By, With, and Through: Securing US National Interests in Africa

By, With, and Through: Securing US National Interests in Africa by Doug Livermore, Georgetown Security Studies Review

President Donald Trump’s recently released annual budget request, characterized as a “hard power” budget, emphasizes military spending over diplomatic and developmental aid. As such, there is a perceived risk that the United States’ new foreign policy will de-prioritize our engagement with Africa, which accounts for much of the potential cuts. Rather, the United States should increase and better synchronize efforts to engage with African partners to professionalize their militaries and improve governance to preempt the emergence of crises with global implications. It is in the United States’ interests to stay engaged. Increases in trans-regional violent extremism, outbreak of humanitarian crises, and refugee flows have all brought African security challenges to Europe and the United States. In the next five years, Sub-Saharan Africa will see the world’s largest population growth which, when combined with a “cooling” of geopolitical and economic trends, will likely only exacerbate current conditions.

To date, US security policy in Africa has focused on combating violent extremism by enabling African partners, and this must remain an important priority for future American engagement. Many parts of Africa are severely afflicted with systemic instability, which creates ungoverned spaces in which violent extremist organizations (VEOs) such as al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the Islamic State in Libya, the Islamic State in West Africa and Boko Haram (BH), have flourished. In response, the Department of Defense engages in widespread Security Force Assistance (SFA) efforts to train, advise, and assist African militaries to better address their internal security challenges. These efforts are best exemplified by the FLINTLOCK special operations exercises conducted every year between US, European, and African partners.  As an instrument of “hard power”, it is likely that SFA will continue to be a focus of US engagement in Africa. However, it is important that this not be the primary or only manner in which the United States pursues its national objectives in Africa…

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