A Matter of Convenience: A Case Study of U.S. Relations with Liberia, Air University, 9781249450467


Africa is emerging as a crucial focus area for United States security policy. The current administration’s dual security and humanitarian goals give rise to the question: What is the real foundation of U.S. foreign relations with African states? Is it based in interest or compassion? To answer these questions, this paper makes a case study of U.S. relations with Liberia. Liberia, an independent nation in 1847, grew out of settlements established by freed American slaves in the early 1820s. Despite assisting Liberia at various times in its early years, the United States remained relatively disinterested in Liberia until after WWI. In the 1920s, the United States involved itself heavily in Liberian affairs, forcing to accept a contract with the Firestone Corporation and then attacking Liberia’s sovereignty through the League of Nations to protect American financial interests. WWII eased U.S. pressure on Liberia, particularly since its geographical position in Africa made it strategically attractive to the United States, which built key infrastructure on Liberian soil. That strategic interest continued through the Cold War, the United States using Liberia as needed in the struggle against the Soviets. This interest peaked with the fall of the Americo-Liberian dominated government in 1980 and waned at the end of the Cold War when Liberia’s strategic value dropped precipitously. U.S. policymakers took a generally hands-off approach to Liberia’s civil war in the 1990s, although the reasons for this approach changed over time. In the final analysis, relations between the United States and African countries, such as Liberia, most certainly spring from self-interest. A unique opportunity now exists, however, to combine interest-based security policy with humanitarian efforts in establishing stable, flourishing societies in the African countries.

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