Mali Defense and Foreign Policy

mali military spending and defense budget

Foreign policy and defense

Mali is a nation in Western Africa. Its capital city is Bamako. Militant Islamism creates a very unstable security situation in Mali. The government army relies on foreign troops to maintain security. This has been done since 2013 mainly within the framework of the UN effort Minusma, in which some 40 countries participate, including Sweden. France has a force in place and regional cooperation G5 Sahel aims to quell the Islamist insurgency.

mali military spending and defense budget

After democratization in the early 1990s, Mali had an active cooperation with other countries, especially in West Africa, and with international organizations. The country was something of a favorite among donors. Amadou Toumani Touré mediated both before and after taking office as president in 2002 in regional conflicts. Mali also contributed soldiers to a number of peacekeeping forces in, for example, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The military coup in March 2012 led to a rapid deterioration in relations with the outside world. Both AU and the West African cooperation organization Ecowas temporarily closed Mali. The EU, the US, the World Bank and the African Development Bank (ADB) curtailed the aid flow. Since the coup makers quickly gave up, the cooperation resumed relatively soon.

In 2017, the UN Security Council introduced sanctions in the form of a travel ban on a number of individuals who were considered to violate the 2015 peace agreement (see Current Policy).

Militant Islamism

After the Islamist uprising in Algeria in the 1990s, groups from there affiliated with the terror network al-Qaeda and in 2007 formed the north-west African branch of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim). Several efforts have been made by countries in the region to work together to counter Aqim, whose influence grew rapidly.

A security organization, G5 Sahel, was formed in 2014 by Mali and Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Niger and Chad, with the aim of strengthening cooperation on development and security. G5 Sahel established a military force (FC-G5S) in 2017 to fight jihadists in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, where central governments have poor or no control over the remote area. The FC-G5S cooperates with French soldiers and receives logistical support from Minusma as well as financial support from the EU, USA and Saudi Arabia. G5 Sahel is headquartered in Mali and consists of 5,000 soldiers.

Security situation deteriorated throughout the region following the 2011 uprising in North Africa. The chaotic situation in Libya particularly affected Mali, when hundreds of Tuaregans who fled Mali in the 1990s returned home and were a driving force in the uprising in the north (see Modern History).

Nowadays, a number of different Islamist groups in the region, including the Islamic State of Greater Sahara (ISGS), the al-Qaeda faithful Support Group for Islam and Muslims (JNIM) and the Unity and Holy War Movement in West Africa (Mujao), act.

Important bilateral relations

As an old colonial power, France has a special position in Malian foreign policy and is the country’s largest bilateral aid donor. However, the relationship between the two countries has been disturbed by disagreement over the situation of the Malays who live in France. Mali has objected that France has wanted to send back large numbers of exile males to the home country and that the expulsions were sometimes enforced by hard methods.

Mali is one of America’s closest allies in West Africa. The United States provides both military and humanitarian assistance and has soldiers deployed in different parts of the Sahel.

Relations with the Ivory Coast in the south are important. Before the civil war broke out in the neighboring country in 2002, more than a million males worked there. A large part of the coastal Mali’s trade then passed through the Ivory Coast. Nowadays, many Malays have moved home and foreign trade is looking for new ways, including via Dakar in Senegal.

With Burkina Faso, Mali fought a brief war in 1985 over control of the mineral-rich Agacher strip. The dispute was resolved by the International Court of Justice in The Hague, which granted Mali about half the area.


Mali has a relatively small defense, but it is being expanded and restructured to better combat the uprisings within the country and regionally. For those who do military service, it lasts for two years. The semi-military forces consist of 7,800 men.

In the country there is a French force of 5 100 men with the mission to fight the Islamist insurgency in the Sahel area. Also in place is the UN operation Minusma, which consists of almost 13,300 soldiers and just over 1,900 police. African troops play an important role in trying to maintain security in the country. Of all Minusma’s soldiers, two-thirds come from African countries.

In March 2020, Mali and Niger agreed with eleven EU countries to set up a joint military operation, Operation Takouba, to be merged with the French forces in the Sahel in the fight against militant Islamists. Sweden will contribute helicopters and up to 150 soldiers. Other countries participating in different ways are, for example, Belgium, the Netherlands, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Portugal and Denmark. The initiative for the enlarged European force came from France.


Army: 10,000 men (2017)

The air Force: 400 men (2012)

The fleet: 50 men (2012)

Military expenditure’s share of GDP: 3.1 percent (2017)

Military spending’s share of the state budget: 12.7 percent (2017)