Cameroonian Marine Corps members display their certificates of completion

Cameroonian Marine Corps members display their certificates of completion

CAMEROON – Cameroonian Marine Corps members display their certificates of completion, marking the end of a five-day training course on small unit reconnaissance and patrolling. The training, conducted June 9 – 13, 2008 by U.S. Marines, was sponsored by U.S. Africa Command. Its objective was to provide Cameroonian Marines with the opportunity to practice light marine infantry tactics and learn techniques for improving border patrol in the swampy region of the Bakissi Peninsula. (Department of Defense photo)

Refugees International released a report on July 17 saying:

In practice, the Pentagon is largely dictating America’s approach to foreign policy.


The rising military role in shaping U.S. global engagement is a challenge to the next president. Foreign assistance represents less than one percent of the federal budget, while defense spending is 20%. The U.S. military has over 1.5 million uniformed active duty employees and over 10,100 civilian employees, while the Department of State has some 6,500 permanent employees. Although several high-level task forces and commissions have emphasized the urgent need to modernize our aid infrastructure and increase sustainable development activities, such assistance is increasingly being overseen by military institutions whose policies are driven by the Global War on Terror, not by the war against poverty. Between 1998 and 2005, the percentage of Official Development Assistance the Pentagon controlled exploded from 3.5% to nearly 22%, while the percentage controlled by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) shrunk from 65% to 40%.

This civil-military imbalance has particular ramifications for Africa, where Global War on Terror imperatives do not address the continent’s biggest needs for security assistance. The U.S. is only helping four African countries transform their armies and security agencies into professional organizations that protect citizens rather than abuse them. Resources are allocated in a manner that does not reflect the continent’s most pressing priorities. For example, the U.S. has allocated $49.65 million for reforming a 2,000-strong Liberian army to defend the four million people of that country. In contrast, it only plans to spend $5.5 million in 2009 to help reform a 164,000-strong army in the DR Congo, a country with 65 million people where Africa’s “first world war” claimed the lives of over five million people.

The U.S. military’s new Africa Command (AFRICOM) is poised to become the dominant influence over U.S. policy on the continent.

More funding is needed to address the current 17 to 1 spending imbalance in staffing and resources between defense and diplomatic/development operations, and to reduce the use of contractors in foreign assistance programs.

Two case studies emphasize the problems inherent in the U.S. approach. Military dominance over reform programs in Liberia has resulted in a policy focused solely on restructuring Liberia’s army by expensive private contractors, DynCorp and Pacific Architects and Engineers. Meanwhile, intelligence, judiciary, and prison agencies are sadly neglected. In the DR Congo, the State Department has played a very active role in facilitating dialogue among belligerents and is concerned about the humanitarian situation in the east, but the Defense Department is virtually ignoring the nation’s desperate need of military reform. As a result, an inadequately resourced security sector reform program has contributed to the Congolese army becoming a major source of insecurity for civilian communities.

Having the Pentagon dictate foreign policy, with AFRICOM poised to become the dominant influence in US Africa policy is precisely the problem with AFRICOM. Add to that the use of military contractors, mercenaries or PMCs, who lack any accountability, and you have a disaster already in operation. That disaster will hurt the US badly, although it will probably hurt a lot more people in Africa. It is what I, and many other people wish to avoid. It is the reason not one African government, aside from Liberia, has welcomed an AFRICOM headquarters on their sovereign soil. As the report states, the Global War on Terror, and I’ll add the US quest for oil, do not address the real security issues in Africa.