Term Paper: U.S. Foreign Policy in Southern Africa

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¶ … U.S. Foreign Policy in southern Africa

The United States' foreign policy towards Southern Africa has long couched between the Cold War paradigm and hasty decisions of self-service. In his treatise on the American treatment of Africa's southern region, Helen Purkitt aptly described the "tilt" towards South Africa that started in the 1970s and continued later under the Reagan regime. "The characteristic decision-making process toward the region was aptly summarized," she wrote, "in the comprehensive policy review on U.S. foreign policy initiated by Kissinger during the early Nixon administration as being ad hoc and based on momentary costs and benefits." The most nascent interactions between the Southern African states and the United States were limned by the American philosophy so wed to the status quo but defined by the ongoing battle with communism abroad, often seamlessly attached to the cause of freedom fighters and native liberators across the globe. Never were these arguments more true than in the American policy towards South Africa, Namibia, and the Angolan Civil War.

Since the middle of the last century, the United States has parroted a secondary role in the international aspects of the African political process, stepping aside for Mother England and her European peers to address their former colonies while they pushed through their final stages of independence. While actual attainment of the freedoms for which they fought lay far on the horizon, the bloody warfare that burned the nebulous concept of 'liberty' into the African South was hot on the minds of political leaders far beyond the confines of local tensions. Real conversation about the developing 'African Problem' began in Washington during Eisenhower's second term (1957-1961), when the National Security Council developed a proposal for the division of labor in the developing world - notably, the United States would gain umbrella control for the Latin American region, while Europe would serve as the satellite leader for post-colonial Africa. The real policy was well sewn into the social conversation written between the pages.

Since many of the objectives were contradictory, the pursuit of one or more often made it difficult to pursue other goals. Resulting U.S. policies were often incorrect or contradictory."

This paternalistic hierarchy set the stage for the covert operations, ensuing confusion, and nefarious complications to foreign policy between the United States and Africa in the coming years.

While ostensibly the African prospect - replete with brewing racial concerns and potential economic value - was left to European guise, the United States had already witnessed a long history of being drawn into the continent. "As far back as the beginning of World War II, the U.S. has been drawn to Africa by non-African imperatives." First the Nazi occupation of Europe, soon the nuclear weaponry from the Belgian Congo, and then the Axis occupation of Ethiopia, the United States found foreign home in Africa. After the first wave of decolonization in 1956, Cold War politics and post-war idealism drew the U.S. back.

Thanks to then Vice President Richard Nixon, the U.S. decided to place an American Embassy in every independent African country. He was motivated largely by the fear of communist takeovers in many of the fragile newly-independent nations. At the same time, Wilsonian idealism required that the newly emerging African nations receive U.S. assistance for development."

The resulting policy fit well within the public ideology of containment and appeals to promote national interests abroad, serving largely as "adequate justifications for U.S. foreign policy in the region to a largely uninterested American public." Nevertheless, the conflicting ideals at the heart of Washington's earliest approach to South Africa and its greater region were already well established by the time Reagan approach the national political scene.

The next two decades were filled by the collapse of the Congo, the first United Nations peacekeeping mission into the region led by the U.S., and the height of the Cold War. The Nixon-Bezhnev detente notably took place in Africa, where, in Addis Ababa in 1971, the same script that would play out during the "Reagan Doctrine" in the South was officially dictated. While the years between the early Nixon approach to Africa and those followed by Reagan lay calm, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan forced the Jimmy Carter to reanalyze the status quo and the capital Africa proposed in the ongoing war against communism, first realized in Angola.

Reagan assumed office as the U.S. diplomatic and military forces sought base rights, facilities, and transit authorizations throughout East Africa, extending the American presence in Africa from Somalia to Kenya. At the same time, three political parties were blooming to the south where, in Portuguese West Africa, the European colonizers had refused peaceful decolonization and a bloody 14-year independence guerilla war ensued. Fighting for the cause for freedom, the three emerging native strengths were the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), a mixed-race movement linked to the Eastern Bloc; the National Liberation Front of Angola (FNLA), the ethnic Bakongo force tied to Mobutu in Zaire and supported by the United States; and the National Union for Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), steered by Jonas Malheiro Savimbi from the cultural enclave and power of Angola's hinterland.

When Angola gained independence in 1975, it was the Marxist-inspired MPLA that attained control. The MPLA was supported by the Soviet Union, drawing intense U.S. concern and further onslaught from FNLA and UNITA. The Americans were immediately drawn in. Kissinger had too-long ignored the turbulent social seas in Angola in favor of intent involvement in South Africa, where the NSA's Study Memorandum 39 established a clear line of policy for the Nixon regime to adopt. While concerns to the South and to the far North occupied Oval Office and situational conversations, the lacking attention bestowed upon Angola and the rest of the region became abundantly clear as a massive failure.

The failure of a comprehensive U.S. policy review in the early 1970s to anticipate changes in the Southern African region at one level is not surprising. Henry Kissinger, as the architect of Nixon's foreign policy had ordered this review to justify closer cooperation with South Africa while choosing to ignore the realities of policies in Angola and throughout the region."

Bender reported that it was this failure, at heart, that proved to be the most fundamental flaw in American policy towards the region, which resulted in a "commitment to losing sides," and, at the same time, giving the Soviet Union an undesirable advantage.

When Reagan gained control and established his nominal "Doctrine," the pro-West UNITA fighters were engaged in an already bloody civil war. They played the role of insurgents, receiving support only from apartheid South Africa, actively involved in a similar issue with Namibia, to evade the Marxist leaders now in control of the country; independence was not in the air. Fearing the threat of the status quo politics in apartheid South Africa, critical to the United States' survival in the region, and the greater problem posed by the mounting red bloc throughout the region, Reagan approached the Congress with the appeal for new policy. There, he encountered a verbal struggle with what Purkitt defines as "script," or the ability to paint the picture in such a way that the verbiage was neither incompatible with congressional policy nor at odds with executive determination, in other words, the plan to make foreign policy sound American to a diverse audience on the Hill.

Although the U.S. foreign policy elite agreed on the general elements contained in the Cold War public script, the elite consisted, nonetheless, of individuals with differing ideological assumptions, beliefs, and interests. There are often important disagreements and maneuvering over specific foreign policies among the U.S. elite. The foreign policy elite is composed of Democrats and Republicans, business and intellectual leaders, mainstream liberals and conservatives. Across nine administrations, members of this elite framed and justified their preferred policy proposals towards southern Africa in terms that were consistent with the need to contain communism while promoting U.S. interests - economic interests, democracy, and world peace."

In terms of Angola, the American interest there was clear. The Southern African region promoted a large swathe of hopes and capabilities for the American prospect that were self-evident; by keeping foot in the region not only was the script for Cold War politic, but also the fast-line to key strategic minerals, like uranium, highly desirable to the United States and feared in access by the Communist Bloc. Despite differences among America's governmental elite and the holes in the presented argument, the fundamental components of the Angolan conflict erupted into a set of decisions that led to covert-aid missions that sought to reaffirm Washington politics. "Thus, covert programs and gaps between the principles espoused in rhetoric and specific policies are common means to pursue policies that are in direct conflict with the belief components of the official script."

At the same time, the South African Afrikaner foreign policy elite reinforced Kissinger's plan for the region, and as such, the covert-mission to provide UNITA with the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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U.S. Foreign Policy in Southern Africa.  (2005, October 27).  Retrieved April 25, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/us-foreign-policy-southern-africa/730199

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"U.S. Foreign Policy in Southern Africa."  Essaytown.com.  October 27, 2005.  Accessed April 25, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/us-foreign-policy-southern-africa/730199.