A significant milestone and a major diplomatic progress, on 8 May 2014, an agreement has been signed between the African Union Commission and NATO on establishment and status of a NATO Liaison Office in Addis Ababa.The generally states that NATO will “provide support to the AU as requested by the AUC, in particular to the development of the AU’s peace support capacity.” More specifically, the cooperation in short term will focuses on strategic lift, multinational forces interoperability, exercise planning, lessons learned from Peace Support Operations, and experience sharing on peace and security, civilian protection in armed conflicts (children and women). This paper analyses the potential for current AU-NATO cooperation to become a full-fledged partnership. With the aim of addressing vexed questions related to the current relationship, the paper discusses misgivings and clarifies political and diplomatic differences that emerged after NATO’s 2011 intervention in Libya. It is argued that the Libyan crisis should inform, but not define AU-NATO collaboration. Depending on the partnership sought by the two organizations, the Libyan crisis could be an opportunity to lay a solid foundation for sustainable partnership. In order to overcome the unofficial diplomatic stalemate currently arising from divergent positions on the Libyan intervention, the paper argues that political dialogue will be vital. In advancing new perspectives, which look beyond the Libyan case, it explores opportunities for a future partnership based on mega-trends in Africa, the future of NATO, and the interests of the AU and NATO.
The paper concludes that robust cooperation between the AU and NATO would benefit the former in its effort to effectively operationalize the African Standby Force (ASF) and, particularly, in the speedy operationalization of the recently launched African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises (ACIRC). Such cooperation should, however, be strictly governed by the principles of complementarity, comparative advantage and respect for the mandates of the AU on peace and security issues in Africa.A transition from an ad hoc technical and operational cooperation in the military field to a strategic partnership requires that the partnership be firmly based on Chapters VII and VIII of the UN Charter. Moreover, in order to avoid tensions like those experienced during the Libyan crisis, the partnership should be based on respect for respective mandates, the promotion of mutual interest in collaborative security, and shared responsibilities. To provide permanent mechanism for continued political dialogue, the paper suggests an AU-NATO institutional interface at political, diplomatic and technical levels.