In The Media

How Canada can help secure Africa

Canada should take the diplomatic lead with like-minded allies to negotiate a durable NATO-AU political relationship.

by Alexander Moens and Jimmy Peterson

August 29, 2012

Canadian foreign policy has made more headlines engaging in robust peace operations with NATO than in pursuing multilateral diplomacy and soft power.

The build-up of the Canadian Armed Forces since 2005 was crucial to maintain Canada's frontline contributor status to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. Canada also undertook a visible role in enforcing the United Nations Security Council's resolution 1973 in Libya, alongside the United States, France, and Britain.

But foreign policy is seldom one-sided or simplistic. Less known to Canadians is the role Canada is playing in supporting the African Union.

Canada has provided equipment and training resources to the AU Mission in Sudan in 2005 and to the hybrid AU-UN operations in Darfur since 2008. Canada also trains personnel for the African Standby Force and contributes to African policing and humanitarian efforts. Recently, Canada announced that it would provide support for the AU Mission in Somalia.

There are three interesting patterns in this activity in Africa when examined in light of the switch to a more robust foreign policy stance under Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

First, Canada's work in Africa combines the hard security approach of NATO with soft power concepts embodied in human security, the responsibility to protect, and the role of the International Criminal Court in dealing with crimes against humanity.

In effect, the Liberal Party's agenda is not abandoned, but is merged with the Conservative Party's agenda on stronger methods.

Second, Canada and other allies such as Norway do not pursue NATO-led operations in competition with the UN or the AU. In Sudan and Somalia, the mandate came either from the UN Security Council or from a widely-respected NATO-AU agreement when a Chinese veto prevented UN action.

The UN takes part in some aspects of peacebuilding while NATO assists the AU with force planning, command and control, and military training. NATO allies such as Canada provide airlift to Nigerian and Kenyan soldiers to be deployed as UN or AU peacekeepers.

Third, the partnership developed between NATO and the AU not only respects the AU as the security driver in Africa, but also helps build conditions to develop a security regime in the long run. The AU has enshrined the principles of human security and R2P and instituted a collective security mechanism to implement these principles in its Constitutive Act. NATO builds on this design by avoiding Western troops on the ground and supporting the AU where it is weak, for example in communications, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, as well as command and control, and logistics.

The trust built between NATO and the AU was broken in the Libyan crisis when NATO's air mission helped end the Gaddafi regime. The AU was not united, but it had a road map which did not envision outside military force in helping to topple Gaddafi.

Justifiably or not, many African decision-makers feel NATO disrespected Africa's emerging security regime. The NATO-AU relationship hangs in the balance.

Meanwhile, the African security environment is worsening while the security framework is fragile. NATO is a better toolbox to help Africa than the UN.

Canada should take the diplomatic lead with like-minded allies to negotiate a durable NATO-AU political relationship. In addition, Canada should expand NATO's technical and military support for AU operations and training in order to help build an effective African Standby Force and a strong security regime.

For example, the newly-recognized state of South Sudan is under siege by the aggressive tactics of the regime in Sudan. NATO needs to help the AU to stop attacks launched by Khartoum to avoid war and a massive humanitarian disaster.

Alexander Moens is a research fellow with the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute and a professor of political science at Simon Fraser University. Jimmy Peterson is a researcher and BA candidate at SFU.

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