Published 05 Jun 08
by J. Peter Pham, Ph.D.
World Defense Review columnist
U.S. Engagement of Africa in the National Interest
Earlier this year, citing an array of new initiatives including the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM), the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), and the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), as well as the expansion of existing frameworks like the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), from I noted in this column space that "America's current engagement with Africa will likely go down as one of the most significant, if largely unheralded, legacies of the Bush presidency." And, if public statements by the three presidential candidates competing to succeed him are any indication, it will be a legacy that will likely be nurtured, in one form or another, in the next administration.
Of the trio, Senator John McCain has offered the most detailed exposition of how he would strategically engage Africa. Writing last year in Foreign Affairs, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee pledged:
Africa's problems – poverty, corruption, disease, and instability – are well known. Less discussed is the promise offered by many countries on that continent. My administration will seek to engage on a political, economic, and security level with friendly governments across Africa. Many African nations will not reach their true potential without external assistance to combat the entrenched problems, such as HIV/AIDS, that afflict Africans disproportionately. I will establish the goal of eradicating malaria – the number one killer of African children under the age of five – on the continent. In addition to saving millions of lives in the world's poorest regions, such a campaign would do much to add luster to America's image in the world. These and other efforts, including enhancing trade and investment, would assist Africans in sparking a renaissance that would enable the continent's people to achieve their potential.
Africa continues to offer the most compelling case for humanitarian intervention. With respect to the Darfur region of Sudan, I fear that the United States is once again repeating the mistakes it made in Bosnia and Rwanda. In Bosnia, we acted late but eventually saved countless lives. In Rwanda, we stood by and watched the slaughter and later pledged that we would not do so again. The genocide in Darfur demands U.S. leadership. My administration will consider the use of all elements of American power to stop the outrageous acts of human destruction that have unfolded there.
At a time when – according the latest report on the authoritative Index of Consumer Sentiment from the Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers released last Friday – surging food and fuel prices, falling home prices, shrinking employment, and more modest income growth have driven consumer confidence to its lowest level in twenty-eight years, American voters might be tempted to ask why their government is expending resources on a far-off continent that has, historically, played at best a secondary role in U.S. foreign policy. What is the U.S. national interest in continuing the Bush administration's policy of increased aid to the continent, much less undertaking an even greater commitment as Senator McCain has suggested that he would do as the forty-fourth president?
Not only can an argument be made that American engagement in Africa resonates the country's idealist vision of international relations while being consonant with its realist calculus of interest, but the case needs to be made because, as in any democracy, no foreign policy, however correct, is sustainable without public buy-in. Thus it seemed fitting to devote this hundredth article in this column series to articulating the case that, with respect to Africa, as I noted during my testimony last year before the House Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health:
We have a historical opportunity to partner with the region in a meaningful way – if we get the terms of the engagement right. However, it is already evident that the challenges we, Americans and Africans, face together neither lend themselves to quick fixes nor promise all that many immediate results. Rather, they demand for a steady approach and sustained commitment to the pursuit of long-term strategic objectives which will secure legitimate U.S. national interests as well as advance the interests of our African partners – irrespective of transitions in administration, shifts of economic indicators, or changes to international or national perceptions of priorities.
The scale of need in Africa is immense, given the devastating toll which conflict, poverty, and disease, especially HIV/AIDS, constantly exact across the continent. While Africa boasts the world's fastest rate of population growth – by 2020, today's more than 900 million Africans will number more than 1.2 billion, more than the combined populations of Europe and North America – the dynamic potential implicit in the demographic figures is, however, constrained, by the economic and epidemiological data. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Human Development Report 2007/2008determined that all twenty-two of the countries found to have "low development" were African states. While Sub-Saharan Africa is home to only 10 percent of the world's population, nearly two-thirds of the people infected with HIV – 24.7 million – are Sub-Saharan Africans, with an estimated 2.8 million becoming infected in 2006, more than any other region in the world. Conflicts – ranging from open warfare in Somalia to ethnic cleansing and near-civil war in Sudan to what amounts to a low-intensity terror campaign aimed at supporters of the political opposition in Zimbabwe – continue to rage across the continent, placing millions at risk of death through violence, starvation, and disease.
These facts raise profound moral issues which American ideals force us to confront. Can the country that is not only world's military superpower, but also its largest economy, remain impassive in the face of extraordinary humanitarian needs and massive human rights abuses, much less genocide itself? And while the United States cannot be expected to address every injustice or stop every conflict, neither can it remain aloof from them without that decision having at least some effect on America's standing in the world.
"Winning hearts and minds" is not, in fact, a clever new slogan conjured up by the U.S. military's Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations units. The phrase itself, first popularized during the Vietnam War, originated in an observation by America's second president, John Adams, about how the country's independence was won: "The Revolution was effected before the War commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments of their duties and obligations ... This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution." In a world where, thanks to the wave of democratization that resulted from the West's victory in the Cold War as well as to new information technologies, public opinion plays an evermore significant role in diplomacy, image and idealism take on an increasingly important role in the conduct of statecraft. And Africa, with its fifty-three states, represents a prize without peer in on the global stage.
While the goodwill generated by moral leadership should not be underestimated, national self-interest should never be forgotten. As Hans J. Morgenthau, the influential theorist of political realism in international relations, argued, given the present-day architecture of the international system "neglect of the national interest can only lead to national suicide" and thus "there exists even a positive moral duty for the individual nation to take care of its national interests." What happens in Africa, as this column has consistently argued, has serious consequences for America's interests. While the 2003 National Strategy for Combating Terrorism argued that terrorist organizations have little in common with the poor and destitute, the document also acknowledged that terrorists can exploit these socio-economic conditions to their advantage. Three years later, the 2006 National Security Strategy of the United States of America announced that "Africa holds growing geo-strategic importance and is a high priority of this Administration" – as it ought given Africa's role in the "Global War on Terror" and the potential of the poorly governed spaces of the continent to provide facilitating environments, recruits, and eventual targets for Islamist terrorists as well as continent's abundant resources, particularly those in its burgeoning energy sector (last year, according to data from the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration, African countries accounted for more of America's petroleum imports than the states of the Persian Gulf region: 969,722,000 barrels, or19.8 percent, versus 791,928,000 barrels, or 16.1 percent).
As operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have shown, while achieving security is a precondition for development, without noteworthy progress on the latter the former is at best illusory. Hence, as the Pentagon has formally recognized several years ago in Directive 3000.05 on the Military Support for Stability, Security, Transition, and Reconstruction (SSTR) Operations, stability operations are now a "core U.S. military mission" which ought to "be given priority comparable to combat operations" and defined as "military and civilian activities conducted across the spectrum from peace to conflict to establish or maintain order in States and regions" with the short-term goal of providing the local populace with security, essential services, and meeting its humanitarian needs and the long-term objective of helping to "develop indigenous capacity for securing essential services, a viable market economy, rule of law, democratic institutions, and a robust civil society." The most recent Quadrennial Defense Review, that of 2006, emphasized that not only was "preventing crises from worsening and alleviating suffering are goals consistent with American values," but "by alleviating suffering and dealing with crises in their early stages, U.S. forces help prevent disorder from spiraling into wider conflict." Thus, the new AFRICOM will include diplomatic outreach, political persuasion, and economic programs, alongside military preparedness and intelligence operations, in its toolkit. And, of course, the defense component is just one of the elements of national power which must be leveraged on the continent.
The integration of democratic and humanitarian impulses as well as geopolitical and economic calculations into overall U.S. foreign policy in Africa, as elsewhere, is mutually reinforcing, advancing both American ideals and strategies. As no less an advocate for Realpolitik than former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger argued in his magisterial study Diplomacy with respect to the 19th century international balance sustained by the Concert of Europe:
Paradoxically this international order, which was created more explicitly in the name of the balance of power than any other before or since, relied the least on power to maintain itself ... [T]he most important reason was that the Continental countries were knit together by a sense of shared values. There was not only a physical equilibrium, but a moral one. Power and justice were in substantial harmony. The balance of power reduces the opportunities for using force; a shared sense of justice reduces the desire to use force. An international order which is not considered just will be challenged sooner or later.
Similarly, in a March 26, 2008 speech to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, Senator McCain argued that in a world "where power of all kinds is more widely and evenly distributed, the United States cannot lead by virtue of its power alone":
We must be strong politically, economically, and militarily. But we must also lead by attracting others to our cause, by demonstrating once again the virtues of freedom and democracy, by defending the rules of international civilized society and by creating the new international institutions necessary to advance the peace and freedoms we cherish. Perhaps above all, leadership in today's world means accepting and fulfilling our responsibilities as a great nation.
Africa today represents a major strategic opportunity for the United States to not only prevail on an important front in the struggle against extremism, but also to significantly advance both American ideals and national policy objectives in a region where there is present every challenge of the contemporary world, from violence and the scramble for natural resources through poverty and failed states. The economic and political resources and diplomatic attention which the Bush administration has lavished on the continent since 9/11 have been impressive by historical standards of U.S. engagement with Africa. Nonetheless, in absolute terms, they are still less than adequate given the scope of what is at stake. The focus has largely been short- or, at best, medium-term in scope: tracking terrorists, training security forces, providing humanitarian relief, and, to a certain extent, strengthening local capacities. What is needed and what, hopefully, the next administration will deliver is a sustained, long-term strategic engagement – diplomatic and developmental as well as military and security – that strengthens relationships and builds institutions, anchoring Sub-Saharan Africa firmly in America's moral and political orbit before our enemies, state and non-state alike, can exploit the continent's weaknesses in their war against us.
— J. Peter Pham is Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. He is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C., as well as Vice President of the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa (ASMEA). In addition to the study of terrorism and political violence, his research interests lie at the intersection of international relations, international law, political theory, and ethics, with particular concentrations on the implications for United States foreign policy and African states as well as religion and global politics.
Dr. Pham is the author of over two hundred essays and reviews on a wide variety of subjects in scholarly and opinion journals on both sides of the Atlantic and the author, editor, or translator of over a dozen books. Among his recent publications are Liberia: Portrait of a Failed State (Reed Press, 2004), which has been critically acclaimed by Foreign Affairs, Worldview, Wilson Quarterly, American Foreign Policy Interests, and other scholarly publications, and Child Soldiers, Adult Interests: The Global Dimensions of the Sierra Leonean Tragedy (Nova Science Publishers, 2005).
In addition to serving on the boards of several international and national think tanks and journals, Dr. Pham has testified before the U.S. Congress and conducted briefings or consulted for both Congressional and Executive agencies. He is also a frequent contributor to National Review Online's military blog, The Tank.
© 2008 J. Peter Pham
NOTE: The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not represent the opinions of World Defense Review and its affiliates. WDR accepts no responsibility whatsoever for the accuracy or inaccuracy of the content of this or any other story published on this website. Copyright and all rights for this story (and all other stories by the author) are held by the author.