WASHINGTON, Jan. 8, 2011 — The United States is pursuing a strategy that aims to foster stability and good, cooperative relationships with nations on the African continent, said Michele Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy.
“That strategy puts a premium on supporting democratization and the emergence of democracies in Africa, supporting economic growth and development and building capacity,” Flournoy said during a recent interview in the Pentagon.
U.S. government agencies work closely with each other in Africa. The State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development have the lead in the nations of the continent. The Defense Department and U.S. Africa Command are in support of these lead federal agencies.
Much of the defense work in the nation is building partner capacity. This can range from small unit tactics to medical training to peacekeeping skills to humanitarian assistance operations.
“It may be just general military training or it may be training them in a specialty area like medical evacuation,” the undersecretary said. “We also use our military forces to do a lot of civil affairs type of work where we are supporting the interagency process and working with militaries and communities writ large, again particularly in humanitarian operations.”
U.S. Africa Command is the Defense Department’s newest geographic command, and its establishment has given more coherence to defense support of U.S. strategy on the continent, she said. Previously, the African continent was split between three geographic commands: U.S. European Command, U.S. Central Command and U.S. Pacific Command.
“This led to somewhat uneven levels of focus, energy, resourcing, projects and so forth,” Flournoy said. “Pulling it all together under U.S. Africa Command gives it a more stable strategic perspective on what we’re doing across the continent. It also gives a greater ability to prioritize effort and resources towards things that really will make the greatest difference.”
Africa has some increasingly strong regional alliances, including the African Union and Economic Community of Western African States. “DOD works very much by, with and through these regional alliances,” the undersecretary said. “We are working closely with the African Union and ECOWAS to develop peacekeeping capacity.”
One example of this work is the peacekeeping mission in Somalia. U.S. trainers worked with military personnel from Uganda, Etyhiopia and other countries to train them for the mission. These are not large missions, but small teams training the trainers.
The department is also learning more about the cultural and linguistic and ethnic make-up of the continent.
“We are understanding the sub-regional dynamics of the continent,” Flournoy said. “The issues that you deal with in the north are different than those in the south. We are dealing with violent extremist groups in North Africa – al-Qaida in the Mahgreb for example – that have used ungoverned or under-governed spaces to try to gain a foothold. We’re also seeing organizations in Somalia –al Shabab, al-Qaida on the Arabia Peninsula.”
There is a growth in piracy centered in Somalia and spreading throughout the Indian Ocean, she noted. “We are taking a more challenge-oriented approach and a more sub-regional approach that really looks at how we can take a common challenge and work with a group of countries to build their capacities to be more effective in dealing with that with us in support,” she said. “In 10 years, we hope these countries will have the capacity and they will be more able to respond to crises, and also get ahead of them and prevent them.”
Much of the progress posited depends on the progress of democratization and development. “So many of these crises in Africa come from very weak experiences with democracy and peaceful changeovers in power – we’re seeing that right now in Cote d’Ivoire,” Flournoy said. “Every time you have a situation that becomes a full-time crisis, you are essentially setting back the development effort for a period of time as well.”
The creation of peaceful political processes that set the conditions for development to occur “is the name of the game in Africa,” she said.
Flournoy said there are many that have had peaceful transitions and are experiencing the growth that such peace and stability brings.
The U.S. is also working with other nations outside Africa to make best use of resources. For example he U.S. is collaborating with France to combat terrorism in North Africa. American leaders are also cooperating with ships from China, India, Russia, Singapore and the European Union to combat piracy.
One constant in U.S. strategy in Africa is reducing the ungoverned or under-governed pockets on the continent. The AIDS epidemic, problems of poverty and corruption and little or no infrastructure in many areas hampers progress, and that can mean dangers to Americans.
“Violent extremism grows from not fulfilling the needs of the people,” Flournoy said.
The undersecretary praised the National Guard’s state partner program for its work not only in Africa, but globally. The Guard teams come from a state and team with a country to foster collaboration and understanding. “We have these all over the world,” she said. “We see in so many of these situations how long-term relationships are so important to build trust and build capacity.”
This is not a one-time deal for the teams and the nations participating in the program, Flournoy pointed out. “They come again, and again, and again and the relationships are built, the trust is built and over time real capacity is built,” she said. “At a time when the active force is so heavily engaged in Iraq and in Afghanistan, having the National Guard teams that can provide consistent focus and work within the countries with which they are paired.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)