When people think about U.S. security, Gabon is rarely the first country to come to mind. But as a relatively stable country in an unstable region, Gabon plays a key role in the U.S. military strategy in Africa. The country acts as a partner from which the United States can project force into the surrounding region during times of crisis. Gabon is heavily reliant on oil revenues to operate, and it has struggled to attract investment from international oil companies as new technologies have opened up opportunities elsewhere. However, declining production has not hurt Gabon’s ability to act as a U.S. security partner thus far, and new deepwater discoveries could stimulate the country’s finances in the long run.
At 240,000 barrels per day, Gabon is among sub-Saharan Africa’s five largest oil producers. However, since peaking in 1997, output from the country’s maturing oil fields has steadily declined, though longevity projects have mitigated this downward trend in recent years.1
But Gabon’s fortunes may be changing. In 2014, Eni, Shell, and CNOOC discovered significant deepwater resources in the Gulf of Guinea, off Gabon’s coast. Though international oil companies are still in the process of discovering the country’s full deepwater potential, the initial discoveries could point to a promising future for Gabonese energy.2
Compared to many of its neighbors, Gabon has relatively few domestic security concerns with which it must grapple. This internal stability has allowed the country to shift its attention outward, contributing to peacekeeping and joint security operations in its surrounding region, including U.N. missions in Sudan and the Central African Republic as well as joint maritime efforts in the Gulf of Guinea. Gabon has also allowed other global powers, including the United States, to use it as a launchpad from which to project power or conduct emergency operations.
If new production technologies such as deepwater drilling boost Gabon’s energy revenues in the future, they may have a positive impact on U.S. security interests by increasing the military capacity of an important security partner in Africa, leading to greater regional stability and maritime security in the long run.
If, however, international oil companies ultimately shift their attention toward new production opportunities in more attractive investment environments, one might expect Gabon to become less able to contribute to regional stability given its currently declining oil production (and fewer revenues to support its military). But in reality this should not be a concern, because history has shown that even in times of reduced revenues, governments tend to make cuts elsewhere before scaling down their military and security forces. Gabon is no exception.