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Conference Panelists Discuss Progress of Africa Command
U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) was the central theme of a conference April 21, 2008, co-hosted by Georgetown University's Women in International Security (WIIS) organization and the Strategic Studies Institute at the U.S. Army War College
U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) was the central theme of a conference April 21, 2008, co-hosted by Georgetown University's Women in International Security (WIIS) organization and the Strategic Studies Institute at the U.S. Army War College (USAWC).

The conference took place in the Washington, D.C., area and provided participants with the opportunity to discuss security issues in Africa and strategies for achieving peace and stability on the continent.

"The creation of AFRICOM is an important first step in ending what some consider to be a period of extended neglect in Africa with U.S. policy," said Douglas Lovelace, Jr., Director of the USAWC, in his introductory remarks. Lovelace acknowledged the importance of establishing a command specifically for Africa, which gives African countries higher priority than they received when they were under the purview of the European, Southern, and Central Commands.

A panel of three experts in African affairs opened the conference with a discussion on the roles and strategies of U.S. Africa Command. Each panelist expressed strong support for a "3-D" security framework, which advocates an integrated approach to achieving its goals of peace, stability, and prosperity in Africa. The three Ds of security --Development, Diplomacy, and Defense -- are considered to be necessary components to any foreign policy security initiative, with defense being the last resort. Focusing on preventative rather than reactive measures to establish security on the African continent, Africa Command aims to anticipate and prevent problems before they arise.

"If done right, AFRICOM can prevent problems from turning into crises, and crises from turning into conflicts, and that's a message that I always keep uppermost in my mind," said panelist Claudia Anyaso, director of the Office of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs for the U.S. Department of State Africa Bureau. "Whatever else you say about this contemplated new command, we want it to be an early-warning system; we want it to be a system of prevention, rather than action."

While all panelists were in agreement about the importance of Africa Command supporting a 3D security framework, Lisa Schirch, professor for peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University and director of the university's 3D Security Initiative, expressed a concerns that the stated goals of Africa Command are inconsistent with the history of the military in Africa. "There's a negative perception that the U.S. has not been present during the genocides in Rwanda, Burundi, the Congo, and Darfur," she said. "So there's criticism that when there's a real crisis on the continent, the U.S. is not there."

Africa Command leaders hope to change this perception by making a positive impact on the continent through its civil, military, and humanitarian programs. Taking an interagency approach, the command includes staff from organizations including the Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and other U.S. agencies involved with work in Africa.

Panelist Lauren Ploch, analyst in African affairs with the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, explained, "DoD's efforts to incorporate an unprecedented number of civilian personnel would seem to reflect an acknowledgment that the U.S. military cannot prevent conflicts in Africa without a more holistic approach."

Noting that the military, USAID, and the State Department are stretched thin, Ploch stressed the need for increased budget and staffing of diplomatic and development personnel. She referred to a congressional hearing on April 15, 2008, during which Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates requested additional funds and the extension of a program called "Section 1206 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2006," which gives the Department of Defense additional authority to use a percentage of its funds in training and equipping foreign militaries. This funding, if approved, would help support the activities of Africa Command.

Anyaso emphasized that the State Department strongly supports Africa Command and its efforts to partner with government agencies in striving for common goals.

"One of the confusions or misconceptions about AFRICOM was that it was going to compete, going to take over the State Department and USAID functions," Anyaso said. "That is not the intention, and we're all going to make sure we can keep everything separate."

The panelists also offered recommendations for Africa Command, which is scheduled, beginning in October 2008, to become responsible for U.S. military relationships with African nations and regional organizations. Schirch emphasized the importance of working closely with the African Union and engaging with civil leaders on the continent to decide how to best meet the needs of each nation. Anyaso encouraged Africa Command leaders to listen and engage in dialogue, which will lead to mutual understanding. Additionally, she noted that long-term commitment and perseverance are essential to making progress in African security issues.

Ploch said, "AFRICOM's ability to address interagency concerns collaboratively within its organizational structure, and its ability to address concerns of its African partners within the context of its operations, will be critical to its ability to promote peace and stability on the continent."

The Strategic Studies Institute (SSI) is the U.S. Army's institute for geostrategic and national security research and analysis. SSI conducts strategic research and analysis to support the U.S. Army War College curricula, provides direct analysis for Army and Department of Defense leadership, and serves as a bridge to the wider strategic community.

Women in International Security (WIIS), with 1,500 members, is dedicated to advancing the leadership of women in international peace and security fields and is committed to building a worldwide network of women and men who understand the importance of inclusive and diverse participation in peace and security.

The WIIS/USAWC Conference brought together the varying perspectives among experts from academic, military, governmental and non-governmental organizations for a day-long conference in the Washingont, D.C., area to discuss the current progress and future of U.S. Africa Command.