What is the role and position of the African Standby Force (ASF) in African security? Is the ASF an adequate conflict response mechanism? This paper argues that the ASF’s financial, logistical, technical and organisational capabilities need to be improved to enable it to fully realise its potential role. Further, the ASF should only be deployed as a last resort; parallel efforts must be carried out in diplomacy, early warning, conflict resolution and mediation.
The Constitutive Act of the African Union (AU) enshrined the AU’s right and obligation to intervene in grave circumstances (such as when war crimes and genocide are being perpetrated) to prevent such crimes against humanity. The establishment of the AU also resulted in the creation of the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA), of which the African Standby Force (ASF) forms part.
The ASF has five regional brigades supported by regional economic communities (RECs)/regional mechanisms (RMs). The ASF, which can be deployed at any stage of conflict, is expected to be ready for deployment in 2010, including for complex peace-keeping operations and intervention in response to grave circumstances.
A number of key challenges restrict the potential role of the ASF. These include:
- Political and legal issues. A clear and robust legal mandate is required for ASF operations, as well as an efficient decision-making process for mandating deployment to ensure timely responses. Mobilising and maintaining the political support of AU member states is also critical to ensure the legitimate, credible and well-timed deployment of ASF missions.
- Technical issues. It is important to: refine and elaborate policy documents and operational concepts (such as rapid deployment, maritime capabilities, formed police units and sea and air lift capabilities); strengthen structures and systems at AU and REC/RM levels; establish an effective command and control structure (including through improved recruitment policies); and provide adequate training and facilitate joint exercises.
- Operational issues. The AU needs to mobilise adequate funding to deploy and sustain ASF operations, as well as to develop effective and transparent systems for managing financial resources.
- Organisational issues. There is a need for clarity on the roles and responsibilities of the AU and RECs regarding the use and authorisation of ASF capabilities. In addition, the RECS/RMS require guidance to ensure that the different brigades adhere to the same standards and reach the same level of preparedness.
The ASF will play a key role in the AU’s response to conflict and crisis situations in the medium- to long-term. However, its success will depend on overcoming capability constraints. Key recommendations for the international community include the following:
- Include institution-building and reconstruction in the ASF’s mandate when deployed, in order to make an effective contribution to long-term peace and security.
- Recognise that the ASF is not the main instrument of the AU for conflict resolution.
- Strengthen co-operation between the AU and its partners including the UN.
- AU members should provide more resources for the implementation of its peace and security agenda. This is critical for financing ASF operations that are authorised solely by the Peace and Security Council (PSC).