The US Navy has assumed the lead role in US strategic engagement with Africa.
That`s the view of the authoritative London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies in the recently released 2009 edition of its flagship Military Balance publication.
“The navy`s principal instrument here is the Africa Partnership Station (APS) (part of the Global Fleet station), the IISS adds.
In a discussion about US policy objectives in Africa, the IISS notes “African governments and populations … remain apprehensive about American hegemony and the ‘militarisation` of US Africa policy” as they are “aware that the United States` two key strategic interests in sub-Saharan africa – securing access to hydrocarbons and counterterrorism – may at some point require the use of military force.
“Also salient is the fact that the shared strategic interest of the US and China in African oil resources and China`s increasing ‘no strings` investment in and assistance to African oil-producing countries – particularly Angola and Sudan – raised the geopolitical profile of the continent.
“The 135 military engineers Beijing deployed in Darfur in November 2007 constituted the first non-African Union group in UNAMID, and by late 2008 over 1500 Chinese military personnel, police and observers were serving in peacekeeping missions throughout Africa.
“While resistance of African populations and governments to Africom seems to be waning, sensitivity, especially to American ground forces are unlikely to dissipate completely. Accordingly, the US Navy, rather than the country`s Army, has taken the lead in the US` strategic engagement with Africa.
“Under the Navy`s rationale, as long as the use of force is not required, it is best from a political standpoint to engage foreign governments and populations from ships, without burdening and intimidating them with a large-scale American ground presence.
“To harmonise American and European regional activities and goals, APS staff include NATO officers. With APS the Navy also hopes to generate political momentum for the establishment of an effective, multilateral African capacity for maritime security, which is now essentially non-existent. The APS` central operational goal is to improve maritime safety and security by building up African naval capabilities.
“The strategic objective is to render African nations at once self-sufficient in securing the maritime domain and favourably disposed to the US because of links established and enhanced through the APS.”
Even so, this must be done on a small budget. US Africa Command`s 2009 allocation is just $300 million.