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Biden Risks Losing Niger, Surrendering Europe’s Energy Security to Russia

Posted on Tuesday, August 1, 2023
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by Daniel Berman
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AMAC Exclusive – By Daniel Berman

biden, country of Niger

The coup in the West African country of Niger may seem like the sort of geopolitical inside baseball that obsesses the think tank world, while having few implications for the lives or well-being of Americans. In ordinary circumstances this view would have some foundation – but this circumstance is far from ordinary.

The most immediate concern is an intervention from neighboring Nigeria (newspaper copyeditors are now facing the daunting task of differentiating Nigerien, as in, from Niger, and Nigerian, as in, from Nigeria). Such an intervention is looking far from unlikely now, with the Nigeria-dominated Economic Community of West African (ECOWAS) states handing Niger’s military a 15-day ultimatum to restore the elected government or face measures that could include military action.

Such a development would likely draw in not just France, which has 1,500 troops deployed in the country to fight a jihadist insurgency, but also the United States, which has around 1,100 troops in the country and operates drones from Niger Airbase 201.     

In short, we may be about to witness an armed conflict in a country where American and French troops are already present.

The first question which needs to be answered is why thousands of American and French troops are in Niger to begin with.

Officially, they are there to fight a jihadist insurgency, one of the numerous spillover effects of the ill-advised Obama/Clinton intervention to topple Gaddafi’s regime in Libya in 2011.

But numerous countries are now fighting insurgencies without American aid, much less the presence of American troops. The Biden administration, after all, pulled U.S. troops out of Afghanistan. So why are they still in Niger specifically, which is the world’s third poorest nation?

The answer, in short, is nuclear energy. Niger, while poor, is one of the world’s largest suppliers of uranium, providing 25 percent of Europe’s imports. That places it behind only Kazakhstan, a landlocked Central Asian state which borders both Russia and China.

Niger’s resources are of particular importance to France. Uranium production in Niger is dominated by Société des Mines de l’Aïr, or SOMAIR, a company which is 64 percent owned by France and 36 percent owned by the government of Niger. 70 percent of France’s energy needs are supplied by its nuclear industry, and SOMAIR’s exports make up 50 percent of France’s uranium imports.

In effect, if a pro-Russian government were to take power in Niger, Russia, allied with China, would be able to control just over half of Europe’s uranium supplies, and virtually all of France’s. Combined with the stranglehold Russia already holds over natural gas and petroleum supplies to Europe, this would boost Moscow’s ability to use an energy blockade to cut off European support for Ukraine.

It is precisely for this reason that Western officials have been so quick to see Russian influence behind the overthrow of Niger’s pro-western government. Eliminating Western influence in Niger would serve Russian interests so effectively that the combination of both a motive and capability are leading many to conclude that the coup was the product of a Machiavellian plot by the Kremlin. Moreover, the Russian mercenary Wagner Group has a presence in neighboring nations, including Mali, where a similar military coup also ousted a pro-Western elected government.

There is little to no evidence for these theories. Not only are Wagner’s relations with the Kremlin in a state of uncertainty after Yevgeny Prigozhin’s “mutiny,” but the process of the coup and subsequent behavior of Niger’s rebellious military junta reinforces the impression the events had local causes and were largely unplanned.

The initial coup involved not the senior officers of the armed forces, but rather troops of the presidential guard taking the elected president, Mohamad Bazoum, hostage after Bazoum attempted to replace their commander, an appointee of his predecessor, with his own choice. The army command spent the better part of a day negotiating with the mutineers, during which Bazoum was allowed to call foreign leaders, before announcing they were in power themselves.

Since taking power, they have alternated pledges that nothing needs to change regarding their international cooperation on the one hand with efforts to stir up fears of “neo-colonial” intervention from France on the other, including orchestrating a mob attack on the French Embassy.

The problem for outside powers is that a spontaneous coup is almost more dangerous than an orchestrated one if it is mishandled. One of the most famous lines about rebellion is the observation that “it is only treason if you lose.”

Regardless of the motives or intentions, the moment the troops of the presidential guard kidnapped their commander-in-chief, they were committed to his removal from office. If Bazoum is restored as president, then their actions are treason, and regardless of any promises of amnesty, it is impossible for a president to be guarded by a military unit which tried to overthrow him by force.

The junta’s actions placed the rest of the military command in a similar quandary. If they backed Bazoum, they would have to treat those military officers who revolted as traitors. Having opted to join them, they cannot survive his restoration. Perhaps a few generals might be able to go into exile, but who would host them and what value would they have? They would have lost whatever influence over their troops they once held by abandoning their subordinates to retribution.

As with the American Founding Fathers, having crossed the Rubicon into rebellion, Niger’s entire military will now either hang together or hang separately.

This dynamic is what makes the situation frustrating for the West, and a failure to reconcile with the reality of the situation risks precisely what we should most fear: A Russian takeover.

For reasons of basic self-preservation, Niger’s military cannot restore the government they have overthrown. By demanding such an outcome, the West and its regional allies will trigger a fight or flight response. Niger’s military is Western trained. Brigadier General Moussa Salou Barma, the head of Niger’s Special Operations forces and a leading member of the junta, trained at the National Defense University and Fort Benning, Georgia. Only last month, he met with the head of the U.S. Army’s Special Operations Command at Airbase 201.

It would seem an intelligence oversight implausible even by the standards of the current CIA and FBI if Barma was somehow a Russian agent all along. Odds are he would prefer a continued relationship. But if the choice is between the betrayal of his men to retribution and the effective destruction of the military he has worked to build, or seeking Russian/Chinese aid, the latter is the obvious course.

The West has not “lost” Niger. At least not yet. But if a policy of poorly conceived intervention is followed, it has the potential to force Niger’s new rulers to align with America’s enemies in Moscow and Beijing, while potentially sucking American service members into a conflict.

But that is precisely where our current policy appears headed. This weekend, ECOWAS met in Nigeria, where they imposed sanctions on Niger and threatened the use of force if Bazoum was not restored within the week.

Despite Bazoum’s own Prime Minister warning from exile in Paris that the sanctions would be “catastrophic,” U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken welcomed the move. “We join ECOWAS and regional leaders in calling for the immediate release of President Mohamed Bazoum and his family and the restoration of all state functions to the legitimate, democratically elected government,” Blinken declared.

The announcement set off declarations of defiance from the junta, whose spokesman declared, “We want to once more remind ECOWAS or any other adventurer, of our firm determination to defend our homeland.” Riots broke out in Niger’s capital as protestors attacked the French Embassy, while Wagner’s boss, Yevgeny Prigozhin, evidently eager to get back into Putin’s good graces, pledged support for the regime.

It may well be that the overthrow of Bazoum is a setback both for Western policy in Niger and Niger’s own democratic transition. However, Theodore Roosevelt was correct when he advised his successors to, “speak softly, but carry a big stick.” If the United States is not committed to backing a French or Nigerian force sufficient to defeat Niger’s army and restore Bazoum to power, or to providing its own forces in the event allied forces are insufficient, an unsuccessful intervention or even threatening one will only serve to accomplish the worst of all possible worlds: pushing Niger’s Junta into the hands of Putin and Xi Jinping, while setting an example of American impotence in the region.

If, on the other hand, the Biden administration believes that Niger is of sufficient strategic importance to be willing to sacrifice the lives of American servicemembers, they have a duty to be up front with the American people about why that cost is justified.

An alternative exists. A democratic government in Niger is without a doubt something which is preferable both for the people of Niger and the United States, but it is just that: a preference. What is a necessity, for the United States, for France, and for wider Western interests, is the safety of Western forces based within the country, and continued access to Niger’s energy production.

There may be room for maneuvering, provided the Biden administration is willing to separate its preferences from America’s necessities, and recognize the necessities of Niger’s military leadership. In this case, those necessities are the personal safety of themselves, their men, and the army as an institution.

There is, as the administration now admits, no evidence the coup was orchestrated as part of a pro-Russian agenda, or even any geopolitical agenda at all. The new leadership of Niger is overwhelmingly made-up of American trained officers whose personal and professional ties are with the United States. They have been cautious in resorting to anti-American sentiment, even as they stirred up anti-French protests in self-defense.

American servicemembers have been restricted to airbase 201, and forbidden from flying drones, an understandable precaution given rhetoric from American allies threatening armed intervention. But no suggestions have been made about even expelling American personnel, yet. On the contrary, senior Niger officers continue trying to contact their American counterparts to “explain” the situation.

If military intervention is not a viable option, and its prospect risks pushing Niger into Russia’s orbit while failing to restore either Bazoum or democracy, the United States should consider making the best of a bad situation and recognizing the junta. That recognition would ideally be conditional on continued military cooperation and a timetable for new elections, a process which might allow for a restoration of democracy, without retroactively declaring the events of the past week criminal.

Instead, the current approach appears to be to try and bluff the junta out of power. Western leaders are making maximal demands backed by the threat of maximal pressure, hoping the mere threats of force, perhaps backed by some demonstrations by Nigeria or France, will be sufficient to cause Niger’s junta to fold.

There are cases in international affairs where gambling can pay off. It may even work here. But the odds are against it. The Biden administration is gambling against opponents who cannot afford to fold, without having secured the necessary backing, either from Congress or the American public, to raise the stakes themselves.

We have seen how this story played out before in Afghanistan. American weakness in Latin America, the Middle East, and even with Russia is arguably a result of failed efforts by the Biden administration to bluff opponents who knew more about what cards Biden had to play than Biden did about theirs.

Daniel Berman is a frequent commentator and lecturer on foreign policy and political affairs, both nationally and internationally. He holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the London School of Economics. He also writes as Daniel Roman.

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PaulE
PaulE
10 months ago

Niger has already fallen, and the Russians are already negotiating with the new miliary regime in power. While Niger’s neighbors may make noise about intervening in Niger militarily, my sense is they are actually trying to get the United States or some European forces involved to supply a lot of the equipment and munitions needed for their forces to engage on the ground. Don’t forget, the United States trained and equipped the very rogue military forces in Niger that carried out this coup. So, they already have a lot of military hardware and training to take on the countries that are now threatening them to restore the elected government.

Yes, this is yet another foreign embarrassment for Team Biden, but it was to be expected. The United States has done nothing but project weakness since Biden was placed in office. Russian forces are all over the African continent via the Wagner Group. Securing land and resources for Putin. President Xi also has a major presence throughout Africa via his Belt and Road Initiatives, which have sown up much of the critical natural resources for the so-called “green revolution”. What has the U.S. been doing for the last 2 1 /2 years in both Africa and South America? Nothing. Team Biden has sat on their collective hands while all but one country in South America and a handful of countries in Africa have either gone socialist or have become essentially slave states to China. The world map is being re-drawn almost weekly, while Team Biden continues to prove itself to be a bad joke.

Tim Toroian
Tim Toroian
10 months ago

I listened to an African P.M. describing the stupidity of our government coming to his country preaching LBGTQ+ rather than addressing problems that the Chinese are fixing for him. We have true morons in charge.

kdesq
kdesq
10 months ago

“The biden adminstration” is a coup in and of itself and a complete and total joke. I can’t for the life of me figure out why they would not want that in other places, other than trying to project how much into democracy they are? By the way, I always use lower case out of complete and total disrespect for biden and anyone associated with him.

Maga 2024
Maga 2024
10 months ago

Wakeup America, elect Marxist Democrats and Russia and China run wild globally

Gloria
Gloria
10 months ago

Joe Biden has been a traitor to everything American for 50 years! And has had many Americans fooled for the same length of time. Good ole’ Joe, is a traitor, a liar, a child molester, a lover, lover, lover of money – no matter how he gets it. Dementia?? Hmmm, maybe the evil has now become the owner of his soul.

FJB
FJB
10 months ago

So WE have troops in Niger to protect EUROPE’S uranium supply!?! Pull our troops out of these countries right now!! Why do we have hundreds of military bases in Europe? European countries need to pay for their own defense!
Maybe then they wouldn’t look down their noses and sneer at us for not being able to afford free healthcare for our citizens and all those generous social welfare benefits they provide to their citizens because WE pay for their defense!

Rik
Rik
10 months ago

Jack*ss Joe Biden screws up everything he touches, so it’s not a surprise!

Stephen Russell
Stephen Russell
10 months ago

Seeds for WW3

John Bass
John Bass
10 months ago

Why shouldn’t Niger fall? It would be par for course, for the Biden administration. We’ve already read about the administration failing to secure the Solomons, and they just about lost the Philippines too. So why would we even think the Biden administration would do anything different in Africa? This administration is nothing but a complete and utter failure when it comes to foreign policy, the economy, and our national defense.
The only way I could see Niger not falling by the wayside would be if Hunter Biden had “business dealings” in the country and the BIG GUY was getting his 10%.
God save the USA.

anna hubert
anna hubert
10 months ago

Nothing new Communist has been dong his job there for 60 years This is the result Why should anyone be shocked by the only possible outcome

edward
edward
10 months ago

Biden isn’t risking anything, HE has already been paid off. It is his country that is being sold down the drain. Wouldn’t that be treason for a “president of the united states”?

CLIFFORD F GERACI
CLIFFORD F GERACI
10 months ago

The sad thing is that 81M Americans voted for a inept, decrepit, man and woman to lead the United States of America for selfish reasons. “What can my country do for me” is the new mantra in America and it has caused a ripple effect world wide, putting life and limb in danger. We deserve all that happens……sad.

Thinking
Thinking
10 months ago

There are a lot of ors and or ifs in this story.
Has this coup been set up by Putin or by the Wagner group? Or by Bazoum himself.
Just like the rich Russian woman that gave ole Joe and Hunter 3.5 million dollars she is the only one not on the sanction list. Niger is not on ole Joe’s watch list and oops all of a sudden a regime change? An intelligence failure on ole Joe’s watch?
We are drifting more and more to a third world war. Only America will lose. We don’t have the equipment to arm our soldiers. Sorry you GI’s may god watch over you and protect you.

mikem
mikem
10 months ago

the man is literally a clueless buffoon.

PapaYEC
PapaYEC
10 months ago

“Sorry, man, but they all paid up front.”

EuropeYOYO
EuropeYOYO
10 months ago

If Niger is a European energy security issue, then have the Europeans send their military troops to protect their energy security. This is not an issue for America World Cop. This is not an issue for American troops to die to protect a French Uranium company. Sheesh… Uranium is widely available from a half dozen nations around the world.

Robert Zuccaro
Robert Zuccaro
10 months ago

If Biden is ignoring you, they must not have given the Big Guy his 10%.

Sean Rickman
Sean Rickman
10 months ago

Sloppy joey probably invited the”commies”into Niger like he invited the entities into AMERICA across the southern border.

Philip Seth Hammersley
Philip Seth Hammersley
10 months ago

Tell me one country that Senile Big Guy has “found.” Every country is either barely keeping their head above water or already sunk! (Including ours.)

JML
JML
10 months ago

We have GOT TO vote this a8s hool out of office, although it may already be too late!
🙁

Phyl
Phyl
10 months ago

I wonder if Beady eye Joe wants to get us into a WWIII. He’s sure heading us in that direction.

Hec
Hec
10 months ago

Almost any African country is too unstable to merit any kind of protection/aid. Financial and humanitarian aid to Niger is throwing money awa.

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