Liberia

Letter to Secretary of State Warren Christopher

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Below is a letter that Friends of Liberia recently sent to Secretary of State Warren Christopher.
July 18, 1996

The Honorable Warren Christopher
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
Washington, D.C.

Dear Mr. Secretary:

I am writing on behalf of Friends of Liberia (FOL), an organization of 800 Americans gravely concerned that the U.S. government may be moving forward with a policy that could prove counterproductive to an effective peace process. We are alarmed by U.S. support for elections in Liberia before demobilization. For several reasons, FOL believes that such a course of action would only prolong the fighting and would undermine efforts to secure stability in Liberia and allow transition to democracy. Instead, the United States should initiate and lead a new partnership for peace that will dynamically overcome the reoccurring obstacles that have prevented implementation of past peace agreements.

Elections Require Demobilization

Liberian civilians, both in this country and throughout West Africa, who hope to have a role in the future of their country are saying that elections without demobilization will not end the conflict. An attempt to hold elections while some 60,000 combatants remain armed would only exacerbate the divisions that have produced seven years of bloodshed. The recent outbreak of fighting in Monrovia is a grim proof of what results when warlords retain control over fully-armed forces while attempting to advance a political process. Demobilization will result in the dismantling of that structure of control and would serve as evidence that the faction leaders are committed to a transition to democracy. What is more, it would encourage the more than one million displaced persons of Liberia to participate in the transition to a democracy with a free and fair election. Without this basic condition, any election would be suspect.

A simplistic assumption is being made about the similarity of Sierra Leone and Liberia. The thinking appears to be that an election model that worked for the former British colony can be applied to Liberia. Critical factors distinguish the two countries' situations. In Sierra Leone, a groundswell of civilian support for a return to civilian rule initiated the process that led to elections. Civilians in Liberia have indicated that they will not support an electoral process without demobilization. Another important distinction is that the military in Sierra Leone, anxious to return to the barracks, fully supported a restoration of civilian government. We cannot say the same of Liberia where the recurring theme has been the desire of warring militias to achieve political power through military means. It would be a vast leap of the imagination to assume that the more complex military situation in Liberia could be resolved through elections. Indeed, the current makeup of the Liberian interim government brought the armed elements into the last safe haven Liberia had, Monrovia. It was the tragic failure of peacekeeping there that should lead to a conclusion that a fully participatory election would be impossible until there is substantial demobilization.

A New International Framework for Peace

Rather than move ahead with a hasty election that will end in a catastrophe or curtail the opportunity for a democratic transition, the United States government should seek a new strategy for helping Liberians to achieve peace. In other conflicts in the world, Mr. Secretary, you have spearheaded efforts to redesign peace processes that the U.S. and the international community could effectively support. We propose that the United States take a similar, multilateral approach to ending the conflict in Liberia.

The approach to achieving peace in Liberia has revolved around the ECOWAS process for six years. This process has, in turn, been dependent on a core group of ECOWAS nations with the will and limited resources to engage in diplomacy or to commit forces for peacekeeping. Fourteen peace agreements have been largely brokered without the United States and other international parties, such as the United Nations or OAU, present with ECOWAS as working partners at the negotiating table. The result of this limited process has been a serious disconnection between the negotiation of the agreements and the resources, and leverage, necessary for successful implementation. This failure to produce a concerted approach to all aspects of the peace process, from mediation to negotiation and implementation, produced the tragic results that we have witnessed in Liberia.

As a first step, the United States should initiate the diplomatic action that is necessary to formalize levels of cooperation among ECOWAS, the United Nations, the OAU and other donor countries. The objective of this collaboration would be to jointly build a framework, supported by an adequate budget and resources, for achieving lasting peace in Liberia. The foundation for this new international approach to peace already exists with the Contact Group for Liberia, the group of donor countries that have pledged support to the peace process. The concept behind the Contact Group should be expanded to a tightly coordinated international alliance that includes the United States, ECOWAS, the United Nations, and the OAU. This type of partnership is particularly vital to the effective implementation of a peace process given the scarce resources available for demobilization and peacekeeping.

The establishment of a formal structure for collaboration will also position the international community to more effectively address the two crucial issues of interim security and interim governance. After a committed consensus is achieved on the security issue, the United States could use its considerable diplomatic leverage, in collaboration with others in the international community, to move Liberians toward a consensus on the issue of interim governance. When these conditions are met, Liberians would be in a position to hold a democratic election leading to the choice of a constitutional government.

A Conference of 'Working Partners'

The ECOWAS summit that convenes next week is an opportunity for the United States to propose this new process that stresses collaboration within an international framework. The ECOWAS nations, drained of resources and overwhelmed by the burdens of peacekeeping and diplomacy, will welcome this initiative. The U.S. should be prepared to advance momentum achieved at the ECOWAS summit by immediately convening an international conference of the 'working partners' mentioned above to establish the coordination of diplomatic efforts and the details of financial support for peacekeeping, demobilization, a repatriation program, and a framework of governance leading to an election. If the ECOWAS summit fails to achieve satisfactory results the conference of 'working partners' could become a vital 'safety net' that produces concerted action to keep Liberia from falling into a post-summit abyss.

Liberia has over the course of its 150 year history been our most dependable ally in Africa. From both World Wars through the Cold War, Liberians were willing to put their security as risk to assist the United States. Yet, when Liberia's security was most at risk because of civil conflict the United States failed to take decisive action and, instead, deferred to a subregional organization that lacked the necessary resources. While the United States has recently become more engaged in the process of peace, there is still the feeling among Americans, Liberians and the international community that our commitment is less than resolute. The failure to produce a fully funded and effective demobilization plan in the months following the signing of the Abuja Accord is a case in point.

Now we have another opportunity to assert our international leadership at a critical juncture in the peace process. The collaborative approach outlined in this letter would be an example of a partnership for peace that has marked successes in Cambodia and Mozambique, and promises to produce success in Bosnia. Only strong leadership by the United States can forge this new framework for peace in Liberia. For that reason, we ask you to take the lead in organizing an international conference of 'working partners' to convene after the upcoming ECOWAS summit.

We would greatly appreciate the opportunity to meet with you to discuss your response to this call for strong leadership by the United States.

Sincerely yours,

Kevin George
President