Africa Notes: United States Options in Angola - December 1980
December 20, 1985
Ten years after a brief and ill-fated involvement in the civil war that followed the collapse of Portugal's colonial rule, the United States is considering a new attempt to shape the outcome of continuing internal conflict in Angola. The 1976 Clark Amendment prohibiting any military assistance to groups in Angola "unless and until the Congress expressly authorizes such assistance by law" has been repealed by Congress; action is pending on several pieces of legislation that would authorize humanitarian and/or military aid to the União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola, (UNITA), led by Jonas Savimbi; and there is open discussion in Washington (including extensive press coverage) of the possibility of "covert" military assistance carried out under executive branch authority.
Those who view foreign policy issues primarily in globalist East-West terms are tantalized by the notion of a second Angolan venture as a revanchist opportunity to roll back one of the more dramatic projections of Soviet power into the Third World. They also see in Angola an opportunity to act upon an intensified ideological commitment to what they portray as a "revolutionary tradition" of U.S. support for people struggling for democracy.
The case for U.S. intervention is grounded in a set of specific assumptions - that the Soviets and Cubans illegitimately imposed their dominant presence in the country, have perpetuated it by force, and through it threaten the security of neighboring states; and that their dominance might be reversed by means of low-cost, low-risk U.S. assistance to anticommunist, democratically-inclined insurgents, specifically those of UNIT A. Inviting U.S. intervention on the basis of these same assumptions, Savimbi argues that President Reagan's often expressed desire "to stop Soviet expansionism in the world" can indeed be realized in Angola. American hesitation in the face of such opportunity could mean "handing over all of southern Africa to the Soviet empire."
How justified are the assumptions underlying the proposal to intervene again in Angola? Would military support for Angolan "contras" lead to a reduced Soviet and Cuban presence? Does the choice to be made lie starkly between acceptance of a Soviet fait accompli and assistance to armed insurgents? Or is there a third option?