This project studies the impact of non-Western states' involvement in conflicts and insecurities affecting Afghanistan and countries in the Sahel. In particular, since 2012 China has stepped up its contributions to peace and security efforts abroad through a number of activities, including participation in peacekeeping missions, attempts at conflict mediation, the provision of military training, the export of arms, and military-to-military exchanges. Russia has been spending millions of dollars to improve its public diplomacy, playing an important role in combating terrorism, providing weapons, and signing military cooperation deals. These growing engagements have the potential to create global power shifts, as well as changes on the ground in volatile regions, that are not well understood yet.
Afghanistan and the Sahel stand out as good cases to explore these power shifts. They share a number of traits, such as the spread of Islamic terrorist organisations, weak institutions, stagnating economies, and both have received significant attention from the international community. Yet, internal political dynamics are profoundly different and external powers’ engagement with these complex environments may yield different outcomes. For instance, the power vacuum left by the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan may be filled by Russia and China, who have so far provided public support for the Taliban leadership and promised large investments and aid. In the Sahel, France is currently withdrawing its counter-terrorism operation Barkhane, which will also leave a vacuum to be filled in by other powers. Simultaneously, Beijing has been intervening more assertively in conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa to protect its interests and capitalize on economic opportunities. Russia has a long history of military cooperation with and weapon sales to Sahelian states, and recently struck a deal to allow mercenaries to operate in Mali, thus potentially extending its influence over security matters across the whole region. While China and Russia will be the focal actors of our analysis, understanding their involvement in current conflict situations will speak more broadly to rising powers’ trends worldwide, and this project will also examine the role of other important non-Western players such as Gulf states.