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Trump Administration’s National Security Strategy Promotes a U.S.-Africa Trade-Based “Alternative to China’s Extractive Economic Footprint” and Threatens Sanctions and Foreign Aid Penalties for Corrupt Practices and Other Wrongs

This post is an excerpt from a MassPoint Occasional Note. Read the full publication here.

The Trump Administration’s U.S. National Security Strategy (NSS), released in December 2017, is a self-described “America first” “strategy of principled realism” that identifies and outlines plans to tackle military, political and economic threats facing the United States globally and in specific regions of the world.

Notably, in the two pages of the NSS that are devoted to the National Security Strategy in the Africa context, none of Africa’s 54 nations are mentioned, but China is named twice. The NSS notes with concern China’s “expanding . . . economic military presence in Africa, growing from a small investor in the continent two decades ago into Africa’s largest trading partner today.” China’s methods and influence in Africa are described unflatteringly.  “Some Chinese practices,” the NSS states bluntly, “undermine Africa’s long-term development by corrupting elites, dominating extractive industries, and locking countries into unsustainable and opaque debts and commitments.”

To counter Chinese presence and influence in Africa, the NSS outlines a trade-not-aid approach and suggests that U.S. political and economic efforts will be geared toward willing or partnership-ready nations that are “promising,” are “reform-oriented,” and/or “seek to move beyond assistance to partnerships that promote prosperity.” Specifically, the Trump Administration has pledged to “offer American goods and services, both because it is profitable for . . . [the United States] and because it serves as an alternative to China’s often extractive economic footprint on the continent.

As to potential punitive measures that might be deployed to implement the Trump Administration’s national security strategy in Africa, the NSS is more descriptive, but nevertheless imprecise. The NSS does not specify what types of “sanctions” may be utilized to counter corruption and other wrongs. Nor does the NSS indicate whether all or some categories of foreign aid might be suspended in response to corruption.

Such uncertainty notwithstanding, parties in and involved in Africa should take note of the U.S. National Security Strategy in Africa, and assess it in the context of the Trump Administration’s “America First” posture, its willingness to counter real or perceived unfair trade practices (including corruption), its apparent hostility to foreign aid as a concept and in practice, as well as the recent adoption of global-in-scope U.S. anti-corruption sanctions pursuant to EO 13818 and the Magnitsky Human Rights Act.

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