AFRICA AND US NATIONAL SECURITY

 

 

 

     As ambitious as our plans are in the Middle East in regards to regime change and democratization, these ambitions pale in comparison to those for Africa where the same design is redrawn on a continental scale.  The recent reversal in our Africa engagement policy is driven by many of the same considerations of relevance in the Middle East.  These include issues of strategic access, resource access, and security.  The scope of the challenge which Africa poses, however, is orders of magnitude greater than the Middle East given our goals there and its current state.  The ends we seek, as well as the means being used to achieve them, have inherent conflicts.  Clearly defining these ends, weighing the costs of achieving them and resolving the inherent conflicts will be critical determinants of our success or gross failure in this endeavor.

 

     As a practical matter, the strategic importance of Africa to US interests in the past decade can be said to have been relatively low considering our lack of engagement there.  Recent measures indicate a dramatic shift.  The reasons for this shift reflect a fundamental reevaluation of several factors, the first being strategic access.  The implementation of an effective access strategy must be viewed in light of our military force structure strategy.  The shift from a threat based to a capabilities based force structure drives strategic access implementation requirements.  It does so because of the defined needs in terms of capabilities.  These include speed, flexibility, agility and precision.  Such capabilities require small, light, and information intensive force structures and enabling infrastructures.  Concurrently, the political need for forward engagement and presence creates a challenge in that fixed presence capabilities become problematic with ever decreasing force size.  Such a combination of capabilities based force structure requirements and practical necessity drives a strategic access strategy likewise based on flexibility, speed and precision of force, asset, or presence application.  The recent Global Access Strategy and strategic access plans articulated by DOD reflect these realities.  The forward presence lost by troop reductions in Europe and the Far East must be offset by a capability that affords quick, flexible access.  The retention of selected Joint Main Operating Bases (JMOB) supplemented by Joint Forward Operating Sites (JFOS), Joint Cooperative Security Locations and preposition sites is the necessary strategic access strategy which accompanies our capabilities based force structure strategy.    These strategies drive the forward access “lilly pad” architecture of access points which is currently being defined, with impacts specifically relevant to the African Continent due to its proximate location to multiple SLOCs, its importance in the GWOT, and its emerging increased importance in terms of its energy resources. 

 

     In terms of defining national interest, and with the exception of the physical security of our borders and population, few things resonate as well as economics.  Although Africa has always been an important source of raw materials, its significance is increasing rapidly in terms of resource access.  This is due to the confluence of several factors.  First, the gas that we burn in our cars is approximately 70 million years old.  In terms of our human “event horizon,” it is a non-renewable resource.  Second, given current consumption levels and economics of extractive technologies, it is a non-renewable that is rapidly approaching exhaustion.  Third, this increasing resource scarcity is occurring concurrently with a rapid and dramatic increase in demand by industrializing countries.  Finally, the majority of the proven reserves of this commodity lie under the most turbulent and troublesome soil on the globe.  Although certainly not a utopia in terms of conflict, the petroleum resources in Africa offer an important alternative or at least a significant supplement to middle eastern oil.  The US, which consumes approximately 20 million barrels of oil per day, currently imports approximately 15% of that consumption from Africa.  It is estimated that this will be increased to 25% in 10 years in consideration of recent discoveries in Africa both on and offshore.  One of the most significant areas for future extraction lies in the Gulf of Guinea.   In 2004, the United States agreed to finance an $800,000 viability study for expanding the international airport of Sao Tome and Principe and building a deep-water port in this small, twin-island state which sits in the Gulf of Guinea.  America needs access to energy resources, and these resources exist in significant quantities in Africa, an area composed mostly of non OPEC states.  We do have alternatives; however, due to investment delays in R&D and lead time constraints, it is doubtful that such alternatives and the infrastructures to support them can not be brought to bear on the problem quickly enough.

 

     All of this is not to say that our motives in Africa are purely exploitive.  We need oil, and Africa sorely needs foreign investment.  With humanitarian disasters of biblical proportions and economies lacking the means to address the problems, Africa needs, among other things, cash infusion.  As well, the world economy requires a steady flow of energy, its highly integrated structure resulting in ever expanding ripples of negative economic impact when one area is affected.  It used to be said, economically speaking, that when America coughs, the rest of the world catches pneumonia.  A more vivid word picture is that when the affluent nations economically sputter, those living on the edge drop off that edge.  In Africa, with the majority of its population subsisting on less than a dollar a day, rampant disease in the form of HIV/AIDS, and persistent conflict which stymies development, that drop is fatal for many unless others have the means and will to help.  Given the current situation in the Darfur area of Sudan, it remains doubtful that this will is sufficiently present, which situation is relevant to our third requirement.   

 

     We have a strategic access requirement that can be partially met in Africa.  We have a resource access requirement that can be met there as well.  We also, because of the unprecedented second, third or even more distant effects in a highly integrated system, have a security requirement that can be met by engaging in Africa.  The reality of the highly integrated and interdependent system that we have created is becoming increasingly evident as chaotic impacts of changes to that system, which escape the common sense logic of simple, measurable cause and effect, become apparent.  They don’t have ICBMs.  They don’t have blue water navies.  They don’t have strategic lift or a military which poses an invasion threat.  They do, however, have invasion threats equally as dangerous; environmental degradation, disease, and terrorism.  As we have come to realize the effects of our integrated economic system, we are beginning to realize that similar effects exist in all highly integrated systems, including our environmental and social systems.  An illustrative example of this is the historic impact of El Nino on the economy of Peru.  El Nino affects air currents.  Air currents affect ocean currents. Ocean currents affect upwelling.  Upwelling affects oceanic nutrient distribution.  Altered nutrient distributions caused by this chain of events affects anchovy populations off the coast of Peru.  Concurrently with one of these cycles, social and political pressure in Peru in 1972-1973 allowed fishers to harvest at levels which could not absorb these environmental fluctuations.  Together, these resulted in the crash of the Peruvian anchovy fishing sector which, at that time, accounted for one quarter of the world’s catch, with debilitating consequences for their economy.  The continuing effects in this chain could be further enumerated, but the point is that what happens to the global environment on the back side can have a significant, and sometimes disproportionate far side impact.  The same can be applied in regards to any tightly coupled system with complex interactions, including social systems.  Stability becomes ever more critical as connectivity becomes more ubiquitous due to both the lack of slack or buffering capacity between events and processes as well as the virtual impossibility of predicting or planning for outcomes in complex adaptive systems.  A case in point is 9/11.  Does instability in Africa have national security implications for the United States?  In terms of strategic access, resource access, and system feedback consequences on national security it certainly does, but it is critical that we approach this problem with a long term view. 

 

     The criticality of this is evident in the apparently inherent conflicts in our interests in Africa.  One interest pair exhibiting this conflict is resource access and security.  Instability in Africa has an impact on our society.  We need to develop a plan for the long term stability of that continent.  Unfortunately, our relatively short term interests of resource access are not, in all points, compatible with long term stability.  There is substantial empirical evidence indicating a strongly negative correlation of social stability with economic reliance on extractive industries.  More simply put, counting on social and political developments that will contribute to lasting stability through FDI in extractive industries in Africa is a false hope unless strict controls are put in place and the will is present to enforce those controls.  If we plan on substantially increasing our reliance on African oil, it is critical to our overall security strategy that we also plan on the expense of ensuring that controls are in place and enforced to ensure that the FDI infusion makes its way to the population that needs it in the areas most conducive to increasing long term stability.  These include access to clean water, disease eradication and prevention, participatory, transparent, democratic governance, employment, education and security sector reform to mention a few. 

 

     Another goal pair with inherent conflicts is strategic access and security in the sense that we leverage presence and support to gain strategic access.  A principle means by which we gain leverage are our security assistance and military education and training programs.  We ostensibly also count on these programs to increase our security by increasing stability in the recipient countries.  Unfortunately, a large percentage of the countries receiving such assistance are either marginally democratic or undemocratic and have significant problems in regards to respect for basic human rights.  It would appear that we have decided that strategic access holds the trump for the moment over security as these policies will likely result in less stability given the track record and current practices of many of the recipient countries.  Additionally, we stand to loose a significant trump of our own in the international arena – our moral authority. 

 

     Africa has begun to take a more prominent position in our overseas agenda.  This is rightly so because of its significance in terms of strategic access, resource access, and security.  At the same time, we seem to have taken a regrettably short term view in our approach to these issues in Africa.  Our penchant for bilateral approaches, or rather our aversion to multilateralism and multilateral institutions, has restricted our options for addressing areas of vital concern.  A bilateral approach will not work in Africa as, first, we stand to foot the whole bill as the other side can little afford it and, second, it discounts the inescapable “cross boundary” and regional impacts of local actions.  There are many nations in Africa and there are many states, but there are few nation states.  The neat lines on the map and finely drawn boundaries are less than ephemeral in practice.  Such border porosity as well as longstanding and intimate cross border affiliations create great difficulties in localizing effects.  Alternatively, regional mechanisms are being established which offer to spread load the costs, as well as provide a forum for a much more in depth understanding of historical, cultural, and social relationship patterns and their impacts, with Africans bearing a fair share of the burdens in helping themselves, yet there seems to be little interest in focused interagency engagement with these regional bodies.  In fact, what is evolving in strife torn Africa may even be a model worthy of emulation and repetition – regional communities which serve as the means to enforce the collective decisions and normative standards of the community of nations.  At this point, however, it is not at all clear either how we intend to resolve our conflicting goals or create a coherent strategy.  What is clear is Africa’s importance, both to Africans as well as to Americans.