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The African Union (AU) held its first summit in 2002, establishing itself as a new international organisation. It also launched a new vision for African security cooperation.

Nearly two decades later, it is worth reflecting on the process that produced that vision. It may have something to teach us about international negotiations.

The vision is captured by the African Peace and Security Architecture – a framework for promoting peace, security and stability in Africa. It’s intended to prevent, manage and resolve crises and conflicts. Although its effectiveness is debated, it marked a major departure from how African states traditionally cooperated on security.

My research sought to understand how this switch happened. Most negotiation analyses emphasise economic or security-based leverage and narrowly defined material interests. I took a different approach. I looked at the social and organisational environment in which the AU negotiations took place and its effect on the peace and security framework’s form and function.

My analysis offers insights for negotiators and researchers about the significance of social context for the outcome of international negotiations.

AU’s new approach to security

From 1963 until the AU replaced it in 2002, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) usually adopted a “hands off” approach to security. This had its roots in well-founded fears among leaders that their recently acquired political autonomy would be violated by former colonial powers or other OAU members. Therefore, the OAU Charter carefully protected the principles of state sovereignty and territorial integrity.

One consequence was shielding oppressive governments from reprimand for abuses against their citizens. The vast majority of Africa’s conflicts prompted little reaction from the OAU. In several cases, leaders even ruled out discussion. Ugandan president Idi Amin was even elected OAU chairman in 1975, at the height of his government’s human rights abuses.

By contrast, the AU’s approach – at least in treaty documents – is groundbreaking. It gives the Union a much greater security role. Most notable is the AU’s right to intervene in a member state

“in respect of grave circumstances, namely: war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.”

The Union also has a much broader range of security responsibilities. These include peacekeeping, human rights protection, and promotion of democracy and good governance. Such shifts started in the 1990s but the new peace and security framework provided a legal foundation for AU involvement in activities like elections. The OAU had viewed these as the sole responsibility of governments.

The African Peace and Security Architecture is also notable for the rules of procedure used by its core decision-making organ, the Peace and Security Council. Like the UN Security Council it can deploy peace missions and apply sanctions. But unlike its UN counterpart, there are no veto holders or permanent seats (though Nigeria has become a de facto permanent member.

This article is republished from The Conversation Africa under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.