WHEN PRESIDENT BUSH ANNOUNCED in early 2007 that the United States would become more strategically engaged in Africa, it was through the creation of a new military command—U.S. Africa Command—and not through increasing the activities of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) or the State Department's Bureau of African Affairs. Yet this new “combatant” command is not focused on combat at all; it is optimized for promoting international military partnerships through security assistance.1 In fact, since the announcement was made, the word “combatant” has fallen away with an emphasis on the noncombat functions that this new unified command will fill.
Through the creation of Africa Command, President Bush moved far from his 2000 observation that the military should not do nation building and he continued the post–Cold War practice of using the military in non-warfighting ways. He concluded his eight years not obviating the military's role in noncombat missions but leaving enhanced capabilities and a new paradigm for President Barack Obama to continue the practice of using the military for state-building missions and foreign policy objectives beyond traditional warfare. This was formally acknowledged in the 2010 strategic defense review.
The new paradigm for the U.S. military is epitomized by Africa Command, which is designed to strengthen security cooperation efforts with African partner countries. Africa Command, like the other five geographic combatant commands, has embraced the notion that the military does much more than fight wars. The military trains, equips, and deploys peacekeepers; provides humanitarian assistance and disaster relief; and supports other militaries to reduce the security deficits throughout Africa. With national security focused on weak and failing states, the U.S. military has been changing over the last twenty years from a force of confrontation to one of cooperation. The military has learned that partnership is better than clientism and is adapting its command structure once optimized for waging major combat to one that is focused on conflict prevention.