The Resumption Of US Military Activity In Niger Puts France On The Strategic Backfoot

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Yves here. It should come as no surprise that the France and the US are doing some fancy footwork in Africa after the coup in Niger and then Gabon, followed by some key African nations not being willing to support ECOWAS in military intervention (for instance, neighbors Algeria and Chad called for a “diplomatic solution”).

We also have this tweet in today’s Links, but it demonstrates French impotence:

By Andrew Korybko, a Moscow-based American political analyst who specializes in the global systemic transition to multipolarity in the New Cold War. He has a PhD from MGIMO, which is under the umbrella of the Russian Foreign Ministry. Originally published at his website

France is forced to react to the latest trends of patriotic military coups and the US’ newfound pragmatic response to the most recent one in Niger, the latter of which saw the resumption of its military activity there after Nuland struck a deal with the junta. It can either try to destabilize the region out of desperation or begin pragmatically adapting to everything through much more reasonable responses like the one that it just showed after the Gabonese coup a few weeks ago.

The nearly past two months since late July’s patriotic military coup in Niger have been characterized by uncertainty as the junta braced for a French-backed Nigerian-ledECOWAS invasion while the West braced for the complete eradication of its influence from that geostrategic state. Neither has thus far happened, with a mild mix of these two scenarios unfolding instead. Regional pressure is still being put on the junta as French influence recedes, but there hasn’t been any war and US influence remains.

The top US Air Force commander for Europe and Africa revealed earlier this week that his country has recently resumed its intelligence and surveillance missions in Niger as a result of negotiations with its military authorities after having largely stopped them right after this summer’s coup. This development shouldn’t come as a surprise for those who paid attention to Acting Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland’s trip to Niamey in early August. Here are three relevant analyses to bring others up to speed:

* “Victoria Nuland Revealed Some Interesting Details About Her Discussions In Niger

* “France Reportedly Thinks That The US Backstabbed It During Nuland’s Trip To Niger

* “Why’s US Media Talking About Nigerien General Moussa Barmou All Of A Sudden?

To oversimplify the detailed insight shared in those pieces, the US has flexibly adapted to the latest multipolar trends sweeping across West Africa by pragmatically exploring a deal with the junta whereby the threatened invasion will be called off in exchange for retaining the US’ two drone bases. The new military authorities can then gradually squeeze French influence out of their country, but the US won’t allow them to solicit Russia’s “Democratic Security” services through Wagner or other such groups.

This speculative arrangement would account for the status quo that was earlier described and cogently explains why the junta just agreed to allow the US to resume its military activity in the country. From the first’s perspective, its able to consolidate its power in parallel with averting a larger war, while the second benefits by safeguarding the future of its bases in this region and curtailing Russian influence. The obvious wild card is France, however, which is becoming increasingly desperate.

Niger’s patriotic military coup caught its policymakers by surprise and represents the latest blow to their hegemonic policy in West Africa, but everything is made even worse by the US exploiting France’s difficulties to entrench and possibly even expand its own influence in Paris’ traditional sphere. Washington is doing that by cutting a pragmatic deal with the junta that could become the precedent for managing its ties with other countries in the region, especially those with military governments.

These dynamics can lead to France trying to destabilize the region out of desperation to regain its lost influence, ergo the continued risk of it trying to bribe ECOWAS into a Nigerian-led invasion or possibly even going it alone as a last resort. The US could also greenlight either operation in the event that its negotiations with Niger abruptly end, not to mention if the junta demands that it depart from their country just like it officially ordered France to do.

The other possible course of action that Paris could undertake is to recalibrate its regional strategy by taking a page from Washington’s playbook in pragmatically reacting to patriotic military coups, or even better yet from its perspective, proactively shaping the situation so as to preemptively avert them. The first part of this proposal is already on display in Gabon after the junta there just agreed to resume military cooperation with France on a case-by-case basis, while the second has yet to be seen.

If France decides to switch things up, then it could propose more equitable partnerships with those African countries where it still has influence in an attempt to try and control rising anti-imperialist sentiment there. That would have to bring tangible benefits to the majority of the population in order to remove the grassroots basis upon which the recent spree of patriotic military coups has been justified, however, so it’s unlikely to materialize since it entails very uncomfortable compromises from Paris’ side.

Nevertheless, the point is that France is forced to react to the latest trends of patriotic military coups and the US’ newfound pragmatic response to the most recent one in Niger, the latter of which saw the resumption of its military activity there after Nuland struck a deal with the junta. It can either try to destabilize the region out of desperation or begin pragmatically adapting to everything through much more reasonable responses like the one that it just showed after the Gabonese coup a few weeks ago.

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  1. John

    First France’s submarine deal with Australia and now winkling it out of Niger. Neither is at all like the hamfisted actions passing for diplomacy that characterize the current top dogs in the DC Bubble. Except for this: the US won’t permit Niger to deal with Russia, the Wagner group? So much for Nigerien sovereignty.

    1. Susan the other

      We seem to be doing stick and carrot diplomacy. First we send in the lovely Victoria Nuland to be rude enough to get herself “kicked out” of Niger and then we follow up with a generous military-cooperation offer they can’t understand, err refuse. Where did the “two drone bases” come from, thin air? This convenient compromise has the distinct flavor of Blinkin’s hurried little speech at Johns Hopkins, no? We definitely need all the friends we can get, so “Cooperation you can’t refuse?” And France gets dumped because France still runs on colonial time. Even though they bent over backwards in Mali trying to maintain some control and at least appear to be humble humanitarians. It would be very amusing if France joined the BRICS.

  2. Alan Roxdale

    The Western allies are being driven out of the plum geopolitical spots and are now fighting over what remains. France cannot hope to keep its West African commonwealth it itself now.

  3. furnace

    France was greedy with maintaining its control over its (erstwhile) colonies. Whatever pragmatic reasons for the CFA Franc (of which I’m not convinced in the slightest), it’s clear they feel entitled to keep controlling the political destinies of the Françafrique. This could only result in the predictable outcome of Africans all over the continent bitterly despising the French, and thus being much more open to any power that has a modicum of respect for them (even the US! This seems to be a rare instance of good old US pragmatism, as opposed to the current Ukraine delusions). As Chima Okezue repeatedly points out, you can’t really blame the French for literally all the problems in the Sahel, but you sure can blame them for a disproportionate amount of those.

    I was doing some research on Niger these past couple of weeks, and I repeatedly read the sentiment that “Niger is insignificant, they’re only the fifth or seventh largest producer of Uranium, you can replace that with Kazakhstan or Canada” and well, yeah, that is technically true. But can Orano (majority French-state owned) replace their investments in all those mines? Or in the future Uranium production in Niger, which seems to be not bad, as per the 2022 Uranium Report by the Nuclear Energy Agency, with Niger’s Uranium being of a relatively good grade for Africa, as well as a significant part of it not being in the topmost cohort for extraction price (p. 20) (and this, of course, is taking only Uranium into account.) I might be wrong, but I believe that the French desperation with the situation in Niger is not so much, or at least not only, political (as per the “loss of influence” thesis), and much more economic in nature.

    As for the coup in Gabon, Okezue points out that they mostly don’t care one way or another about the French, which is why it didn’t elicit any unreasonable responses. It’s a whole different political situation there, and seems not to be very comparable to the situation in Niger.

  4. The Rev Kev

    I suspect that the US wants to push the French of out Africa and take over themselves. Like with Niger, perhaps a deal was made. The US looks the other way while France gets pushed out of the country so long as they get to keep their drone bases and that the government does not invite in the Wagner group. France may want ECOWAS to go in and get Niger back for them but if this leads to a regional war and conflict, that would endanger the operation of those US bases. Hence, I would expect the US to back the coup leaders and help get France out of their country.

    1. vao

      I suspect that the US wants to push the French of out Africa and take over themselves.

      This is an old strategy, put in place by the USA just after WWII. Then, the idea was to favour the independence of colonies throughout Africa, Asia and Oceania — so that US corporations could take over the rich pickings then controlled by colonial monopolies from the UK, France, Portugal…

      The results were mixed: supplanting British firms was fairly easy, but French ones proved surprisingly difficult to evict (because of that crafty Françafrique). And that is only when the colonies themselves did not adopt full-fledged communism, nationalizing everything, like in Indochina.

      So what is happening in the Sahel nowadays is just the belated completion of a long-standing policy of the USA — displacing the previous players, with no qualms, even when these are supposedly close allies.

      1. Geoffrey

        “To be America’s enemy is dangerous. But to be America’s friend is fatal”. – attributed to H Kissinger

  5. SocalJimObjects

    The French will soon be reduced to signing the Croissant Agreement where they get to keep their embassy and an uninterrupted supply of croissants for leaving the new Niger government alone. If this were actually a play from Shakespeare, one would certainly hear the phrase “My Niger, My Niger for a croissant!!!”

  6. Synoia

    The most telling county that embodies the US appr0ach to Africa is Liberia.

    Liberia was, and may still be, considered the most unfortunate country in Africa.

    Liberia was offered as a country where us African Americans ex slaves could return to Africa after the US’ emancipation.

    In my fathers view, Liberia was the worst developed and governed in west Africa My father, who was the manager of an petroleum storage company in the English speaking countries of West Africa.

    Imho, the treatment of Africa is that Nigeria is a huge Crude exporter, but thanks Shell Oil, does not have a refinery.

    Thus the Nigerians do not benefit from their resources, but must import refined Petroleum and live with the devastation of the environment in the Nigerian oil fields.

    This appears to me to be a clear example of both the West’s neocolonialism and its greed.

    1. digi_owl

      That is the IMF playbook in a nutshell. Put for raw material extraction or cash crop growing for export, import the refined products on the open market.

      I think Venezuela is in much the same bind, where the only refinery that can handle their sour crude is in Texas.

    2. Stev_Rev

      The Dangote refinery (one of the world’s largest and most complex) opened earlier this year and the government is trying to get the four state-owned refineries back on line by the end of the year.

  7. Feral Finster

    So, what does France propose to do about it?

    Act miffed but still drop to their proverbial knees the moment an American official snaps his fingers?

  8. WillD

    With this move, the US has now alienated Europe’s two largest economies, Germany & France, and therefore weakened its alliance with Europe. Both countries have very good reasons to be angry with and resentful of the US.

    Already, many smarter Europeans are regretting being dragged into the US’ proxy war against Russia, and as their economic situation deteriorates more and more, they will be forced to recognise the harsh reality of their alliance and dependence on the US – their increasing subjugation!

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