Lessons from EU conflict prevention efforts in the Western Balkans and the Horn of Africa

Annemarie Peen Rodt and Johannes Tvilling

22 November 2017


Through ten CSDP deployments in the Western Balkans and the Horn of Africa, the EU has sought to prevent conflict and contribute to peacebuilding in both regions. The question is whether the EU’s current capabilities are sufficient for such tasks. EU-CIVCAP’s research suggests that while the EU has applied appropriate strategies to enhance stability in both regions, shortcomings still exist on the ground.

Regional conflict complexes require long-term capacity-building as well as short-term crisis management

Although often overlooked, the Western Balkans and the Horn of Africa experience similar causes and consequences of conflict. Where they differ is in the degree to which these challenge local, national and regional security – let alone European stability.

Both regions face problems of democratic deficit, unequal economic development and limitations to civic, human and minority rights. At present, ruling elites in both the Western Balkans and the Horn of Africa regularly prove unable or unwilling to represent their citizens, alienating rather than standing accountable to their populations as a whole. In effect, states struggle to secure and control their full territories and ensure institutional reach and representation to all their people. Gaps between states and (parts of) their populations contribute to continued competition and disputes over state legitimacy. The state itself has become a bone of contention, as politics have become a zero-sum game. This has led to disengagement at best and violence at worst, as groups continue to fight for representation. In the slipstream created by this, organised crime and radical extremism challenge countries in both regions, whether this materialises through the illicit trade of people, goods and services or in the form of criminal enterprises such as piracy, terrorism or the recruitment of foreign fighters.

The challenges outlined above are interconnected and are exacerbated by insecure borders, which allow criminal networks and activities to operate across national and international boundaries. Border-related disputes have thus become both causes and consequences of insecurity. Although it is imperative that these are addressed individually, how they relate to one another must not be overlooked. This illustrates the importance of the EU’s regional as well as national strategies to prevent conflict and build peace. Moreover, it stresses the significance of sustained EU support for state- and institution-building at the national and sub-national levels. It is imperative that international actors like the EU do not undermine long-term development in favour of short-term stability, but work actively to promote both, simultaneously addressing causes and consequences of conflict.

EU regional strategies seek but struggle to address complex challenges on the ground

In the Western Balkans, the EU has framed its regional approach to conflict prevention and peacebuilding as a “Stabilisation and Association Process”, which has allowed the Union to support and reward progress in the region, while addressing its own concerns regarding security and serious crimes on its borders. This process is founded upon and fuelled by a promise of future EU membership for the countries in the region. It is key, therefore, that this prospect remains, as demonstrated by the way in which enlargement fatigue within the EU translates into reluctance to adopt reforms outside of it. Thus, if the Union wants to continue to make a difference in the field, it must sustain the political will to do so at home.

Similarly, the EU Strategic Framework for the Horn of Africa takes a regional approach towards the interlocked challenges in that region. Within this Framework, the EU has integrated its policies towards security and development seeking to strengthen institutions, governance and the rule of law to counter problems like piracy and terrorism, both by seeking to eradicate specific groups and reducing structural factors such as political instability and socioeconomic inequality that contribute to insecurity. The EU seeks to increase cooperation with as well as between the Horn countries and to strengthen regional organisations and solutions. At present, governments with limited reach and enforcement capabilities such as the Federal Government of Somalia can handle neither terrorism nor piracy without assistance, nor do they have the ability to prosecute or reintegrate apprehended criminals or networks. This too illustrates a sustained difference between the EU’s ambitions and the realities on the ground.

Key lessons identified in comparative case studies of CSDP missions

The EU supports its strategic approach towards both the Western Balkans and the Horn of Africa through a series of CSDP deployments focused on strengthening security structures through police, military and rule of law missions. A closer look at two ongoing CSDP missions in the Western Balkans and the Horn of Africa (EULEX Kosovo and EUCAP Nestor/Somalia, respectively) provides valuable lessons for future application of policy by the EU and others who plan to deploy similar missions in these or other regions.

Key lessons identified through comparative case studies of EULEX Kosovo and EUCAP Nestor/Somalia relate to the importance of (i) clear mission mandates with concrete benchmarks and verifiable indicators of success, (ii) consistency and predictability of political support from Member States and institutions, and (iii) sufficient structures for recruiting and retaining appropriate human resources and proper procurement for missions. Further lessons have highlighted the significance of (iv) fostering deeper cooperation between countries within a given area of operations, whilst (v) not forgetting to include local actors in (vi) strengthening governments, governance, institutions and the rule of law.

Policy recommendations to enhance future efficiency and effectiveness

EU engagements in the Western Balkans and the Horn of Africa contribute to preventing further conflict and building peace in both regions. The Union’s regional strategies constitute an appropriate response to the challenges at hand and should be sustained and further developed. To implement these strategies, the EU must continue its efforts to develop coherent, integrated CSDP packages supporting its overall strategic ambitions, whilst responding appropriately to the specific security challenges at hand. To this end, it is essential that there is a clear chain of command and a designated commander-in-chief for the EU’s efforts in a region, whether these are military or civilian, that command structure must ensure that EU actors work well together, especially by timing and sequencing the interlinked efforts to maximise their efficiency and effect. Likewise, the EU must work closely with local, national, regional and international actors, including them through continuous consultation and cooperation from the fact-finding and planning phases to the launch, implementation, revision and withdrawal of CSDP missions.


Related Deliverable

DL 5.1
Report on EU conflict prevention and peacebuilding in the Horn of Africa and Western Balkans

Authors: Peen Rodt, A.J. TvillingP.H. Zartsdahl, M. Ignatijevic, S. Stojanovic GajicS. SimonsK. Abdi, E. Gillette, N. HabbidaJ. Berglund and V. Fernandez Arguedas
Lead Institution: Royal Danish Defence College

Published: 30 October 2017

[PDF, ~1.5MB; click to access]


Photo details

Title photo caption: Gabriele Meucci, 3rd from the right, listening to the speech by Federica Mogherini, at the podium, in the presence of Members of the staff of the Mission of EULEX Kosovo

Title photo credit: EC Photo/Armend Nimani


About the Authors

Annemarie Peen Rodt

Annemarie Peen Rodt is Associate Professor at the Institute for Strategy, Royal Danish Defence College, Copenhagen.

Johannes Tvilling

Johannes Tvilling is studying his Master degree in International Public Administration and Politics at Roskilde University from where he also received a bachelor degree in International Studies.

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