Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

Conventional Arms Control in Post-Cold War Sub-Saharan Africa: Problems and Prospects

Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

Conventional Arms Control in Post-Cold War Sub-Saharan Africa: Problems and Prospects

Article excerpt

Dr 'Funmi Olonisakin (*)


In spite of the substantial reduction in inter-state conflicts in the post-Cold War period and an apparent search for common and co-operative security among states in different regions, these developments have not translated to a real reduction in military spending and control of conventional arms in sub-Saharan Africa. This article discusses the reasons for the limited progress in the area of conventional arms control, and the prospects of achieving progress in this field in the foreseeable future. It argues for a holistic approach to the control of conventional arms in Africa. The mere reduction of conventional arms will not lead to the long-anticipated economic development in many African countries unless it is accompanied by changes in all other aspects of security. This article finds that Africa is gradually moving in the direction of a conventional arms control regime although it is not a co-ordinated effort. In addition to patterns of massive arms accumulation in crisis areas, it finds a correlation be tween the prevailing system of government and a regime's defence spending. The prospects for managing this trend and the obstacles that must be overcome, are the focus of this article.


Discussion on conventional arms control in Africa both during and after the Cold War has, amongst others, revolved around four issues. The first is the argument that links disarmament with development in Africa. Those who advance this argument state that Africa can ill-afford to expend resources on arms, even though the region's arms expenditure constitutes only a small percentage of the global total, when these resources could be diverted to more productive areas such as the economy. The second issue is the difficulty in controlling conventional arms given that states have a legitimate and legal right to acquire them for purposes of self-defence. Moreover, it is difficult to accurately determine when accumulation of conventional arms is excessive or destabilising. Thirdly, with the end of the Cold War came the assumption that the end of superpower rivalry will naturally lead to a reduction in military spending and arms accumulation. Lastly, it is assumed that the control of small arms should take precedence over all other classes of conventional weapons as they pose the greatest threat to security on the continent.

However, some of these viewpoints have amounted to nothing more than wishful thinking. Although the threat of inter-state conflict is significantly reduced in Africa, this has not been accompanied by a corresponding reduction in conventional arms. In addition, there has also been a proliferation of light weapons as a result of other factors such as flawed approaches to national security and armed intra-state conflicts. The reduction of all classes of conventional weapons -- including light weapons and small arms -- must be sought together with other common security threats facing African countries. Many African states continue to accumulate conventional weapons according to threat perceptions, which are internal rather than external. The reactions of a state to such perceptions and the consequences of such reactions have had spill-over effects on neighbours in terms of weapons proliferation. Such internal security threats must be dealt with and all states must be internally stable before a conventional arms control regime can succeed on the continent. This article makes a case for the reduction and control of all categories of conventional arms in Africa and discusses the potential obstacles to the achievement of this goal.


The reduced threat of inter-state conflict has not diminished the need for a control of and reduction in expenditure on conventional arms/forces in Africa. The argument often advanced in studies of disarmament during the Cold War,

namely that there is a causal link between disarmament and development, still bears relevance in the post-Cold War climate. …

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