The US Neglects Oil-Rich Africa at Its Peril

Article excerpt

AS the Islamic Salvation Front threatens the political order in Algeria, and as the military government suspends movement toward democracy, United States policymakers must assess the impact of instability in Africa on our own national security.

The instability may affect US oil interests: The US has consistently imported twice, if not three times, as much oil from Algeria as from Kuwait, whose sovereignty we went to war over. Immediately before Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, the US was importing 335,000 barrels per day (BPD) from Algeria, compared with only 164,000 BPD from Kuwait (these being the highest levels of imports from Kuwait since at least 1982).

While the US has developed an active policy to prevent political instability in the Middle East, the same is not true for Africa. Nonetheless, political instability in Africa can, similarly, threaten the import of oil on which the US depends.

Since the end of the cold war, US policymakers have scaled back their assessment of Africa's importance to American security. Whereas once they viewed the continent as an important piece on the East-West chessboard, it is now seen as relatively insignificant. Despite the reality of US reliance on African oil, the administration's perception is that political instability in Africa, without its cold-war context, does not endanger the US. As one leading policymaker has noted: "There's a profound lack of int erest (in Africa) in this town and in the White House right now.... There's a feeling that, with the cold war over, we don't really need a policy."

What the administration defines in the Middle East - but not in Africa - is a US national-security interest predicated on the stability of price and supply of imported oil. In the Middle East this security interest drives our relations, while in Africa our needs remain neglected.

US attention has focused on the Middle East for good reason: The Gulf states contain at least 585 billion barrels of oil reserves. …