Sunday, November 1, 2009

AFRICOM: Combatant Command. Period.

While Lil has spent some time on the continent recently (here and here), this excellent report from Lauren Ploch at CRS has my mind on U.S. involvement in Africa. This is one of the best and concise distillations of all things AFRICOM that I've seen. Ms. Ploch does a great job talking about what they've done well, what they haven't, and what their challenges are ahead.

Having spent some of my working (read: paid for) time looking into AFRICOM with my previous employer, I still get a lot of heartburn about what they're doing there in Stuttgart. Mainly with the self-branding of the command as a "combatant command plus." Now I'm all for Africa having its own geographic command. Africa is huge (land- and people-wise), has a never ending supply of conflicts, and is falls increasingly within the strategic interests of the U.S. Why wouldn't the U.S. have a command, and associated staff, that could focus exclusively on the unique and many issues facing the continent?

But it's the "plus" that gets me. In light of the relatively recent DoS OIG report that tore the Bureau of African Affairs (AF) a new hole, AFRICOM had been set up to be able to facilitate all sorts of non-military operations in Africa. Granted, AFRICOM's mission was set prior to this report, but the shortcomings of DoS were well known and much bemoaned by DoD. So to fill that void, DoD saw fit to empower a uniformed command, usually responsible for the conduct of wars and military cooperation, with the mandate to conduct or assist in other operations. So much so that of the two deputy commanders, one is military and the other is an ambassadorial position, the latter formerly filled by the extremely competent AMB Mary Yates.

Having been in Iraq and dealing with a limited DoS capacity, I know it's infuriating. It would be awesome if DoS was able to do all that it was supposed to or a fraction of what DoD wants it to. But putting the responsibility, even if it is merely a coordination role, of diplomacy and development into the hands of the military is just wrong. Africa, a place in which I have zero experience, is obviously wary of foreign military interventions no matter what the reason. And American philanthropy, no matter how flawed, has been well intended to a highly inflicted region. But it's different to the recipient when the philanthropist is wearing a uniform - it just reeks of imperial designs. For a military that seems to have finally understood the power of perspective, we're failing when we talk about AFRICOM doing diplomacy and development. To say nothing of the legal and constitutional issues involved.

The very nature, and even existence, of the command may change over the coming years. I'm all for keeping it. But for God's sake, please, please drop the "plus" - let the combatant command do what it's supposed to do. And let the diplomats and aid professionals do what they're supposed to do. Or we're going to end up with the better part of a continent who doesn't want our help - just when we start caring about them and the things they have that we want.

13 comments:

  1. There is also the expectation issue. When the US Army shows up in an area that has never seen them before, expectations are high. Those expectations - almost always - cannot be met. When someone expects something of you, and you fail to provide it, they get angry at you.

    Man on the Moon syndrome.

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  2. I'm not sure why they don't seem to indicate this anywhere in the most recent publication of this CRS report, but it was originally published in 2007. You'll see frequent mentions of the "new Africa Command," when in reality it's not all that new anymore.

    Not saying this to take anything away from the content of the report, which is pretty good (as CRS reports tend to be), but I just wonder how much has been updated in the intervening two years.

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  3. Sound assessment of how most people feel about AFRICOM in Africa. This misreading of Africa is due to the lack of historical perspective on the African continent. For example former Under Secretary for African affairs Hank Cohen told among other things Al-Jazeera reporter Omaar Rageh in Part 1 of his 4-part series on Africom: "The Africans have always believed in the original concept of non-alignment..."... But now it's all about the serious business of projecting the imperium. Africans are now in a far greater quandary than in the Cold War as there's only one absolute superpower left. African governments will end up buckling anyway... and, well, tough luck for ordinary Africans harboring misgivings about this new project of recolonization!

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  4. Alex, gotta say I don't think Africa's biggest threat for recolonization is AFRICOM, for all its many faults. Chinese extractive industries seem like they're going to have a far bigger impact.

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  5. MK -- Alex, gotta say I don't think Africa's biggest threat for recolonization is AFRICOM, for all its many faults. Chinese extractive industries seem like they're going to have a far bigger impact.

    It's easy for me, as an American (and representative of the vast military machine), to say that fears of recolonization are absurd. Having said that, Chinese extractive industries generally aren't interested in imposing particular styles of government, human rights standards, cultural norms, or anything else on the populations of lands from which they hope to extract. It's harder to say the same for an institution with significant recent history of insisting (rhetorically, at least) on fundamental societal change as a means to address security concerns.

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  6. What is the objective of Africom? Isn't it African capacity building to facilitate greater security and governance performance?

    If so, shouldn't the State Department Bureau of African Affairs and Africom be merged into a single joint command? Maybe the solution is to put the State Department Assistant Secretary of State for Africa in charge of Africom and have Africom's 4 star general be his/her deputy. USAID's Africa coordinator should also report to the Assistant Secretary of State for Africa.

    The military seems to be a lot more competent as an institution than the State Department or USAID. If someone had to run a 1 year course for Africans civil servants; wouldn't you want the military to run it?

    It seems to me that Africom should be very transparent about its objectives and activities and let their actions speak for themselves. We shouldn't be shy about wanting to train and equip the African Union troops so that they can solve African problems.

    This idea might seem very out there, but how about making Africom a NATO subordinate command (similar to ISAF.) And then ask other important nations (such as China and India and Brazil) to send representatives to the new NATO/Africom/State Department Bureau of African Affairs command.

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  7. This idea might seem very out there, but how about making Africom a NATO subordinate command (similar to ISAF.) And then ask other important nations (such as China and India and Brazil) to send representatives to the new NATO/Africom/State Department Bureau of African Affairs command.

    Because that plan is working so well in Afghanistan...

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  8. Working well relative to what? ISAF has been under resourced, especially CSTC-A/NTM-A.

    Who do you blame for the small number of officers in 4 year ANA academy today? Or the small number of 2nd Lieutenants getting 20 weeks of Lieutenant education? Or the small number of NCOs getting follow on training (Corporal, Sergent school) and the abbreviated courses they are getting?

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  9. If your complaint is that ISAF is under-resourced during a real-deal shooting war in Afghanistan, how well-resourced do you expect your newly internationalized Africa office to be?

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  10. Afghanistan has little economic significance. Africa potentially does, especially for resource hungry China, India and Brazil.

    A NATO diplomatic/military Africa command provides a forum for China, India and America to coordinate their Africa efforts. My hope would be that Japan, Europe and other countries would coordinate their aid to Africa through this command.

    On ISAF, part of why it hasn't been as effective as it could be is because Russian, Indian and Iranian offers to it have been spurned. Bush didn't travel to China and ask the Chinese people in public to contribute. {Chinese are experts on free riding.}

    Russian offers are politically sensitive in Afghanistan; however President Bush could have publicly asked other countries to contribute to ISAF (civilian, economic and military) and thanked them for it. Instead Bush insulted other countries that were contributing to Afghanistan because they weren't also contributing to Iraq, or because they were criticizing Iraq policies.

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  11. Gulliver ...Chinese extractive industries generally aren't interested in imposing particular styles of government, human rights standards, cultural norms, or anything else on the populations of lands from which they hope to extract. It's harder to say the same for an institution with significant recent history of insisting (rhetorically, at least) on fundamental societal change as a means to address security concerns.

    That's not really accurate, though. They are interested in imposing certain standards: none. Point is that they resist adhering even to African standards. There have been strikes and some violence (by the Chinese) at a bunch of different mines, particularly in Zambia. The real time bomb IMO is Angola, which has essentially invited China in to develop all its infrastructure in return for oil - a commitment I'm skeptical will be fulfilled.

    Bottom line, in some places they're pissing off the locals and the government. Where the government doesn't give a damn, you'll see them become clientilist proxies (much like our own dearly departed Western-backed kleptocrats) and they'll be seen that way by Africans. As Lil pointed out, this is especially true for Guinea, where the Chinese have provided loans so far in excess of the country's GDP as to have essentially bought them out wholesale.

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  12. Gulliver said, "This idea might seem very out there, but how about making Africom a NATO subordinate command (similar to ISAF.)"

    Setting aside any discussion of ISAF itself, NATO's European focus also would be problematic for many Africans, in view of their nonallignent coupled with their colonial history.

    If you dig into original concerns about "AFRICOM," the initial anti-AFRICOM response was based on a perception that this would be some kind of NATO-like collective security organization in whichy African nations would opt in or opt out. But by opting in, a power would trade an element of sovereignty for closer security ties to the United States, at the additional expense of siphoning capability and effectiveness from the African Union.

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  13. "If you dig into original concerns about "AFRICOM," the initial anti-AFRICOM response was based on a perception that this would be some kind of NATO-like collective security organization in whichy African nations would opt in or opt out. But by opting in, a power would trade an element of sovereignty for closer security ties to the United States, at the additional expense of siphoning capability and effectiveness from the African Union."

    Don't follow. Rather, Africom would increase the capacity of the African Union Troops and partner with them.

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