The United States has sent two very clear and definitive signals in the recent past as to where it sees the future of the Euro-Atlantic community — expanding eastward into Eurasia, rather than southward across the Mediterranean. Washington has pledged $1 billion in reconstruction and humanitarian aid to Georgia in the wake of its conflict with Russia. At the same time, if the reports emanating from Capitol Hill are correct, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee is preparing to radically slash the already modest budget for the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) from the requested $390 million to $80 million.
But shouldn’t there be a much greater focus and effort on the part of the U.S. and its European partners to working more closely with North and West Africa?
Morocco, no less than Spain, is key to securing the vital chokepoint that is the entrance to the Mediterranean. Al Qaeda has a viable organizational presence in North Africa and the ability to transit operatives via Southern Europe into the countries of the Western alliance. And if we are serious about diversifying Europe’s sources of energy, then the oil, natural gas and uranium of northern and western Africa are critical. Not only developing these resources, but ensuring their safe transit to market (and perhaps even opening up new routes—such as the possible transfer of natural gas from western Africa to the Mediterranean via a trans-Saharan route) would seem to be paramount interests for the Euro-Atlantic community.
Plus, there are a whole host of other issues that directly impact the security of Europe’s southern frontier — drug trafficking, illegal immigration, human trafficking (with their attendant risks, such as the spread of pandemics). Not to mention that Africa no less than Eastern Europe and Eurasia is undergoing its own efforts at embracing democracy.
Proposals like the Mediterranean Union may be a good start but, so far, it seems that Washington has been rather lukewarm in its support. That stance should be reassessed. In the past, programs like Europe’s wider neighborhood approach and NATO’s Partnership for Peace foundered because these were seen as stopgap, half-hearted measures. If states in Atlantic Africa and “the east of Europe,” however, see that the transatlantic partnership is serious about developing new organizations with serious capacity (and backed by serious resources), that might change the dynamic where the only serious option on the table is to continue the endless expansion of the EU and NATO beyond their capacity to absorb new members and remain coherent organizations.
James Joyner noted in an earlier New Atlanticist post: “While our resources are finite, it’s simply absurd to argue that we can not simultaneously invest an infinitescimile fraction of our GDP in humanitarian and security aid to countries struggling to choose the globalized world model of the West over authoritarianism while continuing to invest in our own human capital and infrastructure.” Very true. But perhaps the U.S. and its European partners should consider whether the priorities align with their core interests in terms of where such funds are spent. In particular we need to begin thinking much more seriously about Euro-Atlantic expansion in a “vertical” sense, expanding the Atlantic community southward as well as looking east.
After all, Nigeria, Liberia and Morocco all have Atlantic coastlines …
Nikolas K. Gvosdev is on the faculty of the U.S. Naval War College.