Thursday, April 21, 2011

Selling Sea Power to Africa

African nations face an extremely complex and challenging maritime environment: terrorist facilitation at sea, narcotics, human, and weapons trafficking, and of course, piracy. Yet when it comes to investing in land power or sea power, most African countries with coastlines choose to skew their limited defense budgets towards their armies. This week, I had an interesting discussion with a gentleman from the National Defense University whose job it was to sell African leaders on the imperative to invest in maritime security. This executive-level policy dialogue complements the operational and tactical level engagements of Naval Forces Africa.

Why do these leaders yearn for T-72 tanks rather than offshore patrol vessels? Cultural and historical factors may play a part. Our own neglect and self-imposed obstacles for navy to navy (or to Coast Guard or marine police) are certainly another contributor to this land-bias. Naval force structure is only one aspect of sea power that needs to be addressed in Africa; other areas such as fisheries law and border control measures should be included in any security assistance strategies. Given growing interest in humanitarian, security, economic, and natural resource demand issues in Africa, it would behoove us to shift additional engagement away from our fiscally well off and tactically competent European partners towards these nascent navies. The counter-argument is that we need to maintain strong relations with our European partners so that we will be interoperable with them in during combined operations. The irony of this position is that lately, most of these combined operations have occurred because the African nations involved don't have the capacity to deal with these issues themselves.

The opinions and views expressed in this post are those of the author alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense, the US Navy, or any other agency.

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