French Barkhane force soldiers who wrapped up a four-month tour of duty in the Sahel board a US Air Force C130 transport plane, leave their base in Gao, Mali, Wednesday June 9, 2021.

Trust the process: Part II

Critical State, a foreign policy newsletter by Inkstick Media, takes a deep dive this week into the function of ad-hoc organizations that are formed to address a specific crisis — and then often get dissolved when the crisis ends.

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This analysis was featured in Critical State, a weekly foreign policy newsletter from Inkstick Media. Subscribe here.

International problems can require international solutions, but many of the organizations set up to address problems of global governance are, by design and tradition, slow to act. Much of the study of international organizations focuses on these relatively ponderous giants, the durable structures like the UN, World Health Organization, or NATO, which delicately balance the needs of members and the broader world. But sometimes, when there’s a specific crisis like a violent insurgency that arises across borders or a new disease outbreak in a whole region, ad-hoc organizations are formed to address the specific problem, and then often dissolved after the crisis has passed. 

In “Ad hoc coalitions in global governance: short-notice, task- and time-specific cooperation,” authors Yf Reykers, John Karlsrud, Malte Brosig, Stephanie Hofmann, Cristiana Maglia, and Pernille Rieker argue that these impromptu structures are worth further study, especially as they will shape how states might respond to crises in the future.

The authors define ad hoc coalitions as “autonomous arrangements with a task-specific mandate established at short notice for a limited period of time.” In practice, that looks a lot like a task force or relief mission put together by a few nations in service of an immediate crisis. One example is the Biafran airlift, a humanitarian mission that ran from 1967-1970. Responding to reports of starvation and risk of genocidal violence, a coalition formed of church groups, nongovernmental organizations, and airline companies that received “active (behind the scenes) support from several states, including the United States, Canada, Norway, and Denmark.” The coalition succeeded in evacuating 4,000 children from Nigeria.

A more contemporary example, and one that is the case for the researchers, is Task Force Takuba. In January 2020, the governments of Mali and Niger asked for help against a jihadist insurgency in a cross-border region shared with Burkina Faso. By Mar. 27, 2020, 11 European nations pledged to set up such an effort, and by Jul. 15, 2020, a multinational force was ready. The coalition was consciously formed outside the existing structures of either NATO or the European Union’s Common Security and Defence Policy.

The task force operated for almost two years, before being dissolved in June 2022. The mission ended not because the threat itself was gone but because the political relationship between France, the task force’s largest contributor, and Mali had changed, leading the rest of the coalition to withdraw. In particular, the military junta that took over Mali had invited Russian-backed mercenaries from the Wagner group, which precipitated the French exit.

This is an example of how such organizations can be spun up to meet needs and then broken down when the task-specific nature of the mission no longer meets existing political realities. 

“When global gridlock and inflexibility dominate a global governance problem, actors tend to look for solutions in which political resistance can be overcome or circumvented,” note the authors. But rather than seeing this as an end-run around existing structures, they could be studied as a complement to other international organizations. “Their short-notice creation suggests that AHCs [ad hoc coalitions], such as Task Force Takuba, are ‘first responder’ governance arrangements, whose performance should be examined in particular during the fast-burning phase of a crisis such as natural disasters or terrorist attacks.”

Related: Trust the process: Part I

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