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AFRICOM and the Militarization of U.S. Foreign Policy February 12, 2009

Posted by dglaudemans in Analysis.
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General William E. "Kip" Ward commands U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM)

General William E. "Kip" Ward commands U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM)

Today’s issue of Inside the Pentagon highlights how AFRICOM is hiring social scientists to help it better understand the continent of Africa.  Without going into the long history of AFRICOM, this recent development is further indication that AFRICOM plans to be an all-stop military command that develops its own civilian capabilities instead of relying on the diplomats throughout Africa for this information.  What does this mean for U.S. foreign policy in Africa?First, the military is becoming if it already hasn’t, the primary face of U.S. engagement around the world and in this case, Africa.  While we may applaud our GIs handing out candy and digging wells in other countries, the rest of the world does not share our sentiment.  More and more the rest of the world sees the United States through a military lens.  This creates the image of an imperial empire, one the Obama Administration is trying to counter.

Second, in the case of AFRICOM, the military is looking to incorporate traditionally civilian elements into its military planning and strategy.  While this sounds progressive, and responsive to the failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, why are the civilian agencies being forced into serving military interests as opposed to the military serving civilian interests as was intended in the Constitution?  More and more, the military is dictating U.S. foreign policy not through subversion in Washington, but through its massive budget and operations overseas.  If the Defense Department is spending more money on foreign assistance, security assistance, humanitarian assistance, reconstruction and stabilization, global health, and governance than the rest of the federal government combined, then the military is effectively implementing U.S.  foreign policy.

Third, by extending the military’s mission in Africa and elsewhere beyond that of a force that fights other armies and defeats military threats, we are detracting from the core mission of the military, which is to fight and win our nation’s wars.  Soldiers are not signing up to the Army to build schools or dig wells, nor are they trained for such activities.  In fact, we have a civilian institution that is designed and trained for those very tasks.  USAID, however is significantly underfunded and understaffed and lacks the resources to be able to complete its missions around the world.  Which leads to the fourth issuse; building the capabilities at Defense to do humanitarian assistance and development work, detracts from the capabilities at State and USAID which further lead to more budget cuts and a greater reliance on the military.

If the United States is going to readdress how it engages with the world, it must not rely on the Department of Defense to be a one-stop shop for all things international.  Instead, it must rebuild and rebalance its tools of statecraft by adequately funding the State Department and USAID and limiting the extent to which DOD, and in particular AFRICOM are engaged in international activities outside its core mission.

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