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U.S. Security Policy and Interventions in Liberia and South Africa

Sunday, May 29, 2011

U.S. Security Policy and Interventions in Liberia and South Africa

In deciding to intervene, whether by military, economic, or diplomatic means, prudent leaders tend to favor a conservation of resources. An example was America’s response to chaos in Liberia in 1990. The West African nation, founded by freed American slaves in 1847, has proven no more stable or successful than any of its neighbors that had been colonies. Nor has the American influence yet fostered a greater degree of respect for human rights: ironically, the freed slaves, known as Americo-Liberians, virtually enslaved the native Liberians, who lived under conditions of forced labor and extreme poverty.

Finally, in 1980, Sgt. Samuel K. Doe led a revolt against President William Tolbert, ending 133 years of oppression. Doe, however, proved a tyrant, and he benefited from some $500 million in U.S. aid even as the quality of life for the Liberian populace continued to decline.
When rebels overthrew Doe in 1990, the United States quietly evacuated its diplomatic personnel and other citizens from the troubled nation.
In part because the nation-state is a western construct imposed on Africa, life in post-colonial times has often been characterized by the oppression of one ethnic group by another: first Hutu by Tutsi, then the reverse, first native Liberians by Americo-Liberians, then the reverse, and so on.
As most of these situations involved native African ethnic groups, they have attracted little attention in the outside world. By contrast, the regime of apartheid that prevailed in South Africa for more than four decades after 1948, involving as it did oppression of a black majority by a white minority, invoked sharp criticism throughout the western world.

Although many Americans had long condemned apartheid, the issue did not become a part of American popular culture until 1985, as entertainers and college students took up the cause. Activists pressured the Reagan administration to deal aggressively with South Africa, and to isolate the nation economically. In fact the United States did impose a number of economic restrictions on South Africa, but not to a degree demanded by activists.
The solutions that worked with recalcitrant U.S. states during desegregation in the 1960s would not necessarily be as successful with an independent nation in the 1980s. Reagan reasoned that while apartheid did not comport with U.S. values, South Africa was of far greater value to the United States than many of its most outspoken critics among them Zimbabwe, home to the notorious dictatorship of Robert Mugabe.
Reagan’s administration used a combination of limited economic and diplomatic pressure, while allowing South Africans—who at least had a framework of European style representational government—to work out their own differences. In the end, opposition leader Nelson Mandela was released from prison, apartheid fell, and
Mandela became the president of a new South Africa.


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