We’ve got another question for our Ask Peter series today: What are the long-term impacts to Western interests of the recent political upheaval in West Africa/the Sahel, especially given the break in security partnerships with the United States and Paris?

There’s a few ways this could play out, but this situation could lead to increased jihadist activity, some non-state actor proliferation, and further destabilization in the region. Russia might even start poking around by backing certain factions and disrupt these regions further.

Nigeria has an opportunity to step up and play a stabilizing role throughout the region, but addressing these security challenges throughout West Africa will be essential moving forward.

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Thanks for joining us today. My name is Michael, and I’m director of analysis here at Zeihan on Geopolitics. And it’s my pleasure today to have a conversation with Peter Simon about some of the questions you send to us about what’s going on in the world. With that, we’ve seen a series of political shifts in West Africa, especially in the Sahel region. 

I think the one that has gotten the most attention is the rise of the winter in Niger and the cessation of security, particularly counterterrorism cooperation between many of these governments and Western powers, US and France being another major one. Are there any long term security implications for Western interests? If these breaks in security cooperation lead to what most people think is the inevitable outcome, a further rise, jihadist activity, non-state actor proliferation area and further destabilization in a place that can ill afford it. 

Well, there’s basically three big things. The first is exactly what you’re suggesting there. the states of the Sahel are very weak. They have borders, they can’t patrol. They have territories. They can’t patrol. You’ve got isolated population centers and a whole lot of nothing in between. Agriculture is weak. Energy is almost unheard of in most of these countries. 

They are barely states, even with robust American and especially French assistance. And so you remove the French and the American assistance in their capacity to even function as states. And these are becoming stateless areas. That doesn’t mean there aren’t powers there. And this is called the belt for a reason. And the Russians looking for a way to throw problems into the Western world, has basically worked with specific factions within each of these countries to overthrow the governance systems. 

And so we now have a stateless system with a gang backed by the Russians on top. And that is unfortunately the future of the region. Unless someone decides to get more directly involved, that will not be the United States. It looks like it’s not going to be the French. The biggest power that may may be interested would be Nigeria. 

And if they do, who look the fuck out because they’ve got capacity and they don’t take shit from anybody. so that’s number one. Number two, there are security outcomes from this that go well beyond this region. the Russians have, in essence, decided to throw sand in the gears and a lot of weak places, thinking that it gets them a lot of influence. 

And, and from a Wagner esque gold mining point of view, maybe it does, but they are losing influence in places that matter a lot more to them. Basically, we’ve seen Russian power expunged from the Caucasus in Central Asia, and at the end of the day, areas of the Russian border are much more important to Moscow long term than anything that’s happened in the Sahel and West Africa. 

It’s also getting the Americans and the French in particular, to stop mucking around in an area that is of tangential interest to them, and focusing on something that is much greater interest. So you might have French troops in Ukraine by the end of the year. We might have Turkish forces in places like in Nagorno-Karabakh, in, this in the Caucasus. 

Within a year or two, we might have Armenia slipping over to be part of more of a Western orientation than it has ever been. pieces are moving. And by putting their hand in the West Africa, basically, the Russians are daring the world to chop off their hand, and they’re probably going to get what they wish before long. 

And it’s come at the cost of something that actually matters to them. So I don’t think this was a good long term play for the Russians because it refocused attention. Now, if you happen to live in this area, this is all very bad because if you become a stateless area, groups like Al-Qaeda, ISIS and the like can operate there with relative impunity, which is what brings me back to Nigeria, the country with the biggest interest in this region not descending into anarchy is a low country that has a military that out staffs all of the crew belt combined by a factor of four five. 

If Nigeria is moved to action, it will do so with at least implicit support from the Western world. And we get our first ever African superpower. So yeah, this matters. The online system Nigeria will love to hear this. 

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