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Implementing Peace and Security Architecture (III): West Africa
Implementing Peace and Security Architecture (III): West Africa
How UN Member States Divided Over Climate Security
How UN Member States Divided Over Climate Security
Group photograph of the heads of states and Government at the 48th Ordinary Session of the Ecowas Authority of Heads of State and Government in Abuja, 16th December 2015. AFP PHOTO/NurPhoto
Report 234 / Africa

Implementing Peace and Security Architecture (III): West Africa

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has a formidable record in its efforts to promote peace in a particularly turbulent region. Still, reform is essential to give the organisation new impetus, and is ever more urgent as insecurity worsens throughout the Sahel and Lake Chad regions.

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Executive Summary

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), now in its 41st year, has a formidable record, both in its efforts to enhance regional economic integration, its initial mandate, and to promote peace in a particularly turbulent region. Still, the organisation has demonstrated shortcomings requiring significant institutional change. Reform is essential to give the organisation new impetus, and is ever more urgent as insecurity worsens throughout the Sahel and Lake Chad regions – crisis zones extending beyond ECOWAS’s geographic area and where it has limited impact and influence.

Comprising fifteen states of great political, linguistic and economic diversity and spanning a vast geographic area from the Atlantic coast to the Sahara desert, ECOWAS has been the most sought-after African regional economic body in the field of peace and security in the past 25 years. The organisation, itself composed of fragile states, has been forced to put out fires within its own member states. 

The ECOWAS region has experienced over forty coups since the independence era and seen some of its leaders trying to keep their grip on power at any cost, or establish political dynasties. The body has also been confronted with more complex crises in the form of identity-based armed rebellion, as in Côte d’Ivoire, or jihadist threats, most recently in Mali. Since the 1990s, through the authority of its Heads of State and Government, ECOWAS has reacted to these crises systematically. It has yielded incontestable political and diplomatic results, but its military record is more mixed. 

ECOWAS’s interventions in Guinea-Bissau, Mali and Burkina Faso have highlighted the organisation’s strengths, but also its limits. It has neglected several of its key objectives, including strengthening the political and security institutions of member states, reassessing all dimensions of its Standby Force and enhancing regional cooperation on transnational security threats. Such threats pose a challenge to established crisis prevention or resolution mechanisms, and cannot be overcome by traditional mediation tactics and the deployment of military missions.

The organisation has developed a number of strategy documents and action plans in recent years to correct its shortcomings, but must implement them fully to address myriad threats. These include the trafficking of drugs, weapons and humans; the proliferation of groups linked to transnational terrorist organisations; and the major regional challenges of poverty, unemployment and significant population growth. In addition, ECOWAS needs to undertake significant internal reorganisation, modernise its human resources management and develop a results-based culture. The new president of the ECOWAS Commission, Marcel Alain de Souza, should make it a priority as pledged in his inaugural speech on 8 April 2016. Nigeria, which through its economic and demographic dominance wields unmatched influence in West Africa, must also play a leading role in implementing these reforms. 

This report, the third and final in a series analysing the regional dimension of insecurity in Africa and collective and individual state responses, presents ECOWAS’s current institutional apparatus in the field of peace and security, and analyses its responses and deficiencies through three case studies: Guinea-Bissau, Mali and Burkina Faso. It is part of a broader reflection on the changing nature of conflict and growing transnational threats, problems requiring novel solutions which regional bodies are well placed to find. This report considers what institutional reforms need to be undertaken to improve ECOWAS’s collective action in the face of formidable challenges to peace and security in West Africa.


To strengthen ECOWAS’s institutions in the field of peace and security

To ECOWAS’s Authority of Heads of State and Government:

  1. Reaffirm the essential and irreversible nature of the implementation of the institutional reform proposed in 2013 that aimed to strengthen the organisation’s capacity in the field of peace, security, stability and social and economic development.
  2. Create a working group tasked with monitoring the implementation of this reform process, including heads of state and government, or, alternatively, high-level political figures, representative of the political, cultural and linguistic diversity of ECOWAS.

To the president of Nigeria:

  1. View the restoration of Nigerian diplomacy and its influence throughout Africa as a priority for the federal government, and make the revitalisation of ECOWAS a central pillar of this renewed diplomatic role.
  2. Strengthen ECOWAS’s capacity by supplying additional financial resources to peacekeeping or peace-enforcing missions.

To the president of the ECOWAS Commission:

  1. Take immediate action to improve the efficiency of departments, by addressing dysfunctions within human resources management, administration and finance, and blockages or delays in the implementation of decisions which result from the concentration of power within the commission presidency.

To improve ECOWAS’s efficiency in attaining its objectives for peace and security

To the ECOWAS Commission:

  1. Accompany member states in the reform of their political practices to strengthen their legitimacy and effectiveness, specifically in the areas of good governance and in strengthening their judiciaries in line with ECOWAS protocols, specifically by establishing ECOWAS permanent representation offices in every member state.
  2. Strengthen the capacity of member states to face collectively transnational threats by:
    1. creating an ECOWAS centre for the fight against organised crime that would integrate different action plans against transnational criminal activity, including terrorism, drug, human and arms trafficking and maritime piracy;
    2. strengthening communication between Abuja, the permanent representation offices and member states;
    3. encouraging them to develop greater knowledge of political and security dynamics in neighbouring regions, specifically North and Central Africa, and ensuring regional collaboration occurs at political, technical and operational levels, and engages all actors, including the judicial system;
    4. strengthening significantly ECOWAS’s expertise on other regional economic communities in Africa and throughout the world, and inviting other regional economic communities in Africa and the African Union (AU) to define a frame­work of coordination and collaboration on issues of terrorism, trafficking, maritime security, money laundering, infiltration and destabilisation of states by criminal networks.
  3. Implement the recommendations of ECOWAS’s self-assessment conducted in 2013 following the Mali crisis, specifically those concerning operationalising the mediation facilitation division and re-examining all dimensions of the ECOWAS Stand­by Force (doctrine, operational procedures, logistical strategies and financing).

To West African civil society organisations:

  1. Support publicly the recommendations contained in the institutional reform project proposed in 2013, and implement an ad hoc structure for West African civil society to independently monitor its implementation.

To AU member states and to the chairperson of the AU Commission:

  1. Clarify the principles of subsidiarity, comparative advantage and responsibility sharing to quell tensions between the AU and ECOWAS during major crises in West Africa and its neighbours.
  2. Continue to reflect on the doctrine, format and configuration of the African Stand­by Force with a view to better adapting the model to current threats and the future of peace and security on the continent, drawing lessons from challenges encountered by ECOWAS.

To ECOWAS’s international partners:

  1. Support ECOWAS’s institutional reform without interfering in the process, and continue technical and financial assistance projects while ensuring they do not reduce incentives for reform.

Dakar/Brussels, 14 April 2016


How UN Member States Divided Over Climate Security

Russia this month vetoed a UN Security Council resolution on climate security, despite the proposal’s overwhelming support among member states. This represents a significant setback, but states should continue to push the Security Council to confront climate change's destabilising effect on international peace.

On 13 December, Russia vetoed a UN Security Council resolution on climate security tabled by Ireland and Niger. This draft resolution was a relatively modest text, focusing on improving the UN’s analysis of the links between climate change and instability in countries and regions on the Council’s agenda, and requesting the Secretary-General to produce a report on these issues by December 2023. Russia argued that there was not enough evidence to justify these links and complained that the Irish and Nigeriens had made insufficient efforts to secure consensus for their initiative. While twelve Council members voted for the resolution, India opposed it on similar grounds to Russia, and China abstained.

Although the resolution failed, it was popular among the wider UN membership. Ireland and Niger invited states inside and outside the Council to co-sponsor the text (as Crisis Group had recommended) and 113 did so. This was the second highest number of co-sponsors for any draft resolution in the Council’s history – 134 states backed a successful resolution on the fight against Ebola in 2014 – and yet it understates the level of support for the draft, as some countries tried to add their names to the list after the deadline to do so had passed.

The level of support for the resolution was highest among European states (see map). Nearly two thirds of Latin American and Caribbean states co-sponsored the text, as did 26 of the 54 African members. All three African members of the Council – including Kenya and Tunisia in addition to Niger – had been strong supporters of the initiative. Among the broader UN membership, support was notably high among states from the Sahel region, where the Council has already acknowledged climate change as a security threat. Just before the vote on the Irish-Nigerien text on 13 December, Russia tabled a resolution of its own on sources of instability in the Sahel, including references to environmental matters in addition to threats such as terrorism. This may have been meant as a sop to Niger or simply as a distraction from the main resolution. Neither Ireland nor Niger saw this narrow and regionally focused text as a real alternative to their own, and talks on the Russian draft last week were desultory.

Three members of the Security Council – France, Kenya and Vietnam – that backed the Irish-Nigerien draft in talks this summer and autumn did not co-sponsor the draft. France was concerned that a Russian veto would set back discussions of climate security in the Council and urged Ireland to avoid a showdown (the U.S., by contrast, seems to have supported a tougher line toward Russia). Kenya’s refusal to co-sponsor the text appears to have been linked to dissatisfaction over the outcome of the November UN climate summit in Glasgow, where developing countries were disappointed by richer nations’ limited offers of financial support for climate adaptation. Despite their qualms, the three countries did finally vote in favour of the resolution. 

China’s abstention was striking, as the Chinese in coordination with India and Russia had formally objected to Ireland and Niger bringing the issue to a vote. Council members, apparently including the U.S., had warned China – which has historically been quite reluctant to use its veto – that a negative vote could hurt their image as leaders on climate change diplomacy more generally. In explaining his vote, the Chinese ambassador took the opportunity to highlight developed countries’ responsibilities to assist poorer countries in responding to climate change. He even suggested the Security Council set up a mechanism to monitor this, although this was most probably meant to be a dig at the Western supporters of the resolution, rather than a serious policy proposal.

The high level of co-sponsorship for the resolution has led some diplomats to suggest that countries concerned about climate security should table a similar text in the UN General Assembly, where members do not have vetoes. France has suggested a General Assembly initiative along these lines in the past. Taking this route might have advantages, as the Assembly could call for an even broader survey of climate and security challenges, looking beyond the countries and regions on the Security Council agenda. But tabling such a resolution would mean entering a new round of negotiations and absent a big effort by the sponsors could have less impact than a Council product: General Assembly resolutions typically lack the profile of those from the Security Council and can be anodyne.

It is unlikely that anyone will table an updated version of the Irish-Nigerien resolution in 2022.

Whatever happens in the General Assembly, members of the Security Council that backed the Irish-Nigerien resolution will continue to push for references to the effects of climate change in mandates for UN peace operations and political missions, although some worry that India, Russia and – notwithstanding their recent abstention – China will now push back on these case-by-case references more firmly (in part to avoid creating precedents for future thematic resolutions on the topic). It is unlikely that anyone will table an updated version of the Irish-Nigerien resolution in 2022. Brazil will join the body in January and align with the climate security sceptics, making talks on a new text more difficult.

The Security Council’s stumble on climate security follows its poor showing on COVID-19 last year when the U.S. and China held up an agreement on a resolution on the security implications of the pandemic for months. This latest setback provides ammunition for those that argue that the Council is unable to keep up with new and evolving security threats. Nonetheless, the high level of support for this resolution suggests that many states would still like to see the Council play a greater role in tackling these non-traditional threats. Sadly, the destabilising effects of climate change on international peace and security may have to become more glaring before all members of the Council concur.