Ending Africa's Wars

Courtesy Reuters


Following last year's military interventions in defense of human rights in Kosovo and East Timor, Western leaders proclaimed a new determination to stand up to similar abuses whenever they occur. On one continent, however, warfare still rages unchecked, and far too little is being done about it. Renewed clashes in Sierra Leone and on the Ethiopian-Eritrean border are two recent examples of deadly African conflicts that have killed and displaced millions of people. Yet despite occasional bursts of aid and attention, the United States and Europe have remained largely disengaged. The reasons for their lack of involvement in conflict prevention and peacekeeping there are fairly obvious. War in Africa seems to pose no clear and present danger to U.S. interests. Furthermore, most African conflicts are fought within, not between, states. The international norms, institutions, and political will to intervene in such hard-to-solve conflicts remain inadequate. So do Washington's defense doctrine, bureaucracy, and budgets, all of which are still dedicated to preventing or settling traditional conflicts between states.

Yet those who argue that Washington and its allies should become more involved in solving Africa's problems make a powerful case. Africa is a vast continent of 700 million people with abundant natural resources and deep historical and cultural ties to the United States. It is simply too big and too important to be neglected. The question should be not whether, but rather how, to intervene there.

Of course, preventing conflict in Africa is primarily a task for Africans. But the 1990s showed that outside help is needed. The nice-sounding nostrum of "African solutions for African problems" became an excuse for neglect, until the images of human suffering in Africa became impossible for the West to ignore -- leaving humanitarian relief as the only real option.

There are alternatives, however. Preventing wars, rather than fighting them, has always appealed to American strategists, so long as no vital national interests are compromised. Washington's greatest foreign policy success -- winning the Cold

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