Forty-two leaders hailing from the militaries, police forces, and governments of 37 African countries discussed foreign and defense policies relating to the continent with senior U.S. State and Defense Department officials on March 26, 2012.
The African security sector leaders were in the Washington, D.C., area for the three-week Africa Center for Strategic Studies’ Next Generation of African Security Sector Leaders Program. They examined the continent’s security environment and ways to improve stability, security, and democracy. They also analyzed civil-military relations in Africa to determine the role and place of professional security sector officers in advancing national security in democratizing states.
While visiting the Department of State, the group sat for two roundtable discussions that focused on U.S. diplomatic programs and policies for Africa. Later in the day, group members talked about the Defense Department’s African programs and U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM) with a senior Pentagon official. U.S. and African officials participating in the program are traditionally not identified by name to encourage candid discussion and a free exchange of ideas.
U.S. National security interests in Africa are varied and wide, the Pentagon official said. Defense Department programs in Africa are designed to foster democracy and democratic rule, promote stability in the region, mitigate crises, protect Americans living abroad, and meet global challenges.
The Defense Department, the official said, looks to use low-cost, small footprint solutions wherever possible in Africa to help the United States be the security partner of choice for the region.
Prompted by a participant’s question, the official listed the top African security concerns the Pentagon is watching: East African and Sahel terrorist organizations; North Africa’s political upheaval; weapons moving out of Libya into neighboring countries; upcoming elections around the continent; and the Lord’s Resistance Army.
The program’s participants were selected by their countries to take the course because of their significant command experience or staff responsibilities as well as their recognized leadership potential. ACSS has hosted the course at least once a year since 2005 to provide a venue for the continent’s most talented young national security leaders to interact and learn from one another.
They also got the chance on this day’s proceedings to hear from a senior leader of U.S. Army Africa about the high professional and moral standards that organization requires of its soldiers.
The leader said U.S. Army Africa, based in Italy, serves under USAFRICOM, which is based in Germany. U.S. Army Africa has around 2,000 personnel on the continent at any time conducting training and exercises. It works with the continent’s land forces when invited and undertakes no unilateral actions, except in response to emergencies. Its mission is to strengthen the land-force capabilities of African states.
The official said the American public has a great deal of trust in its military for good reason: Every member of the armed forces is ingrained with the idea that his or her job is to serve the civilian population and the U.S. Constitution.