Africa on the US National Security Strategy 2010: what’s new?

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Photograph: Charles Dharapak/AP (The Guardian)

Last week the US government published its National Security Strategy (Full text here); since then numerous knowledgeable commentators have analysed and commented on this – for example this article on The Guardian, or these experts consulted by the Council on Foreign Relations. As this is the first National Security Strategy published by the Obama administration, many analysts agree that this is a fresh take on US foreign policy and a welcome change from the vision that was defined during the George W. Bush years. This is most clearly seen on the language the paper employs, but also on its more objective assessment of how the world is, on the recognition that the US should base its security both at home and abroad and the emphasis on economic power. As noted above, I am no expert on international security, let alone American foreign policy, but I have entertained myself in going through the document and finding which sections of it make reference to Africa, or let us see which vision of the continent has the US. This is therefore a simple exercise of finding and highlighting what I’ve considered interesting, and would welcome any comments from all of you on how best to interpret this National Security strategy, what it may mean for Africa, and how it differs from the previous one, published in 2002 (Full text here).

The first thing that surprised me (again, as a novice, maybe there is an explanation for this) is that there are no “close friends and allies” of the US in Africa. Or at least is what the paper points out on the “overview of the National Security Strategy” under the heading “Renewing American Leadership—Building at Home, Shaping Abroad” (p.3):

The starting point for that collective action will be our engagement with other countries. The cornerstone of this engagement is the relationship between the United States and our close friends and allies in Europe, Asia, the Americas, and the Middle East * — ties which are rooted in shared interests and shared values, and which serve our mutual security and the broader security and prosperity of the world. We are working to build deeper and more effective partnerships with other key centers of influence—including China, India, and Russia, as well as increasingly influential nations such as Brazil, South Africa, and Indonesia—so that we can cooperate on issues of bilateral and global concern, with the recognition that power, in an interconnected world, is no longer a zero sum game.

To my (untrained) eye, it is prehaps the recognition of “key centres of influence” and of “increasingly influential nations” that is the most interesting aspect of this National Security Strategy – as it recognises the plurality and multilateralism that caracterises the current international systems. Although for the US, no African country/region is a key centre of influence, South Africa is considered an “influential nation”, and other regions are also discussed. Thus, on the second section (“Advancing Our Interests”), we can find four subsections (Security, Prosperity, Values, International Order), and on the fourth one, we the following (p.45):

The diversity and complexity of the African continent offer the United States opportunities and challenges. As African states grow their economies and strengthen their democratic institutions and governance, America will continue to embrace effective partnerships. Our economic, security, and political cooperation will be consultative and encompass global, regional, and national priorities including access to open markets, conflict prevention, global peacekeeping, counterterrorism, and the protection of vital carbon sinks. The Administration will refocus its priorities on strategic interventions that can promote job creation and economic growth; combat corruption while strengthening good governance and accountability; responsibly improve the capacity of African security and rule of law sectors; and work through diplomatic dialogue to mitigate local and regional tensions before they become crises. We will also reinforce sustainable stability in key states like Nigeria and Kenya that are essential subregional linchpins.
The United States will work to remain an attractive and influential partner by ensuring that African priorities such as infrastructure development, improving reliable access to power, and increased trade and investment remain high on our agenda. South Africa’s inclusion in the G-20 should be followed by a growing number of emerging African nations who are charting a course toward improved governance and meaningful development. South Africa’s vibrant democracy, combined with its regional and global leadership roles, is a critical partner. From peacemaking to climate change to capacity-building, South Africa brings unique value and perspective to international initiatives. With its strong, diversified, well-managed economy, it often serves as a springboard to the entire African continent, and we will work to pursue shared interests in Africa’s security, growth, and the development of Africa’s human capital.

This is the part where the African continent is mentioned in most detail, although there is nothing that appears particularly striking or new about what is being said. Only that, as well as South Africa, “a springboard to the entire African continent”, the importance of Kenya and Nigeria, as “essential subregional linchpins” is also highlighted. Besides these countries, two others are also mentioned – Sudan and Somalia. Thus, still under “International order” it reads (p. 48):

Peacekeeping and Armed Conflict
In Sudan, which has been marred by violent conflict for decades, the United States remains committed to working with the international community to support implementation of outstanding elements of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and ensure that the referendum on the future of Southern Sudan in 2011 happens on time and that its results are respected. In addition, we will continue to engage in the efforts necessary to support peace and stability after the referendum, and continue to work to secure peace, dignity, and accountability in Darfur.

And under the “Security” sub-section (p. 21):

Disrupt, Dismantle, and Defeat Al-Qa’ida and its Violent Extremist Afiliates in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Around the World
Deny Safe Havens and Strengthen At-Risk States: Wherever al-Qa’ida or its terrorist afiliates attempt to establish a safe haven—as they have in Yemen, Somalia, the Maghreb, and the Sahel—we will meet them with growing pressure.

Thus, the most important references to the African continent within the new National Security Strategy appear to be the recognition of the crucial role played by sub-regional powers (South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya), as well as the importance of “trouble-spots” on the Horn and the Sahel region. Besides this, there are also a number of other references to the continent on more general sections dealing with different matters, like global warming, food security, and the Millenium Development Goals:

Accelerate Sustainable Development -> Invest in the Foundations of Long-Term Development ->Exercise Leadership in the Provision of Global Public Goods (p. 34):
Our approach needs to reflect the fact that there are a set of development challenges that strongly affect the likelihood of progress, but cannot be addressed by individual countries acting alone. Particularly in Africa, these challenges—such as adaptation to global warming, the control of epidemic disease, and the knowledge to increase agricultural productivity – are not adequately addressed in bilateral efforts. We will shape the international architecture and work with our global partners to address these challenges, and increase our investments and engagement to transition to a low-carbon growth trajectory, support the resilience of the poorest nations to the effects of climate change, and strengthen food security. We must also pursue potential “game changers” for development such as new vaccines, weather-resistant seed varieties, and green energy technologies.

Values -> Promote Dignity by Meeting Basic Needs (p. 39)
The freedom that America stands for includes freedom from want. Basic human rights cannot thrive in places where human beings do not have access to enough food, or clean water, or the medicine they need to survive. The United States has embraced the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals and is working with others in pursuit of the eradication of extreme poverty—efforts that are particularly critical to the future of nations and peoples of Africa. And we will continue to promote the dignity that comes through development efforts such as:
Pursuing a Comprehensive Global Health Strategy: (…)
Promoting Food Security: (…)
Leading Efforts to Address Humanitarian Crises: (…)

* All emphasised sections are mine

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