For many centuries Africa has been of inherent interest to leading players on the international arena. It is a vast continent with a population exceeding 1 billion and natural riches, which, according to various estimates, amount to 30-40% of all global mineral reserves. The author is referring first and foremost to energy resources, rare earth elements, Vanadium, minerals such as Columbite, group 5 elements like Niobium, and Platinum. And the region of Central Africa is rich in Uranium.
European nations began their conquest of Africa as early as the Middle Ages, and by the start of the 20th century, the continent had been divided among the biggest colonial powers – England, France, Belgium, Spain, Italy and Portugal.
In the 1960s, after African nations succeeded in their struggle against Western colonialism, two new powerful players arrived on the scene – the United States and the USSR. The confrontation between the two led to a division of sorts of African countries into two groups – in one, the USA gradually forced the colonial powers out, and in another, socialism dominated the political landscape.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, only one powerful player remained in Africa, i.e. the United States. However, both France and Great Britain periodically attempted to exert their influence in the region by interfering with its development and competing with the United States while, at the same time, protecting their own interests in making profit.
After the European Union (EU) was established in 1993, it also began to show its own interest in Africa.
In mid-2000s, a new phase in the confrontation for dominance in the region began when another player arrived on the scene – the PRC.
Up to now, the rivalry in Africa among the EU, the United States and China has not resulted in the use of force by any of these powerful players, but it has led to numerous conflicts between African countries causing the situation on the continent to deteriorate. On account of their strategic interests and the desire to establish control over the exploitation and commercialization of Africa’s riches, these for now main external players in the region began to actively expand their political and economic influence in Africa and (perhaps, above all!) increase their military presence in the continent.
The United States has been particularly successful on this front, there are at least 50 US military bases in Africa, including military and emergency operations centers as well as joint security zones. US air bases, compounds, port facilities and fuel tanks are present in thirty four African nations, including regional powers such as Kenya, Ethiopia and Algeria.
In the given climate, Washington’s recent decision to reduce the number of its servicemen stationed in Africa is hard not to notice. In January, Pentagon Press Secretary Alyssa Farah made an announcement about plans to withdraw some US combat troops with the Army’s 101st Airborne Division from Africa. US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper confirmed the decision and stated that the United States would not be removing all of its forces from Africa although an ongoing global troop review could result in their reduction. Voice of America reported that Pentagon officials had “described the move as the first of many” that would impact the way the US military operated on the continent, as it shifted “its focus from counterterrorism to the great power competition” with nations such as Russia and China (the US administration announced similar plans regarding their troops in Afghanistan). In addition, United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) has already “shifted its strategy from degrading violent extremist organizations” in Africa to simply containing their spread.
The move probably does not signify that the United States, which caused numerous military conflicts over natural resources and geopolitical control in various parts of the world in recent decades, has decided to reduce its military presence in Africa, an important region for the US, for no particular reason.
Nicole Vilboux, an associate researcher specializing in the United States and trans-Atlantic relations at France’s Foundation for Strategic Research (FRS), thinks that the decision to reduce the number of troops illustrated “the change in American military strategy, now centered on the Chinese and Russian threat”. According to the expert, the move showed that Africa was “no longer a priority”, and that under the Trump presidency, the focus was “on preparing for a conflict with China or Russia”. She also said that the US leadership wanted to orient “the American military apparatus towards the preparation for a future war or for a large-scale military deterrence”.
This theory finds support in statements made by intelligence agency officials, who have called Russia and China USA’s key opponents, and in requests to increase military spending on countering the threat posed by the two countries.
As part of US preparations for a potential war against the PRC and Russia, the commanding General of US Army Materiel Command at the time, Gustave F. Perna, stated in February that the United States military was building new Army Prepositioned Stocks (APS) sets for Europe and studying new stockpiles for the Asia Pacific region. The United States Army Europe (USAREUR) has 5 key APS sets in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland. The stockpiles include enough “armored vehicles, artillery shells, and other essentials” to equip a military unit. Two other support facilities are apparently located in Germany. In January, Bloomberg reported that the US Army would expand its efforts to counter China and Russia “by deploying a specialized task force to the Pacific”, which would likely be based east of Taiwan and the Philippines. And the move “would be bolstered by a new agreement with the National Reconnaissance Office that develops and manages US spy satellites”.
In an interview with Fox News on August 9 of this year, US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said: “The bottom line is: we basically are moving troops further east, closer to Russia’s border to deter them”.
He also stated that President Trump’s direction in early June accelerated the process that had already been under way to address issues such as the deterrence of Russia, strengthening the alliance and reassuring US allies.
Donald Trump’s presidency is bound to go down in history as a period when many secrets pertaining to USA’s cynical policies have been revealed, and when it has become clear that they have been based on hatred towards Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and other countries which refuse to obey orders from Washington with its neo-colonial ambitions. Not long ago, we saw that there were two Americas, one that appeared to urge the world to defend human rights and US democracy, and another that operated via US intelligence agencies, which staged “color” revolutions, coups and removed governments that Washington deemed objectionable from power. However, recently, the United States has taken off its mask and started applying its forceful pressure on inconvenient for the US entities and people openly and brazenly.
Vladimir Odintsov, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.