Revisiting America’s Hands-Off Policy on Liberia

By Renford Engelbert Walsh

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

November 12, 2003


Last summer, the Bush administration was assailed by its critics for its refusal to deploy U.S. troops as peacekeepers in Liberia. At the same time, conservatives expressed opposition to the deployment by citing the lack of strategic interests. Since then, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has deployed troops in Liberia and the United Nations has taken control. All with limited U.S. military involvement restricted to peacekeeping deployment support and complete absence of U.S. troops as peacekeepers. Thus, the conservatives may have won the argument. Yet, the issue still needs to be re-visited because the losers continue to insist on U.S. deployment and both sides ignored some critical issues during their debate on America’s role in Liberia.

Take the case of the group advocating U.S. deployment as peacekeepers. They cited Liberia’s historic founding as a haven for freed African-Americans and that historic link formed the crux of their argument favoring American deployment. Unfortunately, foreign policy doesn’t work that way and America doesn’t send troops overseas based on such frivolous reasons.

There are many issues that policymakers consider when they contemplate deployment:

· What are the costs and benefits to the American people?
· What is the likelihood of success?
· Is there a strategic interest for the United States?
· What is the level of danger to U.S. citizens?
· How long will the troops remain abroad?

Until these questions are answered, nothing really happens and the fact that those hoping for U.S. deployment declined to proffer answers shows that the foundation of their argument is not grounded in solid analysis.

The reality is : so many issues remain unresolved and until there is a clear sign of a comprehensive plan , asking the U.S. to deploy peacekeepers in Liberia is unfair. So , let’s look at some of the unfinished business:

· Major stakeholders to the peace accord are still bickering over positions in the nascent interim government .

· ECOWAS initially failed in its estimation of peacekeeping forces when it proposed a strength of 5,000 troops and even though the U.N. estimate of 15,000 troops is much higher, it is also unrealistic .

· The United Nations’ previous estimates of 5,000 troops for post-war Liberia is ridiculously low given the geo-politics of the West African sub-region. What is even worse and arguably outrageous, is the U.N. Special Representative‘s laughable proposal of 600 – 700 troops for protection of Liberia’s borders, which appears to be founded largely on naiveté and devoid of appropriate METT-TC [Mission, Enemy, Troop, Terrain, Time Considerations] analysis .

· The United Nations will need another five(5) months to complete their deployment throughout Liberia, which means that civilians residing in the rural areas shall survive at the mercy of ruling warlords .

· There isn’t any comprehensive timetable for reforming Liberia’s security institutions to replace departing international peacekeepers .

This means that if the United States had deployed troops to Liberia, it would have shouldered the responsibility of serving as peacekeepers and interim law enforcers while the U.N. mustered forces and lingering problems were sorted out . Estimates calculated by this writer in an independent METT-TC analysis suggest that adequate troop requirements would hover between 28,000 - 35,000 troops , distributed as 21,000 – 28,000 peacekeepers and 7,000 law enforcers. The American people would never accept such large-scale deployment up to March 2004 at a time when the U.S. has its hands tied up in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Looking at the above, one wonders whether the Bush critics truly understand the fine points of putting Liberia back on track. Or, are they just hypocrites seeking an excuse to deceive the multitude while scoring political points? We await their answer.

In the meantime, the other side (the conservatives) needs to be placed on notice that it too wears the cloak of ignorance. Those who oppose U.S. troop deployment on the basis that there are no or “peripheral” U.S. strategic interests failed to note some important facts about Liberia.:

· For several decades, Liberia has proven itself to be a reliable ally, which supported America’s foreign policy interests globally.

· Liberia has critical untapped mineral resources whose exploitation could prove vital to the U.S. economy.

Let us look at the issue of loyalty . Since the 20th century, Liberia has supported America during critical moments of global transformation:

· On August 4, 1918, Liberia joined the allies by declaring war against Germany. Thereafter, 200 Germans were deported to France while several hundred Liberians were deployed in the European theater with the allies.

· In 1926, Liberia permitted the establishment of Firestone Plantation Company. With rock bottom deals of low taxes and a 99-year land lease to cultivate rubber, America eventually broke the British monopoly of the worldwide rubber market.

· In 1943, Liberia granted the use of its territory as a transit point for Allied forces fighting the Axis Powers in the North African Theater. 5,000 U.S. troops were deployed and President Franklin D. Roosevelt stopped over en route to the U.S. from the Casablanca conference held in Morocco [North Africa].

· Between the 1940s and the early 1960s, American mining companies established and controlled major stakes in Liberia’s iron ore exploitation.

· During the Reagan administration, Liberia served as the central point for CIA communications traffic covering Africa and the Middle East.

· In the year 2001, then-President Charles Taylor offered the use of Liberia’s territory and airspace in the fight against Al Qaeda and global terrorism. He backed up his support by declaring national mourning for the September 11, 2001 victims , as well as prohibited the sale and distributed of Osama Bin Laden paraphernalia.

When the facts above are assembled, it becomes clear to any observer that this is a country which has stood behind the United States, regardless of the caliber of leadership by esteemed persons or international pariah, and is willing to do so in the long run .

Now, the conservatives may dismiss Liberia’s past loyalty as irrelevant today but what about the future? Have they considered Liberia’s economic potential?

Hidden beneath the battle zones and killing fields of Liberia are almost thirty (30) precious natural resources which are critical to America’s economy. The laundry list includes offshore petroleum deposits, uranium, bauxite, rutile, manganese, copper, iron ore, colombite, zircon, and many others. Virtually, all of the above remain untapped but their importance is clear: these minerals produce metals that are strategic to the military-industrial complex and their exploitation could serve America’s domestic interests positively.

A cursory review of their applications says a lot about their significance:

· Rutile, the source of titanium, is useful in aerospace products, particularly missiles and military aircraft.

· Bauxite is a source of aluminum, which has a variety of applications in aerospace, cannery, and other commercial applications. About 99 % of the U.S. requirement is imported .

· Manganese is applicable in construction and transportation, particularly in the manufacturing of steel. The U.S. has very low grade of manganese and currently imports most of its supply from Gabon, South Africa, and Australia.

· Zinc, which is useful in the rubber, chemical, and paint industries, is largely imported . Moreover, it is applied as a protective coating for iron and steel. Over two-thirds of the U.S. supply are currently imported from Canada and Mexico .

· Colombite, the source of colombium, is applicable in jet engine and rocket subassembly components. The U.S. currently imports at least 90% from Brazil, Canada, Germany, and Estonia, with the remainder from elsewhere.

· Finally, there is Petroleum, source of oil, gasoline, and other hydrocarbons. Repeated surveys of Liberia’s coastline point to offshore deposits in the south-central and southeastern regions of the country. American and Canadian companies like Amoco and Henry Resources Corporation, respectively, have long expressed interest in tapping these deposits but recurrent instability spanning two decades has delayed exploitation.

Ultimately, when Liberia’s legacy of loyalty to the United States, along with its policy of granting favorable concessions to investors are considered, it doesn’t take much to conclude that stabilizing Liberia would create opportunities for U.S. companies to exploit resources at cheaper prices. While America benefits from low cost of materials, low cost of labor which lowers cost of production, job creation for more Americans in minerals processing, and cheaper products which could be consumed domestically or exported, Liberia would benefit from revenue generation, job creation for tens of thousands, reduction in hyperinflation via increased circulation of U.S. dollars, development, and long-term stability. Moreover, stabilizing Liberia, the incubator of instability in neighboring countries, would enhance U.S. economic interests further by curtailing international conflicts in the West African sub-region. Hence, Liberia is strategic to U. S. interests even though its significance does not justify U.S. troop deployment at this time .

No doubt, stabilizing Liberia will be a Herculean task. Consider that an independent analysis conducted by this writer led to some interesting findings, which include, inter alia, the following:

· Liberia will need about 24,000 ground combat troops and up to 35,000 overall Army personnel, in order to permanently stabilize the country after U.N. troop withdrawal. And this excludes the reserves.

· The defense system needs to be upgraded with acquisition of F16s, AV-8B Harriers, A10 Warthogs, for the Air Force; M1A1 tanks and light armor for the Army; and littoral patrol craft and destroyers for the Navy as part of a long shopping list.

· Liberia currently needs about 8,000 Police officers to meet the desired officer: civilian ratio of 1:400 and ultimately 12,000 by the beginning of the next decade to effectively perform law enforcement duties throughout the country.

· Issues of border smuggling and illegal immigration would need to be tackled by a combination of Army reconnaissance [ ground, air, and riverine], military intelligence using Unattended Ground Sensors (UGS) and Ground Surveillance Radars (GSRs), immigration & customs patrols and depots equipped with modern inspection technology [e.g. Pulse Fast Neutron Activation (PFNA) Analysis, Nuclear Quadrupole Resonance], and establishment of regional internal trade management centers with modern financial accountability mechanisms .

· Recruitment, training, and comprehensive transformation of the security forces will require up to 12 years while international peacekeepers are phased out.

· Over 2,700 civilians would need to be hired to serve as Human Rights Observers (HROs) permanently deployed at law enforcement centers to protect the interests of arrestees and detainees by ensuring accountability and provision of inmate support services .

· Appropriate incentives like decent salaries and non-taxable allowances would be required to hire and retain quality personnel. If inflation is considered, salaries could range from U.S. $12,000 - $48,000 per annum in the year 2010 and hundreds of millions of dollars overall.

When acquisition costs, training, security infrastructure development, and temporary payroll subsidy are considered, the cost to the international community would be a few billion dollars, most of which would be borne by U.S. tax payers. Yet, this is not a bad deal when one considers the economic benefits that the U.S. could reap.

If both sides could analyze the issues much better, a compromise solution could be achieved in the end. This could be possible by substituting U.S. troop deployment with units from other ABCA (American, British, Canadian, Australian) or NATO countries. Thus, a country like Canada could lead the peacekeeping force while Britain or Australia could lead other law enforcement agencies. This would serve the interests of both parties well because Liberians and their liberal supporters would be assured of a strong western presence in the peacekeeping force while the U.S. would avoid troop deployment and maintain confidence in the quality of leadership of the force. Allowing Africans and other non-ABCA nations to dominate the ranks and leadership may just not be the right idea at this time.

About the Author: The writer, a Liberian chemist and independent defense analyst, is completing a study on Reforming Liberia’s National Security Institutions.