Ad hoc security initiatives a potential force multiplier for the AU

Regional efforts like those against the LRA and Boko Haram could reinvent continental approaches to conflicts


Gustavo de Carvalho and Annette Leijenaar

With the increasing use of ad hoc security initiatives in Africa, there is new momentum for the African Pe and Security Architecture (APSA) to reinvent itself. While the African Union (AU) peace support operations (PSOs) – particularly the African Standby Force (ASF) – still dominate policy discussions around APSA, African approaches to conflicts should move beyond focusing simply on the traditional use and understanding of PSOs.

The AU Commission has begun considering the implications of these ad hoc arrangements on the ASF, PSOs and APSA. With APSA being the continental framework to enhance peace and security and the ASF one of its key components, it is important to consider how ad hoc initiatives affect broader continental peace and security.

The AU Peace Support Operations Division (PSOD) invited experts to consider the implications during a roundtable on 11 August in Addis Ababa, and some key points regarding the current nature and future for ad hoc coalitions emerged.

African ad hoc security initiatives gained prominence through groups such as the Regional Cooperation Initiative – Lord’s Resistance Army (RCI-LRA), Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) and G5-Sahel. These initiatives are ‘ad hoc’ in nature, and fall outside the predictable ASF or PSO frameworks. In order to ensure that such initiatives fit as a complementary tool within APSA, it is important to clarify how APSA relates to them, and determine what support the AU can provide.

African approaches to conflicts should move beyond focusing on peace support operations. At the Addis Ababa meeting, the RCI-LRA, MNJTF and G5-Sahel all discussed the nature of African PSOs and the links between ad hoc initiatives and the AU, in particular sources of legitimacy and legality. Their legality is derived from bilateral legal agreements between the participating countries. While not strictly necessary, all three initiatives derived their legitimacy through AU Peace and Security Council authorisation, and the United Nations (UN) Presidential Statement for the RCI-LRA and UN Security Council Resolutions authorised the other two.

The member states of the RCI-LRA, MNJTF and G5-Sahel initiatives all contribute soldiers to their military structures, which are usually supplemented by soldiers from neighbouring states. The RCI-LRA, whose objective is to eliminate the LRA, covers areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda. The MNJTF, mandated to bring an end to Boko Haram, comprises a force from Cameroon, Chad, Niger, Nigeria and lately Benin. The recently established G5-Sahel consists of forces from Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad, and fights militants in the Sahel region.

Rather than competing with existing PSOs, these initiatives provide a space for members to implement shared responses to shared threats. The initiatives are based on the principles of self-defence under article 51 of the UN charter and bilateral collective defence agreements among states.

However, ad hoc coalitions are different from PSOs in several ways. First, coalitions operate largely in their own territories and have the potential to conduct cross-border operations, especially in hot pursuit. Second, coalitions are established outside of the geographical boundaries of the regional standby force. Third, there is no command and control responsibility from the AU. Finally, their funding sources originate from voluntary contributions like the European Union (EU), participating countries and bilateral support.

The PSC should provide clarity regarding communication between ad hoc initiatives and the AU. These ad hoc security initiatives are important tools bringing together affected states to increase military cooperation. However it is yet to be seen whether these initiatives will provide effective responses to current and emerging security challenges, especially terrorism. If they do, they could enhance the AU’s efforts to remain relevant to its principles of collective security and solidarity.

The ASF has been designed as a force generation mechanism for AU PSOs. Ad hoc security initiatives are not PSOs per se, as they are often implemented through the use of national security forces within their own territories, whereas PSOs comprise multinational forces operating in territories other than their own.

However, nothing other than political will would prevent the AU from broadening the ASF’s role to respond to a wider range of operational responsibilities. Expanding the AU’s understanding of operational modes for peace and security deployments in Africa, alongside the ASF framework and AU PSOs, is a critical step towards better use of tools, including how ad hoc initiatives and AU PSOs relate to each other.

The ad hoc security initiatives mostly have enforcement mandates executed by the military. It must be further clarified how command and control of these coalitions link to potential reporting mechanisms to the AU. Some believe that command and control structures of ad hoc coalitions are actually better organised than similar missions directly deployed by the AU.

Ad hoc security initiatives complement existing mechanisms like the ASF, and will not replace them. Currently these initiatives don’t legally need to report back to the AU. When authorising the initiatives, the PSC should ensure that there is clarity regarding official and regular communication with the AU.

Ad hoc security initiatives are funded through voluntary contributions, bilateral support and contributions from participating countries. Because of resource and funding shortfalls, the AU needs to consider how best it can support and contribute resources to these forces, including planning capacity, human resources and facilitation.

Ad hoc security initiatives complement existing mechanisms such as the ASF, and will not replace them. The AU’s role and responsibilities towards different types of operations that may be politically approved under the APSA framework require clarification, including the AU’s doctrinal approaches. Standard terminology and definitions for approval processes such as mandating, authorising and endorsing operations are needed. The process of defining the scope of the AU’s support will also enhance its political legitimacy.

Ad hoc security initiatives can increase force numbers within the existing APSA framework, the ASF and AU PSOs. The AU Commission must ensure that ad hoc security initiatives are included in the AU PSO doctrine, to further enhance collective security and solidarity. This doctrine can then guide the use of AU resources to ensure peace and security on the continent.

This article is an adapted version of a piece that first appeared at ISS Today.

Annette Leijenaar, Programme Head, ISS Pretoria and Gustavo de Carvalho, Senior Researcher, Peace Operations and Peacebuilding, ISS Pretoria

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