AFRICOM and Environmental SecurityJuly 19, 2007 By Shannon BeebeGeneral William E. Ward was recently chosen to lead AFRICOM, the new U.S. military command in Africa currently in its pre-implementation stage. If Ward and AFRICOM are to succeed in promoting peace and stability in Africa, the military must stop viewing security as consisting of conventional, state-to-state relationships and adopt a more flexible “human security” concept. This model views security as “freedom from want” and “freedom from fear,” and includes economic, food, health, personal, community, environmental, and political sub-components. Developing a robust environmental security engagement strategy would be one of the most constructive ways for AFRICOM to implement a human security approach.
The greatest challenge for this nascent command is expanding its tool bag beyond conventional military strategies to include programs that promote the health and security of Africans. Military planners are skilled at determining the number of brigade combat teams, battle carrier groups, and air wings needed for conventional security challenges. But security in Africa depends heavily on non-military factors that fall outside the traditional purview of the armed forces. For AFRICOM to be successful, it must approach security as a mutually beneficial proposition, not a zero-sum game. Most African governments view the Department of Defense’s attempt to adopt a more nuanced approach to security in Africa with guarded optimism. They would certainly welcome environmental partnerships with AFRICOM as a way to promote political and economic stability through sustainable ecological practices, according to discussions held with Amina Salum Ali, the African Union’s ambassador to the U.S.
One of the top security concerns of African leaders—and one that is little-appreciated in U.S. security circles—is the impact of environment on stability and security. The ongoing misery in Darfur, which is partially rooted in conflicts over land and water use, is one tragic example of this link. On a positive note, UN Environment Programme (UNEP) researchers recently discovered water there that may well prove to be a source of resolution. That said, numerous reports—such as the one by the CNA Corporation’s Military Advisory Board—indicate that climate change and environmental catastrophes will continue to be a source of instability in Africa. Unfortunately, the continent most affected by environmental shock is also the least capable of mitigating its effects. AFRICOM must develop an engagement strategy that works with host governments, international membership organizations, NGOs, and other U.S. governmental agencies to find solutions to Africa’s environmental challenges.
The first, and most obvious, advantage of an environmental security strategy is its potential to build nontraditional alliances. Numerous organizations, from UNEP to the World Wildlife Fund, are actively working in Africa in this arena. AFRICOM could benefit significantly from the years of on-the-ground experience that these groups possess. What remains uncertain is the willingness of these civilian organizations to partner with the new command.
A second advantage of an environmental security strategy is that it allows the U.S. military to engage constructively with host governments and regional economic communities. Using AFRICOM to train African militaries on emergency disaster response, for instance, encourages those militaries to work under the mandate of civilian authority and fosters long-term democratic governance.
The idea of environmental security as a military engagement strategy is not new. When General Anthony Zinni was head of Central Command in central Africa, he devoted an entire section to environmental engagement programs, establishing a strong track record of success. Given that environmental concerns are intertwined with a host of other pressing problems in Africa, a coherent environmental security strategy would pay dividends on multiple levels.
Shannon Beebe is a senior Africa analyst at the Department of the Army. The opinions expressed in this article are solely his own and do not reflect the positions of the Department of Defense or the Department of the Army.