I have a piece at the Quincy Institute’s Responsible Statecraft blog:
France’s best option, in the current environment, is to take a strategic pause in its efforts to shape Malian politics and the politics of the wider Sahel region. Such a pause would entail reacting indifferently to any further diplomatic provocations from Mali. The pause would also entail encouraging West African regional authorities to ease sanctions on the Malian economy and defer the question of when the junta will hold elections — essentially, France and its West African allies might consider ignoring Mali for the rest of 2022 and shrugging at whatever else the junta comes up with. Such a policy would, admittedly, amount to rewarding the junta for its stubborn refusal to yield power to civilians. Yet punishing and arguing with the junta has not worked, and a diplomatic breather might allow for an opening within a few months — and might also avoid pushing Mali further into the arms of Russia.
A French-Malian pause and then reset would also be in the interest of the United States, especially because Mali is a key piece of an increasingly delicate regional puzzle that involves growing threats to democracy and security in the overwhelming majority of West Africa’s fifteen states. There is little to gain in supporting failing French and regional West African policies, even if those policies theoretically serve U.S. goals such as promoting democracy, countering Russian influence, and containing insurgents. The United States, less resented than France in the Sahel, might try a phase of quiet and exploratory diplomacy aimed at discerning what could bring Mali’s junta to hand power back to civilians. This moment calls for creativity, especially as juntas in Mali’s neighbors Guinea and Burkina Faso take cues from the Malian junta’s defiance of regional and Western powers. There is a middle ground between coddling dictators and turning Mali into a pariah.