Nary a peep has been heard in Europe about the U.S. plan to establish Africa Command, despite the Pentagon expectation there would be a vocal outrcry about America meddling in Europe’s sphere of influence.
Before unveiling the new organization, which still is defined rather vaguely, a senior Defense Department official in Europe said little was told to European Union allies deliberately, to avoid inflaming likely opposition. “If the EU doesn’t get Africa, they’ve got no place to play,” argues the U.S. officer.
France, in particular would squawk, the U.S. official suggested, saying that without the lead role in its former colonies it would feel it was playing second fiddle.
There’s history underscoring the U.S. expectation. In 2005, the U.S. and France were in a war of words over whether NATO or the EU should lead support of African Union operations in Darfur. The run-in has been hanging over transatlantic relations concerning Africa ever since.
So why the silence? A French former peacekeeper says it’s twofold. One, with France wrapped up in presidential elections, nobody has time to care about Africa.
But that’s not all. There’s a growing segment of the French military that feels it’s time to withdraw from Africa, even though some camps want to stay.
Moreover, ever since the U.S. made clear it considered the Gulf of Guinea of strategic interest, due the access to oil without choke-points, it was clear the Europeans would be pushed aside.
The European also are watching with some concern China’s growing influence in the region and faced with that, even the French think the U.S. presence may not be the worst of all options. “At least they look like us,” quips one military officer.