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Globalization and U.S. Africa Command: Understanding the New World

WASHINGTON, Aug. 3, 2016 — Globalization is a process as old as humanity itself.

It goes in fits and starts and probably began when one tribe of homo sapiens explored new territory and found another set of homo sapiens already living there. That exchange of commerce, culture, ideas and views was the beginning of the globalization process.

Globalization affects everything and it is inherently neither good nor bad -- it just is. The difference today, as opposed to the days of sail or steam, is the speed of globalization. Ideas, capital and culture move at Internet speeds today. The tyranny of distance has evaporated and more than 3 billion people on the globe have access to the information and opportunities of the Web.

New-Era Threats

It is no surprise that globalization also affects threats -- requiring new looks, new strategies and new tactics. Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has repeatedly spoken about “transnational and transregional threats.” He says threats that once could be isolated to a specific country have now routinely spread across the national and regional boundaries.

Dunford cites North Korea as an example, saying that once a conflict on the Korean Peninsula could be isolated to that area. Today, that is no longer the case, and if North Korea initiated conflict, it would quickly spread to include the capabilities of U.S. Pacific Command, U.S. Northern Command, U.S. Strategic Command and U.S. Cyber Command.

The continent of Africa puts substance to this. Africa is a huge, diverse continent with some long-established nations but with most still in the process of forming, Amanda J. Dory, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs, said in a recent interview.

Developing Transregional Strategies

The newest combatant command -- U.S. Africa Command that stood up in 2007 -- finds itself at the forefront of this effort to develop transregional strategies.

“The ingredient for success in dealing with transnational, transregional threats is all about the network of partners you build to deal with them,” Dory said.

Africom works with the nations of the continent individually and encourages the nations to act together, she said.

“There’s nothing that stays in the boundary of a country anymore,” said former U.S. Africa Command commander Army Gen. David Rodriguez in an interview earlier this year. “All of the threats end up being regional and transregional in nature … .”

He added, “In addition to ‘regionalizing’ [the effort] on the African continent, we ‘internationalize’ it with the other partners -- the European Union, France, the U.K., the Italians.”

The command coordinates the efforts as much as it can, “and we look at the gaps and see where we can fill them in,” Rodriguez said.

The current commander sees things much the same way. “Ethnic strife, poverty, mass atrocities and illicit trafficking threaten stability and economic growth, particularly in nations with weak governments,” said Marine Corps Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee last month. “Consequently, Africom must continue to work with national and international partners to disrupt these transnational threats and prevent the export of terror on the continent, in the region and ultimately to our homeland.”

“If you parse the idea of transregional threats, what we are seeing are the attacks that are happening on state sovereignty coming from a variety of different directions,” Dory said.

More Challenges

Technical advances shared via globalization means sovereign states have more challenges to deal with than they did in the past either in economic competition or in security. “In Africa the challenge you have is with sovereign states whose sovereignty came so recently,” Dory said. “They have the huge challenge of creating effective governance structures in the globalized context.”

The threats are constantly shifting and the ability of individuals and small organizations to penetrate borders easily is problematic and will be for decades to come, Dory said.

Therefore, “the security piece has to progress in tandem with governance development,” she said.

States where security is overemphasized tend to smother public participation and democratic process, Dory said.


This is the question, she said, that the U.S. government asks partners in Africa. “What is it we can do as external partners to keep both of those moving in parallel?” Dory said.

This must start with the political will of individual countries, she said, but the Department of Defense including U.S. Africa Command can do a lot to help the process along.

The effort is paying off, Dory said. In September last year, Burkino Faso faced a military coup. It failed. The coup failed, she said, because the Burkinabe people didn’t accept it, and second, because the regional countries and organizations such as ECOWAS and the African Union brought pressure on the coup leaders. Banding together to say the coup was unacceptable helped turn the tide, Dory said.

“The [AU] organization is essentially saying, in regards to coups, we believe in the voice of the people and this is not acceptable in our membership,” Dory said. “The AU amplifies international laws and norms and that has a huge impact.”

Another example was the presidential election in Nigeria. “Predictions were that it would go poorly, that it would be hijacked, there would be tremendous amounts of violence,” Dory said. “None of that came to pass and you had a peaceful transfer of power from one party to a different one for the first time. Nigerians breathed a sigh of relief. So did the region. It was an example of transfer of power to an opposition party not seen often.”

The real need in Africa is the need for strategic patience, whether it’s the need for security engagements or economic and governance cooperation, Dory said.

“[In the U.S.] We measure things in four-year timescales because that’s relevant to our democratic process,” she said. “That doesn’t work well with the support we are providing in Africa and many other areas of the world. Decades would be a better timescale.”

Multinational Joint Task Force

Africom has worked diligently with the African Union, and that, too, is paying off, Dory said. “Organizations like the African Union have really come into their own,” she said. The AU is working with many African nations to identify problems and build security capabilities.

The AU is also working closely with sub-regional groupings. The most recent success is with respect to combating Boko Haram by establishing a Multinational Joint Task Force in N’Djamena, Chad, Dory said. The nations involved are Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Benin and Niger.

The impetus, she said, was the rise of the deadly terrorist group in Nigeria and its spillover into neighboring countries. “The region, when faced with the threat of Boko Haram … began the diplomatic process to repair some badly damaged relations,” Dory said. “It is no secret that Nigeria and Cameroon in particular had long-standing grievances and territorial disputes, but both realized that the current threat environment required them to work together.”

A Nigerian commander currently leads the organization and the headquarters creates a location where the international community can plug in to provide support, Dory said. Along with the AU, the United Kingdom, France and the United States work with the task force to provide practical support -- advice, information, intelligence and some equipment.

“You have a transnational community coming together to deal with a transnational threat -- a network to deal with a network,” Dory said.

Success breeds success, and Dory said she’d like to see more of this type of cooperation on the continent. It will be needed to oppose not only Boko Haram, she said, but also the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Libya.

It will also help nations establish control over ungoverned or weakly governed areas on the continent, she said, and it will also help nations benefit from the accelerated pace of globalization.

The benefits of globalization far outweigh the debits, said Dory, noting that’s true in the United States and it is also true in Africa. But its pace and complexity require the development of adaptive strategies and consistent implementation by the U.S. and African partners alike, she said.

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)