India, EU Focus on Africa

A few news items highlight a point I've been periodically raising over the past year, namely that Africa, as the region of the world with the most strategic upside, deserves more and better-conceived U.S. attention. We already know about China's strategic inroads into Africa's resource and infrastructure markets. That has driven what is to my mind perhaps the most under-appreciated story of the past few years: India's push to play catch-up in Africa. That has taken the form of investments in resources and manufacturing infrastructure, but also mobile phone markets and consumer goods.

At the same time, the European Commission, as part of its efforts to conceive of and coordinate the European Union's common policy with an eye toward advancing its strategic interests, has called for the union to use its aid and development budget for Africa as a means of securing access to key resource supplies, while also helping resource-producing African countries better manage their development. The move reflects the ways in which the EU is moving beyond its narcissistic conception of soft power as the process by which the rest of the world will spontaneously emulate the ideal model that Europe sees itself as. If the union actually manages to apply its considerable weight, it has a good chance of becoming the strategic actor it aspires to be.

Neither of these developments threaten U.S. interests, inasmuch as the values and practices adopted by both the EU and India are more compatible with U.S. approaches than are those of China. The problem is that, of the world's global powers, the U.S. will soon be the only one applying an ad hoc crisis-intervention approach to Africa, as opposed to a coherent strategy.

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