DAR ES SALAAM
The Southern African Development Community's (SADC) has launched a Mutual Defence Pact to promote regional cooperation in politics, defence and security. The pact allows for enforcement action to be taken "only as a last resort, and with the authorisation of the UN Security Council".
The agreement, signed on Tuesday at the closing ceremony of the 2003 SADC Summit in the Tanzanian commercial capital, Dar es Salaam, flows from the establishment of SADC's Organ for Politics, Defence and Security, a body intended to prevent conflicts and the breakdown of law and order, both between and within member countries.
"This will be our way to show our commitment to, and application of, the concept of African solutions to African problems," Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa said, shortly after taking over the chairmanship of SADC.
The pact will also help pave the way for the creation of a SADC brigade as part of the proposed African standby force, news reports said.
The SADC organ, set up in conformity with the Protocol on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation signed in Blantyre in August 2001, will now be chaired by Prof Pakalitha Mosisili, the prime minister of Lesotho. South Africa, with President Thabo Mbeki as vice-chairman, and Mozambique complete the troika that heads the organ.
"This is of utmost importance because the maintenance of peace and stability in our region remains one of our big challenges," Mkapa said. "I am confident that this proven, competent trio of proactive members of the SADC will adequately address the challenge."
It had been agreed that the organ would follow events "more closely" and act "more quickly" on incidents that might disturb the peace in the region. Below the troika, the organ is made up of a Ministerial Committee, an Inter-state Defence and Security Committee and an Inter-state Politics and Diplomacy Committee.
Kathryn Sturman, senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, South Africa, believes that whether the defence pact is workable remains debatable, "given the tensions in SADC".
Nonetheless, Mkapa was confident that the defence pact was a sign of the end of conflicts in the region.
"Assuredly, because internecine wars in some of our members are coming to an end, and because there are no perceived potential conflicts between us in the short and medium term, SADC can be our sub-regional mechanism and vehicle for the practical implementation of the NEPAD [New Partnership for Africa's Development] peer review mechanism, and of the African Union's Peace and Security Council, at the regional level," he said.
Sturman compared the SADC defence pact with that of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).
But the SADC defence pact is not as binding as NATO's as it does not view an attack on one as an attack on all, South African Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad was quoted as saying last week. Article 6 of an early draft, supported by Zimbabwe, called on states to immediately respond in the event of an attack on a fellow SADC member country.
Pahad explained that the latest version says that states "can respond according to their possibilities".
If "there is an external aggression then the whole process would be set into motion by which SADC will then take a decision whether the aggression warrants a collective intervention", he said.
Sturman told IRIN that the Mutual Defence Pact had a "traditional focus on state security, [with] traditional military threats from outside. One could question whether that's the most appropriate kind of security cooperation Southern Africa needs. The people of Southern Africa face greater threats from their own government, for example Zimbabwe, than they do from any external military threats".
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions