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February 12, 2007

Professors' new report calls U.S. strategy in West Africa risky

The following press release was issued by the Center for International Policy

In its anxious search for energy security, the United States has embarked on a risky strategy to arm and train the militaries of oil-producing West Africa, all as part of an expansion of the global war on terror.

Photo of Paul Lubeck

Paul Lubeck
Photo of Ronnie Lipschutz

Ronnie Lipschutz

That's the conclusion of a new international policy report coauthored by UCSC professors Paul Lubeck and Ronnie Lipschutz and Michael J. Watts of UC Berkeley. The report was published by the Center for International Policy in Washington, D.C.

Over the past 15 years, amid a deepening crisis in the Middle East and tightening petroleum markets, the United States has quietly institutionalized a West African-based oil supply strategy, closely focused on an "Oil Triangle," centered around the Gulf of Guinea, according to the report issued by the Center for International Policy.

Nigeria, which provides 10 to 12 percent of U.S. oil imports, serves as the cornerstone of this strategy even though, since the end of 2005, the on- and offshore oilfields of the Niger Delta--the major source of the country's oil and gas--have essentially become ungovernable.

In the study, the three UC experts report on the motives, actions, and potential consequences of this strategy, and argue that militarization policies are not only shortsighted but also deeply flawed. Lubeck, a professor of sociology, is completing a book on the globalization of Islamic movements; Lipschutz is a professor of politics and codirector of the Center for Global, International and Regional Studies; Watts is Class of 1963 Professor of Geography and director of African Studies at UC Berkeley.

The report, "Convergent Interests: U.S. Energy Security and the 'Securing' of Nigerian Democracy," analyzes the intersection of present and future oil demand, the domestic politics of Nigeria, especially the Delta, and American military policies in Muslim Africa.

According to the authors, the Department of Defense has decided to establish an African military command--AFRICOM--to spearhead an "oil and terrorism" policy, which will oversee the deployment of U.S. forces in the area and supervise distribution of money, materiel, and military training to regional militaries and proxies. Given the internal security problems often found in resource-rich countries, it is much more likely that the newly acquired skills and equipment will be directed against domestic opponents than global terrorists, the authors say.

Paradoxically, perhaps, this will serve to undermine America's energy security even as it breeds growing resentment and violence against U.S. economic and strategic interests.

Among the major points of the report are the following:

• The United States is relying on increased oil production from the African Oil Triangle to reduce its dependence on Middle Eastern petroleum, but this could involve replacing one set of insecurities with another.

• The Niger Delta, the source of the majority of the region's oil and gas production, is a site of ongoing and violent contestation among local ethnic groups, oil corporations, and the Nigerian government, resulting in repeated reductions and shutdowns in oil flows. Moreover, reports the World Bank, some 80 percent of Nigeria's oil monies flow to 1 percent of the population, while 75 percent of the people live on roughly $1 per day.

• American military interest in the Gulf of Guinea has been stoked by the energetic activities of an oil lobbyist whose connections include a Jerusalem-based think tank, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, and neoconservative institutes and consultants.

• Pentagon analysts and generals claim that vast "uncontrolled spaces" in Saharan and Sahelian Africa are rife with terrorists seeking to damage the United States, even though the evidence for such claims is woefully thin. Nevertheless, a $500 million "Trans-Sahara Counter Terrorism Initiative" (TSCTI), which will tie African militaries to American policies, is in the works.

• Having nothing to do with terrorism, militarization will exacerbate an already tense situation in Nigeria and has the potential to destabilize the rest of the region. Only a concerted effort to support Nigeria's democratic forces and its legislature's oversight of the country's presidency can ensure American and Nigerian security interests and quell wholesale theft of oil revenues, as well as the insurgencies, criminality, and social banditry now rampant in the Delta.

The Center for International Policy is a nonprofit, multi-issue research and advocacy organization that promotes a U.S. foreign policy based on international cooperation, demilitarization, and respect for basic human rights.

The full-text version of this publication is available online. To request a hard copy, contact Abigail Poe at the Center for International Policy, (202) 232-3317, or


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