Why Kenya’s non-Nato ally status is crucial for regional security (2024)

Beverly Ochieng,BBC Monitoring, Nairobi

Why Kenya’s non-Nato ally status is crucial for regional security (1)Why Kenya’s non-Nato ally status is crucial for regional security (2)EPA

Kenya’s designation as a major non-North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) ally by the US elevates its role in regional and international security at a time when 1,000 of its police officers prepare to battle gangs in Haiti’s besieged capital, Port-au-Prince.

The announcement came as Kenya's President William Ruto embarked on a historic state visit to the US to discuss with President Joe Biden the much-awaited deployment to the Caribbean nation and other bilateral issues.

Kenya becomes just the fourth African nation to attain the status, and the first in sub-Saharan Africa, cementing Kenya’s status as one of the US’s closest allies on the continent.

Washington pledged $200m (£157m) to Nairobi for the UN-backed Haiti mission, drawing confidence from Kenya’s long history of supporting regional peace initiatives, with relative success.

Kenya is currently overseeing a peace deal that ended Ethiopia’s two-year civil war in the northern Tigray region. Mr Ruto has also been mediating among countries in the Great Lakes region deeply divided by the chronic rebel insurgency in eastern DR Congo.

Since 2011, the Kenyan military has been fighting the al-Shabab Islamist group in neighbouring Somalia. A US military base located in Kenya’s coastal county of Lamu has been the backbone of those counterinsurgency operations.

This dependability is crucial for the US, which is being eclipsed by Russia and China, particularly in parts of West Africa, where Western forces have been forced to drastically draw down their presence.

What difference will it make?

As a non-Nato ally, Kenya will have privileged access to sophisticated military equipment, training and loans to augment defence spending.

However, the US is under no obligation to provide it with direct military assistance and Kenya is not mandated to send troops for Nato operations.

Despite the threat from al-Shabab, which has staged several attacks on Kenya, its military spending has often been moderate compared with its neighbours in the East African Community (EAC).

Why Kenya’s non-Nato ally status is crucial for regional security (3)Why Kenya’s non-Nato ally status is crucial for regional security (4)

Small-scale incursions are common along the 680 km (420 mile)- border between Somalia and Kenya.

Al-Shabab has also claimed a handful of deadly, high-profile attacks within Kenya, including the 2013 raid at the Westgate mall in the capital Nairobi where more than 70 people were killed.

Since the start of 2024, al-Shabab has claimed about 30 attacks in Kenya, according to data collected by BBC Monitoring from the militant group’s media outlets.

These have been concentrated in the border counties of Lamu, Garissa, Wajir and Mandera. The majority of casualties have been Kenyan security forces.

Why Kenya’s non-Nato ally status is crucial for regional security (5)Why Kenya’s non-Nato ally status is crucial for regional security (6)

As African Union peacekeepers leave Somalia at the end of this year, Kenya plans to heighten its presence along the border.

The elevated security status could improve Kenya’s focus on intelligence gathering and strategic deployments.

Kenya’s involvement in eastern DR Congo was a test of the military strength of a regional force of EAC member states.

The deployment was deemed a failure as troops left less than nine months after entering the central African nation, and insurgents continued to gain momentum.

However, the US has continued to use Kenya to exert influence over efforts to mediate the conflict and ensuing tensions.

While armed confrontations are off the table, President Ruto is expected to receive 16 US-made helicopters and 150 armoured vehicles that could significantly boost a Kenyan-led mission.

Haiti mission

While Kenya has vast experience in international peacekeeping, including during the civil wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia, Haiti is uncharted territory.

Nearly 100 gangs have made Port-au-Prince their battleground following the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in 2021. The instability which saw more than 300,000 people forced from their homes eventually forced Prime Minister Ariel Henry to resign this year.

As they seek territorial control, Haitian gangs have also been engaged in an arms race. The majority of their weapons are smuggled in from the US, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Colombia.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime found earlier this year that gangs are armed with Russian AK47s, US-made AR-15s and Israeli Galil assault rifles.

US funding could enable Kenyan police, who are chronically disadvantaged with poor equipment and training, to gain access to rifles, armoured vehicles and adequate ammunition to face down gangs.

How other African countries have benefited from the designation?

The non-Nato ally status remarkably upgraded the militaries of Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt.

Tunisia’s military strength changed considerably once it earned the status in 2015, coinciding with budgetary and operational reforms.

Egypt, which has one of the most reputable armies in the world, has had the designation since 1989 as it formed the cornerstone of US diplomatic forays in North Africa and the Middle East.

Morocco has gained extensive experience in counterterrorism as militants from the Islamic State (IS) group seek a foothold in parts of North Africa.

The kingdom has been hosting the largest military exercise on the continent since 2007 dubbed “African Lion”.

This year’s edition features 7,000 military personnel from 20 African and Nato states receiving tactical training.

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Why Kenya’s non-Nato ally status is crucial for regional security (7)Why Kenya’s non-Nato ally status is crucial for regional security (8)Getty Images/BBC

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Why Kenya’s non-Nato ally status is crucial for regional security (2024)

FAQs

Why Kenya’s non-Nato ally status is crucial for regional security? ›

What difference will it make? As a non-Nato ally, Kenya will have privileged access to sophisticated military equipment, training and loans to augment defence spending. However, the US is under no obligation to provide it with direct military assistance and Kenya is not mandated to send troops for Nato operations.

What is the meaning of non-NATO ally? ›

A major non-NATO ally (MNNA) refers to a country that is not part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), yet has a deep strategic and security partnership with the US. It is a designation that denotes a high level of trust, but falls short of involving commitments that full-fledged treaty allies agree to.

What countries are non NATO friendly? ›

Contents
  • 1.1 New Zealand.
  • 1.2 Argentina.
  • 1.3 Taiwan.
  • 1.4 Thailand, Philippines, and Singapore.
  • 1.5 Pakistan.
  • 1.6 Tunisia.
  • 1.7 Brazil.
  • 1.8 Qatar.

Is Singapore a NATO ally? ›

NATO also consults with other non-member countries, which have no bilateral programme of cooperation (for example, China, Brazil, Ghana, India, Singapore) in particular on regional security dynamics.

What countries are part of the Mnna? ›

Currently 18 countries are designated as MNNAs under 22 U.S.C. §2321k and 10 U.S.C. §2350a : Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Brazil, Colombia, Egypt, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, Qatar, South Korea, Thailand, and Tunisia.

What African countries are part of NATO? ›

While African countries cannot join NATO, they can engage in the alliance's various partnership programmes with countries that are not members. NATO, for example, has partnerships with several African nations, including Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Mauritania, and Tunisia.

Why are some countries not members of NATO? ›

The largest group of European nations not in NATO are those that profess their neutrality. Including nations such as Austria, Ireland, and Switzerland, some have military neutrality enshrined in their constitutions, or because of previous dealings with the great powers.

What countries are missing from NATO? ›

If you are talking about the European Union (EU), then Sweden and Finland. There are actually six (6) EU countries not part of NATO: Austria, Cyprus, Finland, Ireland, Malta, and Sweden. Switzerland is also not part of NATO nor is it part of the EU.

Why is the Philippines not part of NATO? ›

Contrary to the claim made in the video's title, the Philippines cannot be part of NATO because, as the name suggests, it is not part of the North Atlantic area. NATO membership is open to European states that can contribute to the security of the North Atlantic.

Which US state is not in NATO? ›

Sweden became the newest member of NATO earlier this month, joining 31 nations in the security alliance, including the United States. Well, make that 49 of the 50 United States. Because in a quirk of geography and history, Hawaii is not technically covered by the NATO pact.

Is Egypt a NATO member? ›

There is no arab nation in NATO. Not even Israel, an American ally, is in NATO. Anyway, the reason Egypt isn't in NATO is because NATO focuses more on North America and Europe. If it was a worldwide organisation, many countries like Japan and South Korea would have joined.

Is Israel NATO ally? ›

Israel was designated as a major non-NATO ally in 1987 by US President Ronald Reagan and has since cooperated with NATO in the areas of technology, counterterrorism and other areas.

Is Qatar a major non-NATO ally? ›

(9) The March 10, 2022, designation of the State of Qatar as a major non-NATO ally is a privilege which must be continuously earned. (10) It is in the United States interest to review the designation of certain countries as Major Non-NATO Allies from time to time as facts and circ*mstances change.

Why is Austria not in NATO? ›

The country's historical context, political considerations, and public opinion all contribute to its decision not to join NATO. While the possibility of Austria joining NATO may evolve in the future due to shifting political dynamics, neutrality remains a cornerstone of Austrian identity and foreign policy.

Is Taiwan a NATO ally? ›

NATO and Taiwan have nothing to do with each other.

Is Pakistan a NATO member? ›

NATO has developed relations with a range of countries beyond the Euro-Atlantic area, considering Pakistan as "partners across the globe." Lobbied and with a support provided by United States Secretary of State, General (retired) Colin Powell, Pakistan is designated as a "Major non-NATO ally" as of 2004.

What does NATO ally stand for? ›

Formed in 1949 with the signing of the Washington Treaty, NATO is a security alliance of 30 countries from North America and Europe. NATO's fundamental goal is to safeguard the Allies' freedom and security by political and military means.

What US state is not in NATO? ›

John Hemmings, senior director of the Indo-Pacific Foreign and Security Policy Program at the Pacific Forum, says Hawaii's exclusion from NATO removes “an element of deterrence” when it comes to the possibility of a Chinese strike on Hawaii in support of any potential Taiwan campaign.

What is the opposite side of NATO? ›

The Warsaw Pact embodied what was referred to as the Eastern bloc, while NATO and its member countries represented the Western bloc. NATO and the Warsaw Pact were ideologically opposed and, over time, built up their own defences starting an arms race that lasted throughout the Cold War.

What does NATO mean? ›

Collective defence: The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was founded in 1949 and is a group of 32 countries from Europe and North America that exists to protect the people and territory of its members.

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