How can we best account for the role of regional institutions in providing security?

In reference to Sub-Saharan Africa

Essay, 2009

10 Pages, Grade: 1


Question No. 3: How can we best account for the role of regional institutions in providing

security? Are these institutions simply actors that states have used to advance their own interests and influence, a mechanism that allows states to share the burden of providing security, or are states thinking about security very differently as a result of their participation in these organisations? Discuss with in reference to sub-Saharan Africa.

This essay addresses the question in how far regional institutions provide security. It will be analysed whether states use regional institutions as a tool to pursuit their national self-interest or whether regional organisations have an influence on a country’s perception on security matters and help to create a security community.

The Cold War period had a dual effect on regional conflicts. Conflicts that would otherwise have been local were subsumed within the superpower competition of the US-led (capitalist) Western and Soviet-led (communist) Eastern bloc. Fearing the other power might gain political influence such as in Africa, each superpower was driven to assist one or the other party of a conflict. Since the beginning of decolonization which began after the Second World War, the regional level of security became more autonomous and prominent in the developing world and the end of the Cold War accelerated this process.1 Both the remaining superpower (United States) and the other great powers had less incentive and were less inclined to intervene in security affairs outside their own regions.2 For these reasons, regional institutions have become more involved in the maintenance of peace and security in different parts of the world, e.g. the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC). The emergence of regional organisations has brought about contrasting views on their effectiveness as providers for security. Whereas skeptics claim that member states use regional institutions to follow their national self-interest instead of pursuing collective security, advocates argue that regional organisations are important components of any lasting peace.3

In the following, these opposing views will be compared to events in sub-Saharan Africa. A consideration of the general definition of regional institutions and their defining features as a distinctive mode of providing security, along with a subsequent examination of the meaning of security in relation to Africa will be given. As a theoretical framework, the academic work of Mearsheimer as a representative of realism, the ideas of new institutionalism based on Robert O. Keohane’s work and the theory of constructivism will serve to explain the different approaches and opinions on the significance of regional institutions in helping to establish a secure environment. Furthermore, changes in the power relationship between the state as the principal authority and regional organisations as new providers of stability will be taken into account and put into relation with the different theoretical assumptions.

To conclude, it will be argued that it is difficult to accurately measure the role of regional institutions in providing security due to the fact that it is seldom possible to assess member state’s actions within regional entities. Nevertheless, evidence suggests that regional institutions have been able to prevent humanitarian catastrophes and have increased state’s cooperation. The illustration of different case studies provides further evidence that each theory relating to the importance of regional institutions carries valid points as to their role as security providers.

Regional Institutions as providers of security

As outlined by David J. Francis, security is a contested concept in terms of definition, interpretation and specification.4 While the traditional concept of security dealt with military dimensions regarding territory expansion and protection, the security agenda has broadened in recent years. As in the case of sub-Saharan Africa, individual and societal security is being endangered by environmental degradation, poverty, resource scarcity, ethno-religious and nationalist identities as well as crime and diseases.5 Due to shortage of space, this essay will not focus on the kinds of security operations multilateral institutions in Africa are able to provide, e.g. peacekeeping and/or peace enforcement operations. The focus will be as to how and for what reasons these institutions have dealt with security matters.

The formation of the United Nations (hereafter UN) in 1945 represented a turning point in the status of regional organisations in international law.6 Article 52 of Chapter VIII of the UN Charter recognises the importance of ‘regional arrangements or agencies’ for settling local disputes before bringing them to the UN Security Council.7 While these organisations take on important economic roles, they are now reinventing themselves to incorporate collective security into their agendas.


1 B. Buzan and O. Waever, Regions and Powers. The Structure of International Security (Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 2005), p. 3

2 Ibid, p. 4

3 R. O. Keohane and L. Martin, 'The Promise of Institutionalist Theory', International Security, 20 (1995), pp. 39- 51, p. 40

4 D. J. Francis, Uniting Africa : Building Regional Peace and Security Systems (Aldershot, UK : Ashgate, 2006), p. 86

5 Ibid, p.87

6 A. Abass, Regional Organisations and the Development of Collective Security : Beyond Chapter VIII of the UN Charter (Oxford : Hart, 2004), p. 3

7 Charter of the United Nations Chapter VIII, online at: (visited 18 January 2009)

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How can we best account for the role of regional institutions in providing security?
In reference to Sub-Saharan Africa
School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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security, international security, regional institutions, ASEAN, ECOWAS, Africa, sub-saharan Africa, Rwanda, Somalia, UN, peacekeeping, realism, security council, congo, regional organisation, organization, Mugabe, integration
Quote paper
Maren Ihlau (Author), 2009, How can we best account for the role of regional institutions in providing security?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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