Africa Handshake, Part Ten: Smart Power’s Long History

With two expensive land wars draining the treasury, the Pentagon wants to prevent future conflicts without spending a lot of money. Two years ago the Navy launched its first, roughly annual Africa Partnership Station, sending ships on solo cruises up the West African coast to deliver training and humanitarian aid. The idea: to win new friends and re-assure old ones, and boost their ability to handle security crises on their own. Our own David Axe joins the landing dock USS Nashville for APS 2.0 in Gabon.


Operation Continuing Promise in Latin America is just two years old. So is Africa Partnership Station. But already, the Navy is re-configuring to double or triple the number of these smart-power operations it supports. It might seem like naval smart power came out of nowhere, to dominate planning overnight.

But Continuing Promise grew out of Admiral James Stavridis’ long career thinking about new uses for naval forces. And Africa Partnership Station is actually a clever evolution of a program dating from the 1970s. In that decade, the Navy launched its “West African Training Cruise,” aiming to visit major regional allies once every five years or so. “That’s not a way to build partnerships,” said Lieutenant Commander Chris Servello, an APS planner aboard Nashville. “We need to be down here more often.”

In 2005, 6th Fleet Vice Admiral Harry Ulrich — Stavridis’ intellectual twin for Africa — decided the Navy needed to boost its operations along the continent’s western coast. His choice of vehicle was a seemingly odd one. Ulrich tapped the repair ship Emory S. Land, pictured, for a four-month deployment, delivering trainers and maintainers to several African nations. Land helped fix African navies’ old boats and give sailors refresher training. Servello called it a “test case” for Africa Partnership Station. “It was well received.”

Next, 6th Fleet began expanding on the concept, sending frigates and amphibious ships to drum up interest in deployment’s like Land’s. In 2007, the Navy formalized what Ulrich and Land had pioneered, and Africa Partnership Station was born.

(Photo: Navy)