Controlling Russia and Competing Against China: Africa in the US National Security Strategy Paper

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The United States (US) published its new National Security Strategy Document on October 14, 2022. In the document, the ‘one’ page is devoted to Africa. In addition, Africa is mentioned, albeit slightly, throughout the document.[1]

In light of this document, it can be said that; The US sees Africa as an important region in its growing military rivalry with China and Russia. Africa is not prominently discussed in the document, except for a brief one-page section. According to the sections mentioning Africa, including the one-page section; the operational importance of the region in the US national security strategy is increasing. In addition, the increasing importance of these two countries in the continent should be taken into account in the strategy of developing relations with Africa against China and Russia. Because, while China is the continent’s largest trading partner, Russia is the largest arms marketer to the continent.

One of the most important aspects of the document is the strategy for the US to compete with China and to control Russia in many regions. In the African continent, the Chinese administration has become the largest trading partner of the continental states within the scope of The Belt-Road Project and has greatly increased its influence in the region with its huge infrastructure projects. On the other hand, after the annexation of Crimea in 2014, Moscow has become the largest arms supplier in Africa, with which it has increased its relations to circumvent the sanctions imposed against it, and Russian companies have made large investments in various mines in the continent. Thus, both China and Russia gained great influence on the continent. From this point of view, it is possible to say that both countries understand the strategic importance of Africa and take steps in this direction.

Accordingly, the US wishes to refocus on the threat Russia poses in Africa, especially in Ukraine, as well as in many regions, and on the competition with China. Under the African title of the document, Joe Biden’s administration sees African countries as equal partners and includes the region in this way to achieve many priorities, such as health, climate change, and epidemic. In addition, the US wants to deepen relations with African countries in every way to prevent them from getting closer to Russia and China, and therefore asks countries on the continent to make progress on non-democratic issues such as corruption, human rights, and authoritarianism.

The Washington administration, which wants to reduce the cost of the increased impacts of coups in Africa in recent years by partnering with international and regional organizations, is therefore seeking to resist the democratic decline in Africa. Thinking that Russia is trying to dominate the region through the Wagner Group, the Biden administration will take steps to renew democracy, reduce conflicts, and prevent and solve problems in continental countries to mitigate the impact. Thus, it will pursue a strategy of repelling the destabilizing influence of the Wagner Group and Russia. Apart from Wagner, although Russia’s presence in Africa is limited, its influence in the region is increasing with military partnerships and arms sales agreements.

According to the National Security Strategy Document, the US is seen to follow a policy to put Russia and China behind the scenes by forming a coalition and modernizing its army with states that think like itself. Russia is alleged to have increased its influence with the Wagner Group in at least 10 countries in Africa. Through this special military company, they are believed to be protecting and even operating mines in the countries they are in.

Russia provides security to governments and educates armies in many countries, including Sudan, Libya, the Central African Republic, and finally Mali through the Wagner Group. This situation is interpreted by the US as a further deterioration of the fragile structure of Africa. In addition, the US wants to support African countries against the Wagner Group, which is thought to have caused many negative incidents, such as disinformation, and economic and political pressure in their countries, and to attract them by developing collaborations with them. The US sees such groups as threats to African countries and thinks that these groups destabilize the region more and cause terrorist organizations to gain space/region.

On the other hand, China opened its first overseas military base in Djibouti in 2017 and increased its military and security cooperation with African countries to protect its investments within the scope of The Belt-Road Project. At the same time, it has become the continent’s largest trading partner. It also makes many countries dependent on themselves. In recent years, this has made China a rival to the US, as it has been since before the Biden administration. As in many parts of the world, there is an assessment that the US will follow its path to deepening its relations with countries in the region against China.

China has deeper military, political, and commercial cooperation agreements with continental countries than Russia. China finally opened its first political leadership training school on the continent in Tanzania in July 2022, where it once again demonstrated its desire to spread its ideology. It can be understood that more of this will come from the report announced at the 20th Chinese Communist Party Congress. The US’ fear of increasing China’s influence is understandable. Shortly, China is expected to surpass the US economically, while China’s influence in many countries threatens the interests of the US. This highlights the idea that the United States may also restrict security interests on the African continent, as in other regions.

China has established an economic and commercial basis with African countries under the Belt and Road Initiative and the Forum on China–Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) and continues its work in that direction. However, this is only a part of China’s strategy, which has increased its military appearance in the continent through military and security agreements, and its arms sales to the continent have increased greatly. This worries the US even more. Russia’s economy is far behind the US, so the US considers Russia a threat in some regions rather than a competitor. China, however, is seen by the US as both a competitor and a source of concern, as it has developed economic and political relations with almost every country in the world, and, in addition, it has increased its military power in recent years.

China’s security and military steps in Africa are described by the US as parts of the agenda for diplomatic, political, and most important strategic influence on the continent. At this point, every step and every opportunity that China takes to increase its influence is perceived by the Washington administration as a threat, and this increases the US-Chinese competition in the world.

The speech of the US Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, on October 6, 2022, reveals the competition for the region:[2]

 “One of the most pressing and growing concerns in Africa is the Kremlin-backed Wagner Group’s strategy to tap into the natural resources of the Central African Republic, Mali, and Sudan, as well as other countries. These ill-gotten gains are used to finance Moscow’s war in Africa, the Middle East, and Ukraine.”

This is a claim for now; however, it will be understood from the strategy document that the USA will act by considering it to be true. Moscow’s efforts to expand its place in Africa can be considered understandable in terms of saving the situation in Ukraine and diverting its direction economically.

In this context, the Washington administration’s drafting of a strategy for Moscow also draws attention to Africa’s strategic importance in the field of security. Russia does not have a major global influence like China. The effect it creates is generally regional. However, the US still seeks to control Russian influence as it sees it as a threat to itself and global security. In short, according to the new Security Strategy Document announced by the US administration, it can be said that Washington will take appropriate steps in Africa to control Russia and strengthen its hand in the competition against China.

[1] “U.S. National Security Strategy: Build 21st Century U.S.-Africa Partnerships”, US National Security Council, (Date of Accession: 25.10.2022).

[2] “Russian Mercenaries ‘Exploiting Africa to Fund War in Ukraine’”, The Guardian, (Date of Accession: 25.10.2022).

Ankara Yıldırım Beyazıt Üniversitesi Siyaset Bilimi ve Kamu Yönetimi bölümünde lisans eğitimi alan Göktuğ ÇALIŞKAN, aynı süreçte çift ana dal programı kapsamında üniversitenin Siyasal Bilgiler Fakültesi’nde yer alan Uluslararası İlişkiler bölümünde de eğitim görmüştür. 2017 yılında lisans mezuniyetini tamamladıktan sonra Ankara Hacı Bayram Veli Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler bölümünde yüksek lisans programına başlayan Çalışkan, bu programı 2020 yılında başarı ile tamamlamıştır. 2018 yılında ise çift ana dal programı kapsamında eğitim gördüğü Uluslararası İlişkiler bölümünden mezun olmuştur. Millî Eğitim Bakanlığı (MEB) bursu kapsamında 2017 yılı YLSY programını kazanarak halen Fransa’da dil eğitimi alan Göktuğ Çalışkan aynı zamanda Erciyes Üniversitesi Hukuk Fakültesi son sınıf öğrencisidir. YLSY programı kapsamında Fas'ta Uluslararası Rabat Üniversitesinde Yönetişim ve Uluslararası İstihbarat alanında 2. yüksek lisansını yapmakta olan Çalışkan, Ankara Hacı Bayram Veli Üniversitesi Uluslararası Ilişkiler bölümünde doktorasına başlamıştır. Iyi derecede İngilizce ve Fransızca bilmektedir.