EU intervention in Congo: milestone on the way to a military Europe?

Disguised as “humanitarian intervention” and “support to building democracy”, the second major EU military intervention in Congo began in June. 2,000 EU troops from 20 EU countries (plus Turkey) are being deployed in Congo while Peace News goes to press, to safeguard the elections in the DRC. Officially, the EU mission (named EUFOR RD Congo) aims to support the already 19,000 UN “peacekeepers” in the country, which became famous recently for contributing to the systematic destruction of civilian-occupied villages1. Separately the EU would provide mapping support to MONUC via the EU satellite centre2.


EU interests in the DR Congo


The European Defence White Paper of 2004 states: “As the wars of Yugoslav succession have demonstrated, but also the collapse of Sierra Leone or the rising chaos in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the harmful consequences of failing states have a tendency to spread.3

The 2004 “Food for thought” paper on European battle groups by Britain, France, and Germany points out that the EU battle groups (to be operational by 2007) should be used (but not limited to) “failed or failing states (of which most are in Africa)4

There is a big question in how far European colonial history and present day economical interests contribute to the “failing” of states.

Historically the DRC goes back to the Belgian colony which became independent in 1960. First elected president of independent Congo was Patrice Lumumba, who was killed with the support of Belgian forces in 1961. During the times of the Cold War, the West supported dictator Mobutu, who was overturned by Laurent-Désiré Kabila in 1997 (who was then assassinated in January 2001, to be replaced by his son). A civil war – or African World War, involving troops from Uganda, Rwanda, and other African countries, waged in the country, with more than 3 million dead. This war officially ended with a ceasefire in 1999, but fighting continues up to today. A 2002 peace agreement demands elections to take place until June 2005, with a final deadline of July 2006.

Presently the country is governed by an interim government with president Joseph Kabila, and four vize-presidents. The democratic credentials of this government: all but the opposition representatives are war criminals5.


Raw materials and oil for Europe's high tech companies


But it's not just about “failing states” - it's also about resources. The Democratic Republic of Congo is one of main the suppliers of Coltan, a rare metal used in high tech products such as mobile phones and computer chips. It is there mined by warlords to finances their own militia. Three companies - Cabot Inc. of the United States, Germany's HC Starck and China's Nigncxia – are the only firms with processing plants to turn coltan into the coveted tantalum powder6.

HC Starck7 produces about 50% of the worlds tantalum powder and is a subsidiary of Bayer, one of Germany's major chemical and pharmaceutical multinational companies (although the company announced on 27 March 2006 that it wishes to sale HC Starck8).

HC Starck is not involved in mining itself, but buys its coltan from companies such as the UK based A & M Minerals and Metals, and Belgium based Sogem, both of which get some of the coltan ore via Uganda, and can therefore not make sure that is isn't mined in the DRC9, and helps to finances some militias10.

Besides Coltan, the country has also rich resources of copper (estimated to be worth more than 450 billion US$11) and cobalt.

Congo-Brazaville and the DRC both also hold oil reserves, of interest to EU countries. The country's most significant oil and gas fields are offshore, along the country's 22 km Atlantic Ocean coastline at the estuary of the Congo River (Congo) which is sandwiched between the prolific offshore producing region of northern Angola and its oil-rich enclave of Cabinda (another conflict zone). Of these, the Mibale field, discovered in 1973 by Chevron, contains 48% of the Coastal Basin's recoverable reserves and remains Congo's most productive field. The gas field discovered has so far not been exploited12.

German under-Secretary of State in the Ministry of Defence, Friedbert Pflüger, wrote in 2004: “Because according to the OECD Europe increasingly has to import energy from other regions, it is important to be more aware of the oil wealth of Africa as a potential to diversify energy supply13.


EU interventions in DRC


The present EU intervention – though small compared to the UN forces of MONUC – is highly significant. And it is highly significant that the EU sends it own intervention force, but does not contribute significantly to the UN troops operating in the country. While EUFOR DR Congo is sanctioned by the UN, it is carried out under EU command – something which sounds very familiar from past US peace enforcement operations on the Balkans and elsewhere...

This is not the first and only EU intervention in Congo. In 2003, Operation ARTEMIS was the first bigger military intervention of EU military forces without NATO support, lasting from June to September 200314. Artemis was a test field for autonomous EU military operations, mainly under French command. After three months the troops left the country again, and nothing had changed...

In 2004, the EU began operation EUPOL Kinshasa, to monitor, mentor, and advise the Integrated Police Unit (IPU) – special units of the Congolese police with the task to protect institutions and persons of the interim government. The EU wants to train more than 1,000 police officers.

During opposition protests against the postponement of elections in June 2005 Congolese police cracked down on peaceful protesters. It is not known if officers trained by the EU took part in these actions.

In 2005, EUSEC DR Congo was launched to support EUPOL Kinshasa with a military component, “to provide advice and assistance for security sector reform”. As part of this mission, military advisers will be assigned to the “following key posts within the Congolese administration: the private office of the Minister for Defence, the combined general staff, including the integrated military structure (IMS), the army general staff, the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (CONADER), the Joint Operational Committee”15.

On top of all this, the European Union finances 80% of the expenses for the upcoming elections in Congo. However, there are serious doubts about the motives for the EU's engagement in Congo.


All these activities did not contribute much to security in the DRC – the Eastern provinces, where Artemis was deployed, are still an area with a lot of fighting, and of abuse by militias, government, and UN forces. With the training of police and military by EUPOL and EUSEC, the EU contributes to the strengthening of the present interim government made up of war criminals, and not too popular with the Congolese people. The military presence during the series of elections lasting from July to November can therefore also be seen as a clear statement in support to the present government – and it has to be seen what will happen after the final election results have been announced on 19 July. There are fears that violence might erupt again, especially if the power struggle, which has been partly transferred from the battle field to the polling booth, does not bring the results desired by the (former) warlords, supported by EU money and prestige...



More than providing real support to the people of DRC, the EU interventions in the DRC establish the “military arm” of the European Union, and help to establish the European Union as a real global player, which can rely not only on its economical power to enforce its interests, but can also act militarily when needed. In this sense, EUFOR DR Congo is not only worrying for the people of Congo, but should also be of concern to peace activists in Europe.




1UN accused over Congo village massacre, The Observer, 18 June 2006,



3Institute for Security Studies: European defence. A proposal for a White Paper. Paris, May 2004

4Capabilities Development in Support of EU Rapid Response. 'The battlegroups concept' FR/DE/UK Food for Thought paper, February 2004,

5See: Christoph Marischka/Jürgen Wagner: Europas Platz an Afrikas Sonne. In: Tobias Pflüger/Jürgen Wagner (ed.): Weltmacht EUropa. Hamburg, 2006.

6Cellphones fuel Congo conflict,

9Kristi Essik: A Call to Arms. The Industry Standard Magzine, 11 June 2001,

10For more information on how Coltan/Tantalum fuels the war in the DRC, see “Supporting the War Economy in the DRC: European companies and the coltan trade”, IPIS, January 2002,

13Friedbert Pflüger: Deutschlands Interessen in Afrika. In: Die Politische Meinung, 419/2004, p 69-73

15Press Release - Council's mission to provide advice and assistance for security sector reform in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Brussels, 2 May 2005),