October 15, 2003 | Backgrounder on Africa
The United States is facing increasing international pressure to play a more prominent role on the world's most troubled continent. The continuing civil wars in Liberia and the Congo, the specter of tyranny and man-made famine in Zimbabwe, the global spread of infectious diseases, and the rising threat of international terrorism in East Africa are all issues of mounting concern.
Most of Africa's own militaries are not up to the task of supporting their civilian leaders in tackling these problems. U.S. military assistance can play an important role in helping them, but U.S. peacekeepers are not the answer.
Instead, the Bush Administration ought to give the continent a higher priority in the Pentagon's regional military command structure. The Administration should seriously consider expanding its U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) to include Africa. This organization could help facilitate the establishment of a more effective African-led military intervention force, reducing the need for direct U.S. involvement.
A dedicated command could also more efficiently oversee U.S. anti-terrorism efforts in East Africa and provide American political leaders with more thoughtful, informed military advice based on an in-depth knowledge of the region and continuous planning and intelligence assessments. In turn, better situational awareness of military-political developments could preclude the need for intervention or limit the prospects for engaging in open-ended or unsound military operations.
A review of the U.S. national security strategy suggests that while the Administration's priorities are on target, the Pentagon lacks suitable supporting initiatives and forward-looking organizational solutions to address Africa's problems. If an African command could be set up, appropriate solutions could be built around this basic building block.
With its vast natural and mineral resources, Africa remains strategically important to the West, as it has been for hundreds of years, and its geostrategic significance is likely to rise in the 21st century. According to the National Intelligence Council (NIC), the United States is likely to draw 25 percent of its oil from West Africa by 2015, surpassing the volume imported from the Persian Gulf.1 (Sub-Saharan Africa currently provides the U.S. with 16 percent of its oil needs.)
In addition, Africa has the world's fastest rate of population growth. The continent's population has doubled since 1970 to nearly 900 million and is expected to rise to 1.2 billion by 2020.2 This will be greater than the populations of North America and Europe combined.
With responsible governments, prudent management of their vast natural resources, free-market economies, and open trade, the nations of Africa could become vibrant members of the global community. Regrettably, however, much of Africa continues to be blighted by poverty, disease, misrule, corruption, and inter-tribal rivalry fed by the wide availability of arms ranging from land mines to shoulder-fired missiles.3
Africa's troubles are many, and they have global implications. Sub-Saharan Africa remains the world's poorest region, with a GDP per capita income of just $575 in 2002.4 Average life expectancy is only 48 years. In addition, an estimated 30 million Africans are infected with HIV/AIDS.5 Among the disease's many victims are the continent's military forces, whose weakened ranks are rife not only with those who have contracted HIV/AIDS, but also with those who spread it.6 The spread of global infectious disease will become a more significant problem in the 21st century if Africa becomes the source of deadly pathogens that could plague American shores.7
Nor is disease the only African crisis that could draw in the United States. Of even more immediate concern are political, economic, and environmental stresses that could well lead to internal violence and resulting demands for U.S. intervention. The civil war in Liberia prompted widespread international calls for Washington to put U.S. troops on the ground. Eventually, 200 U.S. soldiers were sent into the Liberian capital, Monrovia, in August 2003 to help facilitate the arrival of a larger West African peacekeeping force.
The United States must also be vigilant for its own security, remaining alert to the rise of African "enabler" or "slacker" states that might foster global terrorism. Enabler states are countries willing to facilitate transnational terrorism, share intelligence, or sell weapons or weapons technologies to those who in turn might threaten the United States. Libya, for example, has a long history of support for terrorist groups in the Middle East and more than 30 terrorist groups worldwide.8
Slacker states are nations with lax laws or poor law enforcement, which unintentionally allow transnational terrorist groups to operate within their borders or permit state or non-state groups to obtain weapons or support illicitly from the private sector. Somalia offers a case in point. With a dysfunctional central government, chronic instability, and porous borders, it serves as a potential staging ground for international terrorists.9
While poverty and instability alone do not breed terrorists or weapons proliferators,10 African nations with weak civil societies and poor law enforcement and judicial systems are vulnerable to penetration and exploitation by transnational terrorist groups. Enabler and slacker states are potentially important components of the global terrorist threat because such countries can expand the resource base of lesser states and terrorist groups, making it possible for them to field more substantial threats than they might represent otherwise.
Transnational terrorism already has a prominent foothold in Africa. It is no coincidence that Osama bin Laden found safe haven in Sudan in the 1990s.11 The al-Qaeda threat continues to grow in countries such as Kenya and Tanzania. Al-Qaeda cells are also operating in neighbouring Somalia.
Despite the growing specter of security threats emanating from Africa, the United States does not have a separate regional command for the continent. In fact, 37 of the 48 countries in sub-Saharan Africa are managed by the U.S. European command (EUCOM).12 This organizational arrangement is a vestige of both the continent's colonial legacy and the Cold War, during which the concerns of Africa were subordinated to interests in Europe.
EUCOM has remained actively engaged in Africa, with mixed results.13 U.S. participation in recent peacekeeping operations in Liberia has been effective and appropriately limited. The command is also looking at establishing basing arrangements in countries like Tunisia and Morocco so that U.S. forces can deploy to the continent more effectively if American troops are required.14
EUCOM has also been an active participant in the Department of Defense HIV/AIDS Prevention Program to help address the pandemic spread of the disease in African militaries.15 The Administration has consistently requested increased funding for international military education and training, albeit at much more modest levels than for other regional trouble spots.16
On the other hand, engagement with Africa has taken a backseat to engagement with other regions in the command. For example, while EUCOM has extensive and successful state-partnership programs that pair state National Guards with the militaries of developing countries for training and professional military exchanges, there are no partnership states in sub-Saharan Africa. The Administration has also proposed substantial reductions in its support for peacekeeping programs, in part because of poor management and inadequate strategic planning.17
The real issue, however, is whether continuing to manage U.S. military affairs in this manner will be sufficient to meet future needs or whether the Pentagon would be better off putting in place new programs and organizations that anticipate the challenges ahead.18 Even General James L. Jones, EUCOM's commander, has admitted that "we don't pay enough attention to Africa, but I think we're going to have to in the 21st century."19
Transnational terrorist threats and the likelihood that internal violence and humanitarian disasters will prompt more calls for U.S. intervention will likely be enduring concerns for America in the future. The United States could be more sanguine about its capacity to respond to such threats if African nations had adequate professional security forces that could address the continent's many security concerns. This, however, is not the case.
To solve their most immediate security problems, African states need to place more emphasis on police, justice, and correctional services.20 Competent, professional, and well-run armed forces under democratic civilian leadership can also play an important role in addressing the threats of civil war and large-scale humanitarian crises, as well as the needs of counterinsurgency and anti-terrorism campaigns. For the most part, however, states have hesitated to devote appropriate military resources to regional concerns.
African nations have attempted military cooperation, primarily through existing sub-regional organizations such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Eastern Africa Cooperative (EAC), and Southern Africa Development Community (SADC). These include some member countries with substantial capabilities such as Nigeria and South Africa, both with armed forces of over 60,000. Cooperative initiatives have resulted in some joint unit training and limited military-to-military contacts, but Africa has no standing joint forces or command structures similar to those available to NATO.21
Most joint African operations are ad hoc affairs that meet with failure more often than success. A 1990 intervention in Liberia by the ECOWAS nations was a case in point. The Nigerian-dominated operation was perceived as a partisan effort, marred by widespread corruption and sustained by criminal activities that became ends onto themselves. A subsequent intervention in Sierra Leone was equally disastrous.22
Recent African-led interventions in Burundi and Liberia promise better results, but there is no question that sub-Saharan countries in general lack the capabilities to sustain successful peacekeeping ventures over the long term.
The Bush Administration recognizes that the continent needs help but falls short in providing details on how that help is to be given. The Administration's 2002 national security strategy, for example, encourages collective security and the support of other countries in addressing Africa's regional problems and argues that "Africa's capable and reforming states and sub-regional organizations must be strengthened as the primary means to address transnational threats on a sustained basis."23 It does little, however, to amplify how this goal is to be achieved.
The Administration's strategy also adds an unambiguous statement that the United States will act preemptively with military force against terrorist groups or rogue states that acquire weapons of mass destruction. But, again, there is no suggestion of how this shift in strategic intent applies to Africa.
President George W. Bush has demonstrated a willingness to commit more resources in support of the Administration's overall Africa strategy. The United States has significantly increased assistance for helping African nations deal with the scourge of AIDS.24 In addition, the President proposed the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA), an initiative designed to address the failures of traditional aid programs.25 The recently unveiled $100 million U.S. counter-terrorism package for East Africa was also a welcome step in the right direction.26
U.S. military strategy is supposed to amplify how the armed forces will achieve the objectives outlined in the national security strategy. While the United States has not released a formal national military strategy, the Department of Defense's 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) marks out the Pentagon's priorities. The QDR also places special emphasis on building the capacity of partner nations for performing collective security. The current leadership in the Defense Department, however, has provided little additional insight into shaping the American approach to Africa.27
With the modicum of official guidance that is available, the Joint Chiefs of Staff are tasked with providing overall direction for U.S. military activities in Africa and, in turn, tasking the combatant commanders to develop theater engagement plans for the regions in their areas of responsibility. EUCOM's plan for sub-Saharan Africa includes several objectives such as promoting regional stability, democratization, and military professionalism. The plan directs a litany of actions concerned primarily with training in basic peacekeeping duties, humanitarian assistance, and the mechanisms of civilian control.28
While the activities in the theater engagement plan are consistent with the national strategy, the real issue is whether they are sufficient to accomplish the task at hand. According to one recent study, all of the Defense Department's theater engagement plans lack adequate funds, systematic planning, sufficient interagency coordination, and effective measures to judge their effectiveness.29 The plan for Africa labors under the additional burden of being the subject of an area of secondary concern for the theater commander, claiming the last priority on the EUCOM's attention and resources.
Breaking away from the EUCOM model would go a long way toward dispelling the continuing tendency to think about relations with Africa in terms of "old fashioned patron-client relationships."30 In addition, more focused leadership on Africa from the Pentagon would result in better support, intelligence analysis, and operational planning.
Today's geostrategic realities suggest that Africa shares interests with the countries in the Middle and Near East that are aligned with the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM). In matters of transnational threats and economic issues like energy (specifically oil) and trade, not to mention the significant Islamic populations in Africa, there are good reasons to view Africa and the Middle East as an appropriate grouping for U.S. security interests.
In addition, some foresee the emergence of an African "religious fault line" that could bring an Islamic North Africa and a Christian sub-Saharan Africa into increasing conflict.31 If such a confrontation does emerge, the United States would be wise to have a single U.S. combat commander monitoring the situation.
Given the increased operational concerns in the Middle East, including the occupation of Iraq, this region is also demanding more and more attention from the general in charge of CENTCOM. One effective solution might be to combine Africa and the Near East region into a single unified command, with two subordinate sub-regional commands: one focused on the Middle East and the other on sub-Saharan Africa. The addition of a sub-unified command for the Middle East would allow CENTCOM to focus more resources on this critical area. At the same time, having a sub-unified commander for Africa would allow CENTCOM to address the common security concerns among the two regions more effectively.
Most important, a sub-unified command for Africa would give the U.S. military an instrument with which to engage effectively in the continent and reduce the potential that America might have to intervene directly. It would also increase the chances of success if intervention is required.
A U.S. Africa command would keep closer tabs on the region--analyzing intelligence, working closely with civil-military leaders, coordinating training, conducting exercises, and constantly planning for various contingencies. As a result, the command would be in a better position to inform the political leadership in Washington of the situation on the ground and provide more cogent advice for policymakers. Better-informed political leaders are less likely to intervene directly in ill-advised or unsound military operations.
A strong sub-regional headquarters and staff focused on Africa would also provide an important anchor for interagency efforts, ensuring that military activities support and reinforce economic, political, and security initiatives spearheaded by other federal agencies. Combatant commands are already establishing joint interagency coordination groups to facilitate information sharing and integrate theater-wide activities. An African command could include an interagency staff designed specifically to focus on the key political-military problems that plague the continent.
An African sub-unified command might be constructed along the lines of U.S. Southern Command, which manages military engagement in Latin America. A U.S. Africa headquarters would likely have few forces directly assigned and would probably be based in the United States, possibly in Tampa where it could be collocated with U.S. Special Operations Command and CENTCOM, two organizations with which it would most likely work closely. Savings accrued by reorganizing the European Command could be used to help establish an Africa Command.
Creating an Africa Command would go a long way toward turning the Bush Administration's well-aimed strategic priorities for Africa into reality. If the Administration could further refine its regional objectives for Africa in a formal national military strategy, so much the better.
In the 1990s, the United States was largely content to take a backseat role in Africa. The U.S. intervention in Somalia was America's only significant involvement in the continent in that decade. The ill-fated U.S. military operation in Mogadishu weakened the resolve of the Clinton Administration to take a more pro-active role. Empty rhetoric about human rights replaced action on the ground. In 1994, the United States and other world powers stood by while ethnic Hutus slaughtered a million Tutsi tribesmen in Rwanda.33 Strong U.S. leadership was not employed to prevent genocide.
Large-scale use of U.S. combat forces in Africa is not desirable. The armed forces are already straining to meet the demands of the global war on terrorism. In that regard, the U.S. should carefully measure its role in peacemaking operations, as they could well embroil the United States in conflicts that would require substantial military resources.
The United States should reserve its forces for the great-power missions that require the preponderance of military power that only the United States can provide.34 Meanwhile, the U.S. should calibrate its military assistance for Africa in a manner that best reflects Africa's needs and the gaps that are left unfilled by other countries.
Where possible, the U.S. should encourage leading African nations such as South Africa and Nigeria to take on the burden of peacekeeping and conflict resolution. In the past, many of their efforts have been a disappointment, hamstrung by poor equipment, inadequate resources, and faulty civilian control.
Africa has more than enough military manpower to meet its security needs. The problem is that existing forces are too often corrupt, ill-trained, and tend to be used to attack neighboring countries rather than to help them. The United States can best serve by helping African allies to get their military house in order. That means providing countries with advisory and technical assistance, as well as more international military education and training in the United States. This is a challenge that will take many years but in the end will bear more fruit than a series of direct interventions.
In an increasingly globalized world, the United States and other leading nations cannot afford to ignore Africa's problems. But while the U.S. should intervene militarily in Africa where U.S. vital interests are threatened, it cannot police the continent by sending in ground forces to all its numerous trouble spots.
Instead, the U.S. ought to establish a command that can focus more closely on Africa's problems, lend assistance to favorable African militaries so that they can tackle their own problems better, and build up the ability of regional superpowers South Africa and Nigeria to resolve regional problems. Ultimately, the establishment of such a U.S. Africa command will reduce the need for Washington to intervene in the continent.
James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow for National Security and Homeland Security in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, and Nile Gardiner, Ph.D., is Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs in the Center for International Trade and Economics, at the Heritage Foundation.35
3. By some estimates, there are 7 million small arms and light weapons circulating in West Africa alone. See Abdel-Fatau Musah, "Africa: The Political Economy of Small Arms and Conflict," at http://unpan1.un.org/intradoc/groups/public/documents/idep/unpan002406.pdf.
6. In some armies, such as the Zimbabwean army, it is estimated that over 50 percent of the armed forces have HIV. Manuel Carballo and Steve Solby, "HIV/AIDS, Conflict and Reconstruction in Sub-Saharan Africa," presentation to a symposium on Preventing and Coping with HIV/AIDS in Post-Conflict Societies, Durban, South Africa, March 26-28, 2001.
7. For a discussion of the
potential threat of global infectious disease, see Executive Office
of the President, Office of Science and Technology, National
Science and Technology Council, Global Microbial Threats in the
1990s, September 13, 2000, p. 2, at
http://www.ostp.gov/CISET/html/3.html. See also George Fidas, remarks before the International Disease Surveillance and Global Security Conference, Stanford University, Stanford, California, May 11-12, 2001, p. 8, and David F. Gordon et al., The Global Infectious Disease Threat and Its Implications for the United States (Washington, D.C.: National Intelligence Council, 2000), passim.
10. Audrey Kurth Cronin, "Rethinking Sovereignty: American Strategy in the Age of Terrorism," Survival, Vol. 44 (Summer 2002), pp. 119-139. See also Robert E. Hunter, "Global Economics and Unsteady Regional Geopolitics," in Richard L. Kugler and Ellen L. Frost, eds., The Global Century (Washington, D.C.: National Defense University Press, 2001, pp. 109-126.
11. Osama bin Laden directed al-Qaeda operations from Sudan from 1991 to 1996. He fled Sudan after learning of Saudi and Western pressure on the Khartoum government to expel him. See Roland Jacquard, In the Name of Osama Bin Laden: Global Terrorism and the Bin Laden Brotherhood (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2002), pp. 27-36.
14. According to the EUCOM commander, these basing options would be "footprints with dirt strips and very low-level maintenance, but strategically in place. As you might imagine, a lot of those would be perhaps somewhere in Africa and the like. They have been called `lily pads.' That's not a bad visual term to explain the concept, as opposed to the massive, fixed base of the 20th century." Christopher Dickey, "Surrender Monkeys--Not: The NATO Commander Speaks Out," MSNBC, October 6, 2003, at http://www.msnbc.com/news/972918.asp#BODY.
15. Office of the Secretary of Defense, International Security Affairs, Office of African Affairs, Policy Options for United States Support to Demobilization, Demilitarization and Reintegration in Sub-Saharan Africa, May 2002, p. 10.
16. U.S. Department of State, Military Assistance: International Military Education and Training, Foreign Military Financing, Peacekeeping Operations, FY 2004, p. 154, at http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/17783.pdf.
17. Ibid., p. 172. The Administration's FY 2003 request was $40 million. The FY 2004 request was $24 million. According to the Department of State, the reductions were part of program restructuring. Assessments of current operations concluded that "while the programs had a clear purpose, the results of the programs were not demonstrated and there were weaknesses in the areas of strategic planning and management." Ibid., p. 171.
19. Jon R. Anderson, "Transforming EUCOM, Part 3: Zeroing in on the African Continent," Stars and Stripes, October 1, 2003, at http://www.estripes.com/article.asp?section=104&article=15478&archive=true.
21. Much of this cooperation was conducted under a United States-supported program, the African Crisis Response Initiative. See African Crisis Response Initiative: A Security Building Block, Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Africa of the Committee on International Relations, U.S. House of Representatives, 107th Cong., 1st Sess., July 12, 2001, Serial Number 107-20, p. 4. The Bush Administration has restructured the program as the African Contingency Operations Training and Assistance (ACOTA) program. The goal of restructuring the program is to tailor assistance to meet each country's unique security requirements rather than manage activities on a regional basis. See Russell J. Handy, "Africa Contingency Operations Training Assistance: Developing Training Partnerships for the Future of Africa," Air and Space Power Journal, Fall 2003, at http://www.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/airchronicles/apj/apj03/fal03/handy.html.
23. The National Security Strategy of the United States, September 2002, p. 11. In July 2003, prior to the President's trip to Africa, the State Department released a statement amplifying the Administration's strategy for Africa. It declares that "Africa's great size and diversity requires a security strategy that focuses on bilateral engagement and builds coalitions of the willing. This Administration will focus on three interlocking strategies for the region: 1) Countries with major impact on their neighborhood such as South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, and Ethiopia are anchors for regional engagement and require focused attention. 2) Coordination with allies, friends and international institutions is essential for constructive conflict mediation and successful peace operations; and 3) Africa's capable reforming states and sub-regional organizations must be strengthened as the primary means to address transnational threats on a sustained basis." See U.S. Department of State, An Overview of President Bush's African Policy, July 11, 2003, at http://www.state.gov/p/af/rls/22364.htm.
24. See Joseph Loconte, "The White House Initiative to Combat AIDS: Learning from Uganda," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 1692, September 29, 2003, at http://www.heritage.org/Research/Africa/BG1692.cfm.
25. See Paolo Pasicolan, "Keeping the Millennium Challenge Account Focused on Promoting Growth and Prosperity," Heritage Foundation Executive Memorandum No. 880, at http://www.heritage.org/Research/TradeandForeignAid/em880.cfm.
32. For a detailed discussion of this strategy, see James Phillips and Larry M. Wortzel, "International Terrorism: Containing and Defeating the Axis of Evil," in Stuart M. Butler and Kim R. Holmes, eds., Issues 2002: The Candidate's Briefing Book (Washington, D.C.: The Heritage Foundation, 2002), pp. 225-236.
33. Richard N. Haas, Intervention: The Use of Military Force in the Post-Cold War World (Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 1999), pp. 171-173. See also Steven Metz and James Kievit, "Learning from Rwanda," Joint Force Quarterly, Spring 1995, pp. 105-108.