February 5, 2009

HARRISONBURG—Today in his weekly “Strategic Interests” column for the World Defense Review, Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, calls for the United States to commit more resources to security cooperation in Africa.

Citing both the importance of security cooperation—that is, military engagement to build up the capabilities of and relationships with allies and potential partner countries—in general and the growing strategic significance of Africa in particular, Dr. Pham notes that security cooperation with states within the area of responsibility of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) “still faces a number of challenges, some of which are common to the other five regional commands, while others are unique to the African context,” including the low starting capabilities of many African governments and their lack of resources.

While the U.S. has paid increasing attention to this challenge—in fact, this week AFRICOM is holding its annual capstone Theater Security Cooperation Working Group conference this week in Garmisch, Germany—Dr. Pham argues that adequate political and material resources are still lacking, noting that last year less than one-half of one percent of the total $4.45 billion in funding for Foreign Military Financing (FMF) went to the fifty-two African countries aside from Egypt. Likewise, most of America’s African partners have yet to benefit from resources made possibly through so-called Section 1206 funds and Section 1207 authorities in the National Defense Authorization Acts.

Thus, after making several specific recommendations to the Obama administration and the Congress, the essay concludes:

As the United States undertakes a major strategic shift towards Africa and as America’s first president of African descent settles into his third week in the White House amid a severe economic crisis, there may indeed be an opportunity to be discerned in the confluence of developments…By more generously allocating political and financial resources to security cooperation programs in general and those under the aegis of AFRICOM in particular…President Obama now has a chance to simultaneously help America’s African friends begin achieving their own security objectives, enhance the U.S. military’s professional relationships and potential interoperability with these new partner states, and frustrate the efforts by other powers…to reduce our influence through the indiscriminate sale of their arms across the continent—all the while strengthening the domestic security industrial sector, reducing the cost of future defense acquisitions, and securing business for U.S. firms and creating jobs for American workers. Now that is the type of strategic stimulus we can all get behind.

To read the full text of the article, “A Stimulus for African Security,” click here.