Chad lacked established channels for foreign policy debate in the late 1980s. Few people were accustomed to formulating or expressing foreign policy concerns beyond the desire for peace and an end to foreign intervention. As a result, Chad's foreign policy reflected its colonial past, economic and military needs, and the quest for national sovereignty. Habré's overall plan for reinforcing national sovereignty was to eliminate Libyan intervention in the north, to reduce the nation's dependence on France, and, eventually, to proclaim a democratic state of Chad. Consistent with its liberal economy and relatively small public sector, Chad's foreign policy was pro-Western in the 1980s, but the basis for this orientation was rooted in its dependence on Western military assistance and foreign aid and investment, rather than on popular concern about superpower rivalries. Habré maintained in 1988 that the spread of communism posed a threat to Africa, but he intended, nonetheless, to assert Chad's nonalignment and autonomy from the West once peace with its neighbors was established.
After independence, Chad's importance in Africa increased, although its new stature derived more from its weaknesses than its strengths. It struggled to establish and maintain sovereignty within its boundaries, as Libya claimed a portion of northern Chad. Numerous dissidents within Chad considered Libyan domination preferable to Habré's administration of the 1980s or continued dependence on France. Some neighboring states hoped Chad would solve its internal problems and serve as a buffer against Libyan advances into the Sahel, pacify its warring rebel armies, and avoid destabilizing their regimes. Other neighboring states, especially Libya and Nigeria, hoped to exploit Chad's mineral wealth, and most of Chad's Arab neighbors saw it as a potential ally in the effort to weaken Western influence on the continent.
Libya and France were the key power brokers in Chad. Chad's relations with these two nations were interrelated throughout the 1980s, complementing one another in many instances. France's ties with its former colony were rooted in historical, economic, political, and security issues. Libya's long-standing ties with Chad, conversely, had cultural, ethnic, and religious bases--less important to governments but more so to many people in northern Chad. France and Libya also formulated policies toward Chad in the context of their own ambivalent relationship. France imported Libyan oil at favorable prices and assisted Libya's burgeoning military institutions yet faced the dilemma of arming both sides in the dispute over the Aozou Strip.
Within this foreign relations triangle, Chad's national leaders confronted many of the foreign policy issues that plagued the entire continent in the 1980s--the legacy of arbitrary colonial boundaries, the perceived need for strong armies to defend them, continuing postcolonial dependence, questions regarding the role of Islam in a secular state, and the problem of establishing African forms of democracy under these conditions. Viewed in this light, Chad's political environment was a microcosm of Africa's international concerns.
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