Defence Deal: Understanding the issues dispassionately

BARKING UP THE WRONG TREE Barking up the wrong tree – This is an age old idiom, meaning; to pursue a mistaken or misguided line of thought or course of action...


Barking up the wrong tree – This is an age old idiom, meaning; to pursue a mistaken or misguided line of thought or course of action. “The term originally comes from the nocturnal pursuit of raccoon-hunting with the aid of dogs. Occasionally a raccoon fools the dogs, which crowd around a tree, barking loudly, not realizing their quarry has taken a different route.”

The above expression accurately describes the relentless hunt for the substantive information, in the Ghana-US Defence Cooperation Agreement (DCA), which supports the establishment of a US military base in Ghana. But the truth of the matter is, you won’t find it. But does that mean the said defense agreement should give Ghanaians no cause for concern? Well, I’ll not say that. I believe the raccoon is still in the thick of those pages of the DCA; we just have to figure out the new turn it has taken.

Route of the Raccoon:

Currently, the practice of setting up what is typically described as a ‘military base’ is something the US is no longer pursuing. First of all, it remains uneconomical to continue establishing town size military bases across the globe. Secondly, it defeats the more strategic art forms of war; which emphasize formlessness and extreme adaptability. In fact, the new onslaught of US foreign military establishments rely on what is termed; ‘Lily Pads’. To fully understand how this new strategy works, you may want to read David Vines write up titled; “The Lily-Pad Strategy: How the Pentagon Is Quietly Transforming Its Overseas Base Empire and Creating a Dangerous New Way of War.” Click link below:…/10347-the-lily-pad-strategy-how-…

Therein, are the details of what you need to know essentially, about this new phenomenon. Those who may find this less appealing to their scholarly taste may want to find the study relating to this subject matter; by the Watson Institute of Brown University, titled; “The Cost of War.”

Does the DCA Establish a Lily Pad in Ghana?

To answer this question, do not look into the agreement for mention of the phrase ‘Lily Pad’, just as you’re certainly bound not to find any trace of the phrase ‘military base’ in this agreement. In fact, as Vine indicates in his article, knowing that there’s a Lily Pad in your country is in itself something that its establishers frown upon. That’s why they will be happy all day long when the debate goes on about a military base; something their politician friends can come forward months or years after and posture - you see, we told you there’ll be no military base; if you still disagree, show us one.

However, more important to retaining the anonymity of the existence of a Lily Pad in a host country is aptly captured by Mark Gillem, author of America Town: Building the Outposts of Empire, where he explains; "avoidance" of local populations, publicity, and potential opposition is the new aim” of switching to these Lily Pads.

So to clearly determine whether the DCA will make Ghana a Lily Pad destination; you may want to see if you can find in the agreement what is needed to establish one. The basics are these; facilities for the US to establish a surveillance system, access to airport runway with some specific dimensions to enable the landing of their military carriers, a non-descript undisclosed location to store their cache of weapons, secrecy in the transport and handling of these weapons, among others. It’s up to you to check if the DCA meets any such prescriptions.

Does Ghana Need Pervasive Military Aid of This Kind?

Central to the argument of expanding the comparatively limited military cooperation between Ghana and the US is the threat of terrorism, and the risk of other forms of instability. However, trends around the world, where the US provided such levels of expansive military aid has shown negative correlations, more than a positive outcome.

While the published aim of US military aid is to help recipient nations enhance human rights and protection against violent extremism, the data tells a different story. In his doctoral thesis, Arthur Gibbs III, came to the conclusion that; “military aid demonstrated a consistent and statistically significant negative effect on human rights in recipient countries…The first is that U.S. military aid actually encourages human rights abuses by recipient regimes….the fact that recipients of military aid still appear to get worse rather than better after receiving American equipment and training provides strong ammunition for critics of military aid.”
Even in countries of open security issues where it appears military aid is a necessity, studies reveal that such aid has been less than helpful. In their paper titled; “Bases, Bullets and Ballots: the Effect of U.S. Military Aid on Political Conflict in Colombia”, Oeindrila et al, 2010; established their findings “suggest that foreign military assistance may strengthen armed non-state actors, undermining domestic political institutions... Using detailed political violence data, we find that U.S. military aid leads to differential increases in attacks by paramilitaries (who collude with the military).”

The trend is no different with other forms of military interventions by the US and its allies in the Sahel, with the effects boiling right down to our borders in Burkina Faso. Ostensibly, they are here with the message to help us contain that threat. But have we really analyzed the trends, to establish whether such a proposition is for the best? Because in the North Dakota Law Review (Vol. 84:383), Elizabeth Powers explains the conscious or maybe unintended outcome of such assistance in the Congo and the developing world. In her paper titled “Greed, Guns And Grist: U.S. Military Assistance And Arms Transfers To Developing Countries”. She surmises;

“Military assistance (i.e., government-to-government military aid) pours additional billions into the arms and military services industry. Weapons sales and military assistance are the lifeblood of many corrupt leaders. These leaders line their coffers with government money meant to be used for military assistance purposes, and use the acquired weaponry to engage in international antagonism and the REPRESSION OF THEIR CITIZENS.” - Emphasis mine.
In our case, it appears Ghana has a less corrupt and measured crop of leaders; who do not show up with defense accoutrements and threats of abuse and actual abuse, anytime citizens decide to protest against what they perceive as corrupt or unjust political leadership. Maybe demonstrators of Occupy Ghana, Let My Vote Count Alliance, and those who recently went to Parliament on the DCA issue; can attest to how congenial our state security apparatus has been towards citizens; upon the least provocation.

An Untidy Agreement:

While it will be infantile to summarily dismiss any sort of military cooperation, the nature of such cooperation cannot be left to take just any form or shape. That is why it is crucial that the DCA be placed under the microscope of scrutiny, to check if it will actually be of benefit to Ghana; and whether the agreement does not leave us open to many unintended consequences of US military aid, a number of which have been cited above.

In this regard, let’s for a second, assume the joint military exercises being proposed in the DCA are harmless in themselves; or worth our while by way of security support. Let’s also assume the tax exemptions in this agreement aren’t worth much; and may be reclaimed by way of the annual 20million dollars worth of aid (which in effect isn’t free, but let’s make that concession for discussion purposes). Finally, let’s again assume the US will help improve our counter terrorism preparedness. Let’s assume all that.

But what I do not understand is the sort of thinking that led us to swallow; lock, stock and barrel, a template agreement which:
a. Allows a foreign country unfettered access to our radio frequency and further still the freedom to establish theirs for military purposes; without any prescribed limitations or monitoring by us.
b. The importation of weapons without any inspections nor restrictions by our authorities as to the nature of these weapons and what they are intended for; and most crucially,
c. We don’t have the power in this agreement to place restrictions on end users of these weapons or equipment; and in whose hands they may finally end up.

The entire world is privy to the facts of the likes of the Al-Nusra Front terrorists, using US-made TOW anti-tank rockets, as a consequence of the support programs of the US government in that region. In Pakistan for instance, Patricia Sulivan, an Associate Professor of Public Policy, University of South Carolina; makes the case of billions in U.S. military aid dollars which are channeled to extremist groups by political agents. It appears in Ghana, we believe that our systems are so secure that our so called ‘big men’ cannot and are not involved in stoking the fires in any form, regarding internal conflicts. I am sure we can boldly beat our chests and swear that the ‘big men’ are not engaged in arming various factions in the latent conflicts in northern parts of Ghana, or in the Volta region. I am sure when they come to have freewheeling weapons that no one is compelled to account for, which they can distribute like toffees, their ethical instincts will kick in. It must be our strongest belief that these elements are currently encouraging conscientious disarmament of their kinsfolk; in our country and within the region. It is clear we have made it a taboo to speculate any projections from what could happen in the future based on our current attitudes. Therefore until such untoward occurrences happen, we must stay mute and keep the bliss.

It is such insularity in our assessment of initiatives that worries me the most. And that may explain why we seem to have closed our eyes to the reality that in the name of helping fight terror, US weapons have ended up stocking the Arsenals of some of the most violent terrorist and separatist groups to have ever scourged the surface of the earth - like ISIL currently and the Mujahideen of Afghanistan in the 70s and 80s. The image of hood wearing, American assault rifle wielding terror gangs cruising in US military humvees on the sand dunes of the Middle East is no secret image globally.

It therefore leaves us no room for excuse when we do not ensure that any weapon brought into our territory by the US is met with restrictions on end user groups; and grave liabilities on the importer in case of default. We have failed to exercise any form of caution or due diligence in our consideration of this undertaking. It’s not only embarrassing but quite worrying, I must say.

Geopolitical Outlook:
I have come to the realisation that Ghana often goes into many bilateral arrangements with a silo mentality; ignoring any ramifications it may have on our engagements with other partners. We lose sight of the necessity of analyzing the effect of any arrangement we may have with any country on our trade relations and ties with others.

Not long ago, Europe was by no means amused by the US National Security Agencies’ tapping into the conversations of over 70million of their citizens, and senior officials of the EU; including Angela Merkel. Such happenings cannot be delinked in any way from the ubiquitous presence of US military and intelligence installations in that part of the world.

In response to this, the European Commission went as far as backing proposals suspending the transatlantic bank data sharing agreement. Europe, which happens to be our biggest trade partner, will not turn a blind eye to their security concerns and the privacy of their dealings in Ghana. It will therefore not come as a surprise if they hold back on the extent of their cooperation with us in some areas; based on perceived vulnerabilities occasioned by the pervasive nature of the DCA.

Meanwhile, this far reaching agreement will also not be taken lightly by other trade superpowers; like China, who are currently locked in a pending trade war with the US. We should not be surprised if such a country sees a weakened spot in our ability to keep the integrity of our engagements with them. It therefore comes as no surprise when negotiations for their support in establishing the One District One Factory Initiative fell through. Nonetheless, we still have other forms of trade MoUs with them; regarding the likes of our integrated bauxite project. But it’s said that if something bad happens to you, apprehend something worse. Will China come through for us regarding their other promises, despite our exhibition of such unabashed ‘Americophilia’? Well, they many not indicate their change in intent in black and white; but maybe we have to relook at some of these issues carefully, and begin re-oiling talks again.

Are Critics Throwing Away the Baby with the Bathwater?

In many such high level government to government arrangements; there are many unseen variables that result in the finalization of decision making. It therefore becomes crucial for leadership to hint to the overarching needs which underpin of such decisions; enough to be satisfactory to the citizenry, but without compromising the bigger strategic outlook. This becomes relevant, and quite so, when such matters become one of public contention.

I was therefore under the impression that, following weeks of silence, the President in his speech addressed to the nation was certainly going to enumerate some key points that may probably be lost on Ghanaians. Unfortunately, the speech can be essentially reduced to a castigation of political opponents who went too far in rattling the Presidential Cage in the wake of the furore.

Currently, no cogent reasons have been given to alleviate fears and suspicions. The apprehension that Ghana may become like one of the other third world countries who have suffered from unintended consequences, as a result of expansive militarization of their territory by the US. I believe leadership may want to relook at the permutations that surround this agreement, and see if there’s actually any net benefit to Ghana. What is the nature of the decision tree that has led our political leaders to conclude that we will not be confronted with a rather grave situation of opportunity cost, either soon or in the near future? The communication so far has been less than satisfactory.

By: Jason Tutu

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