The United States as a Third Party in the Civil War in Angola

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2006

17 Pages, Grade: A




A. The role of a third party
B. Civil war in Angola
C. The US as an interested third party
D. Conflict resolution
D.1. A Transcend perspective


Angola, a chronology of key events:

Journal articles
Retrieved from the World Wide Web in April 2006


Angolan nationalist movements’ struggle for independence (gained in 1975) against the Portuguese colonial power was to transform into an intrastate conflict between the parties: MPLA, backed by Cuba, and the FNLA plus Unita, backed by South Africa and the United States (US); and into an interstate conflict entangled within the Cold War scenario, so as to involve outsiders such as the Soviet Union, the US, Cuba and South Africa, each seeking to “shape an outcome that would advance its perceived interests”.[1]

This paper will attempt to address the question of how third party intervention, in this case the US renders resolution of the conflict more difficult because of its primary concern being its own narrow self-interest.


A. The role of a third party

According to Bercovitch and Houston, “the practice of settling disputes through intermediaries has a rich history in all cultures, both Western and non-Western”. However, due to the nature of the international arena, “with its anarchical features of escalating conflicts, shrinking resources, rising ethnic demands, and the absence of generally accepted 'rules of the game', the potential application of mediation is truly unbounded”.[2] As part of the conflict resolution process, a third party’s entry can reflect “changes in the conflict structure and allows a different pattern of communications, enabling the third party to filter or reflect back the messages, attitudes and behaviour of the conflictants”. Nonetheless, a third party can also change the power balance and even risks to find itself “sucked into the conflict as a full party” if it is powerful, i.e. in the case of politicians and governments. Miall et al. distinguish between “powerful mediators, who bring their power resources to bear, and powerless mediators, whose role is confined to communication and facilitation. Among the means used to “seek or force an outcome, typically along the win-lose or ‘bargaining’ line are: “good offices, mediation, and sticks and carrots”. Still, in the case of asymmetric conflicts, which support a top dog-underdog structure, conflict resolution can only occur with the change of the structure, though this cannot be in the interests of the top dog. In the case of no win-win outcomes, the third party would join forces with the underdog so as to bring about a resolution. The role of the third party is on the whole to transform “what were unpeaceful, unbalanced relationships into peaceful and dynamic ones” and if required, encounter the top dog.[3] However, it also takes time to solve a conflict, and the civil war in Angola was to last more than twenty years.

According to Galtung’s transcend perspective of conflict resolution which includes the diagnosis, prognosis and therapy elements; the Angolan civil war is diagnosed as a “resource driven war with international complicity”, with “diplomatic stagnation and continued warfare” as prognosis, and finally “quiet informal diplomacy, humanitarian cease-fire, local power” are suggested for therapy.[4]

B. Civil war in Angola

The diagnosis element includes “ethnic, colonial and Cold War” as the origins of the conflict. In addition, structures of patronage or autocracies, which are run by small oligarchies with little or no people participation, provide the central organization. On the other hand, there is the international community support, which is focused on the government side and prohibits contact with the opposition UNITA party, though some evidence was found for CIA support for both sides. Besides, each of the major internal and external parties is seeking interests and profit from the war economy because of “the lack of governance, regulation and taxation results in corruption, high crime rates (including by the police), poverty, empty schools and the spread of infectious diseases”. In addition, the electoral system, which is modelled on the US two-party system, is perceived as “very ill-matched to the complexities of Angolan society”.[5]

With the end of the Cold War and the demise of the Soviet Union, the international scene witnessed a shift from interstate conflicts to other types of conflicts such as: “internal conflicts, ethnic conflicts, conflicts over secession and power struggles”. Africa for instance, according to Miall et al., serves evidence for the “return of mercenary armies and underpaid militias which preyed on civilian population in a manner reminiscent of medieval times”.[6] The civil war in Angola, which started in 1975 following its independence from Portugal, is classified among the “post-colonial civil wars in which the great powers intervened as part of a continuing geopolitical struggle for power and influence”. As part of new wars, the conflict in Angola bears the trait of ‘war economy’ which is “no longer funded by taxation and generated by state mobilization, but sustained by outside emergency assistance and the parallel economy including unofficial export of timber and precious metals, drug-trafficking, criminal rackets, plunder”. Besides, this conflict also features six aspects such as “non-authority-oriented, anti-colonial secessionist, indigenous control of authority structures, external imposition of authority structures, and Cold War sponsored”.[7] According to Lowe, the country was a “victim of outside interference and the Cold War” with the following states involved[8]:

- South African troops invaded Angola in support of UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) and its leader Jonas Savimbi.
- Zaire with the US backing invasion to support of the FNLA (National Front for the Liberation of Angola) with advisers, cash and armaments, and encouraged it to attack MPLA.
- Russian weapons and the Cuban army backed the marxist MPLA and its leader Neto.
- The US thought that “joint government of FNLA and UNITA would be more amenable and open to Western influence.

Moreover, it has also been argued that “contemporary internal wars may represent the emergence of entirely new types of social formation adapted for survival on the margins of the global economy”. For instance, “actors like the international drug cartels in Central and South America, the Taliban in Afghanistan and rebel groups in West Africa have effectively set up parallel economies, trading in precious resources such as hardwoods, diamonds, drugs and so on”. In other words, “these wars can be seen to be both lucrative and rational for those who can take advantage and are prepared to act violently to gain power.” The behaviour of these rebel groups is described as warlordism and reflects a “ruthless and extractive attitude towards society and the economy and by reliance on military force and violence”. Indeed, in this case “the violence goes beyond rational expectations of what can be gained economically, for a rational warlord would not kill the goose that lays in the golden egg.”[9] The continuation of the conflict for more than twenty years following independence in 1975 revealed the failure of the three attempts to cooperate between the fighting groups. Indeed, the parties were to find it “difficult to agree on a peaceful solution that satisfies both, and find themselves locked in a Prisoner’s Dilemma”. In the war economy perspective, on the one hand these three unsuccessful peace agreements and the enduring conflict also suggest that Angola’s “natural resources such as oil and diamonds have been of major importance in sustaining the conflict in Angola since the end of the Cold War”. In this context, the revenue from oil has been of great importance for the government army in order to finance the war, as international oil companies had also shown their interest in Angola’s oil and with their technology making extraction of oil possible. The size of the oil and diamond reserves was indeed decisive for the scope of the fighting. For instance, the two groups, FAA and UNITA, were to decide on the fighting effort according to “their expectations of the size of the rent”. In this case, a higher rent than expected meant an increase in the fighting, i.e. war is seen as more profiting than peace; whereas a lower rent would reduce its extent. On the other hand, the conflict also reflected “a contest between the government and the rebel group over the resource rent”. According to Andersen, “in both duopoly and civil war, there is competition between two parties to get the highest expected payoffs”. Following this approach, the conflict in Angola actually lasted “for four decades since both FAA and UNITA want to control the whole resource rent by governing the country”.[10] The persistence of the war was also due in large part from interested external parties, for instance the US.


[1] D. Rothchild, Conflict management in Angola

[2] Jacob Bercovitch & Allison Houston, "The Study of International Mediation: Theoretical Issues and Empirical Evidence."

[3] H. Miall, et al., Contemporary Conflict Resolution, pp.9-13, 18

[4] J. Galtung, et al., Searching for Peace – the Road to Transcend, p.188

[5] J. Galtung, et al., op.cit., pp.297-298

[6] ibid., p.3

[7] H. Miall, et al., op.cit., pp.69, 71

[8] N. Lowe, Mastering Modern World History, pp.537-557

[9] H. Miall, et al., op.cit., pp.130-131


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The United States as a Third Party in the Civil War in Angola
University of Malta
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United, States, Third, Party, Civil, Angola
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Jennie Robinson (Author), 2006, The United States as a Third Party in the Civil War in Angola, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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