October 29, 2007

HARRISONBURG— Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, is featured in the cover article of the current (September/October 2007) issue of Serviam, a defense publication.

“AFRICOM: Stabilizing a Region in Chaos” by David C. Walsh describes the ongoing stand up of the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) as a “new, multiprong command…set to be much lighter in manpower and more dynamic and flexible than the others.” The author interviewed Dr. Pham and cites him a number of times in the seven-page article:

AFRICOM’s creation comes “not a moment too soon,” says J. Peter Pham, a professor at James Madison University and columnist for World Defense Review. “Our enemies,” Pham recently warned, “have already decided that Africa is the next front for their land and sea war of terror on America, and our potential strategic rivals, like China, have also made of it a theater of competition.… So the only question is whether America…will be farsighted enough to invest in an adequate response, for which the time is now.”…

A big part of AFRICOM and the Pentagon’s “Total Force” concept are the private contractors and NGOs. Many private security contractors have military combat or special operations experience, and, with U.S. government approval, have trained many African militaries through the years…Pham agrees: “AFRICOM is likely to get few personnel of its own to deploy.”

Pham, [former Washington Post bureau chief in Africa Douglas] Farah, and other analysts stress it’s too early to know even the unclassified details: stationing and training modalities, pilferage-halting strategies, rules of engagement, links with United Nations “blue helmets,” aid group interface, and coordination with U.S. intelligence, counterintelligence, and counterterrorism services.

The important thing was to “create the atmosphere”; to embed, so to speak, the idea that Africa is a legitimate, vital American interest. The rest, Pham and other AFRICOM champions suggest, will fall into place…

Pham, who is closely attuned to Pentagon thinking, also dismisses fears about a Vietnam-war style escalation. He tells Serviam, “No one is envisioning a major footprint.” Pham thinks it unlikely that many more than the 1,500 combined joint task force personnel already stationed in or near Djibouti would be involved—not counting, he meant, several hundred command staffers, and maybe “a few hundred special forces scattered throughout the continent doing training exercises.”

Pham said he would be “very surprised” by any serious uptick in such numbers of “active-duty” personnel. One area where some think a small detachment of AFRICOM troops could assist is Ghana, where former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan plans a Peacekeeping Training Center. Notes Pham, “[AFRICOM] is a work in progress.” The ultimate hope is that Africa can be prepared to carry most of the load. Some have risen to the occasion. Four of the top 10 contributors to U.N. peacekeeping, the CRS says, are African: Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and South Africa…

Though most Americans don’t recognize it, the nation has grown much more reliant on West African oil sources than Middle Eastern ones. Does this presage a shift from a volatile region to a frequently unstable one? Pham says no. The mere lack of a stable U.S. naval presence in the Gulf of Guinea should, he stressed, “drive a stake in the heart of the myth” that America covets Africa’s oilfields. “Hard power [military] is our last resort; soft power [diplomacy and training] is really our attraction.”…

The views of America’s European allies, Pham says, are “generally positive” on AFRICOM, since many are “looking at realigning their own commitments to Africa. So that rather than viewing [AFRICOM] as a threat as they might have 20 years ago, many of them—even the French, who are looking at scaling back—are looking at this as a complement… . As America steps up they can step back a bit.”

In intelligence-sharing terms, Pham singled out as “cooperative” Ethiopia and Kenya. “We certainly have a number of very reliable other partners.” Unfortunately, the willingness to partner isn’t matched by capabilities.

Which is where the private sector comes in. A template already exists in Iraq. Such personnel, many with combat or special operations experience, help take pressure off deployed troops, freeing them for combat operations. “A lot of what AFRICOM is doing can be easily contracted out, like the GPOI [Global Peace Operators Initiative]—training and equipping about 75,000 African troops so they’re adequate,” says Pham. “It’s what Africa wants for itself, which is to assume greater responsibility for regional peacekeeping…and not wait for the outside world to intervene in their crises.”

Even AFRICOM’s most vocal champions caution not to expect too much, too soon. Says Pham, “The major challenge is going to be back here at home; that’s getting the resources. Because we’re looking at a long-term project—an enterprise that isn’t heavy on ‘front-loaded deliverables.’ No one’s going to be able to point to an immediate gain. This is investing really in African nations’ capabilities to secure their own continent—which is in our best interest.”

The full text of the article can be accessed online by clicking here.