#ARTICLE: Peace enforcement in Africa: Doctrinal distinctions between the African Union and United Nations

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When the United Nations (UN) Security Council needs to authorize a peace enforcement operation in Africa, its partner of choice is the African Union (AU). Africa has developed significant peace operations capacity over the past decade. In addition to deploying eight AU operations, Africa now contributes 50% of all UN peacekeepers. African stability operations, like its mission in Somalia, are often described as peace enforcement operations. In this article, I question whether it is accurate to categorize African stability operations as peace enforcement? I answer the question by considering what the criteria are that are used to differentiate between peace enforcement and peacekeeping operations in the UN context. I then use the peace enforcement criteria to assess whether AU stabilization operations would qualify as peace enforcement operations. In conclusion, I consider the implications of the findings for the strategic partnership between the AU and the UN.

Africa has developed a significant peace operations capacity over the past decade and a half. African countries contributed only 10,000 troops to United Nations (UN) peacekeeping operations in 2000, when the African Union (AU) was established (Lotze, 2013Lotze, W. (2013). Strengthening African peace support operations. Berlin: German Peace Operations Center (ZIF). Retrieved fromhttp://www.zif-berlin.org/fileadmin/uploads/analyse/dokumente/veroeffentlichungen/ZIF_Policy_Briefing_Walter_Lotze_Dec_2013.pdf). By early 2017, African countries contribute approximately 48,000 peacekeepers to the UN, which amounts to about 50% of all UN peacekeepers (United Nations, 2016United Nations. (2016). Peacekeeping Fact Sheet, as of 31 August 2016. Retrieved fromhttp://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/resources/statistics/factsheet.shtml). The AU has deployed eight peace support operations of its own, including to Burundi (African Mission in Burundi (AMIB)), the Central African Republic (CAR) (MISCA), the Comoros (AMISEC & MAES), Mali (AFISMA), Somalia (AMISOM), and Sudan (AMIS I & II). In early 2017, the AU was responsible for the African mission in Somalia (AMISOM), currently the largest mission of its kind in the world with a strength of 22,126 personnel (African Union, 2017African Union. (2017). African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) official website. Retrieved fromhttp://amisom-au.org/frequently-asked-questions/).

In addition, the AU also has a joint operation with the UN in Darfur (UNAMID) with a total strength of approximately 19,500 personnel. It coordinates the Regional Task Force of the AU-led Regional Cooperation Initiative for the Elimination of the Lord’s Resistance Army (RCI-LRA), which involves approximately 5,000 military personnel from the region. And it supports the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) of the Lake Chad Basin Commission that coordinates operations against Boko Haram, and that involves approximately 8,700 military personnel (de Coning, Gelot, & Karlsrud, 2016de Coning, C., Gelot, L., & Karlsrud, J. (2016). The future of African peace operations: From Janjaweed to Boko Haram. London: Zed Books., p. 8). In total, by early 2017, African countries thus contribute approximately 84,000 military, police, and civilian personnel to the UN- and AU-led peace operations. This means that Africa is currently the largest regional contributor to global peace operations.

Africa’s peace operations capacity has significantly increased over the past decade and a half because the AU, with the support of its partners, has invested in establishing and developing the African Standby Force (ASF) since 2003. In addition the AU, as well as several subregional organizations in Africa, has also increased its own capacity to assess, plan, deploy, and manage peace operations. With this increase in African peace operations capacity, it is perhaps not surprising that when the UN Security Council needs to authorize a peace enforcement operation in Africa, its partner of choice is the AU.

The UN is the first to recognize that it is not well suited to undertake peace enforcement or counterterrorism operations (United Nations, 2000United Nations. (2000). Report of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations. New York, NY: Author., 2015United Nations. (2015). Uniting our strengths for peace: Politics, partnership and people: Report of the High-Level Independent Panel on United Nations Peace Operations. New York, NY: Author.). The AU, on the other hand, does not have the UN’s full suite of multidimensional capacities, nor the UN’s assessed contribution funding system to enable it to undertake or sustain peace operations. As a result of these comparative advantages and shortcomings, a complimentary model has evolved where the UN turns to the AU to act as the first responder to stabilize outbreaks of violent conflicts in Africa. Once sufficient stability has been restored, these operations are transferred to the UN for the peace consolidation phase.

The question this article intends to address is whether it is accurate to categorize these African first responder or stability operations as peace enforcement operations, as the UN seems to do? If not, the assumption in UN and international circles that the AU does peace enforcement may result in misunderstandings and miscalculations that may have important negative consequences. In order to answer the question, I will first consider what the criteria are that constitute peace enforcement operations in the UN context. Thereafter I will analyze the AU’s peace support operations to assess whether these criteria are present. I will conclude with a reflection on the implications of the findings for the evolving AU–UN strategic partnership.

Peace enforcement

The enforcement concept is closely linked to the UN Charter, because it provides the legal basis for the distinction between peacekeeping and peace enforcement. Classical peacekeeping, where force is only permissible when used in self-defense, is associated with Chapter VI of the Charter that deals with the peaceful settlement of disputes. Enforcement, on the other hand, is provided for in Chapter VII of the UN Charter (Karlsrud, 2015Karlsrud, J. (2015). The UN at war: Examining the consequences of peace-enforcement mandates for the UN peacekeeping operations in the CAR, the DRC and Mali. Third World Quarterly 36: 4054. doi:10.1080/01436597.2015.976016[Taylor & Francis Online], [Web of Science ®]). However, peacekeeping and peace enforcement were not envisioned as UN tools when the Charter was drafted, so these are inferred associations. As such the UN Security Council will usually not explicitly mention Chapter VI when authorizing a peacekeeping mission, but it will always refer to Chapter VII when authorizing the use of force. A typical contemporary UN peace operation, for instance the mission in Liberia (UNMIL), with a protection of civilians mandate will have a Chapter VII enforcement clause in its mandate, which authorizes it to use all necessary means to protect civilians (Peter, 2015Peter, M. (2015). Between doctrine and practice: The UN peacekeeping dilemma. Global Governance, 21, 351370.[Web of Science ®]).

In UN peacekeeping doctrine, peacekeeping is distinguished by three principles, namely: consent, impartiality, and the minimum use of force. First and foremost, UN peacekeeping is consensual; that is, the parties to a conflict agree to the UN assisting them with implementing a cease-fire or peace agreement. Since the 1990s, the UN has also increasingly deployed peace operations in situations where there is no cease-fire or peace agreement in place in order to protect civilians. In these cases, the UN relies on the consent of the host-nation. Second, UN peacekeeping strives to be impartial; that is, the parties to the conflict are treated equally. However, in UN peacekeeping impartiality should not be confused with neutrality. UN peacekeeping missions are impartial in their dealings with the parties to the conflict, but not neutral in the execution of their mandate (Rhoads, 2016Rhoads, E. P. (2016). Taking sides in peacekeeping: Impartiality and the future of the United Nations. Oxford: Oxford University Press.[CrossRef]). Third, UN peacekeepers are only permitted to use the minimum force necessary to protect themselves, those that they are mandated to protect, and the mission’s ability to achieve its mandate (United Nations, 2008United Nations. (2008). United Nations peacekeeping operations: Principles and guidelines. New York, NY: Author.).

In UN peacekeeping doctrine, peace enforcement is understood as operations that do not necessarily require consent from the host-nation or other parties to the conflict. In fact, peace enforcement typically presupposes that an aggressor(s) has(ve) been designated by the UN Security Council, and that the use of force has been authorized to impose the will of the Council on the aggressor(s) (United Nations, 2008United Nations. (2008). United Nations peacekeeping operations: Principles and guidelines. New York, NY: Author.). An important distinction is that where peacekeeping is essentially defensive in nature, peace enforcement provides for offensive action. UN peacekeeping doctrine strongly recommends that the UN is not well suited for peace enforcement operations. This is because UN peace operations lack sufficient unity of command—units and staff officers from all over the world need to operate together without necessarily having a common understanding of operational and tactical procedures—and the necessary means (combat-ready troops, artillery, air support, combat logistics, etc.) to fight and sustain offensive combat operations (United Nations, 2008United Nations. (2008). United Nations peacekeeping operations: Principles and guidelines. New York, NY: Author.).

Since 1948, when UN peacekeeping was first developed and employed, the three principles that were coined by Lester B. Pearson and Dag Hammarskjöld served the UN well. When UN operations departed from these principles, for instance in Korea (UNC) in the 1950s, in the Congo (ONUC) in the 1960s, or in Somalia (UNOSOM) in the early 1990s, the missions did not end well for the UN. This collective wisdom was captured by the so-called Brahimi Panel when it recommended in 2000 that the UN should not deploy peace operations where there is no peace to keep (United Nations, 2000United Nations. (2000). Report of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations. New York, NY: Author.). A decade and a half later, the 2015 UN High Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations reaffirmed that the UN is not well suited to go beyond peacekeeping and recommended that the UN Security Council turn to the AU and others when it needs peace enforcement (United Nations, 2015United Nations. (2015). Uniting our strengths for peace: Politics, partnership and people: Report of the High-Level Independent Panel on United Nations Peace Operations. New York, NY: Author.).

The authorization of a Forced Intervention Brigade (FIB) in the UN Stabilization Mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), with the mandate to neutralize the M23 and other rebel groups, is seen as a rare example of a UN peace operation that has been tasked to do peace enforcement (Karlsrud, 2015Karlsrud, J. (2015). The UN at war: Examining the consequences of peace-enforcement mandates for the UN peacekeeping operations in the CAR, the DRC and Mali. Third World Quarterly 36: 4054. doi:10.1080/01436597.2015.976016[Taylor & Francis Online], [Web of Science ®]). It is an interesting example, because it clarifies the practical difference between peacekeeping and peace enforcement. The FIB is understood to be a peace enforcement mission because it is explicitly tasked to use offensive force to neutralize the M23 and other specified rebel groups. As such the FIB’s mission is not consensual or impartial, in the sense that it does not require the consent of the rebels (although it has the consent of the host-nation), and it does explicitly take sides against specific identified aggressors (Peter, 2015Peter, M. (2015). Between doctrine and practice: The UN peacekeeping dilemma. Global Governance, 21, 351370.[Web of Science ®]).

The FIB overcame the limitations the UN normally have when it comes to peace enforcement operations mentioned earlier, because (1) the FIB had clear political support to use force from all the key stakeholders in the region: the UN, the AU, the Southern African Development Community (SADC)—the host-nation Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and all three Troop Contributing Countries (TCCs) are members of the SADC—as well as support from the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICCGLR); (2) all the TCCs came from the SADC and they have been involved in joint trainings and joint exercises together before under the auspices of the SADC Standby Arrangement of the ASF, which meant that they had a common understanding of doctrine and command and control; (3) the FIB had its own commander and command and control system, although it also fell under the overall command of the MONUSCO Force Commander; (4) the FIB was deployed with its own enablers and force multipliers that enabled it to undertake offensive enforcement actions, such as special forces, artillery, attack helicopters, and specially trained troops that were prepared for and anticipated combat.

When we apply this peace enforcement concept to African operations, we have to be conscious that we do so from the perspective and context of the UN Charter and UN peacekeeping doctrine. When the AU developed its own peace support operations doctrine, it opted not to use the UN’s peacekeeping and peace enforcement concepts. This is because the AU’s conceptual framework is not based on the distinctions between Chapters VI and VII in the UN Charter. Like the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the AU preferred to use the peace support operations concept, which encompasses a spectrum of operations that is not defined by the level of force, impartiality, or consent, but rather by function and purpose.

In the AU’s 2003African Union. (2003). Policy framework for the establishment of the African Standby Force and the Military Staff Committee. Addis Ababa: Author. ASF strategic framework, the AU distinguishes between six scenarios that range from military advice to small military observer missions to multidimensional operations to interventions to stop mass atrocity crimes (African Union, 2003African Union. (2003). Policy framework for the establishment of the African Standby Force and the Military Staff Committee. Addis Ababa: Author.). For the AU, the purpose of the mission and the context within which it is undertaken inform the degree to which consent, impartiality, local ownership, and other factors shape the mission. Likewise, the degree to which force may be used is determined by judgments regarding the degree of force that may be necessary to achieve the mandate and the degree of risk the mission may face in any given context. Principles of minimum use of force and proportionality are integrated into the AU doctrine, but these are understood as principles of planning, rather than as principles that define AU peace support operations (de Coning et al., 2016de Coning, C., Gelot, L., & Karlsrud, J. (2016). The future of African peace operations: From Janjaweed to Boko Haram. London: Zed Books., p. 44). Peace enforcement is thus not a concept that is used in the AU’s founding documents nor in its peace support operations doctrine.

Even though the AU has its own founding documents, such as its Constitutive Act and its Peace and Security Protocol, as well as its own peace support operations doctrine, it has to also relate to UN concepts such as peace enforcement. The UN has the primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security, and according to Chapters VII and VIII of the UN Charter, when regional organizations such as the AU need to use force for enforcement purposes, they need prior authorization by the UN Security Council.

If peace enforcement implies nonconsensual operations, that is, an operation to which the host country has not consented, which as we discussed above is one of the core criteria that the UN uses to distinguish between peacekeeping and peace enforcement, then the AU has not yet deployed a peace enforcement operation. Although the AU’s Constitutive Act, in its article 4(h), provides for nonconsensual interventions in cases of mass atrocity crimes, none such operations have been undertaken yet. The AU has, however, used this provision in its Constitutive Act to authorize Senegal to try the former Chadian President Hissène Habré (Gelot, 2012Gelot, L. (2012). Legitimacy, peace operations and global-regional security: The African Union – United Nations Partnership in Darfur. New York, NY: Routledge., p. 56). Habré was convicted in 2016 of human rights abuses and sentenced to life imprisonment, becoming the first former head of state to be convicted for human rights abuses in the court of another nation (“One Dictator Down,” 2016One Dictator Down. Chad’s former President has been convicted. Who’s next? (2016, June 4). The Economist. Retrieved fromhttp://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21699871-chads-former-president-has-been-convicted-whos-next-one-dictator-down).

On one occasion, the AU did come close to seeking UN authority for a nonconsensual intervention. In mid-December 2015, the AU’s Peace and Security Council (PSC) was extremely concerned about the number of deaths, alleged human rights abuses, and the level of violence in Burundi, and it authorized the AU to deploy an operation with a protection of civilians mission mandate to Burundi (MAPROBU). In addition, the PSC recommended that should the government of Burundi not consent to the mission, the AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government should consider a 4(h) intervention (African Union, 2015bAfrican Union. (2015b). Communique of the 565th Meeting of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union (AU), held on 17 December 2015. Addis Ababa: Author.). The Government of Burundi rejected MAPROBU, that is, it withheld consent. However, when the AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government met a month later, the level of violence had reduced and a nonconsensual intervention was no longer warranted.

The AU has thus come close to authorizing a nonconsensual operation, which in UN terms would be considered peace enforcement and which would have required a UN Security Council Chapter VII enforcement mandate, but the situation changed and the AU has not yet crossed that threshold. However, if we consider some of the other criteria, such as the use of force and impartiality, then there have been AU operations that can be categorized as peace enforcement operations using those UN criteria. In the next section, I will analyze some of the AU missions that have been deployed since its inception in 2000, and argue that some meet the UN peace enforcement criteria.

African peace support operations

In the AU peace support operations doctrine, there is a strong sense of shared responsibility and solidarity around a common African identity and purpose. An outbreak of violent conflict in one country impacts on its neighbors and its region. AU peace support operations are deployed as part of the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) under the auspices of the ASF, and are guided by the AU Constitutive Act, the Peace and Security Protocol, and the AU’s strategies and goals (African Union, 2014African Union. (2014). Silencing the guns, owning the future: Realizing a conflict-free Africa. Addis Ababa: African Union & ACCORD., 2015aAfrican Union. (2015a). Agenda 2063: The Africa we want (3rd ed.). Addis Ababa: Author.). Together with other elements of the Architecture, such as the Continental Early Warning System, the Panel of the Wise, and the Peace Fund, and directed by the PSC, the APSA is responsible for maintaining African peace and security. Several subregional organizations, such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), and the SADC, form the building blocks of APSA and also serve as the operational and tactical arms of the ASF.

AU peace support operations have a history of coming to the aid of Africans at risk when the UN was not able or willing to deploy UN peacekeepers. In Darfur, Burundi, Somalia, and the CAR, the AU deployed into situations which the UN deemed not yet fit for UN peacekeeping. This is because the UN regards a comprehensive cease-fire or peace agreement as a prerequisite condition for consent. From a UN perspective, these AU operations were thus essentially peace enforcement operations (United Nations, 2015United Nations. (2015). Uniting our strengths for peace: Politics, partnership and people: Report of the High-Level Independent Panel on United Nations Peace Operations. New York, NY: Author., p. 77).

The AU missions in especially Somalia, CAR, and against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) have made use of offensive force to proactively contain preidentified aggressors, or to actively regain control over territory controlled by rebel groups. The AU’s most recent operation, to provide support to the AU-endorsed Multination Joint Task Force (MNJTF) that is combating Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin, exemplifies this approach. This is a counterinsurgency and counterterrorism mission where countries such as Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria operate mostly within their own borders, and occasionally in hot pursuit across their borders, but in a coordinated manner with a shared political-strategic mandate and a joint force headquarters supported by the AU.

de Coning et al. (2016de Coning, C., Gelot, L., & Karlsrud, J. (2016). The future of African peace operations: From Janjaweed to Boko Haram. London: Zed Books.) edited a study which analyzed all the AU and subregional operations between 2000 and 2015, and they found that there is an emerging model of African peace operations that shares the following stabilization characteristics:

  1. They operate in the midst of ongoing conflicts, rather than in post-conflict situations as many UN peacekeeping operations;

  2. They are mandated to contribute to restoring and maintaining stability, by

    1. helping to protect the government and its people against identified aggressors,

    2. helping the government to reclaim control over territories previously controlled by such aggressors (Gorur & Giffen, 2015Gorur, A., & Giffen, A. (2015). Defining stabilization in the context of UN peacekeeping. Submission to the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations. Washington, DC: Stimson Center.), and

    3. helping the government to extend the authority of the State throughout its territory;

  3. They operate in support of and alongside the security forces of the host-nation, and their mandates often include supporting efforts to build the capacity of these national forces;

  4. They are mandated to use force, including offensively, in the face of anticipated attacks against themselves and those they are tasked to protect, and encouraged to do so proactively.

While not every operation undertaken by the AU matches with all of the elements of this stabilization model, these are the most dominant and persistent trends in AU peace support operations. Some of the exceptions include the early missions in Burundi (AMIB) and Darfur (AMIS) where the AU missions were not operating alongside the government, but rather supported the implementation of peace agreements, and the missions in Comoros (AMISEC & MAES) that were tasked to ensure peaceful electoral processes.

Some of these stabilization characteristics were identified by de Coning (2014de Coning, C. (2014). Do we need a UN stabilization doctrine? In R. Gowan & A. C. Smith (Eds.), What needs to change in UN peace operations? An expert briefing book prepared for the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (pp. 3132). New York: New York University and International Peace Institute.) in the context of the UN’s new stabilization operations in CAR and Mali, and especially in the mandate of the FIB in the DRC. They are thus not unique to the AU. However, while they are regarded as exceptions in the UN context that challenge the existing UN peacekeeping doctrine (de Coning, Aoi, & Karlsrud, 2017de Coning, C., Aoi, C., & Karlsrud, J. (2017). UN peacekeeping doctrine in a new era: Adapting to stabilisation, protection and new threats. New York, NY: Routledge.), in the AU context they are the defining characteristics of a new emerging AU peace support operations model. Furthermore, the UN does not consider its stabilization missions in the CAR, the DRC, and Mali to be peace enforcement missions.

Peace enforcement operations typically require that the intervening organization be willing to employ offensive force to deny one or more parties the option of using violence to achieve their political aims. In other words, peace enforcement operations imply that the intervening force must be willing and able to engage in combat, and this implies that TCCs must have the will and means to use force. In the AU experience to date, the only countries that have been willing to do that are those whose national security interests are affected by the conflict, for instance, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Kenya in Somalia, or those that have national strategic interests to do so, for instance, Burundi and Uganda in Somalia. This is an aspect of peace enforcement that is fundamentally different from UN peacekeeping, where the impartiality principle implies that TCCs should have no interest in the conflict. It also helps to further explain why UN peacekeeping operations are not well suited for combat operations.

Another requirement for peace enforcement operations is that the command and control system should be geared for combat. In the AU context, civilian leadership and military command can range on a spectrum from a lead-nation approach, such as in the early days of AMISOM, to a more networked approach, as in the case of the LRA and Boko Haram operations. In networked approaches, the AU provides strategic-level political direction and coordination, but the members of the coalition act independently and coordinate at the operational and tactical levels. In a lead-nation approach, for instance when South Africa led the AMIB, unity of command is achieved through the core capabilities contributed by the lead-nation, and by providing overall command and control to the whole operation. Often, as is the case also in AMISOM in Somalia, each major TCC has control over a sector within which it is able to employ its national command and control system, according to its national doctrine, at the tactical level. The Force Commander, typically from the lead-nation, thus has control over own national forces and coordinates with the sector commanders of the other TCCs to try to ensure as much strategic coherence and overall unity of command as is possible under the circumstances.

The AU’s stabilization operations should, however, not be misunderstood as an attempt to impose a military solution on a conflict. They are a part of a larger political intervention where the role of the peace support operations is to contain violence and generate stability so that political solutions can be pursued (Smith, 2007Smith, R. (2007). The utility of force. The art of war in the modern world. New York, NY: Knopf.). The AU has, either as part of its stabilization operations or simultaneously, used its special envoys, special political missions, and good offices tools to seek lasting political solutions, overseen ultimately by the political direction provided by the PSC and Assembly of Heads of State and Government.

In Somalia, for instance, where the AMISOM is engaged in stabilization, counterinsurgency, and counterterrorism operations, the AU understands that it can temporarily stabilize a situation by winning selected battles and by controlling territory, but that it cannot ultimately defeat Al Shabaab militarily. They can only be defeated in the long term if the Government of Somalia can provide better security, governance, and social-economic opportunities than what Al Shabaab can offer (African Union, 2013African Union. (2013). Report of the African Union Commission on the strategic review of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Addis Ababa: Author.). The AU has learned that when the AMISOM lacks the political and civilian expertise necessary to ensure that its military operations are directed toward enabling and supporting political and governance objectives, any gains achieved are likely to be short-lived. For instance, the AU was able to help Somali national forces to liberate cities and towns from Al Shabaab, but the AU and its partners, including the UN and European Union, lacked the ability to follow up with the civilian expertise necessary to help the federal government and local authorities to reestablish basic governance structures and services (Williams & Hashi, 2016Williams, P. D., & Hashi, A. (2016). Exit strategy challenges for the African Union Mission in Somalia. Mogadishu: Heritage Institute for Policy Studies.). The AMISOM has thus learned that it needs a comprehensive approach to help the mission ensure that its stabilization efforts are directed toward achieving sustainable political and governance objectives (Berdal & Ucko, 2014Berdal, M., & Ucko, D. H. (2014). The United Nations and the use of force: Between promise and peril. The Journal of Strategic Studies, 37, 665673. doi:10.1080/01402390.2014.937803[Taylor & Francis Online], [Web of Science ®]).

In the UN doctrine, peace enforcement is not unpacked in great detail, because the UN sees itself as not well suited for enforcement, and the emphasis is thus on peacekeeping. However, even from the limited attention given to peace enforcement, one can deduct that the UN peace enforcement concept is focused on using force to impose the international will and restore international peace and security, and that this is usually understood as an extraordinary act and, therefore, of limited duration. From the AU’s own experiences in Somalia and elsewhere, however, it has observed that stabilization is not necessarily something that is short term, nor is its success predicated on the use of force. The AU experience is that stabilization is essentially a political-strategic undertaking that requires a sustained comprehensive approach. Military force is only useful to the extent that the temporary security and safety it creates can be transformed into lasting stability and peace. When it is not, militarily imposed stabilization generates negative and perverse side effects (African Union, 2013African Union. (2013). Report of the African Union Commission on the strategic review of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Addis Ababa: Author.).

If the UN peace enforcement concept is limited to achieving short-term objectives through military means, then it is not compatible with the AU approach to stability, counterinsurgency, and counterterrorism operations. This is an important nuance in the assumptions and expectations that the UN and the AU bring to their discussions about partnership in specific situations that may not be clearly articulated and communicated to each other. It has the potential to generate misunderstandings that may not be immediately apparent, but that may manifest in the type of support the UN is willing to provide to the AU, for instance, mainly military and short term as opposed to investing in a sustained comprehensive approach effort, as well as in the way both organizations measure the effectiveness of their operations.

In the next section, I will consider the implications of these findings for the strategic partnership between the AU and the UN.

Strategic partnership

A symbiotic division of work has developed between the AU and the UN. The AU and African subregional organizations act as first responders and stabilize an outbreak of violent conflict, for instance, in Burundi, CAR, and Liberia. When the situation has been sufficiently stabilized, the UN takes over with a peacekeeping operation to consolidate the peace. In Burundi, CAR, and Mali, the African military and police personnel who served in the AU operations were re-hatted and became UN peacekeepers. Somalia has been the exception in that sufficient stability has not yet been achieved to warrant a handover to a UN peacekeeping operation. However, the AU and the UN have jointly developed benchmarks for a future transition and are continuously monitoring progress toward such a goal. In the meantime, the AMISOM and the UN political mission (UNSOM) are working closely together, and a UN support mission (UNSOS) provisions both.

The stability operations that the AU undertakes under UN authorization are to a large extent a regional response to global problems. Most African conflicts are global in the sense that they are heavily influenced by external factors such as the global war on terror; fallout and spillover from the interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria; the exploitation of natural resources by multinational companies; capital flight facilitated and solicited by the international financial system; and transnational organized crime, driven by markets in the West and Asia for narcotics, human trafficking, timber, and illegally caught fish (Africa Progress Report, 2013Africa Progress Report. (2013). Equity in extractives: Stewarding Africa’s natural resources for all. Geneva: Africa Progress Panel.). African peace support operations thus represent a significant contribution to the global common good.

The role the AU has performed in Africa, where it has taken on a portion of the peace and security burden that the UN would otherwise have had to carry on its own, is shaping the way we understand the global peace and security architecture. In the past, Chapter VIII of the UN Charter, which deals with regional arrangements, was understood as providing for exceptional cases where the UN may need to turn to a regional organization for help. As a result of the role the AU plays in Africa—and the European Union (EU) plays in Europe—the question arises whether the UN and regional organizations should not establish a more formal global peace and security architecture that is based on burden-sharing and the principle of subsidiarity; that is, that threats to international peace and security should be dealt with at the most immediate (or local) level that is consistent with their resolution.

At the moment, the relationships between the UN and regional organizations are undefined. Although the primary responsibility of the UN Security Council is not questioned, this does not amount to a hierarchal system where the regional organizations are subsidiary parts of a global peace and security architecture, with a pre-agreed division of roles and responsibilities. At present, they coexist in a loosely defined manner that requires voluntary coordination and causes both tension and competition. A global peace and security architecture approach would imply that the UN and regional organizations, such as the AU, agree to a more clearly defined division of roles under a burden-sharing arrangement. Such predictability would enhance cooperation, coordination, and efficiency. The current cooperation, at least when it comes to peace operations, is not based on subsidiarity, but rather on a functional division of labor where the AU takes responsibility for early stabilization—what the UN views as peace enforcement—while the UN takes responsibility for peace consolidation, via UN peacekeeping operations, once sufficient stability has been established.

One of the AU’s serious challenges is the capacity to support its own operations. The AU lacks a mission support concept and the people, systems, and resources necessary to implement such a concept. The AU, with the support of the UN, has embarked on a process to develop a mission support policy in 2016. It will take several years for the AU to develop and refine its missions support capacity, and in the mean time, it will rely on the UN and other partners to support its operations. This is especially challenging when the AU needs support for stability, counterinsurgency, and counterterrorism operations—all peace enforcement operations in the UN context—while its main partner in this regard, the UN, is geared to provide support to peacekeeping operations. Both institutions will need to develop fixes to cover this gap, until the AU has developed its own capacity in this area.

Closely linked is the challenge of financing African peace operations. Africa’s capacity to undertake stability operations, and the appetite for Africa to play this role among its partners, has expanded beyond Africa’s financial means. To date, the AU has been heavily dependent on its partners, especially the EU through its African Peace Facility and the UN in the case of Somalia, to finance its peace operations. Although those operations the AU undertake under UN authorization contribute to global security, and are thus deserving of a burden-sharing arrangement, the AU also realizes that when it is dependent on others to finance its peace support operations, its own ability to direct these operations is highly restricted (African Union, 2016aAfrican Union. (2016a). Securing predictable and sustainable financing for peace and security in Africa. Addis Ababa: Author.). In order to address this shortcoming, the AU appointed Dr Donald Kaberuka, the past-president of the African Development Bank, as its High Representative for the AU Peace Fund in February 2016. Dr Kaberuka has presented a plan to the July 2016 Kigali AU Summit that has the potential to raise sufficient funding to resource the AU Commission, including its peace and security budget, by imposing a 0.2% levy on imports to Africa (Connolly, 2016Connolly, L. (2016, July 28). AU peace fund could be catalyst for true UN partnership. IPI Global Observatory. Retrieved fromhttps://theglobalobservatory.org/2016/07/african-union-peace-fund-united-nations/). The plan was approved by the AU Heads of State and Government and is now being implemented (African Union, 2016bAfrican Union. (2016b). Assembly Decision: Assembly/AU/Dec.605 (XXVII) para 5b, of July 2016. Addis Ababa: Author.).

If successful, this new funding arrangement will significantly strengthen the ability of the AU to take ownership of its own operations. It will also result in a more balanced relationship between the AU and the UN, because the AU will be able to co-fund—the AU has committed to funding at least 25% of its operations—those peace operations the UN Security Council authorizes it to undertake. The funding generated by the import levy may enable the AU to shift its relations with partners away from one defined by financial necessity, to one informed by strategic choice. The AU member states are likely to take much greater responsibility for, and ownership of, the functioning of the Commission and its operations. For instance, the larger financial contributors will have a greater interest in contributing to decisions on the mandate, scope, and lifespan of specific operations. It may also significantly change the AU’s relationship with partners, away from a donor-like relationship dominated by a capacity-building and institutional development narrative, and toward a more substantive strategic partnership. The July 2016 decisions on the financing of the AU is likely to result in a much stronger AU, and if so, the AU will play an even more meaningful role in the emerging global peace and security architecture.

Conclusion

Africa has embarked on a significant political project when it decided to invest in setting up the ASF. As a result of this vision, and with the support of its partners, the capacity of the AU and the subregional organizations to deploy peace support operations has increased significantly. Over the same period, the AU has increased its political and bureaucratic capacities to prevent and manage conflicts. The AU is now more assertive and willing to assume its responsibility for comanaging and cofinancing Africa’s peace and security landscape.

At the same time, the AU recognizes that the primary responsibility for international peace and security resides with the UN. In this context, a strategic partnership has evolved between the AU and the UN, where the AU acts as the first responder to outbreaks of violent conflict on the continent. From a UN perspective, the AU is a partner that is able to undertake some of the peace enforcement and counterterrorism operations the UN is not able to do itself. From an AU perspective, the UN is a burden-sharing partner that can support the operations it undertakes on behalf of the UN Security Council, and the UN is also an exit strategy for the AU, with UN peacekeeping operations taking over from AU stabilization operations, once the AU has been able to sufficiently stabilize a given situation.

The question this article intended to address is whether it is accurate to categorize these African operations as peace enforcement operations, as the UN seems to do? If not, the assumption in UN and international circles that the AU does peace enforcement—as it is understood in the UN context—may result in important misunderstandings and miscalculations. I have argued that if with peace enforcement we mean nonconsensual operations, where the consent of the host state is the core consideration, then the AU has not yet undertaken any peace enforcement operations. If, however, we consider other criteria such as the use of force and impartiality—that is, where the AU has used offensive force to counter and check the parties to a conflict that have been identified as aggressors—then several of the stability operations the AU has undertaken or for which it provides support could be categorized as peace enforcement operations.

It is important, however, to take into account the nuances in assumptions and understanding that the AU and the UN may have when it comes to what peace enforcement means in their respective contexts. I have argued that for the UN, peace enforcement implies using military force to impose the international will and restore international peace and security, and that this is understood as typically an extraordinary and thus also short-duration intervention. For the AU, however, stability operations such as its operation in Somalia, which in the UN context would be regarded as a peace enforcement mission, are essentially a political-strategic operation that requires a sustained comprehensive approach.

These nuances in assumptions and expectations, if not clearly articulated and discounted, can manifest in significant differences between the AU and the UN when it comes to how they assess a situation, and how they plan, manage, support, and evaluate the effectiveness of a mission. For instance, the type of support the UN provided to the AMISOM was for many years primarily aimed at supporting the military effort, and designed to be short term. As the quality of the strategic partnership between the AU and UN improves over time, the support the UN is providing to the AMISOM may become better aligned toward investing in a sustained comprehensive approach effort.

It is thus not enough to answer the question whether African stability operations are peace enforcement operations. One also needs to consider what each organization understands with peace enforcement and stabilization. I have argued that the organizational history and experiences of the AU and the UN influence how concepts such as peace enforcement and stabilization operations are understood and applied in practice. It is thus not possible to have only one definitive understanding of, for instance, the concept of stabilization operations. One always needs to take into account the context within which the concept is applied. This is especially the case when two organizations like the AU and the UN cooperate closely. Each may assume that they have a shared understanding of concepts such as peace enforcement and stabilization, only to discover that in fact they are used differently and that these differences can have important implications when it comes to how we assess, plan, manage, command, and evaluate the effectiveness of peace operations.

AcknowledgementsThe author is grateful to the editors and reviewers for their valuable comments.

Disclosure statement

The author was an advisor to the High Representative of the African Union Peace Fund in 2016, and he was an advisor to the head of the Peace Support Operations Division of the African Union between 2012 and 2015. However, he is writing here in his personal capacity.

ORCID

Cedric de Coning http://orcid.org/0000-0003-4567-8838

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