[T]he United States must employ its soft power to persuade African nations to work with it. The time to do so is now, before China’s inroads in African states become insurmountable. If the United States is to secure its resource needs from Africa in the future, it must be prepared to employ all elements of hard and soft power to meet the demands of future proxy conflict on the continent.
This passage comes from the Recommendations at the end of the paper Bipolarity, Proxy Wars, and the Rise of China (PDF) by Mark O. Yeisley, Lieutenant Colonel, USAF published in Strategic Studies Quarterly. The paper lays out the expectation of increasing proxy war in Africa. He anticipates decades of proxy wars with China on the African continent, using African soldiers, over African resources.
… proxy conflicts are those in which great-power hostilities are expressed through client states rather than between great powers themselves. These proxy conflicts occur between nations that disagree over specific issues but do not wish to engage in direct conflict …
From an earlier discussion comes this definition of proxy war:
Within the military realm, the terms proxy and surrogate are largely interchangeable. … a surrogate force is defined as an organization that serves the needs or interests of a secondary actor—the sponsor—by employing military power in place of the sponsor’s own forces. Implicit within this definition is the requirement for the sponsor to fund, equip, train, or otherwise support the surrogate. (Discussed in Obama’s African Rifles – Partners/Surrogates/Proxies)
In his paper Lt. Col Yeisley describes how the Soviet US bipolar power balance led to proxy war on many continents from the end of WWII until the 1990s. He points out that China is the most likely threat to current American global hegemony, and suggests that proxy wars over resources in Africa are a likely future scenario. He points out that any of the BRIC, Brazil, Russia, India, and China, states may become great powers, but China is in the lead on that road at present.
He does not discuss the fact that the new wave of proxy wars in Africa have already begun, with Libya and Somalia being two of the most obvious current examples. These wars are partly maneuvering against China, but are also simply using and exacerbating conflicts to manipulate countries for the use of their resources.
The most likely challenger to US hegemony to emerge, at least in the foreseeable future, is China. Only China is close to possessing sufficient economic might leveraged into military spending and growth to soon rival the United States. It may well become the second great-power state in a new bipolar international regime.
… While direct conflict is indeed a possibility, it remains remote. A more likely outcome is subnational conflict as the United States and China engage in proxy wars over resource access in Africa. These conflicts will place great demands on all US instruments of power as involvement in foreign internal defense, particularly counterinsurgency operations in Africa, trends upward. Bipolarity and renewed proxy conflict will require rethinking of long-term national and military strategies now focused primarily on large-scale interstate wars. This will impact defense acquisition and military doctrine as US strategic focus shifts from conventional conflict to more low-end operations.
Yeisley describes how the Cold War:
… increased the incidence of subnational proxy conflict via two complementary mechanisms. It provided the superpowers a means to achieve geostrategic goals without the risk of nuclear war while also providing groups within client states the means to achieve their goals, through violence if necessary.
What it means is that other people fight and die, real fighting, real death, so that the manipulating powers can compete and acquire without suffering at home.
Yeisley also discusses:
Why did the United States and the USSR engage in Cold War proxy conflict? Realists of the period warned against doing so—involvement in
third-world conflicts was detrimental to US interests and did not enhance the all-important balance of power.
… impressions of power were just as important as military equality; this resulted in strategies that depended on perceptions of a balance of power as much as the balance itself. Thus, US policy treated any Soviet gains as a threat that had to be countered in a zero-sum realpolitik game.
Cold War proxy conflicts usually took the form of aid provided to either insurgent forces or to those of the state—cash transfers, provision of weapons/technology, and advisory or combat support.
The rising incidence of subnational conflict during the Cold War and its decline in the current era were thus influenced by superpower policy decisions to pursue strategic goals by proxy within client states to avoid the high costs of nuclear war.
From Yeisley’s conclusion:
It is likely China will achieve economic and then military parity with the United States in the next two decades. … But why would China’s rising necessarily lead to geostrategic competition with the United States, and where would this most likely occur? Unlike the Cold War, access to strategic resources rather than ideology would lie at the heart of future US-Sino competition, and the new “great game” will most likely be played in Africa.
Africa is home to a wealth of mineral and energy resources, much of which still remains largely unexploited. Seven African states possess huge endowments of oil, and four of these have equally substantial amounts of natural gas. Africa also enjoys large deposits of bauxite (used to make aluminum), copper, lead, nickel, zinc, and iron ore, all of which are imported and highly desired by China.
Of primary interest is open access to Africa’s significant deposits of oil and other energy resources.
Africa is thus a vital foreign interest for the Chinese and must be for the United States; access to its mineral and petroleum wealth is crucial to the survival of each. Although the US and Chinese economies are tightly interconnected, the nonrenewable nature of these assets means competition will remain a zero-sum game. Nearly all African states have been independent entities for less than 50 years; consolidating robust domestic state institutions and stable governments remains problematic. Studies have shown that weak governments are often prime targets for civil conflicts that prove costly to control. Many African nations possess both strategic resources and weak regimes, making them vulnerable to internal conflict and thus valuable candidates for assistance from China or the United States to help settle their domestic grievances. With access to African resources of vital strategic interest to each side, competition could likely occur by proxy via diplomatic, economic, or military assistance to one (or both) of the parties involved.
The asymmetric nature of future conflict over African resources means defense acquisition must therefore focus on equipping and training military as well as civilian foreign internal defense teams. Both military and civilian doctrine must be altered to allow robust and effective interagency actions to meet the challenges of proxy conflict that will span the continuum of war from security forces assistance, counterinsurgency, information, and combat operations to peace enforcement and postconflict stability efforts.
While the United States should not reduce current preparations for conventional war-fighting dominance, prudence dictates that it also prepares for future proxy conflict management in Africa.
Yeisley’s paper is not a policy document, it is more predictive analysis, as the disclaimer states:
The views and opinions expressed or implied in the SSQ are those of the authors and should not be construed as carrying the official sanction of the United States Air Force, the Department of Defense, Air Education and Training Command, Air University, or other agencies or departments of the US government.
The Pentagon is way out in front of this paper. The US Africa Command is already in place and already actively engaged in proxy war on the African continent, in Somalia, in Libya, in the Great Lakes regions, and in a less overt manner in a number of other countries. About a year ago General Hogg from AFRICOM was soliciting Ghana to participate in proxy war in Ivory Coast.
Yeisley tells us that China has 4,000 military personnel in Sudan to protect its interests in energy and mineral investments there; it also owns 40 percent of the Greater Nile Oil Production Company.
Lt. Col. Yeisley’s paper may not be a policy statement, but increased proxy war waged by the United States in Africa is already underway and already US policy.
Both African leaders and opposition groups can see what the United States is doing in both Africa and the Middle East. Many already have a gleam in their eyes aiming to be the next dictator of choice or favored freedom fighters. At the same time many Africans are profoundly offended by the manipulative violence sponsored by the US and its European allies. This was most recently expressed at the African Union summit January 2012, when Jean Ping failed to secure the necessary 2/3 votes to continue as AU Commission Chairperson, even after his opposition withdrew from the contest. Delegates were particularly troubled by his role in the Libya debacle and many saw him as a tool of French policy.
Sudan, its oil, land, and other resources is currently a major target of the interest of the US and its Africa Command. Proxy war is being funded and underway. Regarding South Sudan, Uganda, the Eastern DRC and other countries in the Great Lakes region:
… this whole area is prime real estate where the fierce battle between China and the Americans/Europeans plays out, centered on oil and minerals, all part of the Great 21st Century African Resource War. (from Obama, the king of Africa)
Sudan has long been the focus of the United States interest. The US promoted the separation of north and south, and pushed forward the referendum that separated the two into two different countries.
President Obama would have you believe that 100 elite U.S. Special Forces soldiers are running around in the African Bush looking for what’s left of the Lord’s Resistance Army. … The real target is South Sudan, where the United States is setting the stage for an African proxy oil war with China. … The Green Berets are in central Africa to coordinate military operations by Washington’s African clients. … The United States and Europe can no longer compete economically with China in Africa, and must now resort to raw force, through African puppet armies.
Reporter Thomas C. Mountain … points out in a recent article that the United States pays the salaries of South Sudan’s army, and also pays the costs of the thousands of United Nations so-called “peacekeepers” who have been sent to South Sudan to help contain the ethnic violence. Those UN peacekeepers are mostly soldiers from Ethiopia, a U.S. client state that, along with Kenya and Uganda, is waging a proxy war under U.S. sponsorship in Somalia. The Ethiopians worked very closely with U.S. Special Forces, right down to the company level, in the 2006 invasion of Somalia.
Now, in the heart of central Africa where South Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Congo, and the Central African Republic meet – all of them U.S. client states – the U.S. needs its own Special Forces units in place to coordinate its puppet African armies, and to keep all of them focused on the larger mission … to destabilize northern Sudan and China’s oil operations, there. (from Coming Soon: Obama’s Big Move in Central Africa)
Dyncorp had a State Department contract to train the SPLA back in 2007, which may still be in effect or renewed since then. Mountain tells us, the:
US pays the salaries for the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA, the national army of South Sudan), over $100 million in 2011 alone. Does a country really have independence when a foreign power pays its army’s salaries? Whose orders is the army really going to follow?
And now comes word that the Obama regime presently occupying the White House in the USA is planning on “selling” advanced weaponry to the SPLA. As every day hundreds of children in South Sudan die from lack of clean drinking water, food, shelter and medical care the USA’s answer is to provide jet fighters and bombers, the better to see Sudanese kill Sudanese.
What this is all about is the Sudanese oil fields in the Abeye region, basically right on the border between Sudan and South Sudan. The Sudanese oil fields are the only majority owned and controlled Chinese developed oil fields in Africa.
The “USA/UN” plan is supposed to see up to 10,000 Ethiopian military personnel under cover of a UN “peacekeeper” mandate take up stations around the Abeye oil fields, the better to one day control that oil.
The one thing that should be expected is a continuing “crisis management” policy by the USA in South Sudan, as in create a crisis and then manage the murder and mayhem the better to exploit the wealth of the land, or if necessary, at least deny it to your enemy.
Mountain also says that:
In mid 2011 South Sudanese officials were reported to have said that the USA had told them they didn’t need oil money to survive, they could depend on western aid. A fore teller of things to come?
This sounds like the message the US was telling African countries immediately post independence in the late 1950s and 1960s, shorter version: Don’t worry, you don’t need to grow your own food or produce your own goods, trust us, we’ll take care of you. We all know how well that worked. Those African leaders who tried to steer a truly independent course faced western hostility, coups, and assassination, Nkrumah, Lumumba, Sekou Toure, Amilcar Cabral, Thomas Sankara, among others.
The African continent is a big place. There is US interest in proxy conflict in a number of other locations around the continent as well. An ongoing focus of US attention is Nigeria, with its huge oil reserves. The US Department of Homeland Security just declared Nigeria’s insurgent terrorists, Boko Haram, a threat to the US homeland, Boko Haram: Emerging Threat to the US Homeland PDF. This opens the way to increased military interference (partnering) in Nigeria and its neighbors.
You can view more pictures of AFRICOM activities all around the coasts of Africa in AFRICOM Along the Coasts and In the Creeks.
We have seen the devastation to lives, countries and economies that proxy war has created in Africa. In the beginning of this century it looked like Africa might be able to put that behind. Conflicts decreased. There was a surge in conflict in the 1990s, followed by a cessation between 2002 and 2006. With the decrease in violence, African economies began to take off. Chinese investment has been a great help, although one cannot always regard it as benign. African economies are growing a lot faster than either the United States or Europe at present. More war could put a stop to all that.
A 2007 Human Security Brief:
… describes and analyses the extraordinary, but largely unnoticed, positive change in sub-Saharan Africa’s security landscape. After a surge of conflicts in the 1990s, the number of conflicts being waged in the region more than halved between 1999 and 2006; the combat toll dropped by 98 percent.
° There has been a major decline in the scope and intensity of conflicts.
° Refugee numbers have shrunk substantially.
° The share of global humanitarian assistance going to Africa doubled between 1999 and 2006—from 23 percent to 46 percent
Between 2002 and 2006 the number of campaigns of organized violence against civilians fell by two-thirds. (Human security in Africa)
We know the effect of proxy war, of training and equipping client militaries.
From Congressional testimony by the Africa Faith and Justice Network, in July 2008:
The ‘train and equip’ idea is not new. In fact, it has a very bad history in Africa – a history that harkens back to the proxy wars of the Cold War and U.S. support for illegitimate or corrupt regimes.
In the 1980’s, the U.S. spent $500 million to train and equip Samuel Doe in Liberia. According to a report from the U.S. Army’s Strategic Studies Institute, “every armed group that plundered Liberia over the past 25 years had its core in these U.S.-trained Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) soldiers. There is thus a fear that when the United States withdraws support for its security sector reform program and funding for the AFL, Liberia will be sitting on a time bomb; a well-trained and armed force of elite soldiers who are used to good pay and conditions of service, which may be impossible for the government of Liberia to sustain on its own.”
AFRICOM’s value as a structure for legitimizing African armies should therefore be called into serious question.
That train and equip disaster continues to play out. Former fighters who needed jobs, experienced in the brutalities of the Liberian civil war, headed to Ivory Coast after the 2011 elections to work as mercenaries in the conflict there.
Escalating proxy wars in Africa will ultimately damage the United States. Proxy war will cut the United States off from the friends and resources it badly needs. Unfortunately the US does not seem to understand how much it needs friends.