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March 28, 2013

Progress and Warnings On U.S.-Africa Security Cooperation
Posted by James Lamond


This morning Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel met with a delegation of leaders from Africa to discuss security and democracy in Africa. The event with presidents and prime ministers from Malawi, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Cape Verde was meant to highlight African countries where democracy and security have had a mutually reinforcing impact on one another. 

The Pentagon’s increased interest in Africa is part of a progressively broader security-related interest in Africa. In the 1990’s a training program that began as a peacekeeping initiative turned into the Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI), under which the U.S. provided greater training to African militaries. The focus on counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations over the past decade has grown the engagement to include training and arming African counterterrorism forces and increasing the presence of U.S. Special Operations forces. These efforts culminated in the creation of AFRICOM, a new regional command meant to integrate military efforts diplomatic and foreign assistance efforts in Africa.

Last year’s assault in Benghazi, the intervention in Mali and the Algerian hostage crisis earlier this year have brought security issues in Africa to the front page. Today’s meeting focused on many of these developments. The topics of discussion were the often interrelated topics of extremism, terrorism, narcotics and other trafficking, border security and martime security. These all have implications for U.S. security interests:

Extremism and terrorism: The seizure of more than half of Mali’s land area by Islamic militants, the violence of Boko Haram in northern Nigeria and the continued religious-inspired violence from al Shabaab in Somalia have heightened attention on Islamic extremism and militancy in Africa. Terje Ostebo explains the complexity of this issue in a brief for NDU’s Africa Center for Strategic Studies: “the gains of these Islamic militant groups are not attributable to their military strength. Rather, their expanded influence is just as much a symptom of fragile and complex political contexts. More generally, Islamic militancy in Africa today represents the intersection of broader trends in contemporary Islam and local circumstances. Responding to the challenge is all the more difficult in that very little is known about these often secretive Islamic groups, some of which have only recently emerged.”

There has also been an increase in concern regarding al Qaeda related organizations in Africa. While the assault on the U.S. mission in Benghazi brought AQIM international infamy, analysts are still debating whether or not the al Qaeda offshoot is a transnational terror threat or one with primarily local goals. Its ambitions towards Europe and the United States remains unclear. However, the U.S. State Department expressed concerns that AQIM was networking with other prominent terrorist groups in the region, including Nigeria's Boko Haram, Somalia's al Shabaab, and Yemen's AQAP.

Narcotics trafficking and border security: Illicit trafficking of drugs and other material has been on the rise in Africa. A recent report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) found that cocaine trafficking in West Africa is being fuelled by an increase in local consumption of crack cocaine and organized gangs increasingly turning to producing and trafficking methamphetamine. Over the past few years an increase in maritime patrolling had reduced the high volume of cocaine going through the traditional smuggling route from South America to Europe via Africa. However, it appears that the illicit networks have adapted to the patrolling and have increased the volume of cocaine transiting through Africa up to about 35 metric tons, still down from the high point of 47 metric tons in 2007, but a large increase from the 18 metric tons measured in 2010 following the improved patrolling. This increase is also due in part to a rise in the use of crack cocaine regionally, as many smugglers pay their way with their own product, which is then broken down into cheaper crack cocaine to be sold locally. Also, according to the report, there is an increase in regional production of crystal meth, which is produced locally due to lax control over the precursor chemicals that are highly-regulated in many countries.

This has an impact on U.S. security interests in two ways. First there is the broad concern that for the U.S. that “transnational crime threatens democratic governance, financial markets, and human rights,” as Moises Naim, former Executive Director of the World Bank explains. More specifically, though there are concerns about the smuggling routes, most of which end up in Europe, being used for moving other illicit material including weapons or people.

Maritime security: An escalation of attacks from pirates off the coast of Somalia in 2007 and 2008 raised a number of alarms about the threat of piracy. According to a report from the Atlantic Council, “Since 2008, Somali pirates have attacked more than 620 vessels, hijacked over 175 private and commercial ships, and held over 3,000 people from more than forty countries hostage.” Since then, however, real progress has been achieved. As Assistant Secretary of State for Political Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro outlined in a speech at the Atlantic Council last year, “According to figures from the U.S. Navy, we are on track to experience a roughly 75 percent decline in overall pirate attacks this year compared with 2011… [and in] 2011, the number of successful pirate attacks fell by half compared to 2010.” This has been achieved through a multifaceted approach using all means of national power, including military power by expanding the use of naval assets; collaboration with the private sector by empowering industry to protect itself; legal enforcement through effective prosecution and incarceration; targeting networks with financial tracking; development and governance working to improve credible governing institutions and law enforcement in Somalia; and first and foremost through diplomatic engagement with the international community.

While piracy on the East Coast of Africa is in decline, on the West Coast it is on the rise. This is a very different phenomenon. On the West Coast it is more based on robbery and hijacking close to the shore, rather than the hostage-taking and ransom seen off the coast of Somalia.

While anti-piracy efforts have shown results, the Atlantic Council report points out that the cost of the counter-piracy is high, “The naval response alone cost the United States and its allies some $1.27 billion  in 2011,” stating, “Self-protection efforts by the shipping industry may offer a sustainable and cost-effective alternative, but a set of enabling policies is urgently needed.”

These issues are important to both U.S. and African security concerns and present both models of success and opportunities for progress. However, as cooperation continues on these near term threats it is also important not to lose sight of the long-term challenges. In a recent essay for Foreign Policy, Gordon Adams warns, “through a growing security assistance program and special operations forces action, U.S. engagement in Africa is shifting from a focus on governance, health, and development to a deepening military engagement” Adding, that security-focused engagement could “backfire, harming our long-term foreign policy interests.”

As engagement with Africa on security interests deepens it is vital that broader concerns, including more capable and responsive civilian governments and economies, are not ignored and put to the side. In addition to the harm on Africa, it also raises the likelihood of increased hostility toward the United States. Adams points out there is an applicable lesson to learn from America’s experience with Latin America during the Cold War, and America’s focus on building security and anti-Communism over long-term democracy and goodwill towards the U.S., which led to a resentful population that saw America as a contributing to security states. The lesson not to ignore progress on governance and democracy should be heeded. 


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