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The U.S. and Niger's Faltering Friendship

With relations between the U.S. and Niger cooling, American foreign policy and diplomacy towards this strategic partner needs re-evaluation and adjustment. In the Sahel region of West Africa, Niger had for some time been a rare, democratic friend to the US in the global fight against terrorism, but in July 2023, a Nigerian military junta overthrew the democratically elected president. The European Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) swiftly condemned the expelling, with the latter organization even threatening to use military force to intervene. On the other hand, the U.S. held out on recognizing the events in Niger as a coup until October 2023, reluctant to jeopardize security and aid arrangements. Despite efforts to salvage a semblance of the status quo, on May 19, 2024, the U.S. Department of Defense announced the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Niger, with a deadline set for September 15, 2024.


The Niger ousting is the sixth military coup to take place in West Africa in only three years, leading many to fear the fading of democracy in the region. Niger and its immediate neighbors to the west, Burkina Faso and Mali were suspended from ECOWAS in light of their respective military takeovers. These nations subsequently announced the creation of an Alliance of Sahel States and permanently withdrew from ECOWAS. Although American experts and officials have ruled out Russian involvement in the Niger coup, anti-West agitation underlying these military upheavals has created conditions ripe for Russian opportunity. While U.S. forces were negotiating a withdrawal, Wagner Africa Corps arrived in the Niger capital in April 2024 to embark on a new security arrangement, soon followed by Russian troops occupying former U.S. bases. 


U.S. foreign policy has often faced criticism for the habit of focusing too much on physical security, rather than areas of development that contribute to the wholesale stability of society. The presence of the U.S. only exacerbates tension in the region. Traditionally a close ally of the French, U.S. operations in the region have drawn scorn among the former French colonies in the Sahel by association. In theory, democratic mechanisms should be able to address discontent if the government performs poorly in key areas like foreign policy, the economy, crime and corruption. Democracy, however, has to be reinforced by strong institutions, public trust and political norms. Niger’s democracy wasn’t mature enough to withstand all the pressures that led to the coup. The U.S., with its heavy focus on fighting Islamic extremism and stamping out Russian influence, did not pay enough attention to these pressures in time to make a difference. 


In an ideal world, the U.S. would have democratic allies that support shared vital security interests, and non-democratic actors could be treated with contempt, indifference or outright hostility. In the real world, the U.S. has often had to cooperate with less-than-ideal strategic partners in order to realize national interests. For a while, Niger seemed like the rare exception in the region as a friend to the U.S. with similar enough views on governance. In the wake of the Department of Defense agreeing to withdraw all troops from Niger, the U.S. has expressed a desire to continue cooperation in other areas. The U.S. now needs to think in terms of what it can offer to Niger or to strategic partners similarly positioned in terms of democratic and security prospects. 


Having to cooperate on areas besides security, outside of that traditional comfort zone, could push the U.S. to think about novel ways it can compete with Russian and Chinese influence without relying on the presumed camaraderie of democracies. One of the reasons the Nigerien junta cited for wanting to break ties with the U.S. was the air of condescension Americans infused into their interactions. The wounds of imperialism and colonialism continue to color relations with Western powers. But while treating Niger as a pawn in the contemporary great power plays between the U.S., Russia and China can breed resentment, it can also position Niger and other countries in a similar spot to make choices that best align with their interests. 


The U.S.’s track record for supporting sustainable young democracies is spotty at best. But arguably, the U.S. has the best odds for success when it has leverage, as was the case in South Korea and Taiwan. With Niger, the U.S. did not hold the cards but acted like it did. Attitudes inconsistent with reality caught up to the U.S., and in the high-stakes game of counter-terrorism and human development, bluffing between supposed partners does not create the conditions for trust, cooperation and transparency that are necessary to keep friends friendly. 


Acknowledgment: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.

4件のコメント


Mason
Mason
6月21日

This is a very informative article. I think that you took an interesting approach to the situation and I appreciate your analysis of how it still may be necessary to cooperate with Niger even after the coup.

いいね!

Ryan Dulaney
Ryan Dulaney
6月18日

Great work Mia,

I think the most interesting aspect of the development you address is the decline of US military supremacy in the third world. As you mentioned, Wagner is occupying ex-American bases in Africa, the same is happening with China in the Philippines. Russia also embarrassed the US attempt to remove the Assad regime in Syria. At every turn the US seems to be losing its grip on hegemony. I wonder what action the most powerful military on earth will do in reaction to this political shift, beyond supporting Ukraine, Taiwan and ECOWAS, as this is clearly not enough.

いいね!

Greta Norris
Greta Norris
6月16日

Hi Mia, I really liked your analysis of U.S. foreign policy and its criticisms! I agree that national interests and choosing democratic allies are hard to balance. Also, I think that besides the novel ways that the U.S. can compete with Russian and Chinese influence that you mention, there is room for potential collaboration in areas of common threats, like climate change. It will definitely be interesting to see what Niger decides to do and how the U.S. decides to react, and hopefully the U.S. can learn from this situation to better handle similar situations in the future.

いいね!

Ellie Bai
Ellie Bai
6月10日

Hi Mia,


Great job! I agree that fostering sustainable diplomatic relationships requires moving outside the traditional comfort zone. Considering factors like cooperation and trust, which should form the foundation, cannot solely be achieved through the use of power.

いいね!
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