Thursday, December 21, 2006

African Command Will Be Political, Not Military

According to the Boston Globe, a new African Command seems likely to be greenlighted by President Bush in the coming days:

The US Africa Command, or AFRICOM, would oversee strategic developments and military operations across the entire continent, where a combination of problems -- natural disasters, civil wars, chronic disease, and the growing presence of Islamic radicals -- has destabilized some countries and created an increasing threat to global security, White House and Defense Department aides said. The Pentagon proposal, which the White House is expected to approve in coming days, is overdue, according to Africa specialists. (...)

The Pentagon, which crafted the proposal with the aid of the State Department and other government agencies, envisions the new command to be unique among its global combat headquarters. Because African nations do not pose a direct military threat to the United States, Defense officials said, the AFRICOM operation would focus far less on preparing troops for major combat in the area.

Instead, it would stress military training programs to help local governments secure their borders and take steps to guard against crises such as Darfur as well as contain outbreaks of deadly diseases such as AIDS and malaria .

Unlike in other traditional command posts, the four-star general who would be in charge of AFRICOM would probably have a civilian counterpart from the State Department to coordinate nonmilitary functions of the US government. The expectation is that diplomacy and economic and political aid will often prove more critical to achieving US goals in Africa than relying on military solutions.

The idea for a separate Africa command grew out of a major Pentagon review completed earlier this year. The study concluded that the US military needed to stop domestic security threats before they start by keeping unstable countries around the world from toppling into anarchy.

"The goal is to prevent another Afghanistan," said Lieutenant Commander Joe Carpenter, a Pentagon spokesman who has been briefed on the proposal. With a dedicated headquarters for Africa, he added, the military would have "an organization that is in a better position to do prevention and better organized so other elements of the US government can interface."

Africa, Carpenter said, "is very different than what we see in other regions of the world. For many countries, it is simply having a functioning coast guard and police force" that would make the difference between stability or chaos.

Dracobs has written about the coming AFRICOM before, here and most notably here:
Basically [according to the now confirmed rumours about the Pentagon vision], the new African Command would deal with foreign policy: economic development and political stabilization. It will be interesting to see whether Pentagon really means it -- and will be willing to integrate and coordinate with (even on some choices subordinate itself to) e.g. USAID. The sensible international version would essentially include the already existing multilateral universe, from foreign development partners such as IMF, WB, UNDP ... and the EU, whose civil crisis management capabilities are growing and are being considered deployed to Afghanistan to support the NATO operation there.(...) The challenge here is to find a way of organizing coordination without hierarchy -- between only partially aligned mission definitions and especially self-conceptions from civil multilateral to military national perspectives.
Now it seems that these rumours were true and that AFRICOM will be very political rather than military in nature. Even if this in the first run is a good thing for Africa, it also paradoxically plays into the ongoing trend of an even further militarization of US foreign policy (since State Department has so few resources that it cannot compete with the Pentagon) which was e.g. well described in Dana Priest's, The Mission.

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