Proposed budget cuts won’t slow the militarization of Africa
In a departure from the longstanding tradition of squeezing every possible dime from the Treasury to buy weapons, the White House is asking for significantly less money for the Pentagon budget. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel proposes a 450,000 troop reduction, the elimination of the A-10 “tank killer” aircraft, and the shelving of the U-2 spy plane.
A news report said: “The cuts in military spending, forces and weapons programs address the stark reality of growing budget pressures at home and point to improbability the United States will ever again engage in a large ground war.”
Nevertheless, the proposal “is likely to face stiff opposition on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers will battle for every troop, weapons program and dollar,” the report said.
Resistance will also come from some who urge a significant expansion of the U.S. military in Africa, even as the U.S. engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan winds down. For example, in a recent memorandum to President Obama, Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution acknowledges “national war fatigue” and the drive for “fiscal austerity,” but he argues that conditions in Africa demand an expanded U.S. military presence in order to move toward stability.
He wrote: “Islamic extremism threatens Nigeria, the continent’s most populous nation. Terrorism recently struck at Kenya. Libya has fallen backwards. Mali’s progress after the French intervention is tenuous. The same is true in Somalia and Sudan, where a return to general civil warfare cannot be ruled out. A coup and counter-coup are driving Central African Republic toward civil war and ruin.”
In the tug of war over appropriate levels of U.S. military involvement in Africa, those who support O’Hanlon’s position appear to be winning. In the east African country of Djibouti alone, there are more than 4,000 U.S. military personnel. There are many other U.S. military units and operations in practically every corner of the African continent.
The recent horrific murders of dozens of students at a Nigerian boarding school by the group Boko Haram makes it easy for some to accept a U.S. military presence in Africa. But constant assertions that terrorism can be defeated only by military means have caused more effective non-military methods of fighting it to be overlooked.
Abdulkarim Mohammed, who has researched Boko Haram, said: “Boko Haram is essentially the fallout of frustration with corruption and the attendant social malaise of poverty and unemployment…The young generation sees how (Nigeria’s resources) are squandered by a small bunch of self-serving elite, which breeds animosity and frustration, and such anger is ultimately translated into violent outbursts.”
Boko Haram and other terrorist groups recruit among those who are poor and resentful. If the U.S. were serious about fighting terrorism in Africa, it would end its support for oppressive puppet regimes and replace the bullets and bombs it sends to the continent with food and material aid. But the United States’ real objective in Africa is to secure control of Africa’s oil and valuable minerals, and the militarization of that continent is certain to continue.
Mark P. Fancher is an attorney who writes frequently about the U.S. military presence in Africa. He can be contacted at email@example.com.