Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

The African Union: From a Security Culture to an Emergent Strategic Culture?

Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

The African Union: From a Security Culture to an Emergent Strategic Culture?

Article excerpt


Member states of the African Union took a deliberate stance to eradicate war from the African continent. In order to operationalise this declaratory posture, the African Union institutionalised much of its commitment in the Peace and Security Council with the African Standby Force providing an envisaged military capability to support the declared stance of non-indifference to armed threats to member states. The progress within the African Union to deal with armed conflicts across the African continent draws attention to the concepts of security and strategic culture and the question: Can the African Union forge a common strategic culture amongst member states? This article explores this question and offers some insight into the difficulties of establishing a common strategic culture for the use of a strategic capability like the African Standby Force. The concluding arguments suggest that some majority conception is possible, but that an enduring common strategic culture for the African Union is premature.


The Constitutive Act (1999) of the African Union (AU) stipulates the rationale for its establishment and provides for a signatory commitment to AU ideals by every African state. In a principled and declaratory manner, African leaders pledge to uphold what the AU stands for and envisages for the future. In a normative manner, the AU represents a laudable attempt to develop a Pan-African actor destined to assume ultimate responsibility for eradicating war from the continent and to set Africa on a future pathway of security, economic growth and prosperity.

Since its official launch in July 2002 in Durban (South Africa), African conflicts almost immediately monopolised the strategic agenda and remain the most prevalent and challenging matters influencing and sapping the evolving strategic capacity of the AU. Proponents of a strategic tool for the AU to deal with African armed conflicts assume the diffusion of technological innovations, new organisations and operational concepts to steer African armed forces towards contributing to an African Standby Force (ASF). Therefore, both the AU commitment to eradicate war from the African continent and the envisaged ASF bring the interplay of declaratory commitments, strategic means and underlying cultures to the fore.

Attempts to bring together diverse African countries and integrate their strategic ways and means emphasise the importance of security and strategic cultures. Security culture influences the preferences of actors for certain policy instruments, while ideas and preferences regarding the use of military coercion stem from strategic culture. Multinational African forces designed to operate in an integrated manner in the African strategic landscape cannot avoid the interplay of security and strategic cultures. The more AU preferences for armed coercion increase, the more significant the role of strategic culture becomes.

This article offers some thoughts on an emergent AU strategic culture. The central thesis is that since 2002, attention to armed conflicts usurped the security agenda of the AU and thus raised the importance of an AU strategic culture. The opening arguments attend to selected elements of the debate on strategic and security cultures. This is followed by a discussion of an AU security and strategic culture that necessitates a closer scrutinisation of continental developments. In summary, indicators of an emergent AU strategic culture are demarcated before concluding with a number of remarks.


Literature on strategic culture generally attributes the concept to the work of Snyder, in particular to his 1977 RAND Research Report, The Soviet Strategic Culture: Implications for Limited Nuclear Operations. (1) Snyder argued that different strategic cultures formed a central tenet for the dissimilar approaches of the United States (US) and former Soviet Union to employing nuclear weapons. …

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