The U.S. and Developing Regions (Especially Africa, and Liberia in Particular): The Contradiction of Might

By Jones Nhinson Williams

, Mr. J. Nhinson Williams

There is no uncertainty that the U.S. has formal and informal, direct and indirect diplomatic relations with a number of countries, including developing nations in the African and Caribbean regions.  Clearly, for the U.S., this relationship is unequal, and in an unequal relationship, the one with the might or, the most might, usually calls the shots.  Sadly, several developing countries and regions, mainly Sub Sahara Africa and Liberia in particular, miserably failed to understand these algorithms.

In international relations, we learned or are told that there are different types of diplomacy. For example, we have Dollar diplomacy, Public diplomacy, People’s diplomacy, Intermediary diplomacy, Economic diplomacy, and Gunboat diplomacy etc.

Accordingly, the essence of gunboat diplomacy consists of demonstrating strength to achieve foreign policy goals, and the U.S. is known for this type of diplomacy in most situations. Therefore, one would expect that developing nations (and Liberia in particular) that are incapable of managing their sovereignty would grasp and know this in their dealings with the U.S. on the world stage.

On the contrary, China, India, Singapore, Germany and other empowered and well-governed nations would careless about appeasing the U.S. on the world stage because they know that they wouldn’t come begging for anything from the U.S. in any form and shape.  Most African and Caribbean nations don’t have this luxury since they seem to have institutional, governance and self-inflicted problems, almost always.

Today, the U.S., under the administration of President Donald J. Trump is reducing international relief and development aid to foreign countries––several of them being African and Caribbean nations.  The U.S. is also discontinuing the granting of provisional immigration statuses to nationals from several developing countries, including Venezuela, Haiti, Liberia and more.  In the interim, the U.S., under the administration of Trump, knows who its friends are, and certainly, countries, like the West African nation of Togo, that do not oppose U.S. interest on the world stage are prime beneficiaries of this friendship.

Fast-forward, we know that in mid or late December 2017, during the early period of the Trump presidency, several poor, badly governed, economically mismanaged and dependent countries in the Caribbean and Africa miscalculated their positions at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) when the former U.S. ambassador at the UN, Nikki Haley, said the U.S. will be ‘taking names’ as U.N. prepares for a vote on embassy move in Israel. Nikki Haley: U.S. ‘taking names’ on U.N. vote on Israel.

In echoing President Donald Trump, the former United States UN Ambassador Nikki Haley was weighing in on the U.N General Assembly’s debate about whether or not to condemn the U.S. for recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel which was a major diplomatic blow to the U.S. and Israel during a UNGA’s vote.  Then, Haley clearly said to several U.S.-aid dependent countries in this news headline: ‘We will remember this’: US slams UN Jerusalem vote

The point here is, countries, mainly development and relief aid-dependent nations that are in diplomatic relations with the U.S. should understand and appreciate that the U.S. diplomacy is first and foremost based on interests.

According to Daniel Byman in an Oped published at the Brookings Institutions, “Regardless of the administration, the United States has long reiterated a consistent set of interests.”  For example, in the Middle East, there is a consistent set of interests that have guided U.S. policy in the region.  Byman maintained: The most commonly cited U.S. interest in the Arab portion of the Middle East is oil, and in the past, spikes in oil prices have hurt the U.S. economy. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, as Byman narrates, the Middle East produces 30 percent of the global market and some countries, above all Saudi Arabia, still possess significant spare production capacity.

As Byman revealed, Israel is another central U.S. interest, often linked to a desire to promote peace between Israel and the Palestinians. This interest is not likely to change, but Israel today faces little conventional military threat or any need for U.S. military intervention. Rather, U.S. support for Israel involves a mix of arms sales, intelligence and security cooperation, and diplomatic support. The United States and its regional allies also shared an array of common interests and, for lack of a better description, a shared sense of where the danger lay. Anti-Communism cemented the U.S.-Saudi alliance for decades. When the Soviet Union fell, a shared interest in containing Iraq and Iran—and then preventing an Iranian nuclear weapon—also united America with its regional allies.

Another U.S. key interest is counterterrorism. The United States and its regional allies, according to Byman, both oppose al-Qaida and the Islamic State as well as any other global terror sects. This counterterrorism emphasis meshes with U.S. domestic politics.  So any U.S. administration has a political incentive—and a political reality. Counterterrorism is the glue that keeps the US and its other allies together.

For example, democratization is high on no one’s list now, as Byman narrates. For example, under President George W. Bush, democratization was always a lesser concern, but it too had its moments. President George W. Bush had his “Freedom Agenda,” and when the Arab Spring began in 2011 the United States briefly tried to promote democracy in Egypt, Tunisia, and other countries. The Arab Spring turned to winter, and civil wars, coups, or other disasters engulfed the nascent democracies.

What a number of African and Caribbean countries failed to understand is the saying, “don’t bite the hand that feeds you.”  Poor and dependent countries should not seek to challenge the U.S. publicly at their own detriment. This should be diplomacy 101 lesson for them. What did it benefit Haiti, Liberia, and other struggling nations in publicly voting against the United States in December 2017 at the UNGA?

The world knows that no a single Arab nation has condemned Libya when hundreds of Sub Sahara African migrants were treated as mere animals and sold in slavery in Libya. To date, no sense of alarm or anger has been expressed by any Arab state.  It is not that these Arab nations are unable to publicly chastise Libya, they refused to do so because they see Libya as a strategic ally in a social way. This is why it baffled many when Liberia, in particular, voted against the U.S. at the UNGA in 2017 during the presidency of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Today, it is the Liberian people that reap the detriments of this unwise decision against a U.S administration that, somehow, believes the Moses Law.

Can Liberia undo its misguided UNGA vote in 2017? Absolutely not.  But Liberia under His Excellency President George Manneh Weah is capable of distancing itself from that regrettable vote in concrete ways that the Trump administration and the American people will generally understand.  Doing this would not only shift the U.S. historical interests in Liberia again, it would also make Liberia’s issue paramount in U.S.-Africa relations.  After all, diplomacy is about interest and Liberia’s interest must come FIRST above all else.  This is what real diplomacy is all about.

About the Author:

Jones Nhinson Williams is a U.S. trained global public policy professional and labor market expert, a former head of the U.S.-based Jewish Family Services international refugee resettlement and integration program, former Labor Market Information Manager for Maryland State Government, USA, and a State Administrator of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics programs. He can be reached at

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