Regional and global military intervention

18 November 2013 | ResolutionPossible

As part of our two week series on armed conflict, we wanted to look at the regional approaches to resolving conflicts versus international interventions. This blog deals with multilateral interventions by regional (for example the African Union) and international (for example the UN) troops. To join the conversation on military intervention, explore the other blogs as well as external contributions in our series.

The discussion on whether a regional or an international approach to managing armed conflict is more suitable is on-going. Former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, expressed that “multi-lateral institutions and regional security organizations have never been more important than today“, recognising that regional organisations have a significant role in promoting peace and security. Regional organisations, such as the African Union and the Arab League, have become more prominent in regional conflict resolution in the past decade.

Three prominent regional organisations active on the continent in military or development capacity: The African Union, the Arab League and the Southern African Development Community (SADC):

Arab League African Union (AU) Southern African Development Community (SADC)

African solutions to African problems

In the spirit of African solutions to African problems, the development of the African Union standby force demonstrates that the continent is intending to restore peace and stability within its borders using African institutions and without external assistance. The AU standby force is expected to be ready and deployed by 2015 to help resolve conflicts on the continent. There are various reasons why a regional organisation would be preferred  to resolve armed conflict. Regional organisations, often made up of neighbouring countries, may have a vested interest in preventing conflict from spilling over into their own countries. Neighbouring countries are also within closer proximity to conflicts than their global counterparts and can provide a more timely response. They often have a more astute understanding of the complex nature of the tensions.

Strain on the UN?

Regional organisations also present an attractive alternative to the overstretched UN. The end of the Cold War saw a dramatic increase in demand on the UN for peacekeeping and peace-building operations. UN missions shifted from monitoring of ceasefires and other general observational tasks to human rights monitoring, disarmament and reintegration of armed groups and reformation of governance and security institutions. The increase in demand on the UN has aided the international endorsement of regional organisations to manage certain regional conflicts, such as the African Union Mission in Darfur (AMIS).

Neighbourly relations

However, complicated relationships between neighbouring countries could potentially lead to negative outcomes of regional intervention. The complex and very violent history between Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, has lead to tensions this past year regarding the disputed responsibility over the M23 troops. Congolese suspicions towards any Ugandan and Rwandan interventions are deeply rooted in its recent history, when the two countries intervened in Congolese conflicts but were accused of human rights abuses and exploiting the mineral rich area in the late 1990s. Rwanda and Uganda were accused of supporting the M23 this past year, and both were reluctant to assist militarily and DR Congo is convinced the M23 is a proxy to the Ugandan and Rwanda interests. Last week the M23 surrendered to the Ugandan authorities. This in itself is a great triumph for the Congolese army, however questions about Uganda’s involvement are once again raised, because the M23 surrendered there rather than in the DRC itself.

Congolese soldiers guard suspected M23 rebel fighters who surrendered in Chanzu after a counteroffensive by DR Congo government troops (Reuters)

Congolese soldiers guard suspected M23 rebel fighters who surrendered in Chanzu after a counteroffensive by DR Congo government troops (Reuters)


AMIS and the African Union Mission in Burundi (AMIB) demonstrated that actions by regional organisations may be delayed due to limited financial or material capacity.  The AU’s struggle to ensure member states pay their dues has substantially impeded the availability of finance for interventions. This ultimately causes crucial delays to troop deployment and lack of basic items that are necessary for missions to operate, such as food, medical supplies and transport. The severe lack of capacity suffered by AMIS in Darfur, for example, led to it being replaced  by a UN hybrid mission, UNAMID.

ResPoss asks:

Are regional organisations the future of armed conflict resolution?

Could regional intervention lead more easily to non-military conflict resolution due to its geographic proximity, as well as closer economic, political and social ties to its neighbouring country? Or should every intervention be a hybrid mission, combining the beneficial factors that both regional and international intervention can offer?

To what extent does the involvement of both regional and global actors affect the potential success of conflict resolution?

Contributing writer/research: Hannah Caswell

Stay informed | Join the conversation | Explore our pages

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!

You must be logged in to post a comment.