Last summer, I noted the significance of the Pentagon’s creation of an Africa Command in the unified command plan. My conclusion then was:

By creating such a high-profile position for Africa, the bureaucracy of the Pentagon and the US Government as a whole, will see Africa in a whole new light.

On Monday, the Washington Post ran an article based on analysis of a CRS Report on the new command (You can read the entire CRS Report here).

There are two broad issues here that I think merit discussion and reflect more than just the basic reorganization of boxes on the Pentagon’s Org chart.

First is the concern over the militarization of US policy toward Africa.

The creation of the Defense Department Africa Command, with responsibilities to promote security and government stability in the region, has heightened concerns among African countries and in the U.S. government over the militarization of U.S. foreign policy, according to a newly released study by the Congressional Research Service.

AFRICOM would have traditional responsibilities of a combat command “to facilitate or lead [U.S.] military operations” on the continent, but would also include “a broader ‘soft power’ mandate aimed at preemptively reducing conflict and would incorporate a larger civilian component to address those challenges,” according to the CRS study.

Fear that it could represent a first step toward more U.S. troops in Africa led [Ryan Henry, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy] to assure African leaders that the “principal mission will be in the area of security cooperation and building partnership capability. It will not be in warfighting.”

As has been discussed often on this blog, usually by Dan, the US role as hegemon with a global order / empire to manage has required a number of US policy and grand strategy shifts in recent years. The US has become more involved militarily in more corners of the globe, not only fighting terrorism, but also enforcing and maintaining the current global order. Africa, long ignored in this process, now gets its own military command, allowing the Pentagon to further extend US military interests in Africa. Given the power of the Pentagon in the current Administration, its highly likely that under the new Command, the Pentagon’s priorities for Africa will come to dominate the US Government’s priorities and policies toward Africa, thereby increasing the militarization of US Foreign Policy.

However, the interesting line above is:

also include “a broader ‘soft power’ mandate aimed at preemptively reducing conflict and would incorporate a larger civilian component to address those challenges,”

How soft can power be? Nye’s idea of soft power rests on getting people to want what you want so that one can achieve outcomes without having to resort to military or economic force. Unresolved in Nye’s definition, I think, is the very question raised by AFRICOM–can the military employ ‘soft power?’ Is soft power defined by the tools used to realize it, making it a cultural/media/internet type phenomenon, or is soft power defined by the way one exercises power over another–in this case, allowing for the possibility that the military might be the organization that is best able to convey values and ideas to other actors.

The US Military has a very mixed record on this front. On the one hand, military engagement programs have been very very effective in helping to transform former communist countries into Western-European, NATO allied market democracies. These engagement programs have been all run out of EUCOM, so creating an AFRICOM might similarly duplicate this success in Africa. Moreover, the military may in fact be one of the most powerful social institutions (for good or ill) in many African countries, so using soft power to spread certain ideas through the military could be a good way to reach more (and more important) people than working through some other social network. On the other hand, the military does like to see and solve military problems, and its hard to see how a special forces A-team or IMET money will make serious progress in sustainable agriculture, clean water, or combating HIV-AIDS.

Second is the change in US bureaucratic politics:

A State Department civilian official is to be one of the two deputy commanders of AFRICOM, though that official would not be in the chain of command on military operations, according to the CRS report. In addition, more than one-third of AFRICOM headquarters personnel would be from outside the Pentagon. Defense officials told CRS that “the new command will seek greater interagency coordination with the State Department, USAID and other government agencies,” according to the report.

Now this is very interesting. In my earlier piece on AFRICOM, I noted that having a high-profile, well funded bureaucratic organization within the government to generate knowledge, raise and define issues, advocate for positions, and implement programs would change the way the US government sees Africa. Now, there already is one person who ostensibly does this: Jendayi E. Frazer, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. I never heard of her either until I looked up that link. Compare her stature and resources to those of the eventual three or four star flag officer who will assume command of AFRICOM, and under Goldwater-Nichols report directly to the National Command Authority–The President and Secretary of Defense. Add, on top of that, the rise of the Unified Command Combatant Commanders in recent years and the rise of the Pentagon within the national security bureaucracy under the current administration, and you have a very strong new player on African Issues who will probably come to dominate the agenda (leading to the worries of militarization above).

But, notice how ‘inter-agency’ the new command is supposed to be. Having a State Department official as a Deputy Commander will create a new role in the diplomatic corps and give State and other civilian agencies a huge say in the Command’s activities. Having one third of staff from non-military agencies, including USAID, suggests that AFRICOM may very well start to champion inter-agency cooperation on African issues and perhaps might even be able to raise the profile of key development issues on the continent. Of course, there is the price of securitizing development, AIDS, and the like, but the lesson in Washington is that this is how things get done these days. Perhaps the new, inter-agency make up of the Command will lead to a ‘softer’ military presence, and engagement in non-military or partially military development and capacity building activities.

Do you think it would make a difference if a 4-star general in full uniform heads up to the Hill to testify on behalf of an increase in the 150 account (the foreign aid budget) for development in Africa?

If this model works, it could very well serve as a model for future government reforms, where inter-agency cooperation and coordination is a key need. Look no farther than Iraq where DoD, State, and everyone else couldn’t get along and it turned into a colossal disaster (as Dan just pointed out). Key agencies worked at cross-purposes to the detriment of the government’s policy agenda. Worse, they failed to learn from each other, ignoring key bits of knowledge, expertise, and insight that could have prevented many of the worst elements of the post-invasion occupation from happening. Granted–the failings of the inter-agency process in Iraq were as much the result of fighting among principles, not line-workers, but having some more State Dept and AID folks on Frank’s staff might have helped them just a bit when the “planned” the invasion.

So, I think the creation of this new Command and the way in which its being done will have far-reaching affects–on how the US sees the world, develops policy, and goes about its business as a national security state.

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