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Implementing Peace and Security Architecture (I): Central Africa
Implementing Peace and Security Architecture (I): Central Africa
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Report 181 / Africa

Implementing Peace and Security Architecture (I): Central Africa

More than a decade after the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) was requested by the African Union (AU) to give life to a new peace and security architecture, political and security cooperation on the continent is still in need of reinforcement.

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Executive Summary

Political and security cooperation in Central Africa is in urgent need of revival. More than a decade ago, the African Union (AU) tasked the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) to breath life into its peace and security architecture. ECCAS member states signed relevant treaties and protocols, but the multinational body has struggled to shape and implement a regional policy. To ensure this conflict-prone region moves toward greater political integration, Central African states need to reinvigorate ECCAS, reform it and decide on clear security priorities. Foreign partners should coordinate their support to the organisation in line with its needs, absorption capacity and objectives.

The spiral of conflict that set Central Africa on fire in the 1990s made painfully clear the need for a regional political and security response. With the double blessing of the AU and the European Union (EU), ECCAS committed to prevent, manage and resolve conflict in the region. Unfortunately, like previous efforts to promote economic integration, political and security cooperation has not produced the hoped-for results.

On paper, ECCAS looks good. Central African states signed a mutual assistance pact and a protocol establishing the Peace and Security Council for Central Africa (Conseil de paix et de sécurité de l’Afrique centrale, COPAX). They also set up a Regional Staff Headquarters (Etat-major régional, EMR) that runs multinational military training exercises and the Mission for the Consolidation of Peace in the Central African Republic (Mission de consolidation de la paix en Centrafrique, MICOPAX). But in reality, regional leaders have been reluctant to create and invest in an institution that constrains the way they cooperate in security matters. They voice support to a regional peace and security architecture, but half-heartedly commit to ECCAS while turning more readily to old and trusted bilateral relations to mitigate their security concerns, thus generating a confused web of partnerships.

ECCAS suffers from serious internal governance problems. Decisions on in-house issues are highly centralised and have to be made by consensus among member states. Instead of generating cohesion among regional actors, this means sensitive issues on which member states differ are avoided. It is also an institution still under construction. Human resource management is a constant problem, as is the body’s financial dependence on outside backers.

Only decisive political commitment by its members can breathe new life into ECCAS. But the successive postponement of the heads of state summit and the failure of members to appoint representatives in some of its organs reveal a lack of interest in the organisation’s purpose. Members’ distrust of each other, ingrained by a violent past, and the absence of regional leadership also drain ECCAS of its usefulness. As a result, the most serious security problems are dealt with outside the ECCAS framework, and Central Africa’s peace and security architecture has difficulty leaving the drawing board.

The region’s governments should urgently deepen their political commitment to ECCAS’s structures and projects and sort out their common priorities. They must decide if they really want to be members of ECCAS. If so, they should prove their will by undertaking several crucial steps: respect their financial obligations to the organisation; name their representatives to it; and organise a summit as soon as possible. A reform agenda should focus on the decision-making system, ensuring smooth running of the secretariat in Libreville and greater involvement of civil society. Security priorities should seek practical implementation and concrete results.

Foreign partners should establish effective coordination, tailor their support to ECCAS’s peace and security priorities and adjust it to the organisation’s absorption capacity. The first major goal is to strengthen the secretariat so it can implement its programs and avoid overspending and duplicating efforts.

In the next few years, the fundamental challenge is to give political meaning to an organisation whose members exist in a tangle of mistrust, rivalries and thinly veiled hostility. If this zero-sum geopolitics endures, Central African countries will continue to put their own narrow interests above the project of peace and security architecture. Political and security integration would then risk following in the tragic footsteps of economic cooperation.

 Nairobi/Brussels, 7 November 2011

Op-Ed / Europe & Central Asia

Better Early than Sorry: How the EU Can Use its Early Warning Capacities to their Full Potential

Originally published in Peace Lab

The European Union has put instruments and tools in place to improve its early warning mechanisms. Member states must now work with EU institutions to make them more effective. One concrete step that Germany could take is to push the new EU leadership to regularly put countries ‘at risk’ on the agenda of the Foreign Affairs Council.

The European Union has always been stronger at reacting to crises than predicting or preventing them. On too many occasions the EU was lacking strategic foresight to anticipate major developments that impacted its internal and external policies. The widespread protests and their repercussions during the Arab Spring or Russia’s annexation of Crimea were as much a surprise to most European leaders and EU institutions as to other international actors, leaving them with no better options than to scramble for crisis management solutions since it was too late for preventive measures that might have had lower costs and better outcomes.   

The EU’s Early Warning System ensures higher awareness of structural risks

Aware of these shortcomings, the EU has invested more resources in its early warning and early response capacities. The European External Action Service (EEAS) has put in place its own Early Warning System in 2014. In the EU’s own words, this system is a “tool for EU decision-makers to manage risk factors and prioritize resources accordingly.” The Division in charge of the Integrated Approach for Security and Peace (ISP) within the EEAS leads this process. Every year it works with other EU institutions to identify a number of countries ‘at risk’ with a time horizon of four years. The analysis is based on a wide range of quantitative and qualitative information from internal and external sources. This includes a Global Conflict Risk Index elaborated by the EU’s Joint Research Center which evaluates quantitative indicators in social, economic, security, political, geographical and environmental dimensions. This is complemented by intelligence-based analysis from the EU’s Single Intelligence Analysis Capacity as well as qualitative input from an EU staff review and expert country analysis. The resulting list of countries ‘at risk’ is presented to the EU member states’ ambassadors in the Political and Security Committee, before EU institutions undertake a comprehensive conflict analysis and develop concrete objectives for early action. 

This Early Warning System, in combination with flexible financial tools, especially the Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP), and better intra-institutional coordination allows the EU to be more aware of structural risks of conflict around the world and have mechanisms and tools at hand to respond before the outbreak of a crisis.

When strategic national interests are at stake, it becomes more difficult for member states to agree on a joint analysis, let alone joint action.

While this is all well and good in theory, the practice can sometimes pose challenges to this system, especially when it has to face (geo-) political realities. When EU member states have different views on the analysis of the countries ‘at risk’ or on preventive measures, this comes to the forefront. Even though they do not decide on the final list of countries identified by the Early Warning System, their buy-in is critical to ensure effective early action. When strategic national interests are at stake, it becomes more difficult for member states to agree on a joint analysis, let alone joint action. A member state that has important (or sensitive) relations with a country on the list can have an interest in blocking political or diplomatic action at the European level. It suffices to look at the Libyan example – not an early warning country, but a telling case – to see how diverging views and strategies among member states can paralyze the EU’s abilities to prevent the escalation of a crisis.

To ensure that the information gained from the EU’s Early Warning System is translated into policy despite diverging views and interests, EU member states, including Germany, can push for collective action in three areas:  

Fostering joint analysis among the EU and member states

Firstly, a regular involvement of member states in the Early Warning System and follow-up work is important. While diverging approaches to the list of countries ‘at risk’ are understandable – there is not always an obvious solution to fend off a crisis and there are limits to EU influence – it is all the more important to have a mechanism for reconciling competing views and identifying the best path forward. Both the EU and several member states have already taken steps in this direction. The EU for instance involves member state embassies in the conflict analysis they undertake in-country. Germany and the Netherlands, which both have their own national early warning systems, initiated a European Early Warning Forum that allows European governments to engage with EU institutions twice a year on the list of countries ‘at risk’.

However, there is room for more regular informal exchanges to ensure the buy-in from member states throughout the process. EU institutions should find additional ways to take member state views and inputs into account, and all 28 national governments need to actively use these opportunities to share information and ideas. Germany could work on both ends of this process, by engaging with the EU to explore creative ways to involve member states and by encouraging the latter to contribute their analysis and expertise.

Bringing early warning countries onto the political agenda

Drawing and maintaining the attention of politicians and high-level policy makers to countries that appear ‘calm’ remains a challenge.

Secondly, even with an early warning list at hand, the focus ultimately tends to remain on managing ongoing crises, with a particular emphasis on member states’ strategic interests. Drawing and maintaining the attention of politicians and high-level policy makers to countries that appear ‘calm’ remains a challenge.

An important step could therefore be a clear commitment by the incoming High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, to pay specific attention to the countries identified by the Early Warning System and to rally member states behind common preventive action. Germany should incentivize this by proposing to add one of those countries as an agenda item to the Foreign Affairs Council, where ongoing crises usually dominate the debate among European foreign ministers. Germany can also host informal high-level discussions on early warning countries in Brussels to foster debates around preventive action.

Preserving important early action tools

Finally, during the upcoming negotiations for the new EU budget for 2021-2027, member states and EU institutions should make sure that the achievements that have been made over the past years will be preserved, specifically when it comes to flexible funding of rapid reaction and long-term preventive approaches. The proposed Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI) would channel the EU’s specialized funding instruments, such as the IcSP, into one single tool. Even though the NDICI proposal foresees specific pillars for Stability and Peace as well as Rapid Response, ongoing negotiations between the EU, member states and the European Parliament could result in an over-emphasis of short-term crisis management support at the expense of long-term preventive and peace-building action.

As these budget negotiations will most likely be finalized under the German Council Presidency in the second half of 2020, Germany will have an important role in fending off attempts to cut or dilute budget commitments in this field.

All this shows that the full potential of the EU’s Early Warning System, while an important tool for increasing Europe’s awareness and joint understanding of conflict risks, is not yet being fully utilized. A higher level of political support by both EU institutions and member states might help the EU use it to better effect and become more effective in its early response to brewing crises. In recent years, Europe has seen and felt the impact of deadly conflicts around the world, several of them right at its doorstep. It should therefore be in the strategic and humanitarian interest of all member states to prevent further escalation or outbreak of violence and resulting shocks to regional stability. Member states have given the EU a clear mandate to increase awareness of conflict risks. Now that instruments and tools have been put in place, member states should work with EU institutions to make them more effective.