Published 17 Aug 06
by J. Peter Pham, Ph.D.
World Defense Review columnist
Niger Delta Blues
Last week's announcement by British Petroleum (BP) that it might have to shut down its 400,000 barrels-per-day Prudhoe Bay oil field – after an inspection turned up severe corrosion and a small leak on an oil transit pipeline – sent waves through the world financial markets as well as unleashing a barrage of political fire in Washington. As problematic as the challenge, BP's difficulties in Alaska are easily remediable, even if the company's announced plans to replace all of its transit lines around the Prudhoe Bay will cost an estimated $170 million.
In contrast, little attention has been paid to the far more daunting challenge that BP and other oil "majors" – and the world as a whole – face in its Niger Delta oilfields where, since the beginning of this year, attacks by a new group calling itself the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) have cut production by an estimated 500,000 barrels of oil per day, or approximately 25 percent of Nigeria's output. (According to a July 28, 2006, report by the United States Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration, during the same period, Nigeria is the America's fifth-largest supplier of petroleum products, shipping approximately 1,207,000 barrels per day, just a little behind third-ranked Saudi Arabia's 1,453,000 barrels.)
There has been unrest in the Niger Delta for decades, fueled by underdevelopment, environmental degradation, and violence, including the execution in 1995 of businessman and writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight fellow advocates for the Ogoni people by Nigeria's then military regime.
It is only recently that the dissent formerly organized along village, clan, or ethnic group lines has coalesced into a loose network of those aggrieved that so little of the wealth accumulated by Nigeria as Africa's greatest oil producer has been reinvested in the regions where the resources were extracted, often at the cost of extraordinary ecological damage.
Out of this background MEND has emerged as a force to be reckoned with.
Availing itself of the isolation and vulnerability of oil installations hidden in the southeastern region's maze of rivers and swamplands as well as the superior knowledge of the unforgiving terrain possessed by its militants, MEND has claimed responsibility for destroying dozens of pipelines and other attacks that have more than thirty people dead, including a January assault on a Shell flow station that devastated the facility and left fourteen soldiers dead.
Since that time, the group has also taken two dozen foreign contractors for the oil majors hostage, including a American, a Canadian, and six Britons (at the time of this writing, no one has not yet claimed responsibility for the kidnapping last week of two Norwegian and two Ukrainian contractors off of a supply vessel as well as three Filipinos and one German working in the Delta). All were subsequently released when either ransom was paid or their publicity value diminished.
In April, a spokesman for MEND, whose leaders are unknown, said that the group would cease taking prisoners, whom he described as a drain on resources and a security risk, and focus its energies on attacking oil facilities. As if to underscore his point and demonstrate its potential to wreak further havoc, the group set off two car bombs that same month.
While the absolute amount of damage caused so far is relatively small, today's global markets are such that the impact of even minor disruptions can be significant. And, as two military experts quoted in an excellent study of U.S. energy interests in West Africa by Daniel Morris, published in the current issue of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy's journal, American Foreign Policy Interests, note:
"U.S. national security and energy security are inexorably intertwined, particularly when considering the multiple state and non-state actors who can wreak considerable havoc on our economy based solely on our significant dependence on foreign oil."
Despite all of this, the little attention that has been focused in this country on the growing challenge posed by MEND and similar groups operating in the Niger Delta has been rather surreal, with debates among policymakers, scholars, analysts, and activists over whether the militants are upset at the oil majors, the Nigerian federal government, state and local authorities, or all of the above. From a national security point of view, this discussion is rather academic since the final impact on global markets – and thus the U.S. economy – remains the same regardless of who is at fault because of profit-taking or what the causalities of the terrorism are.
So why has the terrorist angle not come to the fore in the debate? Amazing as it sounds, the dialogue on terrorism between the United States and its potential partners in Africa is as utterly uncommunicative as that of among the builders of the Tower of Babel. Most African states, including Nigeria, are parties to the former Organization of African Unity's Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism which defines "terrorism" as:
Any act which is a violation of the criminal laws of a State Party and which may endanger the life, physical integrity or freedom of, or cause serious injury or death to, any person, any number of group of persons or causes or may cause damage to public or private property, natural resources, environmental or cultural heritage and is calculated to:
(i) intimidate, put in fear, force, coerce or induce any government, body, institution, the general public or any segment thereof, to do or to abstain from doing any act, or to adopt or abandon a particular standpoint, or to act according to certain principles; or
(ii) disrupt any public service, the delivery of any essential service to the public or to create a public emergency; or
(iii) create a general insurrection in a State.
In contrast, American priorities in the war on terrorism are informed by Title 22, Section 2656 f (d), of the U.S. Code which defines "terrorism" as premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually with the goal of influencing an audience, while "international terrorism" is defined as terrorism involving citizens or the territory of more than one country and a "terrorist group" is any group practicing, or that has significant subgroups that practice, international terrorism.
There are very real consequences to these legal distinctions, including funding for counterterrorism and plain old attention by policymakers.
Of course, the goals of international and non-international terrorist groups differ in both objective and scope of activity. However, nothing prevents international terrorist groups from making alliances of convenience with non-international terrorist groups, while the latter can expand their scope to include such international powers, which might be viewed as supporting the local authorities against whom they fight. No one knows, for example, who has been funding MEND's acquisitions of armaments or what might be motivating that donor.
And even if there no evidence has yet emerged of international terrorist involvement, certainly the architects of international terror have already assessed the potential of exploiting MEND's potential. The problem is very real and growing and could well spread to other parts of the subregion and across the continent.
Consequently, it is counterproductive for the United States to be concerned almost exclusively with "international terrorism" to the neglect of the (thus far) low-level domestic terrorist challenge faced by Nigeria and other African states.
Our counterterrorism efforts will bear little fruit if they are perceived as too preoccupied with protecting expatriates and their interests and too little concerned with the hundreds of attacks affecting Africans.
In short, in order to prosecute a "global war on terror," America needs to assume a truly global perspective, both of the challenges faces and the possible countermeasures.
– J. Peter Pham is Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs and a Research Fellow of the Institute for Infrastructure and Information Assurance at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. He is also an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C. In addition to the study of terrorism and political violence, his research interests lie at the intersection of international relations, international law, political theory, and ethics, with particular concentrations on the implications for United States foreign policy and African states as well as religion and global politics.
Dr. Pham is the author of over one hundred essays and reviews on a wide variety of subjects in scholarly and opinion journals on both sides of the Atlantic and the author, editor, or translator of over a dozen books. Among his recent publications are Liberia: Portrait of a Failed State (Reed Press, 2004), which has been critically acclaimed by Foreign Affairs, Worldview, Wilson Quarterly, American Foreign Policy Interests, and other scholarly publications, and Child Soldiers, Adult Interests: The Global Dimensions of the Sierra Leonean Tragedy (Nova Science Publishers, 2005).
In addition to serving on the boards of several international and national think tanks and journals, Dr. Pham has testified before the U.S. Congress and conducted briefings or consulted for both Congressional and Executive agencies.
© 2006 J. Peter Pham
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