Reordering World Disorder and Neutrality: Finland-Sweden and NATO versus France- Mali Saga

Bola A. Akinterinwa 

When the French people came up with the idea of an order and counter-order amounting to disorder, it was largely predicated on the belief that the stakeholders are operating from different backgrounds that are on parallel lines. The stakeholders are therefore not together. Today, the world is witnessing an order and counter-order within the association of the Nuclear Weapons States all of which constitute the Five Permanent Members (P-5) of the United Nations Security Council. The P-5 constituted themselves into an exclusive nuclear club to which no new member can have access without first complying with Article 108 of the United Nations Charter.

Article 108 stipulates that ‘amendments to the present Charter come into force for all Members of the United Nations when they have been adopted by a vote of two-thirds of the Members of the General Assembly and ratified in accordance with their respective constitutional processes by two-thirds of the Members of the United Nations, including all the Permanent Members of the Security Council.’ The insistence on ratification that includes the vote of the P-5 is the stumbling block. It is within this context that the current world disorder, induced by Russia’s special military intervention in Ukraine and the critical imbroglio generated for Finland’s and Sweden’s neutrality in international relations, becomes an issue for further reflection by international relations scholars.

Professor Bolaji Akinwande Akinyemi renewed the question of neutrality during the 95th Session of his every Thursday thruMYeyes current international affairs on May 5, 2022 (vide https://syncterface.zoom). He asked whether the regime of neutrality would be no more in international relations. A very moot question indeed. We observe that the quest by Finland and Sweden, two States that have adopted foreign policy neutrality in their foreign relations, to accede to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) may not stop the neutrality of the two countries but has the potential to seriously serve as a catalyst in deepening the emerging new Cold War between the US-led NATO and Russia. This is simply because membership of the NATO is of two categories: political and military. The very case of France protesting the US mainmise and non-preliminary consultations with France, especially as regards implementation of Article 5 of the NATO led to the withdrawal of France from the integrative membership of the NATO and the movement of the NATO headquarters from Paris to Brussels.

Explained differently, Finland and Sweden may adopt the French model, accepting military integration subject to preliminary agreement, meaning that neutrality may remain intact. But again, how can neutrality remain when the ultimate objective of Finland and Sweden joining the NATO is because of security protection? Without doubt, the world is challenged by disorderliness because the P-5 that are required to maintain or enforce global peace are at logger heads by proxy war in Europe and Africa. Russia is engaged in a dog fight with the EU while France is confronted by Russia in Africa to the extent that there are campaigns of unwanted France in some Francophone Countries, particularly in Mali.

World Disorder and Neutrality

The most recent manifestation of global disorder is Russia’s special military intervention in Ukraine which has not only challenged the democracy and human rights advocacy-driven world order of the United States but also threatened and prompted Finland and Sweden to seek membership of the NATO. Finland and Sweden are considered to have a foreign policy of neutrality in the Cold War era. But their neutrality is now a subject of international interest and inquiry: has neutrality come to an end with the decision of Finland and Sweden to join the NATO? What are the likely implications of the membership for Russia- NATO relations? What are also the implications for Russia-China ties? And perhaps most significantly, what are the effects on Russia-European Union relations? The global disorderliness is largely intrinsic in these questions. The NATO, inclusive of the potential members, are positioning themselves for a military fight with Russia. Three nuclear powers – United States, Britain, and France – are strategizing against two other nuclear powers – Russia, supported by China. The non-neutrality of Finland and Sweden, by seeking membership of the NATO, is the catalytic dynamic of the aggravating new world disorderliness.

For instance, the United States welcomes the interest of Finland and Sweden to join the NATO. The two countries submitted their application forms on Wednesday, 18 May 2022. The US President, Joe Biden, considering the two countries as long time, stalwart partners, noted that ‘while their applications for NATO membership are being considered, the United States will work with Finland and Sweden to remain vigilant against any threats to our shared security, and to deter and confront aggression or the threat of aggression.’

As good and welcome a development this may be, Turkey, another signatory to the NATO, which also has the right of veto by virtue of the fact that every membership bid of the organisation must be approved unanimously by NATO’s 30 members, is not holistically in support of the membership of Finland and Sweden because the two countries are allegedly providing a safe haven to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that is outlawed in Turkey. In the eyes of Turkey, the two countries, Sweden to a greater extent, are playing host to wanted terrorists. Besides, Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has also accused Sweden of implementing arms sanctions against Turkey following the Turkish cross-border incursion into Syria in 2019.

Apart from this, the attitudinal calculation of Turkey is defensive-offensive in strategic calculation, retorsion and reprisal-driven in diplomatic negotiation, and self-affirmatory within the NATO framework. Without any jot of doubt, the relationship between Turkey and the United States has not been good because Turkey purchased Russian S-400 defence system over which the United States has developed cold feet. When Turkey received the Russian S-400 defence system, the United States removed Turkey from its key F-35 fighter jet programme. Additionally, Professor Mensur Akgun of the Kultur University in Istanbul, has said that ‘Ankara has been under US sanctions over F-35 fighter jets and is not happy about it’ ( Most significantly, Turkey is condemning the United States for supporting the armed Kurdish groups even though it recognises the PKK as a terrorist organisation, particularly during its fight against the ISIL in the 2010s.

Expectedly, the European Union is actively in support of the Finland-Swedish membership. According to the EU Foreign Affairs Chief, Joseph Borrel, the membership ‘will increase the number of Member States of the NATO. And this will strengthen and increase the cooperation and the security in Europe.’ But true enough also, while cooperation among NATO countries will be increased, so will the opposition of Russia be also strengthened, especially that Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine is basically because of Russia’s vehement opposition to the expansion of the NATO towards the international borders of Russia.

As cautioned by Russia, even if the two countries are not perceived to constitute a threat to Russia, if they join the NATO, Russia could deploy nuclear weapons in its European enclave of Kaliningrad and would respond, especially if the military infrastructure in the two countries were to be boosted by the NATO. As noted by the deputy Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Ryabkov, the Swedish and Finish membership of the NATO is ‘another grave mistake with far-reaching consequences… The security of Sweden, like Finland, for that matter, will not be strengthened as a result of this decision, it is obvious to us. And in what form we will ensure our security after the change in this general configuration is a separate question. It will depend on what, in practical terms, will be the result of the expected accession of Finland and Sweden to the alliance. There are no illusions that we will put up with it.’ If it is expected that Russia will reciprocate the admission of Finland and Sweden into the NATO, what will be the format of the reciprocal treatment?

Thus, it is crystal clear that the dispute is not simply between Russia and Ukraine. It is a priori between Russia and the NATO countries. For Russia, the purpose of war is national security. For the NATO members, the purpose is defence of freedom and democracy in Ukraine. The battle ground for the war is neither in any of the NATO member State yet, nor on Russian soil. It is in Ukraine that is bearing the brunt of the hot war. The devastating effects are taking place in Ukraine as the United States and its allies have made it clear that they do not want to have any direct confrontation with Russia for fear of not deepening the war to global scale.

With or without a war on a global scale, the world has been sharply divided into proponents and opponents of the imbroglio. The issue of neutrality is not only raised at the level of Finland and Sweden whose neutrality status may be eventually thrown into the dustbin of history, but as well raised at the level of all other countries of the world who may have to decide on which side to support or not to support, thus again raising the question of non- alignment. In this regard, is neutrality synonymous with non-alignment?

It has been observed that ‘Sweden’s commitment to neutrality has not meant that the country is passive in international arenas. To the contrary, neutrality has for decades dovetailed with “international activism” and the articulation of international law and collective action’ (see Ulf Bjereld and Ulrika Möller, “Swedish Foreign Policy: The Policy of Neutrality and Beyond,” in John Pierre, ed., The Oxford Handbook of Swedish Politics, December 2015). Does engagement in international activism imply neutrality or non-alignment? Whatever is the case, it is neutrality that explains the independence of a sovereign state.

As regards Finland, Teija Tiilikainen has observed that ‘neutrality constituted the core of Finnish foreign and security policy during the Cold War era and that the ‘Finnish policy of neutrality leaned on firm domestic support implying that no alternative policy lines were seriously proposed’ (Teija Tiilikainen, “The Finnish Neutrality: Its New Forms and Future,”

Whatever is the present and future of neutrality of both Finland and Sweden, the truth is that neutrality is precisely what is currently deepening disorderliness in international relations. For reasons of national security and for fears of uncertainty over Russian attitude towards them, Finland and Sweden have decided to join the NATO in the belief that their national security will be better protected. But in the eyes of Russia, their membership is a mistake. Their membership cannot but bring the international borders of the NATO directly closer to Russia. Finland has 1,340 km (830 miles) with Russia. By implication, Russia has NATO, as a body, as its contiguous neighbour by propinquity. There is therefore a Cold War between Russia, supported by China, on the one hand, and the NATO countries, on the other. A hot war between the two opposing camps is already in the making. This is the foundation of the new global disorderliness.

Russia and Africa without France

Another foundation for the new global disorderliness is the agitation for a New African Order in which neo-colonialism, and particularly French influence in Francophone Africa will not only be brought to its barest minimum but replaced with Russian influence. Reduction in French influence in Africa is not the problem directly responsible for global disorderliness per se, especially by requesting that the 5000 French troops in Mali, for example, should be withdrawn. The political lull is that France is newly being seen as an agent of perpetuation of re-colonisation and socio-economic exploitation.

In this regard, France has been variously accused. At the epicentre of the allegations is the consideration that since 2013, Malians have been increasingly subjected to terrorist attacks. The mission of French troops in Mali is not seen to be succeeding. The Malian people have felt so insecure more than ever before that they now believe that the solution to insecurity is to declare the French troops unwanted.

True, French and European allies deployed troops in 2013 against the Islamist militants in Mali. However, following Mali’s request in 2021 to the Government of France to withdraw its troops from Mali, a diplomatic mésentente ensued: First, at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), the Malian Prime Minister, Choguel Kokalla Maïga, accused France on 25 September 2021 of ‘abandoning Mali in the middle of a journey.’ France did not take kindly to the allegation, especially following France’s announcement of an in-depth readjustment of its military presence in the Sahel. President Macron deepened the misunderstanding by responding that ‘it is a disgrace that dishonours what is not even a government.’ This reply is a diplomatic offensive in the eyes of Mali.

Secondly, President Macron was scheduled to pay an official visit to Bamako on 20-21 December 2021 to discuss not only the February 2022 general elections and the need to return power to civilians, but also to discuss the Wagner Group, a Russian private group of mercenaries, headed by Yevgeny Prigozhin with the strong support of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. The visit was scuttled under various pretexts: implications of President Macron having to travel to Mali when COVID-19 measures taken back home were problematic; Franco-Malian misunderstanding having the potential to taint President Macron’s campaigns for re-election; increasing coups d’état in Francophone Africa, etc.

Thirdly, French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, described the Assimi Goïta regime as ‘illegitimate’ and taking ‘irresponsible measures.’ This was an unnecessary diplomatic assault, hence the Malian decision to declare the French Ambassador to Bamako, Joël Meyer, a persona non grata. The offence was not directly committed by the ambassador but being the agent and symbol of France in Mali, he had to carry the punishment of the statement of his Foreign Minister.

Fourthly, when the Malian government wanted to replace its ambassador to Paris and proposed an ambassador-designate, France refused to grant an agrément. President Macron accepted the withdrawal of French Ambassador Plenipotentiary to Mali and informed that the French troops would be deployed to other countries. In the words of President Macron, following a dinner with his European and African partners on 17 February 2022 at the Élysée, ‘we cannot remain militarily engaged alongside de facto authorities whose strategy and hidden aims we do not share… The choice we are making is above all linked to the fact that the Malian transitional authority has decided not to do the work of securing its own country and that it has preferred to hire mercenaries to protect its own interests rather than fight terrorism.’

Additionally, President Macron made it clear that ‘France has played a unifying role in this international mobilization in favour of the Sahel.’ In other words, France has not failed in her mission to contain Islamist insurgency in the Sahel. More noteworthy, President Macron said Niger Republic has accepted to host the French troops that are unwanted in Mali. How do we explain in this case that one Francophone country is complaining about ineffectiveness of the French soldiers to contain terrorist insurgency in the Sahel and another Francophone county will be happier to host the French soldiers?

Fifthly, France was more angered by the statement of the Malian Defence Minister, Sadio Camara, and the demand by other colonels that the Danish government ‘immediately’ recall its special forces that were participating in the European Task Force Takuba based on the consideration that their deployment had not taken place with the consent of Bamako.

Thus and in sum, the aspect of global disorderliness is best explained at three different, but complementary, levels. First, the expulsion of the French soldiers in Mali and the quick

indication of the Niamey authorities to play host to the same Mali-rejected French troops clearly points to a divided Francophone community in Africa. When the French Fifth Republic was established on 4th October 1958, the French Community, which included Francophone Africa, was established.

And to a great extent, the effectiveness, and the manifestations of the unity of the Francophones unnecessarily divided Africa sharply into Anglophone versus Francophone, such as the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) and the CEAO (Communauté Economique de L’Afrique de L’Ouest – West African Economic Community) competing with one another. The ECOWAS comprises the Anglophones, Francophones, Lusophones, and Arabophones. Unlike the ECOWAS, the CEAO is comprised of Francophone countries only. In this regard, there has been unhealthy rivalry between the Anglophones and the Francophones. In fact, very recently, the Francophones adopted the ECO as a name replacement for their current CFA currency. Whereas the ECO is the name already collectively agreed to by the ECOWAS as the name of their regional currency.

Secondly, global disorderliness is driven by the factor of the Russian group of mercenaries (Wagner Group) in West Africa, and particularly in Mali. In replacement of the French, the new junta, led by President Assimi Goïta, has opened the Malian doors to the Wagner Paramilitary Group. In the eyes of France, this is not acceptable. The Wagner mercenaries enjoy the support of the Russian government. The presence of the mercenaries in West Africa implies that French influence in West Africa will be replaced with Russian influence. This explains in part why President Macron had to say that the French cannot remain militarily engaged with authorities whose strategy and hidden aims are incompatible with those of France.

Thirdly, and put differently, the increasing misunderstanding between Francophone African countries (Mali, Guinea Conakry, Chad, Burkina Faso, etc.), is gradually becoming an extension of the hostility between Russia and Ukraine, and by extension, between Russia and NATO, in the making of the disorderly new order. In fact, with the call on African leaders by the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky and by the US President, Joe Biden, to give active support to Ukraine cannot but raise the need to review the non-alignment movement and the policy of neutrality as well as re-ordering the current global disorderliness.

Already, Africa has been divided along proponents and opponents of Russian special military intervention in Ukraine. The problematic now is how to reconcile likely replacement of French influence in Africa with Russian influence being sustained by the Wagner group of mercenaries. For France, the presence of the Wagner Group in West Africa and in some African countries (Libya, Sudan, and Central African Republic), is to exploit the mineral resources of Mali and the region. More inquisitively, it is surprising that France could be much concerned about Russian exploitation of African resources when the main complaint about France is that she is less focused on military security and more interested in the protection of French economic interests in Africa. In fact, if the French want to deploy their unwanted soldiers in Mali to Niger Republic, it is because of the strategic mineral resources like uranium in Niger. So, France is struggling to prevent the replacement of her influence with that of Russia and Francophone Africa is challenged by how to reconcile Russian interests in Africa with Francophone African interests in the absence of France. Thus, to what extent can the mounting anti-French sentiments go? Can there be orderliness resulting from order and counter-order? Can France be accusing Russia of what she is doing in Africa? This is time to re-order the current global disorderliness. Francophone Africa without France is a vacuum that Russia may not be able to fill with ease.

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