Global Connections Liberia
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Lesson: Private Profits and Public Policies
Lesson Snapshot

Learning objectives
Students will learn how economic factors shape U.S. and Liberian foreign policy through the examination of trade in diamonds, timber, rubber, and guns. Students will be able to identify and discuss economic factors that contribute to U.S. foreign policy toward Liberia.

Grade level



NCSS standards

Time estimate
Two 45-minute class periods, with homework

  • Part 1: Explore relationship between commodities and foreign policy
  • Part 2: Explore role of diamonds, guns, and timber on Liberian and U.S. policies

What you'll need (see Resources for links)

Lesson Plan
How do economic factors figure in making foreign policy?

Part I: Strategic Commodities

Preparation: Before beginning this lesson, have students read the Global Connections essay "Liberia and the U.S.: A Complex Relationship."

Video clip: View the video segment on rubber trade.

  • Review the role of rubber in Liberian-U.S. relationships by asking the following questions:
    • What did Firestone Rubber give to Liberia in the 1920s?
    • What did Firestone get from Liberia?
    • What did the Firestone-Liberia deal have to do with Liberia-U.S. relations?

    The number of automobiles in the United States grew rapidly from 1910 to 1929, increasing the demand for rubber for tires.

    YearNumber of motor vehicles in the U.S.
    19174.8 million
    192313 million
    192720 million
    192925.7 million

  • Lead the class in brainstorming a list of other commodities that could be important to international relations. Ask students the following questions:
    • Which of these commodities have a significant impact on foreign policy today?
    • How can producers of significant commodities influence foreign policy?

  • Tell the class that the Strategic Commodities Act gives President Charles Taylor of Liberia "the sole power to execute, negotiate, and conclude all commercial contracts or agreements with any foreign or domestic investor" for designated commodities, including timber and diamonds. Ask students the following questions:
    • If the United States passed a Strategic Commodities Act, giving these powers to President George W. Bush, what would the impact be on the U.S. environment, people, and government?
    • Would you favor giving these powers to the president of the United States? Why? Why not?

  • Ask students to list ways they think the Strategic Commodities Act might affect the environment, people, the government of Liberia, and its relationship to the U.S.

  • Optional assessment tool: Assign a one-page written essay outlining reasons to support or oppose the Strategic Commodities Act.

In preparation for Part II, make the assignments noted below.

Part II: Guns, Profits, and Policies

Preparation: The day before this class, divide students into three groups to research guns, diamonds, or timber in Liberia. Each group can begin its research with the questions and resources listed here. Additional resources are listed in Resources .

Ask each group to report back to the class on the research they have done.

As each group reports back, summarize their findings visually with a graphic organizer, showing the relationship between Charles Taylor/Liberia today; guns, diamonds, and timber; and UN, international, and U.S. foreign policy. See the sample graphic organizer. Note: If you have covered the historic relationship between the U.S. and Liberia, add an area representing these ties to the graphic organizer.

After presentations, ask students to answer the following questions:

  • Who profits from the timber trade, diamond trade, and arms trafficking?
  • How do these three commodities empower President Charles Taylor, and what does his empowerment mean to the people of Liberia, the surrounding African countries, and the United States?
  • What impact does trade in these commodities have on poor people in Liberia and Sierra Leone?
  • What is the relationship between foreign trade and foreign policy?

Tell students that they are going to be guests at a state dinner in Washington, D.C. As guests at the dinner, the students will assume one of the following identities: the Liberian ambassador to the United States; the U.S. secretary of state; the president of the Oriental Timber Company; the Liberian minister of commerce; a U.S. trade representative; the vice president of Human Rights Watch (a non-governmental human rights monitoring organization); a Liberian general; and the secretary-general of the United Nations. At the dinner, the secretary-general of the United Nations raises a difficult question: What is the moral responsibility of the United States to intervene in the internal affairs of Liberia? Instruct students to discuss the question, speaking for the position that their character would take, not for the position that they themselves might hold.

Optional assessment tool: Assign a one-page essay supporting or opposing an embargo on Liberian timber exports.


  • How well can the student describe the significance of diamonds and timber in arms trafficking and civil wars in West Africa?
  • How well can the student describe Liberia's role in Sierra Leone's civil war?
  • How well can the student describe the nature and impact of the Strategic Commodities Act?
  • To what extent did the student participate in classroom discussion?


Core Resources:

Internet Resources:

NCSS standards

Time, continuity, and change

  • Apply ideas, theories, and modes of historical inquiry to analyze historical and contemporary developments and to inform and evaluate actions concerning public policy issues.

Production, distribution, and consumption

  • Apply economic concepts and reasoning when evaluating historical and contemporary social developments and issues. Distinguish between the domestic and global economic systems, and explain how the two interact.

Global connections

  • Explain conditions and motivations that contribute to conflict, cooperation, and interdependence among groups, societies, and nations.

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