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The Lone Star, the flag of Liberia
Ton Vriens, Grain Coast Productions
Liberia: Current Issues and United States Policy


"There are widely divergent views on whether the United States should provide Liberia with additional assistance and, if so, what type and how much. Some policymakers believe that the historically close relationship between the United States and Liberia obligates the United States to take special responsibility in answering Liberia's humanitarian and developmental needs. According to this view, Americans should not only provide relief when it is needed, but should help promote a democratic system and work to stop human rights abuses. They criticize the U.S. response to the Liberian conflict as inadequate, and compare it unfavorably to the United States intervention in Kosovo. Some in this camp believe it would not have been inappropriate for the United States to have sent in troops in 1996 to help restore order and protect noncombatants. They point to Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo as recent examples of successful humanitarian intervention, and ask why the same was not done for a country with historic U.S. ties.

Other policymakers, however, believe that current U.S. interests in Africa in general are peripheral, and that the United States therefore has no special responsibility toward Liberia in particular and should not become involved in the country's internal affairs. Although opponents of intervention may support humanitarian and developmental assistance, they argue that Liberia is no longer of major strategic importance for U.S. foreign policy interests and that direct U.S. military intervention has been out of the question. They emphasize the difficulties that may be encountered when outside powers intervene in civil conflicts, and note that, as a result of U.S. casualties in Somalia in 1993, there would likely have been scant support among the public or in Congress for humanitarian military intervention in Liberia.

"During the 1996 conflict, U.S. policy toward Liberia favored non-intervention. The stated U.S. policy of not recognizing any future Liberian leader who came to power through violent means was intended to check the ambitions of the warlords. The Administration also was active in seeking continued cooperation from West African countries, many of whose leaders were weary of trying to solve the 8-year-old crisis, as well as the international community. Since Mr. Taylor assumed the presidency, the U.S. government has been seeking to establish a dialogue with Liberia on key bilateral issues, particularly human rights and democratic strengthening. Liberia's poor human rights record and the Taylor government's reported support of the RUF [the Revolutionary United Front, rebel group in Sierra Leone], which has been repeatedly condemned by the United States, have tested those efforts. U.S. State Department officials have stated that the United States may take unspecified, punitive actions against the Liberian government if Liberian support for the RUF continues. President Taylor's actions have also been the subject of congressional calls for a hard-nosed, activist policy approach to counter President Taylor's reported intervention in Sierra Leone. In a May 12, 2000 editorial in the Washington Post, for instance, Senator Judd Gregg stated that "Taylor and his criminal gang must go; every feasible effort ought to be made [by the United States] to undermine his rule."

"In a March 18, 1999 speech in Monrovia, U.S. chargé d'affaires Donald Petterson offered a candid assessment of the relationship between the two countries. Petterson characterized the change in relations between the two countries in the last two decades as "dramatic," given Liberia's much decreased importance to American strategic and commercial interests. He added that the U.S. government was troubled by repeated human rights violations in Liberia, particularly by state security services. Although U.S. aid has fallen considerably from its 1980s levels, the United States continues to provide tens of millions of dollars in assistance through the U.N. and non-governmental organizations...."


Source: Congressional Research Service, "IB96025: Liberia: Current Issues and United States Policy," CRS Issue Brief for Congress, Redistributed as a Service of the National Library for the Environment, Nicolas Cook, Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade (26 September 2000).

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