February 15, 2007

HARRISONBURG—In his weekly column for the World Defense Review, Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, outlines the path forward for the United States Department of Defense’s unified combatant command for Africa (AFRICOM), which was announced last week.

According to Dr. Pham, “Reorganizations, like other transformations in the military, are not ends onto themselves; their sole value lies in the strategic effect they advance. In the case of the new AFRICOM, the strategic effect was announced by Defense Secretary Robert Gates as he explained the administration’s proposed Pentagon budget for 2008 on Capitol Hill: ‘This command will enable us to have a more effective and integrated approach…to oversee security cooperation, building partnership capability, defense support to non-military missions, and, if directed, military operations on the African continent.’”

To meet this mission objective, the essay argues that AFRICOM will first have to clear four hurdles. First, there is the question of perception, both in Africa and elsewhere. Thus, “the case needs to be consistently made by both the political leaders and military personnel that a unified command focused on the entire continent will be better positioned to coherently address uniquely African challenges and support local efforts to bolster the operational capacities of African states, including those of the African Union and subregional organizations like the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).” Second, the administration needs to reach to Africa supporters on Capitol Hill, especially since it “presents a unique opportunity for executive-legislative cooperation in the great American tradition of partisan divisions stopping at the water’s edge.” Third, there will be the internal battle within the military for scarce personnel and material resources for the command. Fourth, the mission of the Africa Command will necessarily require that “the command’s theatre-wide engagement be a spectrum array which embraces, in addition to ‘hard power’ options, diplomatic, developmental assistance, humanitarian relief, and other proactive ‘soft power’ missions which some in the military have been hesitate to engage in and which others in the policy community…will be none too eager to see the uniformed services undertake.”

Dr. Pham concludes that, while “the announcement of AFRICOM is an important step towards achieving more active U.S. engagement in an important strategic space that can neither continue to be relegated to tertiary status in the strategic calculations of our national security, political, and economic interests nor be parceled out to several combatant commands,” nonetheless “we have to do more than just create the new command; we now have a narrow window—barely eighteen months—to get its stand-up right.”

To read Dr. Pham’s article, “Getting AFRICOM Right,” click here.