisions and not one of decision-making per se.

However, this needs to be nuanced in view of the context in which the EUFOR Chad/CAR operation was launched. From September 2006 onwards, the Republic of France drew the Security Council’s attention to the regional aspects of the situation in Darfur, emphasising the effects of the crisis on Chad and the CAR, centres of French interests (Charbonneau, 2009). The UN eventually came to launch a joint EU-UN action on these territories, largely because of the French persistence (Berg, 2009). One particular EU actor thus pushed for a resolution to have their intended mission authorised, rather than it being issued on independent initiative of the UN (Crum and Palm, 2019). This attitude ties in with what has been described as « a conflict management policy in Africa motivated by European concerns » (Olsen, 2009) where it is « the EU rather than the UN that sets the agenda and defines the terms of the UN–EU relationship » (Tardy, 2005).

This phenomenon of UN-authorised instead of UN-led missions is not a systematic approach in EU peacekeeping operations. But it raises broader legitimacy questions as to the identity of the UN-EU’s partnership in the case of EUFOR Chad/CAR. Namely, it suggests that the Union – and specific EU member states in particular – are eager to be in charge of the means and ends, and, most significantly, over the authority to authorise military interventions (Muguruza, 2015).

More fundamentally, it reflects that (i) the EUFOR Chad/CAR intervention was led by the interests of France and (ii) that the latter can further its objectives by means of its strategic position in the Security Council.

Therefore, there is not only a will, but also a true opportunity for such powerful EU Member States to keep autonomy over decision-making of international peacekeeping missions instead of following UN’s guidance.

II. A collective use of force furthering national interests

To state that the EU as a whole adopted an attitude of control and decision-making in this EUFOR operation amounts to distort the reality. It is true that there was an overall consensus amongst EU Member States on the need to deploy CSDP in Africa (Helly, 2009), but we need to zero in on the ties between the Republic of France and Chad and the CAR to understand what prompted the Union’s action.

In that regard, it is worth recalling that the CSDP falls under the EU’s intergovernmental pillar, which implies that member states are the main responsible actors for decision-making and policy output. Hence, one has to keep in mind that member states, while committed to the purposes of the Union, remain driven by their national agenda (Langenhove and Maes, 2012). This assertion is well illustrated in EUFOR Chad/CAR. France has indeed been involved in the politics of Chad and the CAR since decolonisation and the State has signed bilateral defence and technical military cooperation agreements with both countries (“Loi n° 60-1225 du 22 novembre 1960” and “Loi n° 77-1224 du 9 novembre 1977”). Chad also benefits from a strong French military presence, as part of the operation « Epervier » set up in 1986 to protect the country from a Libyan attack and still in force at the time of the negotiations for the launch of EUFOR Chad/CAR. Authors have therefore contended that France, by pushing for a EUFOR intervention, seized the opportunity to ‘Europeanise’ its security policy in order to legitimise and secure its military presence and influence on the African continent (Charbonneau, 2009; Mérand and Rakotonirina, 2009).

It is thus interesting to note that when the EU and the UN resorted to a joint action in EUFOR Chad/CAR, France was in the driver’s seat. As one of the most powerful EU states and member of the P5, France managed to mobilise its powerful diplomatic apparatus to both urge a Security Council authorisation and to convince its European partners to take part in the mission. We can thereby infer that the EUFOR operation in Chad was not a genuine expression of a common European foreign policy based on a shared assessment of the situation and designed to promote the interests of Europe as a whole (Berg, 2009). Instead, we can legitimately question the role of the CSDP as an instrument serving the interests of former colonial powers such as France.

More generally, this implies that crisis management as practiced by the EU is part of a much wider political and strategic effort where the use of force has never been central. Rather, the Union’s military deployments are directed towards specific political or diplomatic goals ostensibly as part of a conflict resolution strategy (Tora, 2018).

One reflection needs nevertheless be presented. No other European intervention before EUFOR Chad/CAR had seen such a large deployment, with 23 countries taking part in the operation. We cannot therefore draw hasty conclusions and claim that all participating states had a hidden agenda in getting involved. The large-scaled willingness to participate could be explained by Member States, among which several neutral EU countries, being driven by the urge to remedy the humanitarian crisis in the region of Darfur. Admittedly, the launching of the mission itself was the result of the French influence, but the mandate accepted by the other EU actors served the « value-based objectives » of protecting civilians and refugees (Crum and Palm, 2019). This suggestion helps to present a more nuanced – or perhaps fairer – picture of European interventions on the international scene, not only as a tool to advance national interests, but also as a necessary international aid.

III. Conclusion

The EU has by now achieved a significant track record in the deployment of military forces in support of international security. This is reflective of a power status as a peacekeeping force that is anything but negligible. However, as evidenced specifically by the EUFOR Chad/CAR operation, powerful Member States can sometimes instrumentalise the multinational and multilateral aspects of the EU to safeguard ulterior motives. In that regard, EUFOR Chad/CAR is a perfect illustration of the dilemma facing the EU on the global scene. To exist, the Union needs to be credible in the eyes of its international partners, and therefore show its added value by mobilising the capacity of its most powerful actors, yet without substituting itself to the interests of the latter (Rayroux, 2011).


- Antoine Rayroux, ‘L’Union Européenne en quête de crédibilité dans le maintien de la paix en Afrique: Leçons de la mission EUFOR Tchad/RCA’ (2011) 101 Bulletin du maintien de la paix 1-43

- Ben Crum and Trineke Palm, ‘Military operations and the EU’s identity as an international security actor’ (2019) 28 European Security 513-534

- Ben Tora, ‘The (In)Justice of Peacekeeping: EUFOR Tchad/RCA’ (2018) 3 Globus Research Paper 3/2018 1-28

- Bruno Charbonneau, ‘What is So Special about the European Union? EU-UN Cooperation in Crisis Management in Africa’ (2009) 16 International Peacekeeping 546-561

- Christina Churruca Muguruza, ‘EUFOR Chad/CAR Mission on the Protection of Civilians: A Distinctive EU Way to Peace Operations’ in Maria Grazia Galantino and Maria Raquel Freire (eds) Managing Crisis, Making Peace – Towards a Strategic EU Vision for Security and Defence (Palgrave MacMillan 2015)

- Damien Helly, ‘The EU Military Operation in the Republic of Chad and in the Central African Republic (Operation EUFOR Chad/CAR)’ in Giovanni Grevi, Damien Helly and Daniel Keohane (eds) European Security and Defence Policy – The first 10 years (The European Union Institute for Security Studies 2009)

- European Security and Defence Assembly, ‘The European Union mission in Chad: EUFOR Tchad/RCA. Report submitted on behalf of the Defence Committee by René Rouquet, Rapporteur and Ruhi Acikgöz, co-Rapporteur’ (4 June 2008) Document A/2007

- Frédéric Mérand and Haingo Mireille Rakotonirina, ‘La force européenne au Tchad et en Centrafrique: le baptême du feu’ (2009) 114 Politique Africaine 105-125.

- Giovanni Ramunno, ‘Military missions and operations’ in Jochen Rehrl and Galia Glume (eds) Handbook on CSDP missions and operations – The Common Security and Defence Policy of the European Union (Directorate for Security Policy of the Federal Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Austria 2015)

- Gorm Rye Olsen, ‘The EU and Military Conflict Management in Africa: For the Good of Africa or Europe?’ (2009) 16 International Peacekeeping 245-260.

- Luk van Langenhove and Léonie Maes, ‘The Role of the EU in Peace and Security’ (5 August 2012) <>

- Niagalé Bagayoko-Penone, ‘Politique de sécurité Africaine et de l’UE et institutionnalisation de la PESD’ in Frédéric Mérand and René Schwok (eds) L’Union Européenne et la sécurité internationale (Bruylant Academia 2009)

- Patrick Berg, ‘EUFOR Tchad/RCA: The EU Serving French Interests’ in Muriel Asseburg and Ronja Kempin (eds) The EU as a Strategic Actor in the Realm of Security and Defence? A Systematic Assessment of ESDP Missions and Operations (Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik 2009).

- Thierry Tardy, ‘EU-UN Cooperation in Peacekeeping: A Promising Relationship in a Constrained Environment’ in Martin Ortega (ed) The European Union and the United Nations: Partners in Effective Multilateralism (EU Institute for Security Studies 2005)

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