October 2, 2008

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, discusses the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM), which became fully operational as America’s sixth regional combatant command yesterday.

After noting that “the birth of the new command has not been easy” and citing some of the criticisms leveled against the initiative, the article contends that “ AFRICOM’s overall objectives are focused on the nexus between security as a prerequisite for development and development as preventative for insecurity,” thus “ without prejudice to preparedness for kinetic operations, defense intelligence activities, and other functions, the command will necessarily privilege military training with partner nations, working with Africans to build their regional security and crisis response capacity.” Dr. Pham also argues that the new command will actually increase cooperation between a variety of partners: “In addition to engaging other agencies in the U.S. government and African partners, AFRICOM has collaborated with and will also increasing work with America’s traditional allies, many of whose militaries have historical memory, cultural awareness, and operational knowledge of the African theatre which, by and large, our personnel have not had the occasion to acquire.”

The commentary concludes:

AFRICOM represents not only a new institutional framework for U.S. engagement with Africa, but also a significant shift in the United States’ strategic paradigm from military reaction to threats to a preventative approach that fosters human security through conflict prevention and, where necessary, post-conflict stabilization operations. Will it ultimately work? Can a military culture which has traditionally emphasized spearheading combat operations adapt to working in a cooperative interagency process? Is it possible to shift from longstanding U.S. preferences for bilateral partnerships to work with multilateral regional and subregional partners, many of which will have limited capacity?…Time alone will tell, but given the strategic interests at stake, both for the United States and for its African partners, it is an effort certainly worth undertaking.

To read the full text of the article, “AFRICOM Stands Up,” click here.