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.
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.
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.
Finally, a sub-regional command for Africa
would ensure a greater degree of success if Washington does
ultimately need to intervene militarily in the future.
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
Africa's Problems and U.S. Security
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
Africa currently provides the U.S. with 16 percent of its oil
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. This will be greater
than the populations of North America and Europe combined.
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
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. Average life
expectancy is only 48 years. In addition, an estimated 30 million
Africans are infected with HIV/AIDS. 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. 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.
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
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.
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
While poverty and instability alone do not
breed terrorists or weapons proliferators, 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. The al-Qaeda threat continues to grow
in countries such as Kenya and Tanzania. Al-Qaeda cells are also
operating in neighbouring Somalia.
Advantages of a Regional Command for
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
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. 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.
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. 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.
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.
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. 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
Improving both the region's capacity to
respond to a crisis and the organization of U.S. military
engagement in the region should therefore be high on the
Administration's agenda for Africa.
Prospects for African-Led Military
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.
solve their most immediate security problems, African states need
to place more emphasis on police, justice, and correctional
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.
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
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
U.S. Military Strategy in Concept and
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." It does little, however, to amplify
how this goal is to be achieved.
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. In addition, the President proposed
the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA), an initiative designed to
address the failures of traditional aid programs. The recently unveiled
$100 million U.S. counter-terrorism package for East Africa was
also a welcome step in the right direction.
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.
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.
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. 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." 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.
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. 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
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.
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
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.
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
What the United States Should Do
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.
Specifically, the Administration
- Place a priority
on fighting global terrorism in Africa
The Bush Administration should increase its efforts to
coordinate security measures with African countries at risk from
terrorism. The United States must also be prepared to take
pre-emptive action if intelligence sources indicate that terrorists
are preparing to use weapons of mass destruction. Where the
terrorist threat is immediate and overwhelming, pre-emptive strikes
are justified on grounds of self-defense.
- Be prepared to
intervene directly in Africa when vital U.S. interests are at
America must not be afraid to employ its forces decisively
when vital national interests are threatened. On the other hand,
where U.S. vital interests are not at stake, the United States
should be circumspect, but not necessarily absent, in providing
military aid to the region, particularly with respect to preventing
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. Strong U.S. leadership was not
employed to prevent genocide.
- Assist African
states with the specific military support they need
The most appropriate role for U.S. forces in the case of
an intervention in Africa should be to provide support that other
regional militaries lack, including air and naval transport;
advanced intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance
capabilities; communications; and perhaps some assets for force
protection. For example, in 1999, the U.S. military provided staff
and logistical support for the multinational intervention in East
Timor. The "East Timor model" should serve as an exemplar for how
American forces could be used advantageously to support vital
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. 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.
- Provide more
military assistance to African democracies in peacetime
The best way for the U.S. to prevent the displacement of
millions of Africans and stop genocidal campaigns would be to
discourage serious threats before they become serious. That can be
achieved by helping African nations to become more productive
members of the global community. Helping to foster the development
of African militaries is essential, and it is of particular
importance that the U.S. aid them in enhancing their capacity to
intervene to stop genocide, deal with humanitarian crises, and
- Support the
establishment of an African intervention force
The Bush Administration should work closely with the
British government, which has a history of involvement in such
efforts, to help facilitate and train a pan-African force that can
intervene in crisis situations on the African continent.
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.
- Establish an
Africa Command subordinate to CENTCOM
The United States' military policy on Africa suffers from
inattention under the Pentagon's current organizational structure.
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
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.
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