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Military matters

Multidimensional challenges

by Stephan Lidsba
Security forces at the AU summit in Kampala in July

Security forces at the AU summit in Kampala in July

The African Union is setting up the African Standby Force, a response force for peace missions, which will require cooperation between the military, police and civilians. The Standby Force will be at the disposal of the AU Peace and Security Council with the mission of preventing war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. [ By Stephan Lidsba ]

The AU’s Constitutive Act of 2002 diluted the principle of national sovereignty. Unlike the UN Charter, this document includes a right to intervene should a member state commit war crimes, genocide or crimes against humanity (Article 4 (h)). Article 4 (j), moreover, grants member states the right “to request intervention from the Union in order to restore peace and security”.

The African Standby Force (ASF) is being set up for these purposes. Its duties are spelled out in Article 13 of the protocol relating to the establishment of the AU Peace and Security Council. They include emergency aid in the event of natural disasters. The ASF will consist of up to 20,000 soldiers, police officers and civilians, who are to be ready for deployment within 30 days if called on.

Three components

Recent history has shown that military intervention as such – whether by the international community, a regional organisation or even a “coalition of the willing” – may stop violence in the short term, but neither leads to medium or long-term stability nor to the establishment of new state structures. Today, peace missions are therefore designed as “multidimensional” operations: they include military, police and civilian components.

In AU parlance, multidimensional missions are also called “integrated”. This term may cause some confusion because, at the UN, the term “integrated missions” is used for multidimensional missions which include activities by UN agencies such as the UNDP or the UNHCR, for instance, on top of the standard three components. In contrast to the UN, of course, the AU does not have a range of specialised sub-agencies. The ASF needs to be set up, for otherwise the AU will remain unable to plan and implement multidimensional peace missions fast.

The administrative challenges are daunting. Peace missions are usually headed by a civilian leader. In the case of the AU, this is the SRCC, the Special Representative of the Chairperson of the AU Commission. The leaders of the three individual components report to him or her.

The duties of the three components are quite diverse, however, and they differ from component to component. Nonetheless, they all must work towards a common goal. On paper, it is easy to define the tasks of the three components (see box), but in practice, things tend to be more complicated. The staff of all three components must cooperate flexibly in a peace mission. Otherwise they will rise to diverse challenges but rather get bogged down in day-to-day routines.

At all stages, even in planning, all people involved need to understand and consider the mandates and capacities of the other components. During operations, all staff must comply with the mission’s requirements – which may be contradictory in themselves. For example, the primary duty of the armed forces is to provide a secure environment, but if they take measures that are too drastic they will undermine civic objectives.

The main duty of the police is to advise and train local police. However, these duties are hard to accomplish in crisis environments where there is no functioning justice system and most civilian people do not cooperate with the police because they do not trust officials per se.

The current situation

The AU, with the assistance of donor advice, is currently working on drafting an ASF structure to suit multidimensional operations. The AU’s Peace Support Operations Division (PSOD) is leading the effort. It is the equivalent of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) in the UN system.
The PSOD currently has about 60 staff. Its role is
– initially, to establish the institutional foundations,
– in the future, to plan and implement multidimensional operations, as well as
– to oversee ongoing AU missions in Somalia (AMISOM) and Sudan (UNAMID).

The PSOD has set up an internal unit, the Special Project Management Unit (SPMU), to oversee the ongoing missions. In the meantime, the African Standby Force Continental Planning Element (ASF Planelm) is dealing with institutional issues. So far it is made up almost entirely of military and police staff.

Lack of civilian expertise

The ASF Planelm is meant to draft multidimensional concepts for the planning and implementation of peace-support operations. A range of foreign agencies, including the GTZ, is supporting it. The biggest obstacle, however, is that the PSOD currently does not include civilian peacekeeping experts.

Consider, for instance, the ASF Planelm’s police component. In the past years, it has dealt with the issue of qualifying senior police officers for peace missions. A handbook was written, and a logistics concept is in place. These steps made sense, of course, but the police officers still need to prepare for cooperation with military and civilian partners. In metaphorical terms, the police have just about started their run-up for the leap to multidimensionality.

Similar challenges arise in respect to logistics. Military forces are used to relying on a wide range of experts and expensive equipment (including aircraft, ships et cetera), which enables them to act beyond national borders. The police, on the other hand, not only lack transport options and expertise: thinking in international dimensions is something new.In practice, the military will have to handle logistics matters for the police as well as the civilian colleagues in any multidimensional ASF operation. Doing so will require flexibility from all sides. Police and civilians will depend on the military’s logistics expertise, and the military will have to modify its operations in order to meet partners’ needs.

Interdependence issues are equally evident in the justice sector. For example, the ASF police needs a concept for dealing with prisoners in extremely fragile states where there are no operational – and certainly no acceptable – incarceration facilities. What will ASF police officers do with people they arrest?

Writing the operations manual is not simply a police duty since only civilian experts can ensure that its procedures comply with international standards and human rights. ASF-Planelm, however, does not have the appropriate personnel. Therefore, the police leadership is unable to finalise the operations manual.


The ASF has made good progress towards rapid mobilisation of military and police, but there still is work to be done in regard to multidimensionality. It is obvious that, in any emergency, the military, police and civilians will have to cooperate closely in order to achieve their shared objective of peace. However, what is well understood in theory does not necessarily translate into easy practice. The three components of multidimensional peace missions have quite different organisational cultures and methods of operation. Accordingly, there is a great need for training and practice.

At the same time, the AU Commission must boost its acceptance in the member nations. The importance of doing so is evident in the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). In the past, it suffered from sub-optimal internal procedures, among other things. Commanders of troops from contributing countries, for instance, preferred to report to their national defence ministers instead of their AMISOM superiors. Sometimes, the ministries gave orders without following the official AU procedures.

Armament of the ASF is another important issue. The AU needs stronger commitment from its member states, both in regard to itself and the ASF. In the long run, the member states will have to grant institutions they created – the AU and ASF – the resources and the authority they need to fulfil their duties.

The AU has pledged that there must never again be a genocide as in Rwanda in 1994. This is a worthy commitment. The AU, however, is probably still not in the position to enforce it.