The world is a rapidly changing environment, especially at the political level. Old friends are becoming enemies, and new friendships never imagined before are being developed through major [strategic] human capital investment. The problem with many of these new relationships, especially in Africa, is that the formation of these new ‘friendships’ are based on artificial ‘benefits’ not necessarily to the benefit of the people. However, assessing the general public perception amongst the majority populace of most African nations being the beneficiaries of a changing strategic trajectory in terms of international relations, the average person does not know what is beneficial to his/her future and what the future holds going forward. What we can derive from this phenomenon is that these new international ‘partners’ come prepared, and they are highly experienced in the game of perception management, dialogue control, and information manipulation. The main dilemma in terms of Africa is that the majority people are poorly educated and therefore highly susceptible to accept any information as the ‘gospel truth’ without knowing or understanding the facts and how it impacts them as a society. Africa is already deeply embedded in the war of information, the 5th domain (dimension) of warfare.
Understanding the Global Power Shift:
Looking at the future, we have already entered the era of 'The Great Power Competition’. In the 21st century this ‘competition’ started between the United States and China (often with Russia siding with China in the past), each respectively competing to shape security architectures, norms and practices worldwide, including trade and investment regimes, and the development and regulation of new technological infrastructures. However, how it usually works when major powers start shifting their focus against each other, smaller influential powers also see opportunities for expansion within the shadows of the major competing powers being occupied with more important strategies. In general, most countries have a ‘grand strategy’ as an iterative process whereby states seek to:
identify their core national interests;
articulate key strategic objectives that (if achieved), will fulfil those interests;
mobilize resources to be applied in pursuit of strategic objectives;
develop comprehensive and effective methods that make efficient use of constrained resources; and
apply those methods through coordinated policy and action in order to achieve strategic objectives.
Grand strategy is thus a state's attempt to optimally allocate scarce resources (means) towards the methods (ways) that are best suited for achieving the state's highest goals (ends), all while responding and adapting to opportunities and constraints posed by other strategic actors, structures, and events in the international system. Looking at the present, we can derive the following major shifts within the global power sphere:
United States of America (US):
The US emerged from World War II (WWII) as the major dominant power in the world. This opened new economic opportunities during the age of post WWII ‘independence’ amongst the majority countries who were still bound to some form of Imperial control, these controls being eased through the mechanisms of sovereign debt leverage resulting from war effort financing, support and aid burdening the majority of nations having initially participated in the great war. While pre-WWII Imperial powers were paying back war debts after the war, and Europe was undergoing post-WWII reconstruction, the US was expanding its global footprint of influence through economic investment (and trade leverage), thus becoming more powerful through the eyes of its adversaries (which included some post-WWII ‘friends’). Consequently, the US gradually experienced greater competition from its WWII ally Russia, who at the time led the USSR (Union of Socialist Soviet Republics) in direct competition to mainly US (and Western, as a collective for capitalist economic policies) expansionism ideologies. Fortunately (as a result of its unsustainable communist economic policies), the USSR was dissolved on 26 December 1991. As a result of this dissolution, many ex-USSR states decided to adopt the US economic- and political models, and therefore allowing for greater expansion of US influence. In short, the US was prosperous, and its citizens prospered, causing for great wealth accumulation within the US society which in turn led to greater consumer demands and increased household debt, which in turn led to over-consumption still plaguing (and supporting) Western society. Multinational Corporations (MNC's) became more powerful, some to the point where company boards had the power to dictate government policy. However, since the 1980’s the US faced increased competition within the manufacturing sector from mainly its allies driving the need for increased competitiveness within a free-market system, and so the great China we know today was born. China was in desperate need of social upliftment and economic development (also being a communist economy) due to extreme poverty, and they were willing to manufacture all consumer goods as cheap as possible using an abundance of extremely cheap labour. So the US (later followed by its Western allies), entrusted China with its manufacturing to keep production costs low (consequently killing off domestic manufacturing in favour of cheaper offshore manufacturing), and China absorbed everything they could from the West in terms of commerce, business practices, manufacturing, development, and technological innovation to the point where the West realised that it had in fact created a new adversary. At this point in time, China is well invested in challenging traditional powers of influence with the eye on developing and expanding its own global sphere of influence through more favourable foreign direct investment and strategic infrastructure developments in direct competition with the US. This rapid focus on ‘economic expansionism’ by China has in some form weaponized the concept of economic policy and commerce, and within the present moment, Africa is the new battlefield.
United Kingdom of Great Britain (UK):
Up until the start of World War II (WWII) on 1 September 1939, the UK was the most powerful nation in the world due to its global Imperial footprint. However, when German Axis powers attacked the British, the UK had to rally all available support from its colonies to counter the German-lead offensive. In the Pacific, British occupied territories fell against the might of the Japanese invaders, and the UK required military hardware, finance, and supplies to sustain its military efforts against the Germans within the European theatre. Initially the US was not involved in the war (until attacked at Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, more than 2 years after the start of the war). The US officially entered the European theatre of WWII on 11 December 1941 when Germany declared war on the United States. Up until that moment, the US provided military- and food aid to the UK as part of an agreed war effort which was accounted as a sovereign debt by the UK to the US after the war ended. Since the declaration of war on the US by both Japan and Germany, each country was respectively held responsible for their actions financially after the war ended, and additional costs resulting from their hostile actions also became payable through various means. Post-WWII, the majority countries involved in the war were bound to paying back debts leading to post-war recessions in all the major economies, the US being on the receiving side of much of these debts which enabled the rapid economic growth of the US to become the most dominating world power until now. For the UK, the result was high sovereign debt payable to the US as its main financier and supporter during the war, but with such debt came conditions, why there was a sudden emergence of independence amongst the British overseas territories in the two decades following the end of WWII as a result of the US requirement for decolonization of all overseas territories. Paying back sovereign debt to the amounts owed to the US severely restricted economic growth, and the UK only completed its debt repayment to the US during 2006. Since then, the UK shifted its focus on expanding its global economy to catch up on lost opportunities after the fall of the Soviet Union, but being a member of the European Union became extremely restrictive for the UK wanting to pursue greater opportunities. Due to the poor state of post-WWII UK economic growth, its initial joining of the European Union on 01 January 1973 allowed for economic sustainability, better referred to as a 'comfortable economic stagnation' until the UK had reached the point of improved economic outlook upon final payment of its WWII sovereign debt. The UK membership of the European Union ended on 31 January 2020, which consequently enabled the UK to follow a new trajectory in terms of future expansion of interests (Point of note: EU membership was always considered temporary from a UK perspective). This future trajectory comes in the form of a proposed alliance between Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom (CANZUK). The idea with this union would be to act as an international confederation enabling free-trade, freedom of movement, and military alliance between its member states. Collectively, this union would represent a US$ 6.5 trillion nominal GDP (2019), which would rank it as the 4th largest [collective] economy in the world compared to the European Union GDP of US$ 13.3 Trillion in 3rd position (after China and the US). Also, this union would collectively control 18,187,210 km2 of the worlds surface (about 1,100,000 km2 larger than Russia). But, how would this be possible since these four countries are 'independent'? Although these four countries are politically- and economic independent, they are not so independent from a sovereign wealth perspective. This scenario is more feasible than expected for the reason that absolute land ownership of all four these territories are still held by The Crown, which could also eventually lead to the future creation of an 'Imperial Federation' as an alternative to the CANZUK Union.
Looking at the future, the UK plans on winning back its influence it held in Africa for a long time until losing much of that influence to the US and Russia during the Cold War post-WWII through decolonization. However, the UK’s future strategy would not only focus on traditional British territories, but will also include pursuing opportunities in countries descendent of non-British colonization in direct competition to other great powers who are at present ahead of the Africa strategy game. If the CANZUK Union is to become reality (with much foreign influenced opposition), then it will require access to competitive industrialised economies to enable competitive manufacturing (none of the CANZUK members can offer competitive manufacturing due to high existing labour costs). The most likely winners could be India, Pakistan, Kenya and South Africa. However, each of these countries have their own challenges, and each of them are influenced politically by various competing foreign powers. Africa remains the only option for enabling rapid economic expansion, especially considering the majority Latin America being pro-US and pro-European oriented. Looking at defense, both the UK and Australia are undergoing major expansion and upgrading of defense capabilities with a focus on inter-operability. The UK is also undergoing major fleet renewals within the British Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy, with a visible trend of reducing dependence on US combat systems in favor of expanding domestic industrial capacity. From a force design perspective, the British Army and Royal Marines are also undergoing expansion and re-design of its Special Operations capabilities deemed necessary for fighting “future anticipated wars” aligned to supporting UK expansionism objectives.
Portugal was one of the pioneering European colonial powers since the 15th century with the establishment of various trading posts spanning across South America, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. In Africa, the colonies of Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau, São Tomé and Príncipe remained under Portuguese control until after the end of World War II. The degradation of political power in the Portuguese metropole that culminated in the 1974 Carnation Revolution in Lisbon, consequently abolishing the authoritarian dictatorship of Estado Novo, ending the Portuguese Colonial War that began in 1961, continuing up to independence of the last colonies in Africa. Unfortunately for Portugal, its problems did not end there as a result of various policy mistakes made by the new Portuguese government, and the country became further isolated by its European neighbours, leading to increased underdevelopment compared to its neighbours (consequently losing any form of influence within the international stage, predominantly to the Soviet Union). It is also for this reason why the majority ex-Portuguese colonies in Africa remains underdeveloped and mostly within a state of insecurity.
Looking towards the future, Portugal is gradually recovering from past mistakes, and the country is actively seeking to improve its global sphere of influence. Policy makers in Lisbon are looking to diversify away from the European continent to improve future economic sustainability. The Portuguese population is increasingly becoming anti-EU, which would assist in increasing public support for government expansionism activities. Thus, in the shadow of its former self, it is now a fundamental goal of Portugal to reinvigorate a modern maritime identity with a primary focus on the Atlantic. It is also no coincidence why we notice an increase in reports of Portuguese flagged fishing vessels operating off the coast of Africa, even as far as the Southern Ocean. Commercial fishing has always been a primary economic driver for the Portuguese economy, and Portugal has seen an opportunity to compete against the likes of the Spanish and China for access to African fishing resources. The Portuguese government aims to raise the proportion of its economy through the Atlantic Ocean to 50% of its total GDP. The key tenet of the government action plan is Portugal’s claim to an extended continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles off its coastline. Under the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, Portugal's territorial waters and its autonomous regions extend 12 nautical miles (22.2 km) from the coastal baseline. Moreover, the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in Portugal’s three territories extends to 200 nautical miles (370.4 km) from the coast. In the EEZ, Portugal has exclusive rights to usage and licensing of natural resources below the surface of the sea for activities such as mining, but the surface water remains under the jurisdiction of international waters. At present, Portugal has the fourth largest EEZ in the European Union at 1.7 million km2 with the largest EEZ of its territories being the archipelago of the Açores with an area of 953,667 km2. On 11 May 2009, in accordance with Article 76 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the government made a claim to extend the limits of Portugal’s continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles from the coastal baseline, up to 350 nautical miles (648 km). The UN is still processing the claim, but if validated, Portugal could more than double its territory to 3.8 million km2 by claiming an additional 2.1 million km2 as part of its continental shelf. Portugal would then become one of the largest countries in the world, though only 3% of its territory would be terrestrial. If the Portuguese claim is approved, the expanded sovereign territories of Portugal would have an impact on the ocean economies of Morocco and Spain.
In addition to its oceanic expansion plans, Portugal also seeks improving relations through foreign direct investment and infrastructure projects within its old colonial territories in Africa in direct competition with the likes of the US, UK, Russia, France and China. All these territories have access to large fishing resources within their respective EEZ’s, which would benefit the Portuguese through its fishing economy to sooner achieve its economic goals measured in terms of GDP.
Russia is by far one of the most [conveniently] misunderstood of great world powers, especially in terms of its grand strategy. To understand the present Russian state of mind, we first need to understand the conflicts in which Russia was (and still is) involved since the dissolution of the Soviet Union:
1992 - 1997 Tajikistan Civil War: Gharm and Gomo-Badakhstan regional uprising against national
government of President Rahmon Nabiyev.
1992 - 1992 East Prigorodny Conflict: Inter-ethnic conflict in eastern part of Prigorodny district.
1993 - 1993 Russian Constitutional Crisis: Political stand-off between Russian President and Russian
Parliament ended with military force.
1994 - 1996 1st Chechen War: Russian invasion after Chechnyan declaration of independence.
De facto Chechen independence after Russian withdrawal.
1999 - 1999: War of Dagestan: Islamic International Brigade invades Russian Republic of
Dagestan in support of the Shura of Dagestan separatist
1999 - 2000 2nd Chechen War: Russia restores Federal control over Chechnya.
2000 - 2009 Chechnya Insurgency: Separatist insurgencies in Chechnya, Dagestan and other parts of
2007 - 2015 War in Ingushetia: Separatist insurgency in Ingushetia.
2009 - 2017 North Caucasus Insurgency: Separatist insurgencies in Chechnya, Dagestan and other parts of
2008 - 2008 Russo-Georgian War: A war between Georgia on one side, and Russia/South Ossetia,
Abkhazia on the opposing side. De facto independence in
Abkhazia & South Ossetia confirmed and recognized by Russia,
2011 - Present Syrian Civil War: Russia supports Syrian government against total collapse through
humanitarian, economic, and military aid.
2014 - Present Russo-Ukrainian War: Russia annexes Crimea after a local referendum. Russian
populations in Donetsk, Luhansk Oblast initiate violent protests
against Ukrainian government. Full-scale war against Russia
supporting the separatists.
Looking at the present Russo-Ukrainian War, we also need to understand the historical importance of this specific region to Russia dating back to the 18th Century, and the strategic importance of the Crimean peninsula for the safeguarding of passage to Russia between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. Russia initially conquered the regions of Crimea and Donetsk from the Ukrainian Cossacks and Crimean Tatars during the early 1700’s. As a result of these acts, the Ottoman Empire lost its buffer zone against Russian expansion. Russia at the time considered itself as the protector of Orthodox Christians in Europe, an ethnic group who was claimed to be treated as second class citizens by the majority regional nations of different religion during that era. The British feared Russian expansionism was a threat to the Ottoman Empire, which Britain consequently chose to preserve for the purpose of maintaining the power balance in Europe, and to protect its own interests within the Middle East and British India. For this reason a multinational military effort (France, UK, Ottoman Empire, Sardinia) against Russia commenced in October 1853 to February 1856 in the Black Sea, known as the Crimean War, which occupied the Russian controlled Crimean Peninsula which Russia had to give up during a peace treaty in 1956. This war was never considered a justified action for it only served ideologies of European rulers at the time which was not necessarily justified. One of the knock-on effects of this loss was Russia’s fear of losing Russian Alaska to the British (via the British Canadian territories), why Alexander II agreed to sell Alaska to the United States. In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution (1917 – 1922), a Ukrainian national movement for self-determination emerged, and the internationally recognised Ukrainian People’s Republic was declared on 23 June 1917. After WWII, the western part of Ukraine merged into the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, and the whole country became part of the Soviet Union. The Crimean Peninsula was under Ukrainian control at the time, and consequently Russia regained shared military control and access to the territory during the era of the Soviet Union. During 1991, Ukraine gained independence following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. As a result of independence, Russia lost access to its traditional Crimean territory which threatened the strategic importance of the Black Sea in terms of trade and military freedom of movement.
Based on all these historical factors, we can derive current Russian expansionism ideologies as follows:
1. Geopolitical insecurity is the foundation of Russian grand strategy in terms of expansionism (historically and within the present). The Russian view of the world and its responding grand strategic objectives are the product of its sense of geopolitical insecurity that has conditioned its relationship to the outside world for centuries. Russia’s inherent sense of vulnerability exists because of its history of regional conflict within its territories of which the majority such actions were not instigated by Russia, but as a result of its geography being extremely difficult to defend from external invasion, along with its close proximity (basically surrounded) by other great powers with more aggressive global expansionism ambitions and greater human resources. Basically, the aggressive acts we are seeing now is but only pre-emptive attacks as a safeguard to anticipated future threats. However, it is also very Russian to want to continue with the next pre-emptive attack to gain the next strategic important territory to protect its past gains (justifying its current support to the Russian separatists along the eastern Ukraine border as buffer zone between the Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula). Basically, Russian grand strategy is driven by a threat of encirclement, and not so much expansionism of power and influence as is the case with China. The unfortunate reality if this is true, is that Russia may be correct in its assessment. What we also do know is that even if Putin’s term ends, Russian grand strategy would remain the same for the same reasons, irrespective of who rules the Federation.
2. As a result of Russia’s sense of vulnerability and encirclement, it is of great strategic importance to expand its sphere of influence beyond the Russian territories. However, the means of such expansion is different to the Soviet Union manner of expansionism during the Cold War, for Moscow now prefers relations through indirect control opposed to direct rule, rather using economic- and cultural instruments to achieving sustainable foreign relations. Russia, being very much concerned about China’s growing influence as a global economic- and military power on its southern border, considers diversifying away from its own territorial sphere of influence by means of the following strategies:
2.1 Regional (ex USSR states): Russia is much aware of the US doctrine of ‘democratisation’ and ‘human rights’ incitement, and currently it is using that to its own advantage knowing the preferences amongst the people living within the ex-Soviet states leaning more towards the ways of the old Soviet Union. Russia’s new strategy is to provide the protection and development support to these surrounding states at favourable economic terms. Both the Russo-Ukrainian War and the Syrian Civil War currently serves as show-case examples of what value Russia could bring to these states to ensure future stability and prosperity, and to avoid unnecessary exploitation from foreign war profiteering policies when facing conflict. So far this strategy has become very appealing to Russia’s ex-Soviet allies. Russia however needs this to enable some form of ‘buffer zone’ between itself and its main adversaries (referring to the US via NATO, and China). Through this mechanism it wants to ensure that these partnering ‘buffer states’ would not take any actions disadvantaging Russia’s security. An example of such an agreement now exists between Armenia and Russia after Armenia suffered much losses in the recent Armenian-Azerbaijan War (2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war).
2.2 International: Beyond the Asian continent, Africa is key to diversifying its international control and influence though strategic partnerships with states currently enduring long-term political turmoil and instability. The majority ex-French colonies are seeking to break their relations with France, favouring the development of strategic relations with either Russia or China instead. Algeria is one example of an economy that is diversifying its development away from its French heritage, having chosen Russia, Japan and Germany as main future strategic partners. What further plays to Russia’s advantage was the [consequent humanitarian disaster] NATO mission that led to the fall of the Libyan government under Ghaddafi rule. The MENA nations do not appreciate the manner in which Libya was brought to its current state of instability, and partnering with Russia has proved capable protection against becoming the next [perceived] target. Syria is another example of an opportunity exploited to Russia’s long-term advantage, whereas the reality is that if it was not for Russia’s timely entry into the war, Syria as a country would have collapsed into the same state as present-day Libya. Syria is now one of the long-term ‘buffer zone’ safeguards which Russia needs to diversify its military capabilities away from its own territory, while also providing an opportunity for expanding Russian future economic activities with a partner nation in need of post-war reconstruction. This strategy is gradually delivering results to Russia’s favour, and through success of this strategy (just by establishing good diplomatic relations and mutually beneficial economic development conditions), Russia will soon have a capable network of ‘military allies’ to support its own future existence during a changing global power landscape while consciously ensuring not to repeat the mistakes made by the Soviet Union. Within an era of increasing network centric integration, Russia has much to gain looking at the extent of its advanced military hardware in the hands of partner nations. Another method Russia is applying to develop new long-term relationships in Africa is through the mechanism of specialised military assistance to vulnerable countries locked down by endless internal conflict through the ‘unofficial’ mechanism of using a pseudo private military company, Wagner Group, to build such foreign relations. Wagner Group is what Russia considers as its ‘plausible deniability’ mechanism, an organisation that employs mainly combat experienced Russian SF/SOF responsible for arming, training (and participating alongside) partner nation government forces to regain control over conflicted territories (such as the Central African Republic, Libya). What the West can learn from this is that where Russia moves in, they move in with the intention of developing a sustainable long-term diplomatic relationship to the benefit of both nations. In essence, Russia is not so much creating these opportunities, but rather exploiting the gaps that exist because of Western foreign policy failures. Looking at the present, the West (and its policy failures) is Russia’s greatest asset in achieving Russian strategic objectives, especially in Africa.
3. Russia is still a firm believer in the 19th century ‘Concert of Europe’ ideology which was a vague consensus amongst the European monarchies favouring the preservation of territorial and political status quo. The term assumed the responsibility and the right of the great powers to intervene and impose their collective will on states threatened by internal rebellion (why Russia remains involved in Ukraine, Syria, Libya). During public speeches and debates, Putin often refers to this system when justifying current (and future) Russian actions and strategies, and it is part of Russia’s strategy to remain involved with these forums as a means of participating in the shaping of future international policies, especially those affecting the European/Asian continents. Russia likes to use the example of how the Treaty of Versailles laid the foundation for World War II, a forum in which Russia was excluded. Russia believes that if it was allowed to participate then, that World War II would not have happened. There may be some truth in this assumption, for Russia’s entry into the Syrian Civil War does hold elements of truth supporting this claimed belief. However, the reality today is that the multi-polar world order that Russia strives to establish cannot be restored for the reason that it never existed. Putin knows this, but he does recognise the propaganda value it holds, especially in terms of expanding Russian influence in Africa.
4. There exists a belief amongst Western nations that Russia is more opportunistic than strategic in terms of foreign policy, and therefore Russia does not have a grand strategy for influence expansion. This belief cannot be further from the truth, for although no strategist can effectively anticipate and plan for all the unexpected obstacles and opportunities arising between their present circumstances and their strategic objectives, a good strategist will have strong command of the tactical enablers, knowing when to advance, retreat, divert or seize an opportunity to move closer towards winning the greater objective. Good strategy is therefore dependent on well executed opportunistic behaviour. Looking at the current Russo-Ukrainian War, Russia has always been a few steps ahead of Kiev in terms of campaign strategy, and therefore one of the greatest mistakes Ukraine (with support from NATO) could ever make in terms of planning any future counter-offensives against Russia to regain control over Russian occupied eastern Ukraine and Crimea, would be a grave error, for Russia already holds the advantage over such a scenario. In fact, Russia knows that it is of much greater importance within the minds of NATO (and the US) looking at a possible scenario of military confrontation between the West and China for the reason that NATO and its allies would need Russia’s support along China’s northern border with Russia. Looking at Africa, Russia is also exploiting the West’s perception of Chinese influence in Africa being of much greater strategic concern compared to [the minority] Russian activities on the continent. Basically, from an assessment perspective, Russian foreign policy is much better described as being ‘strategic-opportunistic’.
What we need to realise about Russia is that its strategic objectives differ greatly from all other great powers. Where other great powers are focussed on expanding its territorial influence with the purpose of economic growth, Russia’s strategic objectives in terms of influence expansion is more focussed on self-preservation, and remaining relevant within the future world order (whatever such eventuality may be). Yes, Russia also has economic ambitions, but in the case of Russia, economic expansionism is not the fundamental driving force behind its grand strategy. How successful this strategy will be in future, only time will tell, but the West can definitely learn many lessons from this approach to improve its image and concept of operations in Africa.
The Peoples Republic of China (PRC) is currently the major international power taking much advantage of the current global downturn. From a strategic perspective, China is in pursuit of becoming a central figure in global politics, basically attempting to take over that role from the US. It has already successfully challenged the West (predominantly the US) with its veto powers within the United Nations Security Council, basically rendering the UN an ineffective organisation in terms of fulfilling its initial mandate post-WWII, why so many conflicts remain unresolved, and in certain instances in a worse state than prior to UN involvement. Looking at China’s expansionism ideology, the PRC’s strategic goal is the accumulation of ‘comprehensive national power’ mainly defined by economic, military, technological and diplomatic global leadership. To attain this objective, the PRC has set itself on a long-term trajectory following a four-pronged converging strategic course, namely:
1. Ensure political domination of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to retain and maintain a strict internal political and social code (educating the population into shared CCP vision).
2. Achieve high economic growth complemented by the disciplined domestic environment (keep production costs competitive).
3. Improve regional economic ties with its Asian neighbours by means of the concept of ‘Pacifying the Periphery’ to reduce ‘regional anxieties’ (this strategy has already succeeded looking at the Philippines, a long-standing US partner nation now looking towards China as a result of many past US foreign policy mistakes involving the Philippines).
4. Solidify China’s international status as the central actor within the international arena, especially focussing on recovering the primacy of power the US enjoyed in Asia since post-WWII (after Japanese occupation of the majority of current US friendly Asian territories). How China is currently succeeding in this strategy is through soft diplomacy, and by targeting traditional US friendly states through better trade deals and greater economic opportunities at a lower long-term cost to the beneficiary nation. This strategy also includes the expansion of China’s territories through the development of artificial islands which collectively expands China’s EEZ, and consequently strengthens recognition of China’s expanded territorial claims.
In addition to these strategies, China’s long-term plans also include:
1. International Leadership: The PRC is pushing (and succeeding) in expanding its global leadership position in direct competition to the US in terms of trade, finance and defence. A major critical success factor to achieving this goal quickly is by conquering the minds (not the territories) of Africa (because successfully conquering the mind automatically opens up the territories). It is very much unfortunate that due to past Western exploitation practices in Africa, the majority African states are slowly leaning towards China as a solution for enabling regional stability and industrial development. The West needs to accept that mistakes were made, and opportunities that arose after the fall of the USSR were not properly explored, but rather exploited to the disadvantage of the ‘partner’ nation. China has learnt all the mistakes made by the West (and especially the US) at both the diplomatic- and economic levels post-Cold War, and the CCP is very well aware not to make these mistakes going forward.
2. Global Economic Influence: China joined the International Trade Organisation (ITO) during 2001, and since then it has already grown to become a US$ 14,34 trillion (2019) economy, quickly catching up to the United States’ US$ 21,43 trillion (2019) economy. A major strategy to increasing current economic growth is through increasing its immediate regional trade (slowly denying the US access to traditional US favouring Asian economies), but Africa holds the key to achieving the ultimate control due to the continent’s great wealth of resources required to support China’s future growth ambitions. The main strategy followed by China in terms of Africa is very simple: Improve on the existing trade deals between Africa and the West, and invest in long-term infrastructure development programs to enable industrial development at more favourable loan terms and less political red-tape as experienced with many Western investments. Basically, where Western (Capitalist) incentive with foreign trade is maximizing profits, the Chinese approach (Communist) is maximising influence and future control at the expense of reduced long-term investment returns. How China sees return on investment is not at the program level, but at the collective level, meaning that dominating a larger trade territory is more profitably sustainable over the long-term at reduced profits than taking high profits over the short term to the disadvantage of the partnering nation. The irony in this strategy is that a basic capitalist concept is being used against the capitalist West, where lower profits over longer term provides for better returns than high profits over a short term (as commonly the case with many Western trade agreements in Africa). The advantage China has over the West in terms of foreign investment strategy, is its centralized control and decision making which enables better coordinated efforts to ensure all activities are focussed and aligned to achieve a single strategic objective.
3. Maritime Ambitions: The focus of China’s maritime ambitions is the South China Sea. The current strategy followed by the PRC is to expand its EEZ through the development of artificial islands within shallow waters and reefs by around 1.5 million square miles. This would enable China to explore large sectors of oil and gas resources located within currently disputed maritime territories bordering Brunei, Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, and Taiwan. This expansion is of great strategic importance to the future sustainability of the PRC for the following reasons:
It is essential for China to become less dependent on foreign energy imports, and the available oil and gas reserves within the South China Sea would enable less dependence on crucial energy requirements presently sourced from foreign suppliers.
An estimated US$ 3.37 trillion (2019) worth of global trade passes annually through the South China Sea which makes up for a third of total global maritime trade.
All China’s crucial energy imports, and about 39.5% of its total trade, passes through the South China Sea.
Looking at Africa, China is also investing heavily in developing strategically located ports along the East coast and West coast of Africa. These ports are developed to support both Chinese commercial- and military vessels to enable an extended support infrastructure for future global operations. These ports are presently supporting the large militia fleets of commercial fishing vessels currently exploiting African fishing resources, a major source of foreign revenue derived from the oceans economy strategy. The financial impact of China’s global fishing totals around US$ 185 Billion (2019) annual revenue (27% earned from wild capture, 73% earned from aquaculture produced from foreign fish-to-meal fishing activities).
4. Military Power: There is an old saying: “You only control what you can protect”. At present, the PRC ranks around third in terms of global fire power with an active military strength of around 2.2 million, trailing only behind the US and Russia. However, as Russia has recently started realizing, it will not be long before China passes Russia in terms of military capabilities, already a cause for concern in Moscow. Russia and China used to be close allies, but there has been much abuse of Russian military IP by China during the past 30 years, so much so that Russia recently decided to restrict the sale of certain advanced military technologies to China, technologies that China considers critical to achieving its future ambitions for military industrial independence. As an extra safeguard, the US also imposed sanctions on Rosoboronexport who manages all Russian foreign arms sales. This refusal to sell certain technologies has caused some degree of political divide between Russia and China which may escalate in future. However, this also puts Russia, who itself is a major strategic player, in the position to re-evaluate the future sustainability in terms of security with its southern neighbour if China succeeds in becoming a global influence dominator. In terms of arms sales, China enjoys the highest growth of global arms sales, and Africa has become a major market for cheaper, acceptable quality advanced military hardware sold with no political restrictions. The only given in terms of the future of Africa is conflict and insecurity, and African governments know that. Western ‘allies’ to African countries, especially the US, has become too restrictive and costly in terms of arms sales, and China has emerged to supply the demand by offering great value immediate solutions at a much lower premium.
What we can derive from China’s future expansionism strategies is that it is by far the most complex of global strategies compared to any other nation. However, affected economies globally are catching up to this idea, why we are noticing a major shift in military preparations on all sides. The greatest obstacle to China is its western neighbour India who could be a major distraction in the event of a full scale escalation of conflict scenario, especially if Russia (also a close partner to India) decides to participate in any hostilities against China along its northern border. For this reason, it is of great importance to China to expand its allies, interests of influence and military capabilities beyond its own geographical domains to offset such future possible threats, and Africa is key to achieving such plans.
Modern day Turkey, a product of western Europe similar to what China is to the United States, has aspirations to be freed from being influenced by the great powers through its strategy of becoming a ‘Resilient Middle Power’. Turkey does not have the resources and influence to challenge any of the great powers, but it has succeeded in developing itself into a regional influencer within the Middle East, so much in fact that it is becoming a matter of concern to the major Middle East economies such as Saudi-Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Egypt and Israel. During the Qatar diplomatic crisis (5 June 2017 to 5 January 2021), Turkey provided political- and military support to the State of Qatar as a means of deterring Saudi-Arabia from following through on a threat of military invasion of Qatar. This strategy was successful, so much so that it gave Turkey the necessary confidence to explore the expansion of its influence into both the Syrian Civil War and Libyan Civil War. However, Turkey is not alone, and much of this confidence came from a growing [silent] diplomatic relationship between Ankara and Moscow. Turkey is well aware that alone it stands no chance, but through limited partnership with Russia, Turkey could achieve much more. The only challenge with this strategy is Turkey’s NATO membership, so whatever Turkey decides in terms of grand strategy, it should be acceptable to all stakeholders.
FUTURE GROWTH CHALLENGES:
Looking at future growth ambitions, Turkey has the following challenges limiting its future growth ambitions, namely:
1. Regional insecurity: The Turkish economy is extremely sensitive to regional insecurity, and for Turkey to achieve its future strategic objectives it requires regional stability, which is the main reason why Turkey expanded its military presence in Syria, Libya, Iraq, The Caucasus, Eastern Mediterranean, and the Balkans as a means of developing ‘peace corridors’. The Turkish defence industry has also matured to become a major supplier of advanced military hardware, and it is in process of pushing its technological capabilities in terms of next generation combat systems in direct competition with the great powers.
2. Internal Security: Turkey still has various unresolved domestic challenges, much of which are overflowing results from regional instability. The government of Turkey is very much aware that it cannot become a global influencer while still struggling with internal security challenges. For as long as internal stability remains fragile, the country will remain vulnerable to foreign exploitation.
3. Energy Resources: To expand its industry, and to achieve better self-reliance, Turkey requires access to sustainable energy resources. A key to ensuring access to future oil supplies, Turkey has partnered with the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq to export all Kurdish oil via pipeline through Turkey. However, this is a challenging relationship for the reason that the ethnic Kurds in Turkey regularly opposes the Turkish government, leading to a long-standing situation of instability with mainly ethnic Kurds. What Turkey needs is access to greater energy resources under its own control.
So, taking the aforementioned growth challenges into consideration, Turkey’s future strategy is simple, focussing on the following means of achieving its development objectives:
1. Military Industrial Complex: One of Turkey’s priority objectives is military independence (similar to the design of France’s military industrial complex). To achieve this, Turkey invested much into the development of its military technology sector, to include current developments of advanced 5th generation fighters and combat helicopters. The country has already become a major supplier of advanced battle proven combat drones (UAVs), armoured vehicles, and various types of rocket/missile systems. In addition to this, Turkey also recognises the value and financial benefits associated with war financing. The recent Azerbaijan-Armenia War is an example of such a relationship where Turkey supported Azerbaijan through the supply of immediately available advanced military hardware and finance to give it the edge over Armenia. Turkey is also a major supplier of military hardware to Libya’s UN recognised GNA government in Tripoli, acting in violation of a UN arms embargo on Libya. Looking at this support to the Libyan GNA government, this relationship is but only strategic for the reason that the Libyan GNA is a tool for advancing Turkey's ambitions to pursue gas exploration within the Eastern Mediterranean. It is for this reason why Turkey has been instrumental in the deployment and support of Syrian rebels fighting on behalf of the Libyan GNA (Government of National Accord), which is also the 'UN recognized' government in Libya, in opposition to the Libyan National Army under control of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.
2. Manufacturing: Turkey knows it cannot compete against the manufacturing economy of China, but it also knows that due to its proximity to Europe, Turkey offers much in terms of competitive production opportunities in support of future European development objectives. What further counts in Turkey’s favour is the growing friction between the West and China, which could result in current European manufacturing in China to be move to Turkey. Also, the recent blockage of the Suez canal by the Ever Given container ship on 23 March 2020 highlighted how vulnerable the Suez Canal was to foreign trade between Asia and Europe. Russia could offer an alternative shipping route to European economies via the Arctic circle, but with growing tensions between the West and Russia, Turkey remains the most attractive solution to Europe for sustainable outsourced manufacturing within the current global environment.
3. Oil and Gas: Turkey has been engaged in a long-standing dispute with Greece over the Aegean Sea, specifically concerning the extent of each country’s maritime borders within the region since the 1970’s. The Aegean Sea holds great oil and gas resources, and since 2020, Turkey has made various efforts to commence gas exploration activities within the disputed territories against the wishes of Greece and the European Union. Consequently, The EU imposed sanctions against Turkey for its oil exploration within the disputed Aegean Sea, which is not favourable for supporting Turkey’s future development objectives.
The present Turkish Government is also opportunistic in its foreign expansion ideology by trying to capitalize on nostalgic factor as a means of winning support from its population by attempting to regain influence over territories which used to be part of the Ottoman Empire until 1922. Although this plan may be considered somewhat over-ambitions, it does offer a certain degree of success. However, the main challenge for Turkey in expanding its regional sphere of influence is the fact that half of Turkey’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) originates from international trade, and to sustain and expand on this trade, the country is very much dependent on access to foreign direct investment (FDI) and technology transfers if it wishes to become a developed economy impervious to financial instability. However, due to various political failures in terms of domestic issues, as well as over-ambitious foreign policy mistakes, Turkey is being isolated by both the European Union (over the Greece/Aegean Sea gas exploration disputes), and the strained relations between neighbouring Egypt also pursuing its ambitions of becoming a Middle Power economy. Relations between Turkey and France have also become strained, resulting in France, Greece, and Egypt applying a more aggressive military stance against Turkey. As future options within its region becomes limited, it is of critical importance for Turkey to diversify its economy away from its traditional trade partners to achieve its desired future growth objectives. Therefore, the only remaining option for Turkey is to pursue diplomatic ties with smaller African [oil producing] countries who share the same desires of breaking away from their perceived influences by the great powers. Military aid has become one of the major tools for developing such relations, why there has been a surge in Turkish military hardware entering the continent, especially within areas of conflict.
Egypt is in dispute with Ethiopia over the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), a project which Ethiopia depends on to enable future sustainable development, especially to enable resilience against drought, and to expand its electricity generation capacity required to further develop its industry. The problem with this project from an Egyptian perspective, is that the project threatens the water security of Egypt, a commodity that originates from both the White Nile and the Blue Nile (originating within the territory of Ethiopia). Egypt claims its right to the Nile River water (which includes water originating from the Blue Nile) by means of the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1929, a treaty signed between the British controlled Sudan and Egypt in the absence of any Ethiopian representation (the territory in which Lake Tana is located, the origin of the Blue Nile river). The GERD is constructed on the Blue Nile river in Ethiopia, 28 km East of the border of Sudan. However, in the initial planning of the dam’s construction, Ethiopia did not consult any of its neighbours for the reason that it was built within its own territory on a river that originates within its own territory. Therefore, Ethiopia considers the GERD project as a sovereign decision. Egypt, on the other hand, being well aware of the threat the filling of the dam holds in terms of water security and its expanded desert agricultural development programs is willing to counter the building of the Ethiopian dam, even by means of military intervention. Egypt’s main concerns are due to the size of the dam, the rate of evaporation from the dam could result in a permanent reduction in water supply which would severely affect Egypt’s rural agricultural economy, to include a reduction of between 25 – 40% in electricity supply to an already strained electricity grid. Since July 2020, Ethiopia has commenced with the filling of the dam, and tensions between Egypt/Sudan and Ethiopia are at an all-time high. Egypt has threatened destruction of the dam through military means, but such an action would have severe consequences, such as:
Immediate flooding down-stream within populated Sudanese territories;
Damage to both Sudanese and Egyptian infrastructure downstream due to the immediate release of [destructive] large volumes of water;
Egypt would become liable for paying all damages caused, and as a result of the dam’s destruction in the event of any direct military action.
One of the plans that were discussed on 3 June 2013 by an Egyptian panel of experts was the establishment and support of an anti-government rebellion within Ethiopia to counter the GERD project (to enable some form of plausible deniability and release from paying damages). This discussion was televised live, creating an international incident with the Ethiopian government. The Egyptian government apologised for the incident after the humiliation, but the option always remained ‘open’ (Note: There is no relation between Egypt's dispute with Ethiopia, and the Tigray insurgency in northern Ethiopia). On 01 April 2011 the US$ 4.8 Billion project was awarded to an Italian contractor without competitive bidding, which means the GERD project represents major Italian interests, although this is not made public anywhere. Ethiopia claims to finance the project itself (US$ 1.8 Billion from Chinese bank loans, and US$ 3 Billion through other undisclosed means) to avoid any Egyptian influence through financial mechanisms which may negatively affect the project. Consequently, in the event of any hostile Egyptian action against the dam project, Egypt will need to handle the political fall-out originating from both Italian and Chinese interests in Ethiopia being dependent on the success of the GERD project. However, the probability of this dispute ending in military confrontation is unlikely for Egypt, who is just as much [rightfully] concerned about its water security, just requires guarantees that the GERD program will not end in a humanitarian disaster in Egypt.
The Fundamental Problem:
Now that we have an idea about 'WHO' the main foreign actors are with planned interests expansion strategies in Africa, we need to understand the 'WHY'. To understand this better, we need to look at Government Debt levels applicable to these nations (based on IMF debt-to-GDP data indicated as a percentage ratio):
United States of America: 133,64 %
United Kingdom: 111,52 %
China: 66,53 %
Russia: 18,98 %
Turkey: 45,52 %
Egypt: 90,60 %
According to the IMF, 64% debt-to-GDP ratio should be the maximum, with higher ratios being an indication of the risk to lending to these governments being considered higher (meaning: greater risk of default). So, based on the aforementioned list of countries, only Turkey and Russia are within what is considered acceptable government debt-to-GDP ratios. Of these economies, the most affected is the US, and it is also the country with the most to lose due to the great size of the US economy compared to the rest of the world combined. Also, due to globalisation and the US Dollar being the global reserve currency, all other economies are dependent on the well-being of the US economy. If the US economy suffers, the global economy suffers, which in turn is considered a major risk to all other non-US countries. To make things worse, the world has experienced economic down-turn since the last global recession in 2008 caused by the US housing crisis. Since then, the global economy has never recovered, and the only thing that happened was that governments increased their currency circulation through Quantitative Easing, a monetary policy whereby a central bank purchases at scale government bonds or other financial assets to inject money into the economy to expand economic activity. However, to increase currency circulation, governments need to have assets to support the sale of government bonds to central banks to limit currency depreciation (which leads to counter-productive results). Looking at the US foreign interests business model, arms sales have become a major source of securing financial assets through the sale of arms at large to African governments (who inherently have low to moderate debt-to-GDP ratios), through the instrument of government-to-government loans (a loan becomes an asset which can then be used to extend the circulation of currency to stimulate your own economy). The US is currently the largest supplier of arms globally at 37% of total global sales (2016 - 2020). Of this, 19% are to African countries. Over the same period, US arms exports were 85% higher compared to the second largest global exporter of arms, Russia. China, on the other hand, has been watching and taking notes, but the demand for Chinese arms globally are still limited to only 5,2% (mainly because of perception and concerns about quality and lifetime support relevant to Chinese arms, although quality and support is rapidly improving to Western equivalent levels). It is for this reason why China focussed on infrastructure projects within Africa as a means of extending its government-to-government lending portfolio (converting debt into assets with long-term returns and sustainable growth). China is basically entering the risk zone for Government debt, why the CCP is pushing their Africa agenda more aggressively as not to make the same mistakes as the US.
To summarise, looking at the three main 'competitors' in The Great Power Competition, we can derive the following individual national motives in Africa as follows:
United States: The US needs to expand its economic footprint in Africa (by whatever means, including arms sales preferably through government-to-government loans with interest), to save its own economy. The state of the US economy is its greatest threat in remaining relevant at the global level going into the future, why we should see a more aggressive approach from the US going forward. One option the US government has, is implementing austerity measures, but unfortunately austerity does not work well with politics, especially in a democracy. The US Government attempted to implement gradual austerity measures during 2019, but that decision was soon reversed due to political- and public pressure. The other option to improve economic conditions is through increasing production. This, however, is not an option to the US for the reason that it cannot compete against China in terms of competitive production. The greatest present danger to the US economy is the fact that government has been borrowing from the Social Security Trust Fund and federal retirement funds for longer than a decade to operate other government departments. Taking this into consideration brings the total US government debt as on March 01, 2021 to around US$ 28 Trillion. If the US was to default on this debt, it would bring down the global economy. The other challenge is the large retirement population who will be entering the social security system, which in turn increases Social Security spending gradually every year, while earnings are decreasing. The major frustration to the world is that the US government knows this, and it also knows that it is in fact 'too big to fail', why the other great powers have to frustratingly accept US imposed trade tariffs and restrictions (irrespective of whether its justified or not), which also further motivates the other great powers to break away from a US Dollar dominated economy. Therefore, the main motivation for the US in The Great Power Competition is solely to save its economy, and to remain relevant as the dominant world power for as long as possible, by any means.
China: If the US defaults on its debt, the global economy will collapse. China knows this, and they also know that just as the US was the single greatest 'catalyst' for its economic development, the US economy is China's achilles heel due to their economic inter-dependence. Basically, even-though China portrays itself to the world as a 'communist' country, it is actually very much capitalist in strategy. What this means is that whatever the US game is within the global public perception sphere (to include portraying China as 'enemy'), China needs to fulfil the role(s) within such a game. It all comes down to a mutually beneficial game of 'adversary' with the aim of ensuring economic survival. However, this inter-dependence is of great concern and frustration to China, why it is motivated to diversify its economy away from the US economy as soon as possible. The US is aware of this strategy by China, and therefore does not wish for China to compete within the same target markets, and the US needs to maintain its current economic control over China to maintain its position as the dominant world power. Therefore, the main motivation for China in The Great Power Competition is to diversify its economy away from the US economy to build economic resilience in the event of US economic down-turn, and through such means decrease US influence over its economic strategies.
Russia: The main advantage that Russia has over many other countries is its past experience as a 'communist' world power (meaning: having the knowledge to know what NOT to do in terms of global influence development), and to be subject to various forms of international trade sanctions. Traditionally, the purpose of trade sanctions were to punish a government for various reasons not always justified. However, looking at the current global environment, trade sanctions have actually become a blessing in disguise to the Russian Federation for the reason that it helps Russia in its information operations to gain foreign sympathy as a victim of supposed 'Western Oppression'. Does Russia have a point? Maybe, maybe not. However, what the West needs to take into consideration is that the more countries they 'sanction' for whatever reason, the more governments they are pushing into both Russia and China's circle of influence. A few African countries who tried to stand their ground against Western economies suffered this fate. Did the strategy work? Everyone can be their own judge. Another reason why trade sanctions have been a blessing in disguise to Russia is because being subjected to foreign trade sanctions also strengthens government fiscal policies, why Russia has such a low debt-to-GDP ratio. The thing is, within the greater scope of things, Russia just wants to exist amongst its ever growing neighbours who will inevitably escalate hostility against each other as soon as one (or both) have improved their economic resilience. Therefore, the main motivation for Russia in The Great Power Competition is survival (in the present), and to do whatever necessary to guarantee its survival into the future, irrespective of the eventual direction of the global economy.
The simple answer to understanding The Great Power Competition is:
Economic power is the ultimate power, and military power is the only effective means of safeguarding economic power.
Looking at the current dynamics in terms of ‘The Great Power Competition’ in Africa, the great powers are still failing to succeed in achieving their desired outcomes. What these failures reflect are the flaws in current foreign policies and methods applied by all the great nations competing for a share of the continent. Africa has the resources to develop itself, but to do that Africa needs to be allowed to develop itself, and this is where things become problematic for it is not within the best interests of any of the great powers to allow Africa to develop itself out of fear that Africa might just become another great power to contend with in future. Just looking at the South African case study, there was a small window of opportunity for South Africa to become a middle power state through its immediate region of influence by means of the SADC mechanism around the turn of the century. South Africa had an extremely capable military with an effective and well balanced, combat experienced Special Operations capability that was gradually pacified since the end of the Cold War through constant budget cuts and political interference to the point where it has become extremely difficult to perform its constitutional mandate at present, only being a shadow of its former self. The means of pacification was executed via the political system through the targeted weaponizing of the concept of ‘corruption’, resulting in a situation where the armed forces are struggling to maintain itself for any longer. Looking at the situation in Mozambique, we observe another example of the consequences of when government fails its people. Also, of equal concern, is looking at the manner in which the SADC member states handled the unfolding humanitarian disaster in northern Mozambique, with little will and and means to proactively resolve their own regional challenges as a result of growing distrust between the member states. The question that fascinates us most looking at the SADC, is why these countries cannot collectively develop into something greater. We know the answers to this question, but it is still an unfortunate situation. Nigeria is another country that has fallen to a level of near irreparable domestic reconciliation, a country that used to be a major peace enabler within its region of influence. The Nigerian military was also pacified to the level where it is struggling to achieve any success in the improvement of its current state of instability. More Nigerians serve within the ranks of armed groups opposing the Nigerian government than there are soldiers serving within its armed forces. The Nigerian security forces are overwhelmed on all fronts, and the morale of government forces are low. Public opinion about the government and its armed forces are also at its lowest, which is the opposite of what is required to turn around the current state of decline. But still, 'let's arm the people of Nigeria' (because a sale is an asset, and it saves economies). Looking at the Nigerian military situation, the problem with lost military capabilities is that it takes years [decades] to regain and master to the point where it becomes effective at solving problems.
The point we are trying to make with this article, is that African leaders need to realise that it will not be long before the effects of the Great Powers in competition with one another will be felt in Africa. In fact, it is already being felt. Africa is still much underdeveloped, and it offers all of the conditions required by the Great Powers to project themselves out of their own economic challenges. The important message to take away from the Africa scenario is that you only control what you can protect, and if African governments fail to adapt to the evolution of world politics, their countries will always remain enslaved to some greater power.
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