Regionalism into Globalism?

War into Peace?

SADC and ECOWAS compared

Anthoni van Nieuwkerk

Anthoni van Nieuwkerk is a senior lecturer at the Centre for Defence and Security Management of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa

Published in African Security Review Vol 10 No 2, 2001

The lure of regionalism has had profound effects on the foreign policies of African countries. It is contended that such collaborative efforts will serve as building blocks of a future African Economic Community and African Union. This article explores the experiences of SADC and ECOWAS, prominent African subregional organisations. With the domestic state that is more vulnerable to transnational and international developments, globalisation erodes the capacity of the state to pursue broad-based projects and undermines and transforms international relations. This leads to the ‘new security dilemma’ with the state system becoming the key source of insecurity in the contemporary world. The search for security increasingly involves the resort to different forms of exit from the system. State-centric regional co-operation thus becomes less important and in some cases obsolete. The experiences in Africa suggest a call for a more modest expectation of what regional integration can realistically achieve.


The lure of regionalism — a belief in regional co-operation and integration as a method to advance a region’s shared political, economic or security interests — has had profound effects on the foreign policies of African countries. The conventional wisdom is that such collaborative efforts will serve as the building blocks of a future African Economic Community, as well as an African Union. Many attempts at uniting as a region are informed by the experiences of the European Union and North America. But the argument is also put forward that many regional co-operation efforts are ‘homegrown’, an organic development, given specific historic, political, economic, regional and global contexts. Even if this is true, some questions remain:
  • Are such arrangements effective in today’s climate of globalisation and the concomitant marginalisation and exclusion from development prospects?

  • How well prepared and appropriate are economic co-operation projects in managing security threats inside and across borders?

  • When disagreement turns into violent conflict, can such regional institutions intervene to bring peace and repair the damage?
This article explores the experiences of two prominent subregional organisations in Southern and West Africa in this regard.

Regionalism and Africa

Co-operation between countries in specific geographic areas, whether in economic or security matters, is an ambition that resonates strongly in the minds of policymakers. The arguments in favour of regional co-operation are simple and elegant: it can strengthen the efforts of countries to manage relations with powerful external actors and can facilitate the expansion of markets that will aid industrialisation in turn.
1 The ruling élite continue to believe in the fruits of such co-operation, despite the patent inability of many such experiments to deliver tangible results.2 Their belief has been strengthened by the post-Cold War (and post-new international economic order) academic ‘discovery’ of a new form of regionalism — a multidimensional form of integration that includes economic, political, social and cultural aspects, thus going beyond the goal of creating region-based free trade regimes or security alliances.3 The focus now appears to be on the political ambition of establishing regional coherence and identity. As Hettne and others argue, several features distinguish the ‘new regionalism’ from the old: current processes of regionalisation occur more from ‘below’ and ‘within’ than before, while not only economic, but also ecological and security imperatives push countries and communities towards co-operation within new types of regional frameworks. The actors pushing the new regionalism are also more varied: including both states and a range of non-state institutions, organisations and movements. Above all, a defining characteristic is that it takes place in a multipolar global order (compared to the bipolarity of the old), making it extroverted and open, which is one way of coping with today’s global economy.4 However, proponents of this new mode of understanding regional dynamics appear unclear whether regional co-operation complements or contradicts current processes of globalisation.5

In Africa, formal regionalism has been increasingly challenged by the development of what Bach calls ‘strong trans-state flows’ (informal or ‘network’ integration or regionalisation). In his view, though these two integration patterns co-exist, they are conflictual. Formal regionalism is the outcome of state policies and involves the transfer of national state powers to a supranational body or a hegemonic state, or it can result from the more modest desire to co-ordinate sectoral policies through an intergovernmental body. As Bach points out, the impact of formal regionalism on interstate relations in sub-Saharan Africa remains only marginally important, except in the case of the African Financial Community (CFA) zone and the Southern African Customs Union (SACU).
6 Instead of integration, intergovernmental co-operation — of which there are many examples — is more successful. Trans-state regionalism relates to a cluster of practices that are described as ‘informal’ or ‘unrecorded’ trade; the ‘underground’, ‘second’, or even the ‘real’ economy; ‘smuggling’ or ‘re-exportation’; and ‘popular’ or ‘bottom-up’ regionalism. The development of trans-state flows may be understood as a corollary of the range of opportunities generated by frontier lines. These are exploited, in turn, through chains of social relations that are autonomous, though not disconnected, from institutional procedures. It may therefore involve trade and financial flows and may follow economic, political and even religious patterns of interaction and mobilisation. The strongest incentive to trans-state regionalism is the co-existence of areas with convertible currencies. In West and Central Africa, the franc zone has become the focal point for the development of trans-state flows, just as, in Southern Africa, the SACU area has had a strong polarisation effect on trans-state flows. However, even in areas of Africa without convertible currencies, sophisticated trans-state regional integration patterns still develop, involving commodities like gold, precious stones, diamonds, ivory, spices and increasingly, narcotics. The development of these networks suggests that they possess a clear capacity to respond quickly to the interplay of changing tariffs and fiscal measures, to shifts in currency demand and supply, and to fluctuations in world market prices of export crops or goods that are considered illegal in other areas on the continent. Trans-state flows furthermore have a deleterious impact on populations and states. Although such flows provide survival opportunities for large groups of the population, they do not bring about a ‘communal redistribution’ of resources. They undermine formal co-operation schemes and serve as an impetus for the deinstitutionalisation and accelerated privatisation of state agencies.

In summary, it appears that, instead of thriving formal state regionalism, the rapid spread and growth of network regionalism in Africa might revive, as Bach calls it, the classical distinction between the precolonial political formations relying on kinship and those based on the occupation of a common territory. Some African countries — Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Sudan, Somalia and Sierra Leone come to mind — might become stateless configurations based on primordial and patronage attachments. Many states will be able to survive, but as cores surrounded by peripheries that do not coincide with internationally recognised borders.

Security co-operation: The experience to date

Where does this leave security co-operation? Recent attempts by countries to find the best way to promote security reveal interesting trends that have a bearing on the question whether subregional organisations such as Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) can be successful in their peacemaking efforts. In seeking a response, it is perhaps necessary to revisit a number of basic concepts. How have states viewed the mechanisms of conflict resolution and security promotion — on national, regional and international levels? The debates between idealist and realist thinkers illustrate the divergent responses to this question. Alliances and coalition formation as techniques to protect and promote own (and neighbours’) interests are as old as political discourse itself. The idea of a universal collective security system formed part of the idealist thinking that emerged strongly after World War I. However, the failure of the League of Nations revived interest in regionalism as an alternative. This form of regionalism became known as hegemonic regionalism, where realist thinkers emphasised the role of great powers and the (conditional) protection they offer to small powers. This mode of thinking dominated the Cold War period, but not without having been challenged by idealists who promoted universalist principles, primarily through the development of the United Nations system after World War II. The formation of the UN saw a debate between the so-called ‘universalists’ and the ‘regionalists’ about what constituted the better approach to conflict resolution. Although multipurpose regional organisations such as the Organisation of American States (OAS) and the Arab League were accepted as legitimate players in the proposed universal collective security system, they were made subordinate to the authority of the newly established UN.
8 There were two reasons why hegemonic regionalism became dominant. Firstly, the UN failed to fulfil its promise. Secondly, non-hegemonic regional groups from the developing world failed to develop effective alliance roles.

A second conception of regionalism became prominent during the 1950s and 1960s, namely regional security communities. This was rooted firmly in the liberal tradition and eloquently expressed through regional integration theory. Although integration theorists were not directly concerned with security, two central ideas established a link between regional integration and regional security. Classical functionalist theory postulated the notion of spillover, whereby issue-based regional co-operation in areas of lesser salience could eventually move national actors towards a path of co-operation in areas of higher salience, including political and security co-operation. According to this logic, if functional regional groups could successfully foster economic integration, regional security would ensure that the actors would learn, over time, to resolve conflicts peacefully and co-operate on common security issues.

The transactionalist or communication approach of Deutsch and associates contributed to the influential concept of ‘security community’ as the end product of such integration. A security community comes into existence when a regional group develops institutions and practices that are strong and stable enough to assure stable expectations of peaceful change within its population in the long term. They are characterised by mutual interdependence between diverse political units; mutual responsiveness of political units; and the renunciation of the use of force among political units. Several regional security communities now exist in the west, the most prominent example being the European Union (EU). In contrast, as Acharya points out, such communities are virtually non-existent in the developing world.
9 Indeed, several have sought, but none have succeeded in achieving a level of integration that would create the conditions for a security community. Neither has regional economic integration — along the lines of the EU model — produced the desired ‘spillover’ effect leading to co-operation in security issues.

In the meantime, a third framework attempted to fill the gap between the politics of superpower rivalry and UN diplomacy in the form of regionalism as conflict control. The three regional political groups that promoted this framework — the OAS, the Arab League and the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) — emphasised the peaceful settlement of disputes among their members and, in the case of the latter two, committed themselves to the process of regional autonomy, including decolonisation and resistance to external interventions. However, this approach suffered fatal flaws in its application. Instead of developing long-term and stable institutions to facilitate conflict resolution, the Arab League and the OAU degenerated into highly personalised and politicised processes of diplomacy that achieved little success in settling the myriad interstate conflicts unleashed by the decolonisation process.
10 Furthermore, both groups proved to be more or less incapable of handling intrastate conflicts such as civil wars. Another challenge to their effectiveness was the fact that the major conflicts in their respective regions were directly related to the role of non-members. Thus, the Arab League was faced with Israel, the OAU with South Africa and Rhodesia, and the OAS with Cuba. This led to a distortion of their originally intended roles: instead of managing conflict, they assumed alliance postures vis-à-vis the regional pariahs. These weaknesses and failures triggered a subregional response. Several subregional frameworks for conflict mediation and management in the developing world emerged: the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Frontline States (FLS), the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC) and others. Subregional defence co-operation also emerged. In Acharya’s view, these groups proved more effective, in general, in the area of internal security than in ensuring external defence.

Several questions now arise. Firstly, does the lesson learned from the 1980s — that the European idea of regional integration does not transplant easily onto the African body politic — still hold true in today’s era of globalisation and marginalisation? Will the ‘new regionalism’ serve Africa’s interests better? Secondly, will the transformation of the OAU into the African Union make any difference? What is the motivation for such a union, and how appropriate is it? Thirdly, how do regions relate to and manage relations with hegemons? Israel and South Africa, for example, continue to dominate regional affairs. Finally, Acharya concludes that, in the competition between the UN and regional organisations, the former is relatively successful while the latter have gone into steady decline. He quotes Haas who said in 1986 that "there is no global division of labour among conflict management agencies now, and there probably never was." Where does this leave the current discourse on UN peacekeeping and, in particular, its apparent newly discovered love relationship with regional (so-called Chapter VIII) bodies?

A comparison between SADC and ECOWAS

In the light of the preceding theoretical overview, a comparison between ECOWAS and SADC, the two most prominent African regional co-operation bodies, will be provided. The comparison will include an examination of their raison d’être and how they have structured themselves in order to achieve their goals. The areas of co-operation and integration where they appear to be successful will be explored and finally, their flaws and failures, which may be fatal for their long-term survival, are considered.


SADC’s origins lie in the Southern African Development Co-ordination Conference (SADCC), which was formed in 1980 as part of the strategy of the FLS to counter apartheid destabilisation and promote decolonisation in the Southern African region. SADCC sought to reduce its members’ economic and transportation dependence on South Africa and to co-ordinate foreign aid and investment in the region.
11 In response to a rapidly changing regional and international political climate, SADCC negotiated a new treaty and SADC came into existence in August 1992 with ten founding members.12 South Africa (1994), Mauritius (1995), the DRC and Seychelles (1997) have since joined them.13 The SADC Treaty has common economic, environmental, political, peace and security goals for its members, as is evident in its first three objectives:
"to achieve development and economic growth; evolve common political values, systems and institutions; promote and defend peace and security."14
The impetus behind the creation of ECOWAS was the desire to develop an economic co-operation and integration scheme among its 16 West African members.15 Discussions started in 1973, leading to the signing of a treaty in May 1975 in Lagos.16 Article 2 of the Treaty states that the Community aimed:
"to promote co-operation and development in all fields of economic activity and in social and cultural matters for the purpose of raising the standard of living of its peoples."17
Although economic considerations informed the creation and maintenance of SADC, peace and security concerns were evident throughout the colonial and post-colonial period in Southern Africa.18 In fact, the FLS (formed in 1975 to advance the liberation struggles of the Southern African region) created a security substructure called the Inter-State Defence and Security Committee (ISDSC), which met regularly, yet informally, at both ministerial and official levels.19 With Namibian independence and the demise of apartheid (including an end to regional destabilisation), the activities of the FLS alliance declined. However, the 1992 SADC Treaty anticipated the creation of a security framework. Its articles identify "solidarity, peace and security" as some of the Community’s guiding principles; the "promotion and defense of peace and security" as one of its objectives; and co-operation in the area of "politics, diplomacy, international relations, peace and security" as obligatory.20 From 1994 onwards, various attempts were made to create and activate security structures.21 After much wrangling, the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security — proposed in 1996 — was adopted by SADC at an extraordinary Summit meeting in 2001. Its structural and other features will be explored below.

The 1975 ECOWAS Treaty did not include any security-related provisions, as political and ideological issues were considered divisive. Instead, economic issues were given priority as a means of developing co-operative ties. In 1978, a first attempt was made to develop a security framework by adopting a Protocol on Non-Aggression. This declaratory statement was followed in 1981 with the adoption of the Protocol Relating to Mutual Assistance on Defence (a mutual defence pact) that entered into force in 1986. It envisaged an elaborate security framework, but for political reasons, as Berman and Sams point out, none of the structures described in the defence pact have become operational.
22 The situation changed drastically when Nigeria and a small number of ECOWAS members pushed for military intervention in support of a fellow member. In order to intervene in the Liberian civil war, a new structure — the Standing Mediation Committee (SMC) — was created at the 1990 ECOWAS Summit. The SMC, in turn, established a Cease-fire Monitoring Group (ECOMOG). Following its controversial birth, it quickly assumed the role of peace enforcer, which it applied in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea-Bissau.23 ECOMOG’s experiences in Liberia and Sierra Leone prompted discussion among member states to develop an institutionalised mechanism for managing crises. At an extraordinary Summit meeting in 1997, ECOWAS agreed in principle to set up a formal mechanism to prevent, manage and resolve conflicts, as well as to supervise peacekeeping in the region.


Both communities appear to have similar formal structures and organs. Ultimate authority and decisionmaking reside with the Summit of Heads of State and Government (SADC) and the Authority of Heads of State and Government (ECOWAS). Both have a Council of Ministers, an executive secretary, a secretariat, and multiple official languages (in the case of SADC, English, Portuguese and French; in the case of ECOWAS, English and French). SADC will soon have four directorates that appear similar to ECOWAS’s four specialised commissions (trade, industry, transport and social affairs) and a tribunal, which will be similar to ECOWAS’s Community Court of Justice.

Both claim to have developed regional parliaments. This is not strictly true. The ECOWAS Treaty was revised in 1993 to expand the political mandate of its members and authorised the formation of a number of new bodies such as a regional parliament. The first ECOWAS parliamentary session subsequently took place in Abuja in February 2001, during which various committees were elected from 150 representatives of its 15 member countries. Although the 1992 SADC Treaty does not mention a regional parliament, a SADC Parliamentary Forum was established in 1996 and approved by the SADC Summit in 1997 as an autonomous institution. One of its purposes is to:
"promote peace, democracy, security and stability on the basis of collective responsibility and supporting the development of permanent conflict resolution mechanisms in the SADC sub-region and strengthening regional solidarity and building a sense of common destiny among the peoples of SADC."25
The Forum, based in Windhoek, Namibia, meets twice a year to consider issues of regional integration, interparliamentary co-operation, the promotion of democracy, gender, conflict resolution and election observation. National delegations from 12 SADC member countries participate in its activities (the DRC and the Seychelles do not participate as yet). From its constitution and structures it is clear that SADC has not evolved an elected regional parliament in the sense of a supranational body with authority to formulate or approve binding SADC policy. It seems that the Forum’s main area of activity is the observation and monitoring of elections in SADC member countries.

Finally, although both have evolved security frameworks, it needs to be tested in practice. ECOWAS is in the process of finalising an ambitious Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management, Resolution, Peacekeeping and Security. Its role is to institutionalise the peacekeeping and conflict management activities of the Community. It therefore makes provision for a Mediation and Security Council, a dedicated Secretariat, Committees of Ambassadors and Ministers, a Defence and Security Commission, an ad hoc Council of Elders, and a Subregional Security and Peace Observation System (an ‘early warning’ mechanism).
26 Although this is an important development, ECOMOG’s frustrations with conflict resolution in Guinea-Bissau, Niger, Sierra Leone and Côte d’Ivoire suggest that the organisation still has a long way to go before it can claim success.27

Although slow in responding to new regional dynamics, the extraordinary SADC Summit in February 2001 took decisions that will dramatically alter the shape and operation of the organisation in the near future. Its core purpose — the promotion of development and security — remains untouched. However, it was agreed that the Community ought to be restructured in order to function more effectively and counter the many problems of co-ordination and the institutional weaknesses previously experienced. The most important recommendations of the SADC review committee accepted by the Summit include the creation of four directorates within which all existing sectors will be clustered, the repositioning of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security as an integral part of SADC, and the strengthening of the secretariat.
28 The four directorates, to be established over the next two years, are:
  • Trade, Industry, Finance and Investment (TIFI);
  • Infrastructure and Services (I&S);
  • Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources (FANR); and
  • Social and Human Development (SHD).
Until this reorganisation takes effect, SADC’s main mode of operation is through the division of work among its members with each country responsible for co-ordinating SADC activities in a given sector of economic functional co-operation. For example, Mauritius co-ordinates the tourism sector and Tanzania the trade and industry sector. Sector specific protocols were developed for adoption. Implementation takes place once progress with policy formation has occurred. The most ambitious protocol addresses intraregional trade and, although already adopted, still awaits implementation.29

With regard to the Community’s security and defence interests, it was finally agreed that the structure, operations and functions of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security would be regulated by a (soon to be adopted) Protocol on Politics, Defence and Security Co-operation. This Protocol, reconfirming the role of the UN and OAU in the maintenance of international peace and security, states that the Organ constitutes the institutional framework within which SADC member states would co-ordinate their policies and activities in the area of politics, defence and security. It emphasises its peacemaking role (including negotiation, conciliation and mediation) and regards enforcement action as a matter of last resort. It sees a co-ordinating role for the Organ in terms of participation by SADC members in peacekeeping operations, and anticipates the development of common foreign policies, a mutual defence pact, the promotion of democracy, the monitoring of universal human rights and the establishment of an early warning system. According to the Protocol, the objectives and functions of the existing ISDSC, as well as its Defence, State Security and Public Security subcommittees and other subordinate structures will be retained (see figure below).

The ISDSC is, in fact, one of the few SADC structures that can claim to have shown success in its functional area of co-operation, that of defence and security. Historically, the ISDSC advised and implemented decisions of FLS Summit meetings. When the latter was disbanded, the ISDSC was retained and its membership was expanded to include all SADC member states. Its main objective is to promote regional co-ordination and co-operation on matters related to security and defence, and to establish appropriate mechanisms to this end. Based on its activities to date, it will probably continue to concentrate on multilateral military co-operation (including military and peacekeeping training and capacity-building); public security (exchange of information on issues such as the crossborder movement of illegal goods and people, firearm and drug-smuggling); and state security (examining threats to regime stability).
30 Two weaknesses are apparent. Firstly, the ISDSC seems firmly in control of the regional peacemaking and peacekeeping agenda, leaving very little room — if any — for the influential role of non-state actors. Secondly, unrealistic schemes such as the 1999 decision to create a brigade-size peacekeeping force only serve to reinforce the misplaced political belief among external powers that Africans ought to solve their own conflicts. Over and above the dubious morality of such an approach (who creates and sustains conflicts on the continent?) the question is what resources — political, financial and human — will be used to create and maintain such a force.

Unfortunately, the entire framework and the activities of the Organ will have to manage without a dedicated administrative infrastructure — a secretariat will be provided on an annual basis by the country of the incumbent chairperson. Nevertheless, the Organ will now be integrated into the SADC structures. The chairperson of the Organ, a head of state, shall be responsible for its overall policy direction and "shall report to the Summit." A plenary ministerial committee shall be responsible for the co-ordination of the work of the Organ. Generally, decisionmaking will be based on the so-called troika system (consisting of an immediate past, current and incoming chair) and operating at the level of the Summit, the Organ, the Council of Ministers and the Standing Committee of Officials. Finally, the creation of a Department of Strategic Planning that will assist with planning, ‘gender mainstreaming’, management and the harmonisation of its functions will strengthen the SADC Secretariat. Another long-standing problem, that of ensuring sustainability, will receive attention by the Council of Ministers that is tasked with finalising an equitable formula for contributions by member states.

* This interpretation of the future SADC structure is based on the March 2001 SADC Summit communique, as well as informal discussions with officials at the SADC Secretariat in Gaborone.

Security co-operation

An overview of the forays of both SADC and ECOWAS into military ‘adventure’ and their peacemaking efforts suggests limited success in promoting regional security. This conforms to a general trend in Africa where participation in an ad hoc military intervention is contingent upon substantial external assistance. Success is more readily achievable in the area of conflict prevention, where diplomatic and other dialogue-based interventions are the order of the day. What is the basis for this conclusion? Firstly, it is important to remember that both SADC and ECOWAS pursue economic co-operation agendas, and that there is still no conclusive evidence of a perceived spillover effect into security — as postulated by functionalist theory. Despite modest achievements with technical co-operation in defence and security issues, high-profile politically driven initiatives to halt or reverse interstate or intrastate conflict have had dubious outcomes. This seems to be the lessons of ECOMOG’s intervention in the Liberian civil war — where its presence heightened tensions and complicated conflict resolution — and in Sierra Leone — where its activities contributed to the conflict.

SADC experienced similar problems with its military interventions in Lesotho (it acted under a questionable legal mandate, sharply divided the population and had a limited impact on the political impasse) and the DRC (its legal mandate is similarly questionable, it has further weakened SADC’s common approach to peacemaking and has prolonged the war). Moreover, its experience of co-operation in the security domain is limited to various peacekeeping training exercises. Clearly, the thinking is that thorough preparation will pay off when the Organ arrives at a future situation where it believes it has to recommend a SADC peacekeeping intervention (the DRC and Angola present SADC with such choices). However, as with ECOMOG’s rather ambitious security designs, SADC will also have to await the bureaucratic machinery before any organ or mechanism can be put to the test. Further constraints are financial: who will fund the setting up and effective management of these frameworks?

Finally, two realities inhibit the emergence of true regional security co-operation. The first is old-fashioned power politics, where national decisions (with regional implications) are mostly based on the seductive appeal of the ‘national interest’, or alternatively on ‘sovereignty’. The second is the politics of greed, where profits are to be extracted by exploiting situations of intractable conflict, as Angola, the DRC, Sierra Leone and others have demonstrated. Both these realities act as a brake on the forward movement of initiatives under the rubric of regional economic and security co-operation.


In the introduction, three questions were posed. The first question was whether regionalism is an appropriate response by the developing world to the challenges of globalisation. The other two questions dealt with whether regional economic arrangements are designed to address security threats and whether they can turn war into peace.

A brief reply to the first is that three effects of globalisation must be kept in mind. Firstly, the domestic state today is more permeable and vulnerable to transnational and international developments — not only more ‘interdependent’ but also more ‘interpenetrated’. Globalisation erodes the capacity of the state to pursue broad-based projects such as reconciling capitalist development with social justice, leading state actors to undermine their own power by promoting globalisation through the ‘competition state’. Secondly, globalisation undermines and transforms international relations. Complex multilayered webs of governance are proliferating and expanding and often rooted in private sector relationships (recollect Bach’s notion of trans-state flows discussed earlier). Individuals, groups, firms, voluntary associations and the like often do not see their values and interests as being channelled simply through the state alone. Rather, they are tempted to ‘defect’ and find new ways of pursuing their ends outside, whether it is above, through, or below state processes and institutions. The international system is no longer ordered by the balance of power among states but rather by a quasi-pluralist process of diversification of power among a wider range of actors. The result, notes Cherny, resembles some aspects of the Middle Ages more than the era of the modern nation-state.31 Thirdly, these effects of globalisation lead to the ‘new security dilemma’. Actors (and academics) are beginning to perceive that the state system itself has become the key source of insecurity in the contemporary world, rather than the basic source of stability. The search for security increasingly involves the resort to different forms of exit from the system. State-centric regional co-operation thus becomes less important and in some cases obsolete.

On the latter two questions, the experiences of ECOWAS/ECOMOG in West Africa and SADC in Southern Africa suggest a negative response. However, such a reply is based on the assumption that regional economic or development communities are expected to ‘carry over’ their collaborative duties into the security realm. Perhaps the assumption is misplaced. Firstly, realist scholars and their followers maintain that the politics (and foreign policies) of states in a regional context have always been about power relations. In Africa’s hegemonic case, politics ought to be added, making for a volatile mix that should temper idealist beliefs in the establishment of ambitious regional security communities. ‘Peace through mutually beneficial co-operation’ is not inevitable. Consequently, a more modest expectation of what regional co-operation can realistically achieve is called for.

It does appear that the concept of regional security regimes, explored by Acharya in the context of the south, might be useful for African purposes. A security regime is a formal or informal arrangement with the main objective to reduce significantly, if not eliminate, the likelihood of war by securing adherence to a set of norms and rules that constrain the conflictual behaviour of regional actors in relation to one another.
32 Such a conception directs attention to the possibility of security co-operation in the absence of a common external enemy, as well as in situations where regional actors share neither a vision of integration nor a commitment to regional collective security and conflict resolution within a strong organisational framework. Security regimes are thus relevant to a regional context where the interests of national actors are neither wholly compatible nor wholly competitive and where it might be possible to secure compliance with principles, rules and norms that permit nations to be restrained in their behaviour in the belief that others will reciprocate. In summary, the suggestion is that, instead of developing grand and expensive security designs, the communities under review should rather concentrate on the goal of constraining the option of military force in conflict management. Møller reminded a conference in Harare in 2000 that, although comparisons with European models are often dubious,33 SADC and ECOWAS/ECOMOG might want to study the purposes and activities of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) more than that of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). The important difference is that the OSCE’s purpose is to "consolidate respect for human rights, democracy, and the rule of law, to strengthen peace, and to promote unity in Europe," while NATO’s purpose is "to provide a system of collective defense in the event of armed attack against any member …"34

Finally, the argument thus far casts doubt on the belief that regionalism provides an adequate or appropriate response to globalisation: it advises against economic communities pursuing military adventures, and asks for a focus on the promotion of human rather than state security, perhaps striving for the establishment of security regimes rather than communities. To this cocktail of ideas a missing ingredient must be added: the belief that in pursuit of the human security agenda, SADC and ECOWAS must ‘bring in’ the non-state sector. These would include civil society interests, non-governmental organisations, business concerns, organised labour. The absence of these organisations and movements from peacemaking endeavours will undoubtedly result in stalemate or failure. Peace is indeed a collaborative effort.


  1. C Ake, A political economy of Africa, Longman, Essex, 1981, p 160.

  2. Ibid, pp 168-170; D Bach, Regionalism versus regional integration: The emergence of a new paradigm in Africa, in J Grugel & W Hout (eds), Regionalism across the north-south divide, Routledge, London, 1999, p 152.

  3. B Hettne, The new regionalism: A prologue, in B Hettne, A Inotai & O Sunkel (eds), National perspectives on the new regionalism in the south, Macmillan, London, 2000, p xix.

  4. Ibid, p xx.

  5. For a list of the relevant literature, see Hettne, Inotai & Sunkel, op cit, pp 305-308.

  6. Bach, op cit, p 153.

  7. Ibid, p 166.

  8. A Acharya, Regional approaches to security in the third world: Lessons and prospects, in L Swatuk & T Shaw (eds), The south at the end of the twentieth century, St Martin’s, London, 1994, pp 79-94.

  9. Ibid, p 85.

  10. Ibid, p 83.

  11. P McGowan, The regional sub-system of Southern Africa, in P Nel & P McGowan (eds), Power, wealth and global order: An international relations textbook for Africa, UCT Press, Cape Town, 1999, pp 230-258.

  12. E Berman & K Sams, Peacekeeping in Africa: Capabilities and culpabilities, UNIDIR and ISS, Geneva, 2000, chapter five.

  13. The ten founding members of SADC are Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

  14. SADC, Declaration Treaty and Protocol of Southern African Development Community, SADC Secretariat, Gaborone, 1995.

  15. The sixteen ECOWAS members are Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.

  16. A Banks & T Muller, Political handbook of the world: Governments and intergovernmental organisations as of January 1, 1998, CSA Publications, Binghamton, 1998, p 1091.

  17. Berman & Sams, op cit, p 79.

  18. A Omari, The rise and decline of the frontline states (FLS) alliance in Southern Africa, 1975-1995, unpublished manuscript, 2000.

  19. J Cilliers, Building security in Southern Africa: An update on the evolving architecture, ISS Monograph 43, nstitute for Security Studies, Pretoria, 1999.

  20. SADC Treaty, op cit, 1995.

  21. See B Tsie, Regional security in Southern Africa: Whither the SADC OPDS?, Global Dialogue 3(3), 1998; W Tapfumanei, Regional security in Southern Africa: A Zimbabwean perspective, Global Dialogue 4(2), 1999.

  22. Member states have never earmarked units of their national armed forces for participation in the Allied Armed Forces of the Community (AAFC); neither the Defence Council nor the Defence Commission has been established; and a Deputy Executive Secretary (Military) has never been appointed. See Berman & Sams, op cit, p 83.

  23. See Ibid, pp 83-138 for an overview.

  24. Banks & Muller, op cit, p 1091.

  25. The SADC Parliamentary Forum Constitution. Other information gathered from the Office of the Secretary-General. For more detail see the very informative website of the Forum at <>.

  26. See Berman & Sams, op cit, pp 138-149.

  27. Emmanuel Kwesi Aning argues that ECOWAS’s inability to resolve post-1990 conflicts in the West African region has undermined its political principles and the criteria for intervention by the mechanism. See E K Aning, Toward the new millennium: ECOWAS’s evolving conflict management system, African Security Review 9(5/6), 2000, p 11. According to Funmi Olonisakin, subregional economic organisations such as ECOWAS encounter various practical problems in conflict management. The first is that they are structurally unprepared for peacemaking or peacekeeping roles, and suffer from human and financial resource constraints. Secondly, they find it difficult to play a neutral and impartial role, especially where hegemons enter the picture (Nigeria in ECOWAS and South Africa in SADC). Finally, there are numerous operational problems associated with deploying a multinational peace force. F Olonisakin, Conflict management in Africa: The role of the OAU and subregional organisations, in JKCilliers & A Hilding-Norberg, Building stability in Africa: The challenge for the new millennium, ISS Monograph 46, Institute for Security Studies, Pretoria, February 2000.

  28. 2001 SADC Extra-ordinary Summit communiqué.

  29. See M Mayer, Promoting industrial development through trade integration: The case of SADC, Global Dialogue 2(3), 1997; P Kalenga, Trade and industrial integration in Southern Africa: Pitfalls and challenges, Global Dialogue 4(3), 1999.

  30. For a fuller discussion see Cilliers, op cit, pp 37-53.

  31. P Cherny, Globalisation and the disarticulation of political power, in H Goverde et al (eds), Power in contemporary politics: Theories, practices, globalisations, Sage, London, 2000, chapter 8.

  32. Acharya, op cit, pp 89-92.

  33. B Møller, Security co-operation in Southern Africa: Lessons from the European experience, paper read at a SARIPS colloquium, Harare, September 2000.

  34. Banks & Muller, op cit, pp 1126, 1132.