More than 50 senior officials from 36 African countries attended the opening of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS)’s Senior Leaders Seminar on June 17, 2013, in Arlington, Virginia. The opening included keynote remarks by Ms. Amanda J. Dory, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs, who discussed U.S. defense priorities in Africa.
The seminar, running June 16-28, provides a forum for senior-level military officers and civilian officials from Africa, the United States, and Europe, as well as representatives from international and regional organizations, to review and analyze the evolving African security environment and to discuss strategies for addressing challenges and enhancing Africa’s security.
In her remarks, Ms. Dory emphasized the critical role Africa has to play as an important stakeholder in global security and highlighted how the Department of Defense (DOD) approaches security in Africa. She also highlighted U.S. government budget challenges in the years ahead mean that military policies and partnerships will seek to emphasize low-cost strategies that emphasize partnership and cooperation.
“The DOD supports the overall strategy of the U.S. government vis-à-vis Africa by empowering African partners to take a greater role in providing for their own security, and by doing so in ways that strengthen emerging pockets of political, economic and democratic vitality,” Ms. Dory said. She added that this approach is consistent with the “U.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa,” the policy document that was unveiled by the Obama administration in June 2012.
The U.S. Defense Department leans toward small-footprint and innovative security cooperation activities in Africa, Ms. Dory said. The DOD favors “an active approach focused on countering threats to U.S. citizens and interests in Africa, coupled with the development of effective partnership to prevent and respond to conflicts and instability.” Ms. Dory said the policy is consistent both with U.S. needs and the preferences of African partners.
Mr. Michael Garrison, Acting Director of the Africa Center, spoke of the progress Africa has made in recent years during his welcoming remarks. “African geostrategic and security landscape has changed dramatically over the last 20 years, and this will only accelerate over the next 20 years,” said Mr. Garrison. He listed the security challenges in Africa, including: violent extremism, poverty, corruption, poor governance, and climate change. All these challenges, he said, affect African stability ways that were never conceived two decades ago. “This volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of the security landscape mandate security leaders to be adaptable, flexible, agile, intuitive and able to anticipate risk and look for new solutions in response to an unprecedented and unpredictable world.”
Mr. Garrison said that ethical leadership, the rule of law, democratic governance, and transparency are critical to ensure that Africa assumes its place as a stable and competent partner in the global economy. He added that one of the great strengths of the annual Senior Leaders Seminar is that it is not intended to present only U.S. views. Instead, SLS offers an avenue for African leaders to engage in dialogue with themselves, with U.S. officials, and with Africa Center leadership and faculty to seek new and diverse ideas, as well as to help strengthen the dialogue between the U.S. government and African partners.
The SLS gathering in Washington, D.C. focuses on three areas of study: democratic civil-military relations; national and regional security strategies; and defense economics. The two-week program include plenary session presentations as well as small discussion groups facilitated by African, European, and American academics and practitioners. Conducted under the Africa Center’s policy of non-attribution, these groups elicit candid dialogue on issues such as military professionalism, transparency in defense budgeting, definitions of security that echo current African realities and challenges, and terrorist threats and responses in Africa. The three key pillars of the seminar – fundamentals of security and strategy in Africa; core areas in security studies; and current critical issues – are designed to help participants integrate a comprehensive definition of security and develop approaches for identifying and addressing the problems facing civil and military leaders in African democratizing countries. The seminar also focuses its attention on the need for political participation, transparency, and military professionalism; identify the key challenges to enduring civil-military relations by highlighting a comprehensive framework; and demonstrate how national security goals and democracy are advanced by efficient management of civil-military relations.
ACSS has offered the Senior Leaders Seminar since 1999 as an opportunity to provide senior African leaders with practical and effective tools upon which they can draw to address Africa’s current and emerging security challenges. The program also includes special sessions on key security issues.