Reinvigorating the African Standby Force-How to Develop the Envisioned "African Solution for African Problems"

To avoid a tragic exacerbation of the regional conflict in Darfur, the world stands largely united in its condemnation of Khartoum and its hope for the eventual introduction of an international UN peacekeeping force. Given the significantly limited experience, resources, and mandate of the in-country African Standby Force (ASF), deployed as the African Mission in Sudan (AMIS), it is desperately apparent that horrific consequences may result if the UN fails to augment or replace this fledgling contingent with a force of considerably greater capacity, resources, and political power. Yet, regardless of the size, form, or leadership of this anticipated UN deployment, the tragedy of Darfur, when viewed in relation to AMIS inability to stabilize regional strife, highlights the urgent need to amplify the peace-enforcement capabilities of the ASF.

Recognized upon inception in 2003 by the AU as a pan-African solution to African problems, the ASF represents the continent’s best opportunity to organically resolve a wide spectrum of conflicts ranging from disaster relief to armed peace-enforcement intervention. With authority outlined within Article 4(h) of the AU’s Constitutive Act, providing the right to intervene in any member state for the reason of war crimes, genocide, or crimes against humanity, the ASF was conceptually envisioned as an African blue helmet force, a robust, and quickly deployable unit with the flexibility to perform a divergent array of missions within considerably varying environments. This envisioned force, historically speaking, would have the capability to deliver food supplies through war-lord dominated Somalia, immediately intervene across national borders to avert genocide in 1994 Rwanda, and to enforce existing peace accords governing warring factions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Given the United Nations’ increasingly demanding workload, (18 current missions totaling 73,000 uniformed personnel), traditionally limited resources (4.75B budget in 2006 with $1.4B outstanding), and the disturbing trend of continued regional unrest in numerous African states (7 current UN missions), the ASF was identified by the AU as an attractive alternative to UN involvement. Yet, to successfully assume this envisioned blue helmet role, the ASF requires significant magnification and investment to develop, resource, and maintain an effective peace-enforcement capacity.

While the developmental timeline for the ASF was initially divided into two implementation deadlines, the latter of which extends through July, 2010, in its present stage, as demonstrated by its ineffectiveness in Sudan, the ASF has significant weaknesses which preclude it from effective peace-enforcement utilization. Amongst other typical developmental growing pains, these weaknesses include poor logistical support for mission preparation, deployment and execution, an under-developed organizational structure lacking unity of command, and significantly under-trained and inexperienced personnel. If the ASF is to become a viable component of future peace-enforcement solutions for near-term conflicts, its developmental timeline must be accordingly accelerated.

To speed this developmental process, five recommendations are presented to the international community in the interest of building a more robust ASF peace-enforcement capacity.

First, identify and select the most pertinent operational requirement for the force and focus the majority of developmental efforts upon this particular mission. As stated earlier, the most critical mission for the ASF in today’s operating context is peace-enforcement, the ability to conduct an armed intervention deployment across potentially hostile borders and separate warring factions to avert genocide or other similar crimes against humanity. All other missions which the ASF intends to perform in the future- disaster/humanitarian relief, peacekeeping, nation-building- are all of lesser priority and can be developed as time and resources permit. By identifying peace-enforcement as the foremost mission priority, the ASF can most efficiently allocate resources in time, material, training, and experience towards achieving competence in its most critical mission function.

Second, secure the fiscal resources necessary to achieve developmental goals. The ASF is funded primarily by the AU’s Peace Fund, which, as of this writing, is grossly under-supported with barely enough capital to sustain an AMIS extension through March, 2007. ASF funding has been a long-standing issue, given the lack of available financial support from AU member states and lukewarm support from wealthier G8 nations. In 2003, when the concept of the ASF was initially brought to the G8 Summit in Evian, France, the G8 failed to commit sufficient funding that would have accelerated its initial developmental timeline. Now in 2006, for the ASF to complete its development into a viable peace-enforcement entity, significant subsidies from G8 nations are desperately needed in the aggregate range for 2006-2008 of approximately 500MM.

Third, re-engage the Operation Focus Relief concept, a 2000 U.S. State Department initiative which worked with ECOWAS (Economic Community of Western African States) forces to develop significant military peacekeeping capacity. As LTC Mike Denning recounts in his essay, A Prayer for Marie, this initiative took place over 16 months and cost just $87MM while fully equipping and training seven mission-capable ECOWAS battalions for their eventual operational deployment to Sierra Leone. While U.S. military’s ability to perform this function may be extremely limited given current obligations in the Middle East, other western advanced militaries should be approached to lead similar training operations for ASF elements, which could be further augmented with additional logistical subsidies in such critical areas as vehicles, small arms, medical supplies, and communications equipment.

Fourth, the ASF desperately requires political support, endorsement and validation from western nations to be recognized as a potential future replacement for (or augmentation to) traditional UN blue helmet peacekeeping deployments. In 2004, at the Sea Island, Georgia G8 Summit, world leaders made great strides in promoting the growth and development of new international peacekeeping forces, starting with a proposed peacekeeping center in Italy, yet without specific endorsement for the future of the ASF. With similar political support from world leaders placed upon the ASF concept, the AU can make significant traction with member states for supporting and utilizing a Pan-African alternative to UN peacekeepers.

Fifth, militarily-advanced nations should provide greater opportunities for ASF elements and leaders to conduct effective, mission-related training at regional training centers and military schools. Such opportunities could include an invitation to train at the U.S. Joint Readiness Training Center, world-renown for its realism and ability to integrate hard to replicate facets of peacemaking such as the presence of civilians and media on the battlefield. Additional learning opportunities for ASF leaders should also be provided within western military service academies and military schools to improve the quality of leadership, knowledge, and professionalism at the highest levels.

These recommendations, when implemented with a significant amount of international support and media attention, will assist in accelerating the development of the envisioned ASF peace-enforcement capability. This hoped-for ASF of the future will be capable of achieving the AU’s original conceptualization of an organic African solution capable of solving African problems. If it fulfills its developmental mandate to become a viable alternative to UN intervention, the ASF will hopefully one day become the quickly deployable and mission-capable element which can help avert future atrocities such as those committed in Rwanda and those which we strive to prevent today in Darfur.

John Ser
afini (HBS/KSG 07) is a literary contributor to the Good Harbor Report (, an online source of news and opinion on foreign policy and national security. Opinion pieces are reprinted in
The Harbus with the consent of the Good Harbor Report.