It has been almost 12 years since French President Francois Mitterrand vigorously called for Africans “to resolve their conflicts themselves and organise their own security”. Since then, skeptics have argued against the practicability of regionalising peace operations, that is, employing regional or sub-regional organisations to conduct operations reaching from low intensity peacekeeping to high intensity peace enforcement. In light of the recent interventions by regional and sub-regional organisations in Burundi, Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia and Sudan, the transformation of the defunct Organisation of African Unity (OAU) into a more promising African Union (AU) as well as the various international programs aimed at developing regional capabilities, this article argues that, at least in Africa, the delegation of some aspects of peace operations to such organisations cannot longer be considered unfeasible, or in fact, undesirable. Instead, its most important conclusion is that the exemplary willingness and increasing capacity of Africa’s regional organisations to step up to the continent’s manifold security challenges coupled with the UN’s current overstretch as well as the notable absence of many of the problems foreseen by the “regioskeptics” bodes well for the future of regional peace operations in Africa.
The Draft Policy Paper on Peace Support Operations, prepared by the departments of defence and foreign affairs , has a number of limitations. While the title suggests the formulation of national policy, the text focuses largely on procedural matters. It does not offer any political or strategic criteria for deciding when and how South Africa should become involved in peace operations. It insists that these operations are fundamentally political and that military deployment should always be viewed as subordinate to political objectives, but it concentrates on military means and ignores the question of political ends.
The document does not analyse the dynamics and causes of conflict scenarios in which military deployment might be contemplated. It ignores the international debates on peace operations. It presents lengthy definitions of preventive diplomacy, peacemaking, peacekeeping, peacebuilding and peace enforcement, without assessing the viability and value of these activities in different situations. In short, it does not provide the perspective required of a government policy paper.
The pressure on the international community to undertake peace operations stems largely from humanitarian concerns about massive human suffering, depicted graphically by CNN and other media. The moral impulse to alleviate suffering does not constitute a sufficient basis for action, however. External interventions also have to be based on a pragmatic assessment of their potential effectiveness. Such assessment obviously depends on the circumstances of each case. Less obviously, it depends on the manner in which conflict (`the problem’) and peace (`the desired outcome’) are understood at a more general level.
This is not a matter of abstract theorising. Every planned action is based on some kind of analysis, whether or not the analysis is conscious and sound. If the problem or the desired outcome are misconceived, then peace endeavours will be ineffectual or counter-productive. Since the efforts of the international community to promote peace in Africa have not yielded great success, this paper adopts a radical stance, both in the sense of questioning conventional wisdoms and in the sense of shifting focus from the symptoms to the causes of crises.
The paper presents a framework for understanding conflict and peace, and explores the implications for peacemaking and peacebuilding, in the context of intra-state crises in Africa. It argues that military operations have limited utility in this context and that the emphasis of the Draft Policy Paper should therefore lie with the broader dimensions of peace initiatives. This would be consistent with South Africa’s comparative advantages, which derive from the success of its transition to democracy and not from its military capacity.
In using terms like `Africa’, `the international community’ and `local actors’, the paper obscures significant differences within each category. There may consequently be important exceptions to the generalisations made below, and the framework should be accompanied by country- and actor-specific analyses when determining appropriate strategies in a particular case. Apart from the section on military operations, the paper draws on the experience of practitioners at the Centre for Conflict Resolution and its partner organisations in Africa. For reasons of space, it does not address the role of civil society; for lack of expertise, it does not deal with macro-economic issues.
First published in Global Society, Vol 11, No 2, 1997
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