The United States of America is the world’s most militarily and economically advanced country. Its military technology and superiority are second to none. The huge size of its economy (about $18 trillion) means the U.S. is able to spend more on its military than any other country in the world. The U.S. spends more than $600 billion annually on defence. In fact, the U.S. spends more on its defence than the top nine defence spenders in the world. In addition, the U.S. military (army, navy and airforce) is one of the best if not the best in the world.
The use of highly advanced technologies by the US military means that countries that tend to cooperate with America also tend to benefit strongly from its technology. A case in point is Israel which has both the strongest military and best defence capabilities in the Middle East, courtesy the United States. The armed forces of countries that tend to have defence and security cooperation agreement with the United States also tend to receive training which boost their performance and capabilities. From strategic perspective, it is good to have defence pact with America. In deed, it is the wish of many countries in the world to have defence partnership with the United States.
One of the main arguments put forward by those in favour of the US-Ghana military cooperation agreement is that it will build the capacity of Ghanaian soldiers and prepare them to respond to the challenges facing the country. It is also claimed that training and access to U.S. technology will enable the soldiers to better protect Ghana’s fledging democracy. I strongly agree with this position.
However, despite the supposed benefit from the US-Ghana benefit, Ghanaians from different political backgrounds have kicked against the deal. The opposition to the US-Ghana deal comes from the deep suspicion people have about U.S. true intentions in Ghana, West Africa and Africa. The U.S. has been accused of placing low priority on its relationship with Africa. Washington has also been acused of treating Africa as a forgotten continent and for considering its African allies as not all that important compared to US allies in Europe, Northeast Asia and Southeast Asia. America has also been accused of using military aid and military cooperation with Africa and other developing regions to ferment wars, coups, instability, and back dictators especially during the Cold War.
James Petras of Binghampton University, USA notes that US foreign policy towards Africa, Asia and Latin America "has a long history of installing, financing, arming and backing dictatorial regimes that back its imperial policies and interests as long as they retain control over their people. In the past, Republican and Democratic presidents worked closely for over 30 years with the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic; installed the autocratic Diem regime in pre-revolutionary Vietnam in the 1950s; collaborated with two generations of Somoza family terror regimes in Nicaragua; financed and promoted the military coup in Cuba 1952, Brazil 1964, Chile in 1973, supported dictatorships and military regimes in Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines; and in Argentina in 1976 and the subsequent repressive regimes. When popular upheavals challenged these US-backed dictatorships, and a social as well as political revolution appeared likely to succeed, Washington responded with a three-track policy: publicly criticising the human rights violations and advocating democratic reforms; privately signalling continued support to the ruler; and, thirdly, seeking an elite alternative which could substitute for the incumbent and preserve the state apparatus, the economic system and support US strategic imperial interests” (Petras, 2011, p.483).
In Africa David Wiley highlighted in his scholarly article in the African Studies Review in 2012:
“During these Cold War years, the Eastern and Western Blocs were busy competing for African loyalties in the rest of Africa with military and foreign aid. The U.S. was specifically involved in supporting the coup against Kwame Nkrumah, assassinating Patrice Lumumba, installing General Mobutu in Congo (Zaire), supporting military and Islamist regimes in Sudan and Somalia, backing the installation of Idi Amin in Uganda, and other interventions. The deep tragedies and wounds from those Cold War initiatives will require centuries to heal. The inestimable costs can be counted in the millions of lives lost, the millions of families displaced from their homes, the gross social and personal insecurity, the sexual violence, the lost potential for development, the building of huge inventories of arms, the militarisation of these societies, and the heightening of political and class conflicts” (Wiley, 2012, p.150).
The opposition to US-Ghana deal also stems from the fact that US military aid to Africa in the form of training, has not been good when viewed from democracy development in Africa. Researchers have found that soldiers that are trained by the United States or its western allies are more likely to overthrow their governments than support democratic development in their countries.
In 2013, Ambassador John Campbell, a former United States ambassador to Senegal wrote in the American Foreign Policy Interests journal about U.S. presence in West Africa and coup in the region:
"Since 1997, even before AFRICOM's [Africa Command] establishment [in 2007], the United States trained and supplied non-lethal equipment to more than 215,000 African peacekeepers under an ongoing program called African Contingency Operations Training Assistance (ACOTA). This programme has 25 African partners. But training is not without its risks to democratic development. Under a different U.S. programme, the International Military Education and Training (IMET), Malian captain Amadou Sanogo trained in the United States at multiple times and locations. He then went on to lead the 2012 coup in Mali against the ostensibly civilian and democratic government of President Amadou Toumani Toure. Such an episode--and there have been others--feeds African suspicion that foreign military training leads to better coup-makers rather than better democrats" (Campbell, 2013:348).
When Ambassador Campbell says “but training is not without its risks to democratic development” "and "there have been others" without elaboration, he meant that across Africa and other continents, democratic governments have been removed from power in coups that were carried out by soldiers either trained in the United States or trained in Africa by the US. In Africa, some of the recent notable examples include Amadou Sanogo of Mali, Abdel Fattah el Sisi of Egypt, Yahya Jammeh of Gambia, and Isaac Zida of Burkina Faso. All of them received training in the US and went on to overthrow their governments.
Captain Amadou Sanogo led the March 2012 Mali coup and removed Mali’s democratically elected government from power. As part of his training in the U.S., Captain Sanogo “learned English in Texas, received instruction from US Marines in Virginia, took his intelligence training in Arizona, and underwent Army infantry officer basic training in Georgia” (Whitlock, 2014). “America is [a] great country with a fantastic army. I tried to put all the things I learned there into practice here,” he told German newspaper Der Spiegel in an interview.
According to Craig Whitlock, “In 2012, when he was a major, [Isaac] Zida attended a 12-day counterterrorism training course at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida that was sponsored by the Defence Department’s Joint Special Operations University…That same year, Zida attended a five-day military intelligence course in Botswana that was financed by the U.S. government” (Whitlock, 2014). In 2014, he led the coup in Burkina Faso and became the interim President of the country.
During the Arab Uprising in 2011, a number of U.S. backed dictators were toppled by the popular uprising including Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia, Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen and crucially Hosni Mubarak of Egypt who was swept from power in February 2011 after almost 30 years as a dictator. When Mubarak was toppled, Egyptians enthusiastically elected Mohammed Morsi as president. Morsi then appointed Abdel Fattah el Sisi as Defence Minister. Sisi who was trained at the United States Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania in 2006, became actively involved in the coup that toppled Morsi from power on 3 July 2013. He later emerged as the president of Egypt effectively ending democracy and rule of law in the country and resuming the Mubarak-era police state and the mass torture, mass murder, unlawful imprisonment and other human rights abuses all with the backing of the United States and its $1.3 billion annual package to Egypt. On 14 August 2013 for instance, Sisi’s security forces attacked a sit-in demonstration in Rabaa al-Adawiya Square killing about 1,000 demonstrators on that day. According to Human Rights Watch, it is "one of the largest killings of demonstrators in a single day in recent history”. On 24 March 2014, judges under the influence of Sisi sentenced 529 Egyptians to death for allegedly supporting the Muslim Brotherhood (Guardian, 2014). The decision was widely criticised by human rights groups. Amnesty International described it as "the biggest mass sentence given in modern Egyptian history”.
In 2017, two researchers (Jesse Dillion Savage and Jonathan D. Caverley) made a startling revelations. They found that between 1970 and 2009 there were 275 military-backed coups worldwide. They further found that of the 275 coups, 165 were staged by officers who had been trained under two US programmes: International Military Education and Training (IMET) and the Combating Terrorism Fellowship Program (CTFP) (Savage and Caverley, 2017). Their findings has one simple message: soldiers trained by the United States make better coup makers, they do not make good democrats and this is a point those rooting for the Ghana-US deal must have in mind.
Campbell, J. (2013) ‘Is American Policy towards sub-Sahara Africa increasingly militarised?’ American Foreign Policy Interests, Volume 35, Issue 6, pp. 346-351
Petras, J. (2011) 'Washington Faces the Arab Revolts: Sacrificing Dictators to Save the State', Journal of Contemporary Asia, Vol 41, Issue 3, pp. 483-490
Savage, J. D. and Caverley, J. D. (2017) ‘When human capital threatens the Capitol: Foreign aid in the form of military training and coups’ Journal of Peace Research, Vol 54, Issue 4, pp. 542–557.
The Guardian (2014) ’Anger in Egypt as 529 Morsi supporters sentenced to death’ 24 March 2014, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/24/egypt-morsi-supporters-death-sentence
Whitlock, C. (2014) ‘Coup leader in Burkina Faso received U.S. military training’ Washington Post, 3 November, 2014 https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/coup-leader-in-burkina-faso-received-us-military-training/2014/11/03/3e9acaf8-6392-11e4-836c-83bc4f26eb67_story.html?utm_term=.5a1a01489727
Wiley, D. (2012) ‘Militarizing Africa and African Studies and the U.S. Africanist Response’ African Studies Review, Volume 55, Number 2, pp.147-161