Foreign Policy: What Wikileaks Told Us About the Worlds Most Dangerous Nations


What we know: After a few years off the front pages, 2011 will be a pivotal year for Sudan. As part of a 2005 peace agreement brokered by the United States to end the country’s decades-long north-south civil war, Southern Sudan will vote in January on a referendum deciding whether to secede or remain part of Sudan. Most observers believe that the south will vote overwhelmingly for independence from Khartoum. An equal number of analysts, however, warn that the northern government won’t let its southern half (particularly the lucrative oil deposits along the regional border) go without a fight.

What we learn: In advance of the referendum, both north and south Sudan have long been rumored to be undertaking an intensive military build-up. A series of cables document the extent of those arrangements in the south, whose regional government in Juba has been importing arms from Ukraine via the government in Kenya.

The transit route first came to light in September 2008, when a weapons shipment was seized by pirates off the coast of Somalia. The tanks aboard were said to be going to Kenya, but documentation suggested they may actually have been headed for “GOSS” (the Government of Southern Sudan). The suspicions were never substantiated and the cargo was delivered to Mombasa, Kenya. But an Oct. 8, 2008, cable confirms that the “33 Ukrainian T-72 tanks and other ammunition and equipment” aboard the seized vessel were indeed headed for Juba:

“Since last year, Kenya’s Ministry of Defense has indeed played a major role in assisting the Government of South Sudan receive arms shipments from the Government of Ukraine. When the shipments are off-loaded at the port of Mombasa, they are transported via rail to Uganda and then onward to Southern Sudan (ref C). Military officials have expressed discomfort with this arrangement, however, and have made it clear to us that the orders come “from the top.” (i.e., President Kibaki)”


What we know: In May 2008, Zimbabwean strongman Robert Mugabe lost a democratic election for the presidency but refused to leave office, throwing the country into chaos. An emergency mediator, then-South African President Thabo Mbeki stepped in to broker a power-sharing agreement between Mugabe and the poll’s winner, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. After tortuous discussions, the new government was finally formed in February 2009. Under its purview, the country stabilized and the economy finally halted its freefall into negative growth rates. Yet while Zimbabwe may be marginally better off than it was a few years ago, the governing alliance has been fraught from day one. Prime Minister Tsvangirai has pulled out of the government numerous times in protest of his exclusion from key decisions, and to this day, Mugabe remains the ultimate powerbroker.

The curveball: Robert Mugabe continues to manipulate the Kimberly Process, a mechanism intended to help certify that diamonds are “conflict free.” A series of leaked State Department cables recall the smuggling routes and the players involved in Zimbabwe’s diamond trade. Another ominously predicts government takeovers of the mines and mining communities, which would displace up to 25,000 Zimbabweans.



 What we know: Pakistan has been called the most dangerous country in the world: It’s likely home to Osama bin Laden, its northern tribal areas serve as a refuge for Taliban and al Qaeda fighters fleeing U.S. operations in Afghanistan, its military and intelligence services have a history of usurping policy and civilian rule (not to mention collaborating with Islamist extremists as proxies in a cold war with neighboring India), the government is corrupt and weak, the economy is moribund, and Islamabad has nuclear weapons. Still, Pakistan is a valuable U.S. ally, and Washington has been trying its hardest to convince the military to buck up in the fight against extremists in Afghanistan since the first days of the U.S. invasion.

What we learn: Pakistan boasts the only cable released so far in which the term “failed state” is mentioned outright. Luckily for Islamabad, it’s a rebuttal of that idea. In a February 2009 backgrounder cable written for former Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke, the embassy writes, “This is not a failed state. Pakistan has solid albeit weak institutions, a robust if often irresponsible media, established although under-equipped police forces, an increasingly strong civil society, and a population with a proven resiliency to withstand everything from earthquakes to kleptocracy.” Of course, the caveat shortly follows:

Although we do not believe Pakistan is a failed state, we nonetheless recognize that the challenges it confronts are dire. The government is losing more and more territory every day to foreign and domestic militant groups; deteriorating law and order in turn is undermining economic recovery. The bureaucracy is settling into third-world mediocrity, as demonstrated by some corruption and a limited capacity to implement or articulate policy.

Elsewhere in the cables, it is clear (and has been well-reported) that Pakistan continues to be an inscrutable ally, as frustrating as it is vital. Yet there is good news  as well. In one of the more recent cables, dated Feb. 10, 2010, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates remarks to French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner about “the dramatic changes that had taken place [in Pakistan] over the past year. It was astonishing that President Zardari had remained in power and that the Pakistanis had conducted such effective COIN operations.” Gates continues, “one can never be an optimist about Pakistan, but that the changes had been striking.” Kouchner is noted having concurred that the changes were “‘nothing short of a miracle.'”

The curveball: Prior to the Mumbai terrorist attacks of 2008, China took Pakistan’s suggestion to hold up U.N. Security Council sanctions against Jamaat-ud-Dawah, an alias for the Islamist militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET) that later carried out the attacks, according to an August 2009 cable. LET continues to operate freely on Pakistani territory, the cable reports, despite Indian and international demands that they be shut down. A Dec. 30, 2009, cable noted these ties specifically: “Some officials from the Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) continue to maintain ties with a wide array of extremist organizations, in particular the Taliban, LeT and other extremist organizations. These extremist organizations continue to find refuge in Pakistan and exploit Pakistan’s extensive network of charities, NGOs, and madrassas.”



What we know: In late 2009, Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua vanished to Saudi Arabia, where he was said to be receiving medical treatment for a long-suffering heart condition. In the interim months, as it became less clear what the president’s condition actually was — or if he would recover — the Nigerian government grappled with the question of who would run the country in his absence.

What we learn: It wasn’t just Nigerians who wondered who was in charge during Yar’Adua’s long convalescence. According to leaked State Department cables, the U.S. ambassador held a meeting with Jonathan on Feb. 24, 2010, when he was still acting president of Nigeria (and Yar’Adua was still alive.) In the discussion, Jonathan admitted that “everyone is confused” about who was running the country. He blamed the uncertainty on a small cadre close to the ailing president, led by Yar’Adua’s wife, Turai, who was restricting access to the president. Jonathan described how he would attempt to manage regional tensions if succession was necessary and the ambassador urged him to “be his own man,” to which Jonathan replied: “I was not chosen to be Vice President because I had good political experience,” he said. “I did not. There were a lot more qualified people around to be Vice President, but that does not mean I am not my own man.”

The curveball: In a series of cables regarding the country’s proposed oil-industry reform law, Shell oil tells U.S. diplomats that it has eyes in the Nigerian government: “Shell had seconded people to all the relevant ministries and that Shell consequently had access to everything that was being done in those ministries.” A separate cable discussing Nigeria’s instability and its importance to the United States — both as the most populous country in Africa and a major U.S. oil supplier — warns that “Nigeria has the possibility of becoming the next Pakistan within 25 years.” Needless to say, that’s not intended as a compliment.



What we learn: The U.S. embassy is working forcefully to push forward the reform agenda, an August 2010 cable notes. The strategy is one of slow and steady progress, mixing engagement with the Kenyan government with outreach to Kenyan citizens. As the ambassador’s cable notes, “While the culture of impunity and the grip of the old guard political elite on the levers of state power and resources remain largely intact, hairline fractures are developing in their edifice which — if we continue to work them intensively — will develop into broader fractures and open up the potential for a peaceful process of implementation of fundamental reforms.”

But while the cable lays out the basis of a reform agenda, it is not entirely optimistic that institutional and personal hurdles can be surmounted. First, it mentions a redacted individual who “blocks progress on high-level investigations and has ties directly to State House.” Another example involves alleged Kenyan government ties “with the ‘kwe kwe’ death squad responsible for extrajudicial killings.”

Calling out corruption within the Kenyan government isn’t likely to make Washington’s job any easier. But Nairobi has experience with WikiLeaks blowing the lid on big scandals. The self-described whistleblower released a secret report in 2007 detailing the blockbuster corruption within the government of former president Daniel Arap Moi.

The curveball: China is moving into Kenya, building roads and drilling oil, but a cable also notes that “90% of the ivory smugglers detained at JKIA [Jomo Kenyatta International Airport] are Chinese nationals.” China is also “providing weapons to the GOK [government of Kenya] in support of its Somalia policies and increasing their involvement with the Kenyan National Security and Intelligence Service (NSIS) by providing telecommunications and computer equipment.” There is no elaboration on which Somalia policy in particular China is fond of, but Kenya serves as the hub for the anti-piracy campaign in the Gulf of Aden and is one of the only countries that has offered to prosecute captured pirates in court.



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