Small Wars Journal
Join Date: Sep 2005
Tom Barnett on Africa
Posted on the Thomas P.M. Barnett Weblog - Getting the Word Out (Even Without the Bread)
...One of best strategic questions of day is: What gets America to Africa fastest?
Usual weak attractor of suffering is now at all-time, celebrity-driven high, but that won't do it.
Europe feels busy with integration of east and fears Muslims from south, so strong desire not to return and Afghan experience unlikely to incentivize NATO further. All in all, a been there, done that mentality prevails.
So two key drivers push us.
One is that this fight currently centered in SWA moves south. We squeeze balloon on Sunnu Salafis jihad in Mideast and it can't go north because too many want it NOT so (Russia, Turkey, India, China, and even Shiia Iran).
Fight heads south because Shiia empowered in ME, so Yalta-like split emerging (west and friends get Sunni Egypt, Saudi and Jordan). East increasingly favors Shiia out of desire for energy and need to plus up on non-West-heavy providers. Watch this play out in competing rebuilds in Lebanon, as Sunni govs support Lebanese gov and Shiia states support Hezbollah (quietly).
Thus Iran safe from isolation and sanctions. By proxy (esp. after Lebanon), so too largely is Syria, but neocon mindset will push hard to target them next as revenge for Israel's poor showing (Iran will be okay with this diversion too).
In a Sunni-Shiia split ME, Al Qaeda does less well, as neither side approves, and to extent Israeli issues dominate, AQ is effective non-player in a very crowded field.
In the end, Iran's pre-emptive war is a brilliant move...
So the fight heads south into Africa.
Al Qaeda has long used Africa as strategic rear (their Cambodia to ME's Vietnam).
Pentagon strategists not obsessed with high-end war with China see the need to prep the battlefield in Africa. The HOA JTF becomes the kernel of AFRICACOM. We wait bureaucratically out of fear of signalling intent to American people, but this is inevitable and sooner the better.
Other strategic driver is fall-back position of Big War crowd in Pentagon: we must get to Africa BEFORE Chinese take over!
This is completely backasswards.
Me? I say locate labor where problem is: we have military hammer for tougher jobs in Africa (make that effort or watch the aid and FDI get persistently scared off--so all Bono and Gates do is relieve suffering) and China has the cheap bodies for the realistic 3-Sigma solutions that get the development ball rolling. Thus, the most important, forward-leaning conversation we're NOT having right now is a strategic dialogue with China on the future security-economic joint strategy with China on Africa.
China's resource pull on Africa is huge, growing, and will be sustained. It could be used as inflection point boost. For now, though, China keeps geopol head low, avoids any security responsibility (though it sells arms), and basically replicates Euro colonial-style transactions that extract but do not connect, much less develop.
Soon enough, China will come under ideological attack as mercantilist exploiter of Gap Africa (this sentiment brews elsewhere, like Latin America) and will be forced to do better.
I spent time in late June briefing top strategists of mil, foreign affairs, and state security in China. They know this is coming and they fear it. They would welcome dialogue, but clearly perceive some outstanding Asian issues prevent it with current U.S. leadership.
These issues should be put aside, but that is unlikely with this admin, which does not like to give up old enemies even as it accumulates new ones, sad to say.
Yes, it is 1942 on some level, but the advocates of this position forget the most important thing we did that year: lock in the USSR. That sealed Hitler's fate and let U.S. pursue pleasure (Japan payback) before business (Europe).
Today there is a USSR-like minor (Iran) and major (China). Iran's lock-in (which gets more pricey each day this admin bungles the Big Bang) moves the Long War from ME to Africa. China's lock-in both secures Asia for posterity (we finally win Vietnam, letting China's hypercapitalism run the "domino" board for us) and allies us with most potentially useful ally for Africa. China is incentivized (resources), experienced (their peacekeepers, I wager, with more cumulative experience in Africa) and it's more realistic (squeamish, they are not).
I know these are macro-structural explanations, but get these right, and the rest will flow.
Ultimately, your goals are pan-African PKO capability, but in meantime, U.S. will lead in settling out civil strife and China will lead in poststrife reconstruction (yes, their construction is waaay global and plenty experienced in Africa).
Key for this alliance is forging repeatable, post-whatever, reconnecting capability that partner Steve DeAngelis and I dub Development-in-a-Box, where we provide rapid-fielding of hard and software interface for economic and IT and trade connectivity between rebuild state and rest of world.
For decades now, West has always left rapid "catch-up" models to radical left (Stalin thru Mao thru today's sorry-ass lot such as Chavez) and they consistently screw that pooch, creating more mega-death than wars have.
Now is the historic opportunity for real "liberal" solution, as in 19th-century-style liberal, to this problem: a market-driven, rapid-connectivity plus-up where we embed our automated rules within all this connectivity.
My dream? The ATM we drop in that's sat-linked, solar-powered, and pre-loaded with life and crop insurance and micro-loan capabilities. All it asks in return is some bio-scanned ID data. You connect, we code, transactions made possible. We empower, you get money in your wallet to jump start things, and so on.
In every possible instance, we simply give them the tech (razor) and the training, based on belief that we'll make more money and trigger more development in the aftermarket (blades). From intell point of view, we spread our nets and we spread our transparency and that reduces the off-grid operating domain of the terrorists and rogues.
Good for our economy (more opportunity), good for our security (resilience at home improved, enemies forced into smaller boxes).
So goal is to create larger, security-enabling capacity (strategically with China, operationally with Development-in-a-Box) to marry up with all that Sachs-Bono-Gates stuff and create real inflection point.
Signs are good:
--rising, celebrity-driven humanitarian interest
--fight is popping up already in Africa
--Army and Marines mentally readying selves for shift (see new COIN doctrine)
--China knows this is all inevitable on some level and 5th Generation types want this dialogue
--global econ very bright and Africa in general doing well.
But again, key is getting ducks lined up, and that means settling with Iran in SWA to enable/force shift south and allying with China so that we have critical mass of resources to bear.
Absent both, to American people Africa for foreseeable future looks like too much on top of too much. Yes, there will be some mil-mil cooperation, but these are drops in the ocean, just like all the Gates-Bono-Sachs stuff.
Until U.S. redefines Africa as strategically important in Long War, none of these efforts will prove critical. But once we do, all things become possible.
Everything short of these masterstrokes are essentially hospice oriented. Rehab requires real commitment. Utlimately, China will make some of this happen on its own, but that will take decades.
To me, real grand strategy works off inevitables, turning today's "inconceivables" into reality...