NELSON INSTITUTE DIRECTOR’S COLUMN CALLS FOR “ENGAGING MARITIME AFRICA”

September 16, 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, describes recent efforts at maritime engagement with countries on the west coast of Africa under the aegis of the “Africa Partnership Station” (APS) initiative.

After noting America’s key strategic interests in Africa which the new United States Africa Command (AFRICOM), which will achieve independent unified status in just two weeks, will be called upon to support, the article turns to the recent naval contribution to that effort and details the first year of APS activities, including the deployment of USS Fort McHenry (LSD-43), HSV-2 Swift, USS Annapolis (SSN-760), USS San Jacinto (CG-56), USCGC Dallas (WHEC-716), and USS Elrod (FFG-55). Dr. Pham notes that “even if the primary motivating national interest, from the American perspective, is to secure access to energy resources, the engagement initiatives like APS also strengthen the capacity of partners to deal with a host of challenges which represent priorities for them, including such maritime domain vulnerabilities as piracy, criminal enterprises, and poaching.” Moreover, he argues that the APS concept is “rather constructive” in several respects:

First, by literally floating offshore, APS…avoids the whole question of basing which, however regrettably, has bedeviled AFRICOM with various African countries—including some which would never be considered for logistical reasons—expressing reservations about hosting the new command. Within certain limits, APS can both provide continuing engagement and avoid ongoing tensions which are, respectively, the inherent advantage and disadvantage, of in-country missions.

Second, the flexible platform allows APS to adapt to the availability (or lack thereof) of resources, needs, and interests…

Third, while currently being piloted only off the Atlantic coast of Africa, there is not reason why it cannot be developed also in the Indian Ocean waters off the continent’s eastern littoral where…piracy is on the rise…

Fourth, the joint as well as interagency framework of APS is a proof of concept for AFRICOM’s vision of a more integrated command and staff structure that includes representation of State Department, USAID, and other U.S. government agency personnel serving alongside military personnel…

Fifth, [APS demonstrates the type of] potential partnerships which AFRICOM might strike with nongovernmental and other charitable organizations in furtherance of shared objectives…

Sixth, while…APS engagements have thus far been bilateral, the structure itself can be adapted to strengthen the capacities of regional and subregional organizations…

Seventh, the explicit effort to engage not only African countries, but also European allies, is a significant advantage.

Dr. Pham concludes: “While Africa Partnership Station will not provide the answer for all the security dilemma which AFRICOM will face in trying to facilitate a secure and stable environment conducive to the achievement of American policy objectives on the continent, it does present a model of how a joint and interagency approach might contribute to forging regional partnerships which not only further our interests, but also those of Africans.”

To read the full text of the article, “Engaging Maritime Africa,” click here.