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Command Provides New Way for African Nations to Connect, Pentagon Deputy Says
In an interconnected world, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) is another way the United States can connect with the countries of the continent, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England told representatives from more than 40 African nations March 27,
In an interconnected world, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) is another way the United States can connect with the countries of the continent, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England told representatives from more than 40 African nations March 27, 2008, at a conference outside Washington.

England spoke at the U.S.-Africa Joint Defense Dialogue. The Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs sponsored the conference.

The deputy secretary stressed that the meeting was a chance for U.S. officials to listen to African allies and learn how the United States can help.

"This is an opportunity for us to learn so we can get a better mutual understanding of one another's problems and perspectives and issues and, more important perhaps, the way ahead," England said.

The world today is interconnected on many levels, the former systems engineer told the African and American audience.

"It's pretty obvious to me that policies around the world all have an effect on everybody else," England said. "I will tell you this world is a large, integrated system. I know from my systems experience, you can make changes in that system and they can have large, unanticipated consequences somewhere else. Therefore, it is very important to understand how this system works."

Security is part of the complex, interconnected world. "You can no longer separate countries in terms of the threats that are in the world today," England said. Transnational threats -- such as terrorism, proliferation, ethnic and tribal violence, narcotics trafficking, human trafficking and others -- affect all nations.

"These problems transcend nations, regions, even continental boundaries, and then they are exaggerated and made worse by a number of factors, and that can include economic, agriculture, health and political challenges," the deputy secretary said.

Developed countries have the infrastructure and trained people to be able to survive an economic or security downturn. Many African nations have no such margin, England said. "When you operate relatively close to the margin, things become much more critical, and all these factors become more critical in terms of outcomes," he said.

U.S. defense policy stresses the need for partnerships among nations. These continuing partnerships, England said, may obviate the need for military force. Having cooperation and partnership with nations may forestall the kind of problems that, in the past, the United States or other nations would typically deal with militarily.

Africa is an important developing market for the United States. Africa's economy is growing at about 5 percent a year, England said. Oil and minerals account for much of that growth. Vying for these resources, he noted, can be a potential conflict point among the nations of the continent.

The vast portion of U.S. policy focus on Africa is in the civilian side, the deputy secretary said. U.S. government civilian agencies work to support democratic reform, respect for human rights, free trade, open investment regimes and economic opportunity.

The United States will spend $8.7 billion this year in development assistance. America also has worked to achieve debt relief for African nations. The African Growth and Opportunity Act allows 98 percent of African exports to the United States to enter duty-free.

In addition, the United States government has partnered with many African nations to alleviate hunger, expand education and fight disease.

On the security side, the Defense Department put in place programs that have trained more than 39,000 African peacekeepers from 20 countries. The U.S. military has participated in numerous exercises, medical efforts and operations with allies across the continent.

All of this leads to U.S. Africa Command. "AFRICOM reflects the lessons learned; it is all about working together to accomplish mutual objectives, both for security and economic development," England said.

The deputy secretary said security or stability cannot be viewed alone. Security is inseparable from economic development, he said.

"You have to have security for economic development, and you have to have economic development for security long-term," he told the audience. "You have to work both of these together. In today's highly interconnected world, money moves at the push of a button, the push of a mouse, and security is critically important for economic development."

DoD routinely works in support of many agencies in the U.S. government. Service members work closely with the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. departments of State, Agriculture, Commerce and Justice, and other organizations. The military helps all those organizations in coordinating relief operations, disaster assistance and medical care, England said.

"But we have never focused on Africa -- those 53 nations -- the way we have other parts of the world. It has just not been the focus of the Department of Defense," England said. "AFRICOM will allow us in DoD to work better with our sister agencies and with the countries in Africa to better advance our mutual interests."

The command will provide a better framework for the cooperation and economic development. The civilian and military staff of AFRICOM oversees security cooperation, builds partnership capability and facilitates defense support to nonmilitary missions.

Interagency cooperation is crucial, England said, noting that studies are under way inside the U.S. government to improve interagency cooperation. The result may be that "you will see a much more unified approach to how we deal with countries around the world," he said.

The new command is a chance for all the nations in Africa to come together to improve the security and economic stability of every country in Africa, England said. That will "improve the lives of everyone in Africa and thereby secure the peace and freedom for everybody around the world."