Book Review

Community of insecurity: SADC’s struggle for peace and security in Southern Africa

By Laurie Nathan, 2012
Farnham, Ashgate Publishing Limited, 196pp
ISBN: 9781409430445

What are the reasons for the Southern African Development Community’s (SADC’s) failure to establish a viable security regime and engage in effective peacemaking? Has SADC attained, or is it likely in the foreseeable future to attain, the status of a security community?

Laurie Nathan,1 who served as an advisor for the Southern African Development Community for several years, answers these questions in his book Community of insecurity. He gives a defined understanding of the establishment of SADC, its problems as well as its failures. He analyses the stated goals and objectives of the organisation and argues that SADC was not very successful in relation to them. His book aims to explain the reasons for this failure.

Nathan’s book reads itself as a critique of the SADC and its member states: Since its establishment in 1992, SADC was marked by several internal conflicts among its members and Nathan argues that SADC’s failure to create effective security arrangements is due to the following problems: the absence of common values, the surrendering of a measure of sovereignty to regional structures, and weak states.

The absence of common values is marked by division between democratic and authoritarian orientations in the member states, and between pacifist and militarist tendencies in their foreign policies. Absence of common values prevented the organisation in practice from addressing violence and insecurity generated by authoritarianism and repression in some member countries.

The fear of losing sovereignty stems from the political weakness of states and from the lack of common values, mutual trust and shared vision in the security regime. This fear precluded the prospect of establishing and embracing a collective security regime that encompasses formal rules, binding decision making and the possibility of interference in domestic affairs.

Weak states are impacting the effectiveness of all SADC’s forums and programmes: For many years, a decentralised model with a small secretariat that lacked authority and decision-making power was favoured. The informal and flexible approach affected the institutional cohesion, continuity and predictability of SADC.

Nathan’s arguments are based on Deutsch’s theory that a ‘security community’ can only exist when a group of people has attained a level of integration, a sense of community and a common identity to be able to settle disputes peacefully. Therefore Nathan questions if SADC is a ‘security community’ in Deutsch’s terms, with reference to the absence of common values and existing intra-state violence within the member states. ‘The inhabitants of a country wracked by violence cannot plausibly be said to live in a security community’ (Nathan 2012:152).

SADC has since its foundation been an organisation where members are divided along democratic/authoritarian and military/non-military lines and are unable to meet SADC’s set goals of promoting economic integration, poverty alleviation, peace, security and the evolution of common political values and institutions.

Several key debates and developments within its body couldn’t bridge the gap between different values held by its members over the past decades and SADC accordingly fails in peacemaking, diplomatic engagement and critical comment. Nathan shows in four examples, how SADC’s peacemaking efforts in the region failed – due to its lack of unity. One of these examples was the way SADC dealt with the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The member states deeply disagreed upon the way to deal with the conflict: While Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe announced that they would deploy troops in the DRC on behalf of the SADC, South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique and Tanzania sought to solve the crisis diplomatically. SADC tried to present a unified front only afterwards, although the war had created a rift within the organisation.

With this book, Nathan draws a dark picture of SADC’s future. He doesn’t believe that a change within the organisation is likely since these problems cannot be solved at the regional level. The member states define SADC, and they are the only ones that can allow the organisation to transform and give it a transcendent status and authority.

The author believes that the members will stay reluctant ‘to surrender a measure of sovereignty to a regional security regime with binding principles and rules, partly because some of these states have a tenuous hold on sovereignty and partly because of their normative differences on the orientation and strategies of the regime’ (Nathan 2012:97). He proposes that democratic systems are necessary within the states as well as in SADC.

Working for SADC enabled Nathan to access unpublished material, interact with officials and get a good insight into SADC’s work. Since the member countries often do not publish their policies on regional security arrangements and do not feel obliged to keep their citizens informed, the book offers a unique inside view of SADC. Nathan hardly gives any positive examples about SADC’s work and outcomes to balance his perception of the organisation. This feeling of one-sidedness could be the only weak point of this book.

Nathan’s book helps to understand the complexities SADC faces in attempting to establish Peace and Security in the region. He gives a deep analysis of its effectiveness and underpins his points with a strong theoretical background.

Community of insecurity has a logical structure and is easy to read. Nathan repeats his questions as well as his arguments within each chapter to guide the reader through his book. His extensive references invite one to read further into the topic of ‘security communities’.

Nathan reflects actual theoretical debates revolving around the concept of ‘security community’ and sets a theoretical framework for his critique. This critique is illustrated with powerful examples from the past decades on how the member states were unable to make strong decisions. His clearly written book is well argued and Community of insecurity is an insightful read for both academics and practitioners working within the African context or around the concept of ‘security community’.


  1. Laurie Nathan is the Director of the Centre for Mediation at the University of Pretoria as well as a member of the United Nations Mediation Roster.


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