Joseph Miller is the pen name for a ranking Department of Defense official with a background in U.S. special operations and combat experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has worked in strategic planning.
On the evening of April 14, 2014, Boko Haram, a Nigerian Islamic terrorist group with links to al-Qaida kidnapped 276 school girls. The group initially said it took the girls so that they could become wives to its members. The group has changed its mind twice in the last two weeks, though, and has since offered to either sell the girls or trade them for imprisoned Islamic terrorists.
In the time since the incident took place, the world has expressed outrage over the incident — though the supposedly outraged nations have taken little action to address the situation. The kidnapping has galvanized the American public in particular, and it has become a trending topic on social media. Despite the uproar, the Obama White House has refused to take military action.
Why advocate for military action in Nigeria? While it is terrible that Boko Haram has kidnapped a large group of school girls, does the U.S. really have a national security interest in Nigeria? The answer is simple: Yes.
The United States has a national security interest in Nigeria and in countering and ultimately neutralizing nascent terrorist groups like BokoHaram. That interest is oil. Nigeria is the single largest producer of oil in Africa, and at one time was the world’s fourth-largest producer of liquid natural gas. The West African country is a member of OPEC and has been, up until recently, a relatively stable democracy. Additionally, Nigeria has not suffered from many of the issues that have caused instability in the Middle East, and has maintained good relations with the United States.
Nearly all of Nigeria’s fossil fuel deposits are located in the southern half of the country, which is predominantly Christian and peaceful. For these reasons, Nigeria seemed to be a viable alternate source of oil imports for the U.S., in order to reduce the nation’s dependence on Middle Eastern oil. Middle Eastern oil has served as a catalyst or at least a contributing factor into the decision to initiate conflict in the Arab world. Those wars have been costly in terms of blood and treasure. Diversification could reduce the likelihood that the nation is forced to fight one of these conflicts again and allow the country to focus on limited counter-terrorism operations instead.
In 2001, the George W. Bush administration joined previous Democratic and Republican administrations in concluding that energy import diversification was one of the steps required to increase American energy security. Bush’s National Energy Policy Development Group, led by then-Vice President Cheney, recommended that the U.S. increase its oil imports from countries like Nigeria in order to achieve diversification goals and reduce dependency on Middle Eastern oil. That dependency has made the U.S. vulnerable to rapid and significant decreases in supply as the Middle East has been plagued by instability.
Analysts have concluded that West African oil could account for 25 percent of all oil imported to the United States. However, terrorist attacks committed by groups like Boko Haram in the north, and the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta in the South, have significantly reduced Nigeria’s daily production of oil and its security. For these reasons, the Obama administration should have been paying closer attention to the security situation in Nigeria and should have taken decisive clandestine military action a long time ago. It should not have taken the kidnapping of 276 school girls for Obama’s foreign policy team to realize that we have a problem in Nigeria.
As recently as 2012, Nigeria accounted for over 10 percent of all U.S. oil imports. That number has now been reduced to around 5 percent. More specifically, when President Barack Obama took office in January 2008, the U.S. was importing 36,909,000 barrels of oil per month from Nigeria. As of February 2014, the most current reporting period for oil imports, that number has dropped to 1,649,000 barrels per month. This is extremely troubling for a number of reasons. To date, the Obama administration has done very little to address the security situation in Nigeria. But it’s not too late.
Obama has already let the U.S. know that he has a phone and a pen and that he will use them. That same phone connects Obama to the Pentagon, and that same pen can sign an executive order to send U.S. special operations forces and enablers to Nigeria to neutralize Boko Haram before it’s too late.