24 Apr 2013

SA has a major role in new SADC defence and security plan

Written by  Jill Kronenberg

No. 247: SA has a major role in new SADC defence and security plan / Jill Kronenberg / Cape Times
24 April 2013

Despite a military setback in the Central African Republic (CAR), where 13 South African troops were tragically killed last month in a gunfight with rebels, South Africa has not shied away from its commitment to joint international action to keep peace in Africa — and, in particular, has recently backed a series of bold new security initiatives in southern Africa.

This month, the government pledged that it would send troops to reinforce a UN-approved intervention brigade in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, which it first pushed for in December as a member of the SADC's security troika. The 4,000-strong neutral international force provided by South Africa, Tanzania, Malawi, and Namibia, which was instigated after M23 rebels overran the eastern city of Goma in November, represents the first time that the UN has authorised the incorporation of such a unit within a traditional peacekeeping force — in this case, the UN Stabilisation Mission in the DRC, Monusco.

As the dominant economic power in the region, South Africa has also been playing a key role in the adoption of an innovative plan promoting common intergovernmental peace and security policies, which may change the face of defence and policing in southern Africa. Launched in Arusha, Tanzania in November last year, this new blueprint substantially revises the Strategic Indicative Plan for (the SADC's Security organ) Sipo, which was first created in 2004. The Sipo plan seeks to provide SADC's 15 members with an institutional framework to co-ordinate their political, defence and security policies.

Critically, the blueprint promotes the development of common foreign policy approaches on issues of mutual concern. The document also shifts the SADC's focus from defending southern Africa from military aggression to contributing to the continent's peace and security architecture, with the operationalisation of the SADC Brigade and the full implementation of a mutual defence pact by member states.

To enhance the SADC's military responsiveness, it is further proposed that the sub-regional body's Regional Early Warning Centre is linked more closely to its Defence Intelligence Standing Committee. In addition to the new proposals for defence, Sipo II also pays particular attention to policing, both as an adjunct of regional peace initiatives and to bolster state efforts to combat crime and promote public order. In particular, it envisages enhanced co-operation between national police services in the region.

The plan also focuses on the public security challenges posed by illegal migration, prison overcrowding, poaching, maritime piracy, smuggling of goods, and transnational organised crime.

Broader state security challenges identified by Sipo II include: economic threats, foreign interference and climate change. And the plan sets ambitious targets for improving the SADC's capacity — particularly by meeting its information technology requirements — to provide timely early warning of conflicts in the sub-region, and effective management of disasters, such as food crises that can follow periodic drought and floods.

New strategies for creating safer societies include sharing intelligence on "the unchanging behaviour of society with respect to HIV/Aids", and on community-based approaches to domestic security.

However, although the observance of human rights is also listed as an important challenge in promoting greater stability in southern Africa, the document fails mention the establishment of a sub-regional commission on human rights. In fact, it lists only one specific activity related to this key area, which is to "encourage member states in the production of periodic reports on human rights issues to relevant bodies and SADC structures".

Furthermore, like Sipo I, this new initiative has been criticised for being unfocused, incoherent, and lacking proper prioritisation and implementation mechanisms. The revised document does seek greater cooperation from research and academic institutions, specifically on international relations in support of its new policymaking efforts — which was why I was at the meeting in Arusha on behalf of the Centre for Conflict Resolution in Cape Town.

However, stronger institutional support is needed to help proper implementation of the whole plan. South Africa, as the country with the greatest governance capacity, has an important role to play in forging and strengthening the mechanisms that can enable SADC to realise its important plans for a safer sub-region.

Kronenberg is a Research Assistant at the Centre for Conflict Resolution in Cape Town.

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