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International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect
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By Paul D. Williams
The Center for Strategic and International Studies Africa Policy Forum
13 July 2007

Recent changes in the normative landscape of Africas international relations provide both opportunities and challenges for U.S. policymakers charged with protecting U.S. security interests on the continent. In the last decade, the security culture of the African Union (AU) has developed in some relatively radical ways. These have created new opportunities for furthering a long-term U.S. strategy aimed at promoting democratization and curbing the excesses of state power that have done so much to destabilize Africa. There are also new opportunities to advance the esponsibility to protect (R2P) agenda adopted by the United Nations General Assembly World Summit in 2005. This agenda commits individual states and the international community to protecting populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity. If successfully implemented in Africa, R2P would make a tremendous contribution to promoting stability and peace.

()The Bush administration was rather reluctant to endorse the R2P agenda. To date, much of the public debate has revolved around the most controversial R2P issue what the International Commission on State Sovereignty and Intervention (ICISS) referred to as the responsibility to react in the case of Darfur. This quickly produced a diplomatic dead-end as it became clear that there was no international consensus on which actors had the secondary responsibility to protect Darfurs endangered civilians after the Government of Sudan proved itself either unwilling or unable to do so.

A more productive approach would be to invest greater effort in supporting African institutions designed to help promote the less well-advertised elements of the R2P agenda, namely, the responsibilities to prevent and to rebuild. Instead of planning controversial military actions aimed at elusive terrorist targets in Somalia, the United States could better promote the R2P agenda by tasking its diplomatic A-team to devote some serious and sustained attention to conflict prevention and mediation efforts around the continent. Beyond the current focus on Sudan, Somalia and Algeria, good places to start engaging in serious mediation would be Guinea, Chad, Central African Republic, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe. As the Darfur Peace Agreement (May 2006) aptly demonstrates, parachuting in diplomatic heavyweights late in the process and expecting them to produce viable peace agreements on the basis of timetables fixed in Washington D.C. is not only nave but risks alienating the parties with whom an agreement will need to be devised.

Arguably, the single most important institution in this regard is the AUs Peace and Security Council (PSC). Yet this remains massively under-resourced. Three years after its official launch, PSC officials are too few in number and swamped with massively complicated security challenges. Many are working on precarious short-term contracts and without sufficient administrative and technical support. The United States and other powerful states could play a constructive role by helping to make working for the PSC Secretariat an attractive career option, thereby attracting (and retaining) the continents best minds. What would be small change in U.S. budgetary terms could make a significant difference to this important new institution. Over time, a PSC Secretariat staffed by committed experts might just develop some of the autonomous bureaucratic power needed to encourage African governments to live up to their commitments under the R2P agenda. The R2P agenda will make greatest headway in Africa when it is promoted by local rather than foreign voices.

In the last decade, African governments have changed the stated objectives embodied in the continents primary organization in significant ways. The AUs new security culture provides the most fertile terrain to date on which to promote democracy and the responsibility to protect in Africa. As a country that claims to support both, the United States should focus less on short-term agendas related to the war on terror and oil, and more on supporting African institutions that might one day be able to nurture both democracy and peace without relying on outside support. The means that Washington chooses to employ today will shape the ends we can expect to see in Africa tomorrow.

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