Merchant of Death
Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible

Blood from Stones

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China has a Strategic Plan for Africa, while the U.S. Does Not
One of the most interesting shadow games going on in sub-Saharan Africa is China's efforts to buy into the natural resource markets there, while the rest of the world, including the United States, largely sits back watch. The United States, in particular, still has no long-term strategic plan for the region, nor is there likely to be one soon, according to senior officials dealing with the issue.

One senior U.S. official, lamenting how far ahead in planning and thinking the Chinese are than his own government, said the relationship between the United States and China in Africa does not necessarily have to be adversarial. But, he added, the potential for conflict over oil and natural gas and oil is great, in part because the U.S. has no long-term strategic vision for engaging the region. The key potential flash point is the Gulf of Guinea (Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon), which currently accounts for roughly 25 percent of China's oil supplies. The region also produces almost 20 percent of the U.S. supplies. With the current imperative to lessen dependence on Middle East oil, this competition could and will get ugly.

China does have a strategic plan. They are locking up oil sales in Nigeria, Sudan and elsewhere and negotiating for iron ore, bauxite and a host of other strategic natural resources. They are willing to build roads, hospitals, schools, stadiums and government palaces in exchange for access.

The Chinese, undoubtedly, bring several advantages to the game. When they enter into economic relationships they are able to offer the entire package of benefits to their partner: cheap, relatively-low tech weapons systems and maintenence packages; protection from criticism in the United Nations Security Council (see Sudan and Darfur); and no rules governing gifts to the leadership of the host countries. Bribes still work.

The Chinese have other advantages. They are not a former colonial power and helped many of the leaders in the "liberation" wars of the 1970s and 1980s. They have few moral qualms about who they deal with or how.

This is not to say the United States should adopt the Chinese model. But policy makers do need to begin to finally define U.S. national strategic interests and take appropriate steps now to insure that the Chinese don't take and hold the best of everything.
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