December 7, 2006 | World Defense Review

The Time Is Now for a U.S. Africa Command

The last major overhaul of the United States military – the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 (PL 99-433) – created nine unified combatant commands – five regional and four functional – with the goal of providing effective control of American forces in war and peace. It would accomplish that goal by charging a single commander with a broad continuing mission; endowing him with adequate authority and resources to be applied to tasks, missions, or personnel.

Within their area of responsibility (AOR), the regional commanders (still commonly called “CINCs,” commanders-in-chief, even though a 2002 directive from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announced that henceforth, in keeping with Article II of the Constitution, the title of “commander-in-chief” would be reserved exclusively to the for the President) are arguably the single most influential U.S. official shaping foreign policy and promoting strategic national interests, in addition to serving as the reference point for military matters.

Unfortunately, this effect has not been achieved in Africa, which, at the time the combatant commands were created barely figured into the strategic calculus of America's foreign policy establishment.

As a result, three of the five regional commands have some part of Africa in their AORs. Most of Africa falls under the aegis of the U.S. European Command (EUCOM), based in Stuttgart, Germany, which has responsibility for 42 of the 53 countries in Africa. The U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), based in Tampa, Florida, is responsible for eight African countries – Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Seychelles, Somalia, and Sudan – as well as the waters of the Red Sea and those western portions of the Indian Ocean not covered by the Hawaii-based U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM). PACOM's AOR includes Comoros, Mauritius, and Madagascar, as well as the waters of the Indian Ocean, excluding those north of 5° S and west of 68° E (which fall into CENTCOM's purview) and those west of 42° E (which are handled by EUCOM).

The 2006 edition of the National Security Strategy of the United States of America correctly declared, “Africa holds growing geo-strategic importance and is a high priority of this Administration.” However, even under the best of circumstances, EUCOM's commander, who also doubles as the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (SACEUR), would be hard pressed to give much attention to the complexities of Sub-Saharan Africa, even if the incumbent is exceptionally attune to the strategic objectives which must be accomplished and the diplomatic and political goals which must be achieved. Such seems to be the case with Army General Bantz J. Craddock, formerly head of the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM). At the September hearing before the Committee on Armed Services of the U.S. Senate which was discussing his confirmation to be the next commander of EUCOM, General Craddock testified that:

The increasing strategic significance of Africa will continue to pose the greatest security stability challenge in the EUCOM AOR. The large ungoverned area in Africa, HIV/AIDS epidemic, corruption, weak governance, and poverty that exist throughout the continent are challenges that are key factors in the security stability issues that affect every country in Africa.

The officer went on to knowledgeably discuss regional topics relating to his future AOR which are familiar to readers of this column, including the genocide in Darfur, the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the militancy in Nigeria's oil-rich Niger Delta, the potential for Islamist penetration of the same area, and the terrorist threat across Africa in general. But given the magnitude and scope of these challenges, General Craddock refreshingly did not appear territorially defensive. Responding to a question about the present split command structure in Africa, he declared candidly:

From a unity of command and unity of effort perspective, a change in U.S. command arrangements in Africa has merit and should be considered. A separate command for Africa would provide better focus and increased synergy in the support of U.S. policy and engagement, but it would also require a significant commitment of resources.

Three days after General Craddock's confirmation hearing, speaking at a semi-public briefing for Pentagon officials, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld signaled his support for the creation of a new command for Africa, stating that he and Marine Corps General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were pressing the military for a proposal to set up an Africa Command.

“Pete and I are for it,” Rumsfeld affirmed, while General Pace confirmed that establishment of the new command as a geographic combatant command will be included in the Defense Department's Unified Command Plan (UCP) for 2007 and that the current EUCOM commander, Marine Corps General James L. Jones, was formulating a formal recommendation. (A UCP is an executive document signed by the President at the recommendation of the Defense Secretary and the Joint Chiefs of Staff and establishes commands, assigns missions and functions, allocates resources, and defines AORs and other command arrangements.)

General Jones and his deputy at EUCOM, Army General William E. “Kip” Ward, have been supportive of the transformation. (The name of General Ward, the fifth African-American to reach four-star rank, is often mentioned in defense circles as that of a likely candidate to be the first commander for the possible Africa Command.) In March 2007 congressional testimony, General Jones proclaimed that “Africa's vast potential makes African stability a near term global strategic imperative” before concluding that “there can be no doubt that Africa will occupy an increasingly larger amount of our national attention in the years ahead” and warning “early recognition of this reality is very important.”

As I have previously argued in this column, our enemies have already decided that Africa is the next front for their land and sea war of terror on America and our potential strategic rivals, like China, have also made of it a theatre of competition. The question is whether, in this era of tight budgets and myopic partisan politics, the Washington political establishment – especially incoming Secretary of Defense Robert Gates – will be farsighted enough to invest in an adequate response for which, as the men and women in uniform have come recognize, the time is now.

J. Peter Pham is Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs and a Research Fellow of the Institute for Infrastructure and Information Assurance at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. He is also an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C.