A good fighter does not stand in one place fending off blows, he moves around the ring. America’s Asian Pivot is merely a minor weight shift. America has been standing with a foot in Asia and Europe for over half a century; we need to step forward to the ring’s greatest area of potential: Africa.
Sailor with children during U.S. Africa Command’s 2012 Africa Partnership Station
[U.S. Navy Photo]
While the appropriate focus for America’s next step, Africa is prevented in reaching its full potential from the dangers of terrorist groups in vast uncontrolled areas and unstable governments. Africa has the greatest potential energy to drive future changes in the international system. America should pursue further engagement to ensure that those changes realize the best of the continent’s potential, rather than the worst.
Any sense that America’s pivot toward Asia is a major policy change ignores the robust presence that already exists. In the June 2 post, Information Dissemination notes that the Navy’s shift to Asia started long before the pivot talk even began. With bases in Korea, Japan and Guam , the U.S. has no small military presence in the region. The Association of South East Asian Nations may not be as effective or as unified as NATO, but it is still an active and engaged institution of regional diplomacy. And the U.S. has a number of strong bilateral relationships, from Japan to Thailand to Australia. Those who think a pivot to the Western Pacific is a major policy change haven’t been watching policy. America has in the past, if not pivoted, at least kept glancing over its Pacific shoulder.
Somali pirates and Iranian irregular warfare craft are well known to naval audiences, but the narco navy deserves equal infamy for its drug-smuggling operations in the Americas. Both crude self-propelled semi submersibles and full makeshift submarines are complicating drug interdiction in the Americas. The United States and international partners have responded with network-centric surveillance, tracking, and interdiction efforts, but seaborne interdiction operations are ultimately adjuncts to the more expansive interdiction missions conducted on the U.S.-Mexican border itself and the counternarcotics operations run throughout Central and Latin America by the U.S. military and the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Since the beginning of the War on Drugs in the 1970s, the United States and its partners have sunk vast sums into detecting, interdicting, and deterring drug smuggling. But, as rapper Rick Ross observed, drug smugglers consider “being dead broke [as] the root of all evil.” The mind-boggling sums of money available to those who can supply product to the hemisphere’s biggest drug market is more than enough to convince drug lords and their agents to risk imprisonment, injury, and death. How much money? By 2009 estimates (the latest available), Mexican and Colombian cartels rake in $39 billion in wholesale drug profits annually. Depending on where you live in the U.S., a kilo of cocaine sells for between $34,000 to $120,000. The risks are great, but so are the potential rewards.
The primary battlespaces in the drug war are the “plazas,” a set of heavily contested drug-trafficking routes in northern Mexico. Cartels spill blood and cut off heads for control of the plazas, but the Caribbean trafficking routes are no less important. By utilizing small craft and “narco-subs,” drug smugglers make it more difficult and expensive for the US to interdict them. The narco navy also heavily exploits capability gaps among American partners that lack American manpower and advanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems.