October 5, 2007

HARRISONBURG—The United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) officially stood up on October 1, 2007, when the organization reached its “initially operating capability” as the Department of Defense’s newest regionally-focused headquarters, responsible for U.S. military relations with all fifty-three African countries except for Egypt, which remains in the area of responsibility of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM). During its first year of operation, AFRICOM will operate under the aegis of the U.S. European Command (EUCOM) until it becomes a fully operational unified command in October 2008.

The new command had hardly been inaugurated when it was met by criticism and charges of “militarization” of Africa in a number of press reports. In contrast, Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs, when called upon to comment on AFRICOM in a number of international media, defended the new undertaking

Speaking with on Radio Netherlands Worldwide’s Newsline program on October 1, Dr. Pham noted:

AFRICOM’s objective is misunderstood…It is about rationalizing America’s military partnerships in Africa. Up to this point, responsibility for military-to-military cooperation was divided between three different U.S. commands. As a result, Africa never received anyone’s full attention…With the creation of AFRICOM, we now have one general officer who will be dedicated to thinking about Africa, Africa’s needs, Africa’s priorities…No one is talking about greatly increasing the American Military presence in Africa. Rather it is a matter of taking the components that are already there working with African partners and reorganizing them in a way that would rationalize the process, enabling to better help Africans build up their own stability forces…If anything, on a broad continent-wide basis, many African countries are seeking partnerships, having long been put off by the lack of attention.

On October 3, Dr. Pham was also was featured on a Voice of America (VOA) news segment on the new command, telling Dakar, Senegal-based correspondent Kari Barber that criticism of the new command was expected but could be overcome as AFRICOM works with bodies like the African Union and treads lightly across the continent: “American personnel, American material and such should be limited to what is necessary to help Africa stand up for itself. As long as it is on that premise, then I think you will get buy-in and you will get the partnership.” The transcript of or to listen to an audio stream from the entire VOA segment, is available here.

In recent months, writing in World Defense Review and The National Interest Online among other publications, Dr. Pham has advocated for the creation of AFRICOM, hailed the initiative when the announcement finally came, outlined the challenges facing the new command, called for using the opportunity to cultivate new military capacities, and suggested ways to “sell” AFRICOM. The Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs, in collaboration with the Institute for Infrastructure and Information Assurance, also published a booklet on America in Africa: Securing U.S. Interests and Promoting a Continent’s Development. Dr. Pham also wrote two studies of the strategic context for the new command for scholarly journals: “Next Front? Evolving U.S.-African Strategic Relations in the ‘War on Terrorism’ and Beyond,” which appeared in Comparative Strategy earlier this year, and “Securing Africa,” which appears in the current issue of the Journal of International Security Studies. In August, Dr. Pham also had the privilege of offering testimony before the Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health on the new command.