For the past 20 years, U.S. security strategy in Africa relied on empowering partner militaries, with few U.S. military forces actually stationed there. Instead the concentration has been on training programs, with the idea being that increasingly effective African militaries could promote regional security without a major U.S. presence. Unfortunately, that hope is facing severe challenges in Mali.

Strategic Horizons: Mali and the Limits of Strategic Partnerships

By , , Column

For decades U.S. security policy has followed two distinct tracks. In Europe, the Pacific Rim and the Middle East, the extent of American national interests and the possibility of aggression by hostile states led to a direct approach with formal security treaties and the stationing of U.S. forces. In places like Latin America, Africa and, more recently, Central Asia, U.S. strategy was indirect, focusing on security assistance and the provision of advice and training. Partnerships were the coin of the realm. The idea was that other country’s militaries, helped by the United States, would take responsibility for security in their nations and regions.

This "economy of force" approach gave the United States some influence while keeping the costs low. But it also had limitations. When partner militaries proved ineffective or repressive, Washington often had to choose between writing a country off or shifting to direct involvement -- think Vietnam in the early 1960s. At times, conflicts that might have been prevented or kept small instead grew when America's strategic partners proved not up to the tasks Washington envisioned for them. Still, it was better than nothing. ...

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