U.S. Civil Military Imbalance for Global Engagement: Lessons from the Operational Level in Africa

Executive Summary

In his introduction to the 2002 National Security Strategy, President Bush said: “America is now threatened less by conquering states than we are by failing ones.” Failing states with weak state institutions struggle to deliver services to their population or to control corruption and are at risk of ongoing conflict. When these countries descend into civil war, massive flows of refugees and large-scale human displacement lead to further regional and global instability.

Nowhere is this more of a challenge than in Africa. There is broad agreement that combating today’s global threats requires a balanced, integrated approach with coordinated defense, diplomacy and development efforts. In practice, the Pentagon is largely dictating America’s approach to foreign policy. The nation’s foreign aid budget is too low; its civilian capacity to construct and carry out effective, long-term policies to rebuild states is too weak; interventions abroad are often unilateral when multilateral solutions could be more effective; and the military, which is well trained to invade countries, not to build them up, is playing an increasingly active and well-funded role in promoting development and democracy. Even Defense Secretary Robert Gates noted that U.S. soldiers conducting development and assistance activities in countries where they frequently don’t speak the language is “no replacement for the real thing – civilian involvement and expertise.”

The rising military role in shaping U.S. global engagement is a challenge to the next president. Foreign assistance represents less than one percent of the federal budget, while defense spending is 20%. The U.S. military has over 1.5 million uniformed active duty employees and over 10,100 civilian employees, while the Department of State has some 6,500 permanent employees. Although several high-level task forces and commissions have emphasized the urgent need to modernize our aid infrastructure and increase sustainable development activities, such assistance is increasingly being overseen by military institutions whose policies are driven by the Global War on Terror, not by the war against poverty. Between 1998 and 2005, the percentage of Official Development Assistance the Pentagon controlled exploded from 3.5% to nearly 22%, while the percentage controlled by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) shrunk from 65% to 40%.

This civil-military imbalance has particular ramifications for Africa, where Global War on Terror imperatives do not address the continent’s biggest needs for security assistance. The U.S. is only helping four African countries transform their armies and security agencies into professional organizations that protect citizens rather than abuse them. Resources are allocated in a manner that does not reflect the continent’s most pressing priorities. For example, the U.S. has allocated $49.65 million for reforming a 2,000-strong Liberian army to defend the four million people of that country. In contrast, it only plans to spend $5.5 million in 2009 to help reform a 164,000-strong army in the DR Congo, a country with 65 million people where Africa’s “first world war” claimed the lives of over five million people.

Two case studies emphasize the problems inherent in the U.S. approach. Military dominance over reform programs in Liberia has resulted in a policy focused solely on restructuring Liberia’s army by expensive private contractors, DynCorp and Pacific Architects and Engineers. Meanwhile, intelligence, judiciary, and prison agencies are sadly neglected. In the DR Congo, the State Department has played a very active role in facilitating dialogue among belligerents and is concerned about the humanitarian situation in the east, but the Defense Department is virtually ignoring the nation’s desperate need of military reform. As a result, an inadequately resourced security sector reform program has contributed to the Congolese army becoming a major source of insecurity for civilian communities.

The U.S. military’s new Africa Command (AFRICOM) is poised to become the dominant influence over U.S. policy on the continent. Originally, AFRICOM was promoted as integrating military and civilian agencies for “humanitarian assistance, civic action… and response to natural disasters.” After much criticism from African nations and the international humanitarian community, the new AFRICOM Commander is now emphasizing the value the Command can add to the many U.S. military programs already operating in Africa.

AFRICOM should focus on two unashamedly military/political roles that will strengthen peace and security in Africa: a) assisting African countries with defense sector reform; and b) supporting Africa’s regional organizations in building conflict management and standby force capacity. The Command’s legitimacy will ultimately be determined by its ability to work with the African Union and UN operations to address Africa’s principal security challenge – mobilizing sufficient resources to provide a secure, stable and well-governed environment in which human rights are protected and promoted and where business can thrive. Assisting with the coordination of security sector and peacekeeping assistance should be strongly emphasized in its mandate to help national governments absorb the plethora of uncoordinated initiatives from various coalitions of donor countries.

Another priority for AFRICOM should be to enhance peacekeeping capacity-building programs. As a matter of urgency, AFRICOM should establish a core of civil-military expertise specifically related to UN peace operations in Africa. With the demand for African peacekeepers far outstripping the supply of adequately trained and equipped forces, AFRICOM has the potential to increase the number of trained soldiers for UN or AU peace operations.

AFRICOM could also enhance international cooperation for delivering more sustainable support to African efforts to establish peace and security. Instead of having three commanders that deal with Africa as a third or fourth priority, an informed, consistent and coherent engagement with Africa could be established. However, AFRICOM’s current meager budget for bilateral security cooperation falls far short of what is needed to have true credibility and
impact. Currently, no funds are allocated for security sector and governance capacity-building for African nations. Instead, funding is being requested for Global War on Terror priorities.

While AFRICOM can improve engagement with African nations, more effective non-military support is needed to provide the basic foundations of stability that would encourage refugees to return home and would meet Africa’s enormous development challenges. Although the current administration is promoting a range of initiatives to redress the imbalance in U.S. instruments for global engagement, these are aimed at a “quick fix” for long-broken machinery.

The next president must strengthen civilian professional capacity to carry out diplomatic and development operations. More funding is needed to address the current 17 to 1 spending imbalance in staffing and resources between defense and diplomatic/development operations, and to reduce the use of contractors in foreign assistance programs. A thorough assessment of both civilian and military capacities to achieve developmental goals must also be conducted.
Doing a few things well in Africa, and doing the right thing in Africa, can have a positive impact on 53 UN member states, help uplift 80% of the world’s poorest people, and win friends and influence in the most under-governed continent in the world. If the establishment of AFRICOM, the strengthening of the State Department’s Africa Bureau and USAID programs in Africa can be seen to produce positive results, the effort could serve as a model for U.S. global engagement.