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External Security Concerns

Liberia is a small, poor state, and it has correspondingly small and weak armed forces. During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Liberia's relative impotence vis-a-vis the European powers engaged in building and maintaining colonies in West Africa meant that Liberian sovereignty and the inviolability of its borders could not be taken for granted. During the colonial period, large amounts of the so-called Hinterland were lost to Britain and France when the government in Monrovia could not demonstrate its control over the area. The country survived, however, and eventually its boundaries were firmly established. Since the decolonization of most of West Africa between 1957 and 1961, Liberia has been fortunate to be surrounded by other small states that, although they have occasionally caused the Liberians concern, have displayed neither the capacity nor the inclination to threaten the government in Monrovia. Thus, in the early 1980s, as previously, Liberian leaders have usually looked beyond the country's immediate neighbors both for threats to national security and for allies to protect the country from those threats.

Liberian governments have generally regarded the United States as a close ally despite the geographic distance between the two countries. In addition to their commercial and political ties, the United States and Liberia have maintained a military relationship since the early twentieth century. For a period of several weeks after the 1980 military coup, it was uncertain if these close links would continue. The Soviet Union, Cuba, and Libya-all adversaries of the United States-immediately extended diplomatic recognition to the PRC government, but Washington displayed more hesitation, in part because of the brutality displayed during the coup and its aftermath. In addition, some prominent members of the PRC and the largely civilian cabinet were known for generally socialist or "radical" ideological inclinations, indicating their dissatisfaction with the historically close relationship with the United States and a level of distrust regarding American intentions.

Over time, however, the PRC government's relations with the United States improved, and the Soviet Union and Libya came to be characterized as hostile powers. There were several reasons for the shift in the Liberian attitude. Doe's increased prominence in government decisionmaking, his close personal friendship with the late Guinean president Ahmed Sekou Toure-a longtime Marxist-Leninist who cautioned Doe against a close relationship with the Soviets?and Libya's 1980?81 invasion and short-lived merger with Chad have all been cited by observers as partial explanations for the more sharply defined Liberian attitude. Quiwonkpa, who at the time was a close ally of Doe, expressed his government's complaint in 1981 that "communist countries were supplying arms and ammunition to African countries and were quick to take advantage of military takeovers and other national disturbances." Others have noted that the United States would not have been so quick to provide high levels of economic and military assistance had Liberia strengthened its ties with the Soviet Union, Libya, or their allies.

The Liberian attitude toward the Libyan regime of Colonel Muammar al Qadhaafi continued to harden after the Libyan people's bureau (embassy) in Monrovia was ordered closed by Liberian authorities. In a 1983 interview, Doe indicated that Libya had supported Web Syen's alleged attempt in 1981 to overthrow the Liberian government. In the same interview, Doe described Qadhaafi as a man "who would like to lead the whole continent of Africa" and said that "we will do our best politically to sabotage his operations in the region." In addition to Libyan activities in Chad, Doe was reportedly concerned about Libyan meddling in Ghana and Upper Volta (renamed Burkina Faso in 1984). When Liberia resumed official diplomatic relations with Israel in 1983 after a 10-year lapse, it was widely reported that the Israelis had agreed to supply the Liberians with intelligence on Libyan activities in Sub-Saharan Africa. The nature of relations between Liberia, Libya, and Israel was spelled out by Israeli president Chaim Herzog when he welcomed Doe to Israel in August 1983: "You come from Africa facing the new danger of Libyan colonialist ambitions which threaten the independence of many African countries."

In the early 1980s Libya was the Doe government's major external concern, but other countries were also viewed with suspicion. In~May 1981 the Liberians ordered the Soviet embassy to reduce its staff from 15 to six and in November 1983 expelled the ambassador, accusing the Soviet Union of involvement in the Quiwonkpa plot. The Ghanaian charge d'affaires was also declared persona non grata because of his embassy's alleged complicity in the coup attempt.

Liberia has rarely felt threatened by its immediate neighbors-Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Ivory Coast-although the armed forces of the latter two are individually thought by most observers to be at least a match for those of Liberia. Ivory Coast's 5,000-man military establishment is well regarded because it has been trained by the French; similar respect is granted Guinea's 9,900?strong armed service because it has been generously equipped by the Soviet Union. After the overthrow of the True Whig government in 1980, relations were complicated because Tolbert had been close to leaders of all three neighboring countries. He had married the daughter of Ivory Coast president Felix Houphouet-Boigny, and Guinean troops had been flown to Monrovia in 1979 to support Liberian forces in the wake of the rice riots. As head of state, Doe was quickly able to establish a close relationship with the Guinean president. He also worked to improve ties with Liberia's other neighbors, but potentially troublesome signs were occasionally displayed. Relations with Ivory Coast, although correct, were never close, and friction developed when it was suspected that Quiwonkpa had fled there after he was accused in the November 1983 plot against Doe. Strains with Sierra Leone were displayed quite dramatically on one occasion in February 1983 when the head of state sent a battalion of troops to the border after a Freetown tabloid had falsely reported that he had killed his wife after discovering she had been involved in a coup plot against him. Nothing further came of that incident, but it did indicate that armed conflict between Liberia and its neighbors was not wholly inconceivable.

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