Research: Publications

Convergent Interests: U.S. energy security and the "securing" of Nigerian democracy

February 5, 2007 | Report

By Paul Lubeck, Michael Watts, Ronnie Lipschutz

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In its anxious search for energy security, the United States has embarked on a risky strategy to arm and train the militaries of oil-producing West African countries under the rationale of pursuing the Global War on Terror.  Over the past 15 years, amidst widening crises in the Middle East and volatile petroleum markets, the U.S. has quietly institutionalized a West African-based oil supply strategy, closely focused on an “Oil Triangle” centered on the Gulf of Guinea.  These policies are deeply flawed because they will serve to undermine America’s energy security even as they breed growing resentment and violence against U.S. economic and strategic interests.

In order to manage this policy, the U.S. Department of Defense just announced the establishment of an African military command—AFRICOM—to spearhead an “oil and terrorism” policy, which will oversee the deployment of U.S. forces in the area and supervise distribution of money, materiel and military training to regional militaries and proxies. Pentagon analysts and generals claim that vast “uncontrolled spaces” in Saharan and Sahelian Africa, which are said to include large portions of northern Nigeria, are rife with terrorists seeking to damage the United States, even though the evidence for such claims is woefully thin.  Nevertheless, a $500 million “Trans-Sahara Counter Terrorism Initiative” (TSCTI), which will tie African militaries to American policies, is in the works. Given the internal security problems often found in resource rich countries, it is much more likely that the newly-acquired skills and equipment will be directed against domestic opponents than global terrorists.

The contradictions of this policy are evident in Nigeria, which currently provides 10-12 percent of U.S. oil imports and serves as the cornerstone of the strategy even as it demonstrates its deeply-flawed reasoning. Since the end of 2005, the on- and offshore oilfields of the Niger Delta––the major source of the country’s oil and gas––have essentially become ungovernable as a site of on-going and violent contestation between local ethnic groups, oil corporations and the Nigerian government. This violence results in repeated reductions and shutdowns of oil, sometimes exceeding 500,000 barrels per day.  Moreover, reports the World Bank, some 80 percent of Nigeria’s oil monies flow to one percent of the population, while 75 percent of the country’s people live on roughly one dollar per day.  In other words, the United States is relying on increased oil production from the African Oil Triangle to reduce its dependence on Middle East petroleum, but could replace one set of insecurities with another.

In fact, militarization by the United States will exacerbate an already tense situation in Nigeria and other parts of the Oil Triangle without having any effect on terrorists.  Only a concerted effort to support Nigeria’s democratic forces and legislative oversight of the country’s presidency can ensure American and the region’s security, and quell wholesale theft of oil revenues as well as the insurgencies, criminality and social banditry now rampant in oil-producing areas

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