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The United States is far freer from commitments in Africa south of the Sahara than in any other region of the world. Everywhere else American policy operates in a setting of old-established friendships and understandings, supplemented in the postwar years by a network of alliances such as those creating NATO, CENTO and SEATO; and American bases are scattered about the globe. In Africa to an unprecedented degree the United States is not bound by established positions or traditions, by fixed agreements or vested interests. While in any given situation it may find itself hemmed in by extra-African considerations and by the particular circumstances of the case, it still has a unique freedom, indeed a necessity, constantly to create policies to meet the issues presented by what for American diplomacy is virtually a new continent.
Although the United States has long been associated with some parts of North Africa, it is very much a newcomer to sub-Saharan Africa. The American interest in Africa-emotional, intellectual and political-has grown monumentally in the last years, but concrete and identifiable American interests are sparse. Although the United States is now being pilloried as the leader among the neo-colonialists, seeking to exploit the newly independent peoples, the actual American stake in Africa is relatively slight. In 1960 the whole of the continent, including the U.A.R., took only 4 percent of the exports of the United States and supplied only 3.7 percent of American imports. An impressive list of minerals and other raw materials of which Africa is a major supplier can be drawn up, but one is presumably still justified in maintaining, as did Andrew N. Kamarck of the International Bank in 1958, that "We could get along without African commodities and African markets with an imperceptible ripple in our standard of living."