The Resumption Of US Military Activity In Niger Puts France On The Strategic Backfoot
France is forced to react to the latest trends of patriotic military coups and the US’ newfound pragmatic response to the most recent one in Niger, the latter of which saw the resumption of its military activity there after Nuland struck a deal with the junta. It can either try to destabilize the region out of desperation or begin pragmatically adapting to everything through much more reasonable responses like the one that it just showed after the Gabonese coup a few weeks ago.
The nearly past two months since late July’s patriotic military coup in Niger have been characterized by uncertainty as the junta braced for a French-backed Nigerian-led ECOWAS invasion while the West braced for the complete eradication of its influence from that geostrategic state. Neither has thus far happened, with a mild mix of these two scenarios unfolding instead. Regional pressure is still being put on the junta as French influence recedes, but there hasn’t been any war and US influence remains.
The top US Air Force commander for Europe and Africa revealed earlier this week that his country has recently resumed its intelligence and surveillance missions in Niger as a result of negotiations with its military authorities after having largely stopped them right after this summer’s coup. This development shouldn’t come as a surprise for those who paid attention to Acting Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland’s trip to Niamey in early August. Here are three relevant analyses to bring others up to speed:
To oversimplify the detailed insight shared in those pieces, the US has flexibly adapted to the latest multipolar trends sweeping across West Africa by pragmatically exploring a deal with the junta whereby the threatened invasion will be called off in exchange for retaining the US’ two drone bases. The new military authorities can then gradually squeeze French influence out of their country, but the US won’t allow them to solicit Russia’s “Democratic Security” services through Wagner or other such groups.
This speculative arrangement would account for the status quo that was earlier described and cogently explains why the junta just agreed to allow the US to resume its military activity in the country. From the first’s perspective, its able to consolidate its power in parallel with averting a larger war, while the second benefits by safeguarding the future of its bases in this region and curtailing Russian influence. The obvious wild card is France, however, which is becoming increasingly desperate.
Niger’s patriotic military coup caught its policymakers by surprise and represents the latest blow to their hegemonic policy in West Africa, but everything is made even worse by the US exploiting France’s difficulties to entrench and possibly even expand its own influence in Paris’ traditional sphere. Washington is doing that by cutting a pragmatic deal with the junta that could become the precedent for managing its ties with other countries in the region, especially those with military governments.
These dynamics can lead to France trying to destabilize the region out of desperation to regain its lost influence, ergo the continued risk of it trying to bribe ECOWAS into a Nigerian-led invasion or possibly even going it alone as a last resort. The US could also greenlight either operation in the event that its negotiations with Niger abruptly end, not to mention if the junta demands that it depart from their country just like it officially ordered France to do.
The other possible course of action that Paris could undertake is to recalibrate its regional strategy by taking a page from Washington’s playbook in pragmatically reacting to patriotic military coups, or even better yet from its perspective, proactively shaping the situation so as to preemptively avert them. The first part of this proposal is already on display in Gabon after the junta there just agreed to resume military cooperation with France on a case-by-case basis, while the second has yet to be seen.
If France decides to switch things up, then it could propose more equitable partnerships with those African countries where it still has influence in an attempt to try and control rising anti-imperialist sentiment there. That would have to bring tangible benefits to the majority of the population in order to remove the grassroots basis upon which the recent spree of patriotic military coups has been justified, however, so it’s unlikely to materialize since it entails very uncomfortable compromises from Paris’ side.
Nevertheless, the point is that France is forced to react to the latest trends of patriotic military coups and the US’ newfound pragmatic response to the most recent one in Niger, the latter of which saw the resumption of its military activity there after Nuland struck a deal with the junta. It can either try to destabilize the region out of desperation or begin pragmatically adapting to everything through much more reasonable responses like the one that it just showed after the Gabonese coup a few weeks ago.