The US backstabbed France in West Africa after cutting a secret deal in Niger almost two years to the day after it backstabbed that same country in the Asia-Pacific after cutting a secret deal with Australia and the UK to create AUKUS.
“France Declared That It Won’t Let The Nigerien Junta Kick It Out Of The Country” a little less than two months ago in early August, only to now declare in late September that its 1,500 troops there will depart by the end of the year. Paris had hitherto clung to ousted leader Mohamed Bazoum’s claims of legitimacy and refused to leave unless he requests it. His country’s former colonizer also said it would support an ECOWAS invasion aimed at returning him to power if that bloc decided to commence one.
This stunning reversal therefore represents a humiliating strategic defeat for France and proves the complete failure of its neo-colonial policy in Africa. Had it earlier withdrawn on its own terms per whatever pretext after this summer’s patriotic military coup and before the junta’s predictable demand, then it could have still attempted to partially reshape perceptions in its favor. Instead, the decision was made to remain in Niger, most likely because France thought that ECOWAS would invade.
After all, if policymakers in Paris didn’t really expect any further political changes there and weren’t willing to return Bazoum to power on their own, then it wouldn’t make sense to stay in that country any longer. By doing so, they sent the signal that there was a plan in place whereby the junta would either rescind this demand or be replaced, perhaps even if only by a pro-French military faction in another coup. None of that materialized, nor did ECOWAS’ invasion, which suggests that something went wrong.
It’s at this point that the reader should recall what the top US Air Force commander for Europe and Africa revealed in mid-September regarding the resumption of his country’s intelligence and surveillance missions in Niger. According to that official, this was the result of negotiations with the junta, the outcome of which followed Acting Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland’s trip to Niamey in early August shortly after the interim military authorities demanded the withdrawal of French forces.
This analysis here explains how that development put France on the strategic backfoot since it showed that America was taking advantage of its nominal NATO partner’s spree of regional setbacks. By flexibly adapting to the multipolar trends that have swept across the Sahel, Washington was able to replace Paris’ traditional security role in Niger. This in turn had the effect of incorporating two US bases into the Sahelian Alliance that was founded a few days later between that country, Burkina Faso, and Mali.
The speculative quid pro quo appears to have been that the US would foil France’s envisaged ECOWAS invasion if the junta let it keep those military facilities. To put it bluntly, the US backstabbed France in West Africa after cutting a secret deal in Niger almost two years to the day after it backstabbed that same country in the Asia-Pacific after cutting a secret deal with Australia and the UK to create AUKUS. Only a secretive American-Nigerien deal cogently accounts for why France waited till now to withdrawal.
Up until this point, France still hoped that the US would order ECOWAS to invade Niger and therefore save both of their bases there, which its policymakers assumed would inevitably happen since they thought that the US was afraid of Russian influence and terrorist attacks surging there after the coup. What they didn’t foresee was that the US would cut a deal behind their back to replace their country’s traditional security role as part of its flexible adaptation to the region’s multipolar trends.
From the US’ perspective, this was the best-case scenario given the circumstances in which its policymakers found themselves after the coup. An ECOWAS invasion risked sparking a wider war that could have created more opportunities for Russian influence to expand in parallel with destabilizing Europe if it led to another refugee crisis along the lines of 2015’s infamous one. They therefore realized that it was better to replace France in Niger and thus keep multipolar trends in check that way instead.
This cost-effect solution obviously came as a shock to France and resulted in one of its most humiliating strategic defeats in history, but the US calculated that the collateral damage wouldn’t doom their ties since the AUKUS scandal showed that France will eventually come crawling back to it. Furthermore, replacing France in its African “sphere of influence” enables the US to manage the consequences of its “partner’s” coerced departure from there together with increasing Paris’ dependence on Washington.
In practical terms, the US can proactively fill some of the void left by France’s seemingly inevitable withdrawal from Africa instead of voluntarily ceding it all to the Sino–Russo Entente while also having those resources upon which Paris depends go through American influence networks instead of its own. The only compromises that the US has to make is accepting some expansion of Sino-Russo influence (since it can’t prevent this in totality) and the supposedly unsavory optics of partnering with a junta.
About the second-mentioned aspect, perception management operations are already underway to mitigate the soft power damage at home. Andreas Kluth’s latest op-ed for Bloomberg dramatically declared that “If the US Exits Niger, the Terrorists and Russians Win” and argued that it’s better to stay there in spite of the junta than withdraw out of protest in defense of “democracy”. He explained to his targeted Western audience that this is the so-called lesser evil considering the alleged alternatives.
What’s so novel about this narrative is how candid Kluth is about the US’ interests in Niger, which he openly says necessitate such compromises as the above. While he also fearmongers about Russia and terrorists just like his peers did all across the summer, his proposed solution isn’t to support a potentially very costly ECOWAS invasion, but to pragmatically cut deals with the junta. Kluth’s article is both refreshing and concerning because it shows how flexibly the US is adapting to multipolar trends.
On the one hand, it’s not often that someone speaks so candidly to the Western public about US interests in the Global South, which is why it’s refreshing since most perception managers prefer to obfuscate and lie about this subject. That said, it’s also concerning because of how objectively effective this approach can be in advancing the US’ interests, which poses a much greater challenge for the Sino-Russo Entente’s there than the one that they previously had to content with.
Returning back to France’s stunning reversal, its decision to finally withdraw from Niger despite declaring just two months ago that it’ll stay there in defiance of the junta was arguably the result of the US cutting a deal with its interim military authorities and therefore practically forcing France out. If France suspected that this might happen, then it could have left on its own terms earlier this summer, which is why this development should be seen as the second American betrayal of France after AUKUS.
Source: the author’s blog