The Pentagon has confirmed a policy decision to create a new combatant command for Africa, breaking off those responsibilities primarily from the US military’s European Command (EUCOM), and consolidating authorities now held by Central Command and Pacific Command.
As reported by the Army Times (and raised last Friday at our Stimson Center workshop with African embassy officials), this long-debated idea is to become a reality, possibly “in one to two months.” Reportedly:
at a Dec. 13 awards ceremony for Theresa Whelan, deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said a new command would be created within “one to two months.” In accepting her award, Whelan quietly noted to Rumsfeld that the proposal is on President Bush’s desk awaiting his signature.
Washington Post analyst and blogger Bill Arkin is highly skeptical – seeing this move as an expansion of the Department of Defense’s reach without a real strategy. The comments on his post take the issues further, suggesting US hegemony and poor intentions.
But I’d like to suggest that this new Command might be the right way to go. First, the US needs a more strategic approach to Africa – and a clearer idea of how we spend our time and resources.
US funding through the State and Defense Departments goes to a wide range of competing security concerns, from offering counter-terrorism programs to supporting African Union forces deploying in Darfur; from security sector reform in Liberia to longer-term peacebuilding in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; from preventing HIV-AIDS to sponsoring demobilization of former fighting forces. The State Department’s budget often is stressed, as it tries to fund efforts that range from regionally-based and UN-led peace operations and bilateral training for such missions in Africa, as well as work on peace negotiations and democratic reforms, development and another dozen missions. There is coordination between the two, but that’s not easily transparent to outside viewers. And there are plenty of gaps in US policy as well.
So why not try to make the US approach to Africa more coherent? US security and humanitarian concerns are directly connected: instability begets instability, and humanitarian crises are exacerbated by conflict. Addressing conflict – whether terrorism or marauding rebels – requires a clearer and more thoughtful approach at a time of US resources and focus in other regions taking priority. Is countering terrorism the main driver? We need to have a discussion about where our resources do – and don’t – go.
A still-timely 2005 report by an independent task force chaired by Anthony Lake and Christine Todd Whitman for the Council on Foreign Relations made this point clear last year, calling for a US approach that was “more than humanitarianism” and ably recognized the many areas of US concern.
Second, the US military is already working in Africa and a new command could bring better focus to its efforts across the board. Rather than create excuses for new missions and funding, a new Command could bring a better way for US policymakers to track the varied programs and approaches. This could also centralize planning for specific operations in Africa, such as support to a strengthened peacekeeping force in Darfur. And it could give those of us on the outside one place to go to get answers.
Arkin suggests that “Our adversaries and the skeptics of American power will just see it all as another example of empire and military domination in the making.” This may be true – and that is a criticism worth airing anyway. The US is already in Africa, but it is dispersed.
A new command might not be a bad way to drive coherence, and the hearings Congress should hold on the idea would be an excellent vehicle to bring clarity to US goals for the continent, the resources available, and the strategy to meet those goals.
Perhaps, too, it could bring some clarity to US policy toward troubled regions – whether Sudan or Somalia. Let’s ask the Armed Services Committee to invite the Foreign Relations Committee members to join them in joint hearings, and see if a whole-of-government approach to the continent is articulated.