- To help readers better understand the nuances of foreign policy, CFR staff writers and Consulting Editor Bernard Gwertzman conduct in-depth interviews with a wide range of international experts, as well as newsmakers.
Gen. William E. Ward became the first commander of U.S. Africa Command in October 2007. Since then, he has been traveling across the continent, speaking to African governments about their perspectives on the command. Media reports on Africom have focused on where it will be based, and some critics have expressed concern that it represents the "militarization" of U.S. policy toward Africa. Gen. Ward says that Africom’s strategic approach is one of "active security." The command has "downplayed the notion of where we need to be to do this because it was creating so much angst amongst our African partners," he says.
In your posture statement to Congress in March, you discuss your strategic approach as one of "active security." Can you explain that idea and how you see it being executed in specific missions by Africom?
When I talked about "active security," as I mentioned in my posture statement, it’s really a reflection of the day-to-day activities that go on that reflect our engagement with the nations of Africa where we have established policies that says, "There will be a military to military relationship with these organizations and nations." You are probably familiar with the term "phase zero." Phase-zero operations are those activities that you conduct in an environment where there’s not conflict.
We use active security because phase zero kind of implies that maybe you will move from that to something else. Active security connotes "persistent engagement," a sustained level of activity designed to help our partner nations increase their capacity to provide for their own security. What is that? That’s things like the work that we’re doing with the Africa Partnership Station. The work that we do in our military-to-military training activities as we work with the nations of Africa to help them with their logistic systems is an example. When we get a query, "Can you help you establish maintenance sustainment systems?" How do you cause repair parts that are needed to keep the equipment operational to be on hand when you need it? What systems are in place?
Active security is really the totality of our engagement level that is designed to help our partner nations increase their military professionalism, their proficiency, and their capability to do the things that they have said they wanted to do in providing for their own security. It’s how we engage with them in their professionalism development, the work that we do with them at their schools, the various academies they have as they seek to develop their officers, their non-commissioned officers, how we interface with them to help them increase those programs.
It’s the day-to-day level of activities that aren’t tied to addressing some specific crisis but that are quite frankly tied to increasing their capacity to hopefully help prevent crises. You look at active security, that’s what it’s about. It’s active because it’s ongoing; it’s continuous; it’s sustained. That’s not to say seven days a week, every month. But a program gets established such that we’re there doing something and our partners know that we will be back at some period [in the future]—three months, four months, maybe one year. They know that we’ll come back to help them reinforce something, to help make adjustments as might be required.
One of the biggest programs the U.S. military has in Africa is the Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa. How do you see that program’s work continuing under Africom?
It’s a very deliberate decision that the mission transfer from Centcom to Combined Joint Task Force would be one of the last things we would transfer over. In fact, the transfer would not occur until we were a unified command, so that is scheduled to occur in the fall. The activities that we are looking at right now are those things being done by CJT Horn of Africa, their humanitarian work, the work they’re doing on military-to-military training activities, their civic-actions programs, and projects that are being accomplished with the country teams there in the eastern part of the continent.
From our point of view the things that are going on in CJT of HOA are important and we see no reason to alter or change them. In fact our mission is to make that transfer as seamless as possible to our partner nations and those country teams so that the activities being conducted now by CJT of HOA are sustained in ways that the same levels of result are certainly in place.
Can you discuss the air strikes that have happened in Somalia? Do you see that as something that might continue under Africom?
As they have occurred at this point, it’s been Centcom’s area of responsibilities. We have been aware of those activities. As missions and operations are conducted, they are under the advisement of the local U.S. political leaders there. On many occasions the civilian leadership of the nation involved, as well as the geographic command, as well as any additional forces that might be put in place to do whatever that mission might be. Our mission says that we will in fact conduct operations as directed by the president. We will have that same capability to do that.
I can’t say how it will change or what will change. Those are in many respects activities that occur as situations arise. This command would be prepared to respond to those situations as they arise. Again, it would not be solely what we would do or not do. It’s how we would coordinate or work with other concerned parties in that process and I mentioned a smattering of who those groups are.
Do you see Africom’s focus being on maintaining current Defense Department programs or spearheading new ones? There are 182 missions ongoing. That’s a lot to take on. Where do you allocate your resources?
Part of what I think will make this command such a unique command is how we brought in our interagency members to help us better understand what’s going on, so that if we’re doing something maybe we ought to stop doing that. We’ll be given this level of greater clarity because of our hopeful ability to have greater understanding of what goes on across the range of activities, not just defense but those other developmental activities that are being done by other elements of our government, other members of the international community, nongovernmental organizations—not that we want to take over and do that work but such that the work we do is complementary and supportive of the totality of the effort as it can be. That is going to be our focus—to make it better, to add value to what’s going on now.
You mentioned in your statement to Congress that unless these interagency capabilities are better resourced, you feel some of their tasks are going to default to Africom. Do you still have those concerns? Do you feel they are being addressed in any way?
You’ve seen statements by Secretary Gates, by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all talking to the fact that we know that in any environment, the work of bringing stability is not just a military task. Those things that are done by other elements of our government from the Department of State, USAID, Treasury, Commerce, Agriculture, Energy, and others helping to address economic sector issues, developmental sector issues, health concerns, educational concerns. All of those are important to long-term stability.
I’m often asked, "Now that you have Africom, what will you be doing in Darfur or Somalia or Zimbabwe?" Those aren’t my decisions. If I’m asked by a policymaker for military advice, then I clearly render that but the decision to get involved or not get involved are not decisions that I make.
There are occasions whereby the ability of our interagency partners to do the things that they would want to do may not always be there because of a lack of resources. The point that I was making is that when we show up and our interagency partners are not there because of some resourcing issue, there are occasions when by default those things fall to us. We’re not the agency or the department designed to do it. We would much prefer our interagency partners, who are the experts in many of those things, to be there doing those sorts of things, so we do advocate for the totality of government being involved to do the things that each of us has a line of expertise to deal with.
Can you just give me a brief summary of some of the most salient feedback that you’ve received from listening tours you’ve been doing around the continent? Has that feedback caused any changes in trajectory or thinking on Africom?
Sure, one of the things, as I’ve gone around and visited many of the African nations, is the fact that they value our military-to-military relationships. They value the assistance that we can provide as they ask in helping them to professionalize their militaries and helping them to establish systems of efficiency within their structures. I don’t know if that’s one hundred percent, but it’s sure in the high nineties in the way of reaction to the value of our participation.
Certainly the initial reaction as to what the creation of the command meant, i.e. does it mean that you’re now militarizing foreign policy, are you going to come to the continent and establish huge bases and operating garrisons and stationing large number of troops? That created angst, it created push back, because of experiences that many of these nations have been through. But as soon as you say "Hey, it’s not the case, it’s not any of those things," that fear is allayed a bit. But to be sure, the proof will be in how we work with these nations. In fact they won’t see the large military garrisons and bases and naval squadrons being stationed around.
What we have done is downplayed the notion of where we need to be to do this because it was creating so much angst amongst our African partners. Since bringing value to the programs is something that we wanted to do, that wasn’t an essential element to begin our journey. We wanted to build the team, we wanted to transfer these missions over and be able to add value to those. Emphasizing those elements as opposed to other things that really didn’t help us get started has helped calm the waters, so to speak. If anything, what we’ve done is reinforce that we are here to add value to the ongoing programs. We reinforced the notion that we are here to listen to you and only do those things that you are asking for our assistance in doing and obviously making sure those things that you are asking us to do are keeping with our state and foreign policy objectives as well.
There are clashes right now in south Sudan between government troops and south Sudanese forces. If the command was currently fully operational, would it have an increased responsibility to intervene in a situation like that?
I don’t think so. Our military activities again would be a function of a stated foreign policy objective, having been made to do something or not do something.
I’m often asked, "Now that you have Africom, what will you be doing in Darfur or Somalia or Zimbabwe?" Those aren’t my decisions. If I’m asked by a policymaker for military advice, then I clearly render that but the decision to get involved or not get involved are not decisions that I make. Those are decisions that are made by the State Department or the president, as I said. That certainly is not changing because of the creation of the command. Those things don’t change. This command is only designed to affect the organization and structure of how we carry our Department of Defense activities on the continent of Africa in support of our U.S. foreign policy objectives.