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Obama should rethink US military expansion

Posted on Tuesday, 11 May 2010 11:42

Armed engagement ties the US to unstable regimes and detracts from

diplomatic and economic efforts to address Africa’s underlying problems

When Barack Obama took office as President of the United States in January 2009, it was widely expected that he would dramatically change, or even reverse, the militarised and unilateral security policy towards Africa that had been pursued by George W. Bush’s administration. But, after a little more than a year in office, it is clear that the Obama administration is following the same policy that has guided US military involvement for more than a decade. President Obama is determined to expand US military engagement. The government is considering the creation of a 1,000-man Marine intervention force based in Europe to provide Africom with the capability to intervene in Africa.

Thus, in its budget request for the State Department for 2010, the Obama administration proposed significant increases in funding for US arms sales and military training programmes as well as for regional programmes. It is expected to propose further increases in its budget request for 2011.

More money?

The 2010 State Department budget request also proposed increased funding for several security assistance programmes, including the African Contingency Operations and Training Assistance project, which is slated to receive $96.8m. Drug control and enforcement is also getting a boost.

The same is true for funding in the defence department budget for the operations of the Africa Command (Africom) and the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) forces that have been stationed at the US military base in Djibouti since 2002.?The government requested $278m to cover Africom’s costs and Operation Enduring Freedom-Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Partnership operations at Africom headquarters in Germany.

The government also requested $60m for CJTF-HOA operations in 2010 and $249m to pay for the operation of the base at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti, along with $41.8m for major base improvement projects.

The continuity with the Bush administration is especially evident in several regions. In Somalia, the US has provided $20m worth of arms to the government and initiated an effort to provide training for its troops at the CJTF-HOA base and in Europe. Obama has also continued the programme initiated by the Bush administration to assassinate suspected Al Qaida leaders in Somalia.

In Nigeria, which supplies approximately 10% of US oil imports, the Obama administration has decided to expand military support, despite concerns about security in the Niger Delta, Islamic extremism in northern Nigeria and the fragility of the country’s institutions. Thus, during a visit to Nigeria in August 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised that the US would consider any request to enhance the Nigerian military’s capacity to repress armed militants in the Niger Delta.The US government is increasing security assistance to Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya and Ethiopia, and has conducted major training exercises in Uganda and Djibouti for the new East African Standby Force (EASF). The EASF is a battalion-sized force authorised by the African Union to support peacekeeping operations, but it remains dependent upon external support – especially from the US – and is not expected to be able to operate on its own for many years.?

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Obama administration has just authorised the deployment of US Special Forces to train a battalion at a base at Kisangani that was recently rehabilitated by the US. The government has chosen this training programme despite the continuing involvement of Congolese troops in human rights violations and illegal mining activities.

This growing US military engagement reflects the Obama administration’s concerns about the threat posed by Islamic extremism and instability in resource-producing regions, and its desire to help resolve conflicts. However, all these measures increase the militarisation of Africa and tie the US even more closely to unstable, repressive and undemocratic regimes.

Despite Obama’s rhetorical commitment to an approach that combines military and non-military activities, his government lacks a comprehensive plan to address the underlying issues – the lack of democracy and development – that lead to extremism, instability and conflict. The State Department and the Agency for International Development have been starved of funding and resources for years. It will take many years and substantial increases in funding to build this capacity.

In the meantime, Obama has decided that he has no choice except to rely primarily on military instruments and to hope that this can protect US interests, at least in the short term, despite the risk that this engagement will exacerbate existing threats. The US government would be well advised to curtail its military engagement and devote its attention to developing the capacity for diplomatic and economic efforts to address Africa’s underlying problems, as Joint Chief of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen argued in a recent speech. It also should work with the European Union, China and others on a cooperative engagement that will not undermine African security or jeopardise US long-term interests.

This article was first published in The Africa Report April-May edition.

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