It's Time for United States' Intervention in Liberia

By Al-Hassan Conteh, Ph.D.

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

June 27, 2003

Liberia currently holds the key to promoting United States' foreign policy goal of ending conflict and enhancing democracy in West Africa. It is for this reason that Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the UK representative on the UN Security Council, has advised that the United States should lead a force to stop the carnage in Liberia. "Britain had performed a similar function to help end a 10-year civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone and France was spearheading a peace-keeping force to try and end a civil war in its former colony Cote d'Ivoire," he argued.

I support his view, and call on the Bush Administration to do all within its powers to act now to bring peace to Liberia, its long time security friend and ally. In view of recent evidence of Liberia's destabilizing role in the Mano River Sub-region, and its damaging effects on international security, Liberia should be added to the Pentagon's new map of West Africa.

But the urgent prerequisite for US intervention is a workable cease-fire by the warring parties, and a viable peace agreement at the ongoing talks in Ghana. ECOWAS leaders should heed the call of their mediator in the Liberian talks, General Abdulsalami Abuabakar, to hold a summit to create workable parameters of compliance by all stakeholders, especially the warring parties: the Government of Liberia (GOL), the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL). Once these prerequisites are met, The US should make manifest its current strategy of quiet diplomacy and working behind the scene by assembling a "coalition of the willing," especially regional African actors, to implement the existing cease fire, and pending Accra peace agreements in Liberia.

Never before in the history of human conflict, has there been a clarion call for intervention by the international community, to a seemingly reluctant superpower with deep, historical ties to a collapsed African nation-state. While the rationale for this unanimous appeal is challenged by many complex factors, it is backed by undisputed historical evidence: the US understanding of Liberian political and security environments, its Cold War benefits and policy strategies towards Liberia, which were couched in its national security interests, its recent history of significant investment in Liberia's humanitarian crisis, its legal and moral commitments in the founding of Liberia in the Nineteenth Century, and the plethora of downright mundane factors appealing to the human condition (e.g., family ties, religious and economic relations) that have caused an endurance in US-Liberia relations.

On the question of understanding, for example, I was not surprised, when participating in a project for Liberia's Ministry of Planning in the early 1980s that prepared Liberia's development maps and baseline indicators, how deeply our research team relied on US base maps (ranging from air photo interpretations to geological maps of Liberia and related data). It was for the same reason, that the first Economic Community of West African States Cease Fire Monitoring Group's (ECOMOG's) mission to Liberia turned to the US Embassy near Monrovia for maps to assist its military intelligence when it landed in Liberia in 1990 amidst NPFL attacks.

I need not overemphasize the points about Liberia's strategic interest to the US during the Cold War, and the United States' role in Liberia's founding, for these are well known facts. It is also well known that the US is the largest donor of humanitarian aid to Liberia through international NGO, including those of the UN system. For example, United States Government aid to Liberia in 1998 was $69 million to fund its strategic objectives, including support for elections, democratization, human rights protection, rule of law activities, and support for the local media.

The endurance issue is very important because of the usual assumption of a "traditional relationship" between the two countries. But the perception of this relationship varies by different actors, and by implication, at various units of analysis. Expectations have therefore not always been met symmetrically. Witness for example, the disappointment of thousands of traumatized Liberians when the USS Kearsarge, with 1,200 Iraq tested marines, was reverted to its base in Virginia, "because a Liberian cease-fire agreement had been signed in Ghana." Nevertheless, the bilateral relationship between Liberia and the US has endured, often because of the altruistic and helping behavior of US and Liberian leaders, especially during the Cold War.

In sum, facing the current reality in a unipolar world of a rapidly declining Liberia, whose stability is critical to current US strategic objectives in West Africa, the US must quickly act by committing the requisite resources to intervene in Liberia. Its intervention must be based on nurturing a win-win strategy for Liberia and the US that can shape their new, strategic relationships. In order for this to happen, perceptive changes based on the old paradigm of "big-brother and small brother" will have to change to a realistic partnership, where both Liberia and the US can take responsibility for adhering to mutually agreeable principles and resources to end the civil war (e.g., disarming the warring parties and setting up a transitional authority), and strengthen Liberian institutions based on democracy, the rule of law, human rights and good governance. By doing this, the Bush Administration would have taken a small step for humankind, and a giant step for humanity, international peace, and security.

About the Author: Al-Hassan Conteh, Ph.D., is a Research Fellow at the Solomon Asch Center for Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, PA.