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U.S. Interests

Enlarging the Community of Market Democracies
Addressing Pressing Humanitarian Concerns
Seeking Economic Advantages
Mustering Support in International Fora

During the Cold War era, the U.S. military had a number of geostrategic interests in the African continent: protection of U.S. sea lines of communication, fending off a real or imagined Soviet plan to capture Africa's strategic minerals, prying Cuban surrogates off the continent, preventing the establishment of Soviet bases and listening posts, and others. None of these interests survived the end of the Cold War. The U.S. has essentially no serious military/geostrategic interests in Africa anymore, other than the inescapable fact that its vastness poses an obstacle to deployments to the Middle East and South Asia, whether by sea or air.

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Enlarging the Community of
Market Democracies

An important, if not critical, U.S. national interest in the African continent is the intangible but real value of adding additional friendly states to the Western sphere of stable, democratic, and free market nations. However, successful democratic transitions are not cheap, easy, or even necessarily peaceful. At least in the short run, pressures are often unleashed that lead to increased violence and social unrest. The U.S. has a strong long-term interest in encouraging--through diplomatic support, advice, and perhaps even financial assistance--the transitions of states that have begun their journey down the path to democracy and free markets.

The present U.S. administration has supported--and on numerous occasions has proclaimed from the highest levels--a doctrine of enlargement and a commitment to assist struggling states in the process of democratic transition. Africa has received particular attention, including an unprecedented White House conference on Africa in June 1994. Indeed, the U.S. has been engaged for several years in seeking to apply these principles in Africa, with some success. Washington has encouraged and supported successful democratic transitions in South Africa, Namibia, Benin, Niger, Mali, Zambia, and Malawi, and is encouraging continuing political reform and progress towards fully democratic systems in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Uganda, and Mozambique. In perhaps one-third of Africa's states, democratic prospects are either already bright or improving, which is a major improvement over the situation a decade ago. Encouragement of this trend remains an important policy objective.

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Addressing Pressing
Humanitarian Concerns

Whether approached from a practical or an idealistic perspective, the U.S. has an important humanitarian interest in Africa: namely, reducing the violence and chaos that are currently engulfing a number of African nations.

From a practical perspective, humanitarian efforts are useful in order to curtail the growth of Africa's claims on the U.S., other affluent states, and international institutions for assistance and intervention. Arguably, intelligent interventionism in the short run can help create a set of conditions in Africa that make it less necessary to mount similar types of interventions in the future. At present, it may therefore be advisable to consider a policy of paying now in order to reduce the chances of having to pay more, later.

From a more idealistic perspective (and in line with administration policy pronouncements), deeply-held U.S. principles concerning the need to assist the suffering and prevent genocide impel Washington to address Africa's humanitarian concerns to the extent that this is possible. Further, Washington faces a political imperative to show some seriousness of purpose in meeting at least the most urgent humanitarian needs of the ancestral homeland of some 12 percent of America's own population.

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Seeking Economic Advantages

Other U.S. interests in Africa are economic in nature: the protection of existing U.S. investment and the encouragement of a climate for further investment, developing mutually beneficial trading links, and safeguarding the stability of supplies of African oil and minerals. In the near term, substantial investment opportunities seem concentrated in South Africa, major projects of the SADC, and further development of oil production in West and Central Africa.

South Africa stands in a class by itself when viewed from a commercial perspective, with Nigeria a distant second but also in a class by itself. However, if sub-Saharan Africa could achieve even modest growth and stability, this region of 600 million could become an increasingly significant market and trading partner for U.S. firms.

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Mustering Support
in International Fora

Sub-Saharan Africa's forty-eight states comprise a powerful voting bloc in the U.N. and other international bodies, and the U.S. frequently turns to its African friends for support in these fora. African political support and cooperation will remain critical to the U.S.'s policy agenda on such issues as peacekeeping operations, environmental concerns, and international human rights.

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