By Simon Tisdall
This week’s decision by the US to create a new Pentagon command covering Africa, known as Africom, has a certain unlovely military logic. Like Roman emperors of old, Washington’s centurions already arbitrarily divide much of the world into Middle Eastern, European and Pacific domains. Now it is Africa’s turn, although whether Africans will welcome (or were consulted) about this latest geo-strategic power play seems doubtful.
Practical more than imperial considerations dictated the White House move. With Gulf of Guinea countries including Nigeria and Angola projected to provide one quarter of US oil imports within a decade, with growing Islamist terrorism worries in the Sahel and Horn of Africa regions, and with China prowling for resources and markets, the US plainly feels a second wind of change is blowing, necessitating increased presence and leverage.
Africom’s advent also follows a pattern of perhaps unparalleled military expansion under President George Bush, not all of which is explained by the 9/11 trauma. The American military-industrial complex that so troubled Dwight Eisenhower in 1961 has morphed into a boom business with truly global reach. It makes China’s business-oriented People’s Liberation Army look like a corner store.
The Pentagon’s total budget requests for fiscal year ending September 2008 have swollen to $716.5bn (£365bn). That is more than double Clinton-era spending. In contrast, Russia will spend $31bn on defence this year and China, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, an estimated $87bn. With Mr Bush as head of the police academy, the US is becoming, de facto, the self-appointed global policeman it said it never wanted to be.
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