Back in late October I wrote about “safe havens” for The National:
But there are real questions about how reasonable this fear of safe havens is. For one thing, the strategy is frighteningly unbounded. Today America is worried about chaos in Afghanistan, but there are also indications that al Qa’eda has found safe haven in Somalia and Yemen. Broken states, alas, are not all that rare. To suggest that the United States could succeed in its mission to vastly improve governance in Afghanistan, given enough time and money and manpower, hardly provides evidence that the task could be repeated in Sudan and Nigeria and Chad. If it’s true that the world’s security depends on eradicating every pocket of instability on Earth, then we really are doomed.
Well, now we all know a listicle’s worth of facts about Yemen, and here comes the State Department’s take on Yemen:
Of course, the underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab hailed from there, but his case is seen as an aberration because he grew up in the most advantageous of circumstances. But according to a new report made public Monday, Nigeria is at risk of becoming the same type of breeding ground for violent extremism that America is now battling in so many other places around the globe.
“Government neglect is provoking disaffection that, if left unchecked, could lead to the growth of insurgency or even terrorism,” the report states. “Increased desertification in the North and a growing population mean increased competition for already scant land and water resources. In the South, where unemployment among youths is widespread, vandalism against infrastructure such as pipelines is almost a way of life. Newly armed groups of youths readily join in the sabotage activities and kidnappings, upping the stakes for control of the energy resources of this area. Nigeria is also haunted by ethnic and political conflicts that have erupted in violence on multiple occasions in recent years. Despite all these issues, Nigeria is crucial as a U.S. partner and regional leader.”
Two points. One, to repeat myself there are a lot of troubled spots around the globe and we can’t have the American military conduct population-centric counterinsurgency in all of them.
The other, per Patrick Barry, is that it’d be a shame to start looking at the entire world through the lens of ill-defined extremism:
The problems Nigeria faces are no doubt serious, and instability there does raise concerns about the country turning into an extremist hot-spot, but what I think this story illustrates more than anything is the problems of extremism-centric thinking. If the U.S. has interests in Nigeria, it is primarily because Nigeria is one of 22 emerging markets in the world, the 2nd largest economy in Africa (not including Egypt) and the U.S.’ second largest trading partner south of the Sahara. Extremism in Nigeria is important to the extent it impacts these other things, but not so much as something independent from them.
A ton of people live in Nigeria—over 150 million. And they’re poor—per capita GDP around $2,000 in PPP adjusted terms. If Nigeria were to become as prosperous as some other poor-but-much-less-poor country like Namibia or El Salvador that would be a tremendous win for human welfare. That’s what’s really important here.