The October 12 United Nations Security Council Resolution confirming the possibility, under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, of military intervention in northern Mali is a clear sign of the severe internal divisions in the country.

The October 12 United Nations Security Council Resolution confirming the possibility, under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, of military intervention in northern Mali is a clear sign of the severe internal divisions in the country. The resolution requires the regional powers and the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) to work with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in preparing a “detailed and actionable” plan within 45 days, without which the U.N. will not pass a further resolution authorising intervention. Training and other support from the European Union and the United States will also aid the proposed force of 3,200, which in any case will not be ready until the end of the year. Meanwhile the African Union is trying to encourage political engagement; its Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) has readmitted Mali following the suspension imposed when a military coup on March 22 deposed the then President Amadou Toumani Toure. The military junta under Captain Amadou Sanogo gave way to an interim government of national unity under Dioncounda Traore, and elections are scheduled for the first quarter of 2013.

On the ground, however, regional states have shown little enthusiasm to contribute troops or actually to take on the formidable task of intervention. First of all, relations between Mali’s government and its military are at best fragile. Secondly, the military’s own justification for the coup, namely the claim that the civilian government had failed to defeat the secessionist groups in northern Mali, was itself hollow. The military themselves soon lost the cities of Timbuktu and Gao, and since then Bamako has lost control of the northern part of the country, an area bigger than France or Texas. The Islamist group Ansar Dine, which has now merged with Tuareg fighters, has declared northern Mali an Islamic state, with the approval of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Ansar Dine, which imposes a very rigid form of the Sharia law, has destroyed world heritage sites in areas it controls, and the International Criminal Court has launched an investigation into allegations of severe brutality, particularly against women. In addition, weapons left over from the western-imposed regime change in Libya are flooding into northern Mali, and any military action against the secessionists will face fierce resistance. Yet it was Ecowas and the Malian government which had themselves made the initial approach to the U.N.; but with little current prospect of decisive and concerted action by Ecowas and major neighbours like Algeria, Mali remains likely to descend into a terrible and catastrophic civil war.

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