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‘Major non-NATO ally’: What does Biden’s new Kenya pledge mean?



Here’s more about the non-NATO ally designation, promised to Kenya during President Ruto’s Washington visit.

United States President Joe Biden pledged to designate Kenya as a major non-NATO ally on Thursday, which will make Kenya the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to hold the designation. This was during Kenyan President William Ruto’s three-day visit to the US.

Biden described the decision as “a fulfilment of years of collaboration”.

“Our joint counterterrorism operations have degraded ISIS [ISIL] and al-Shabab across East Africa, our mutual support for Ukraine has rallied the world to stand behind the UN Charter, and our work together on Haiti is helping pave the way to reduce instability and insecurity,” Biden told a news conference at the White House on Thursday.

But what does a major non-NATO ally status mean?

What is a major 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. In particular, this status would not bind the US and Kenya to mutual defence of each other, if either one of them were under attack.

What benefits do non-NATO allies receive?

The MNNA status entails certain economic and military benefits alongside benefits in areas of defence trade and security cooperation, but it “does not entail any security commitments to the designated country”, the US Department of State website says. The designation will allow Nairobi to buy military technologies that would be harder for other countries to obtain from Washington.

In addition to that, the State Department website enumerates other benefits, including:

  • MNNAs are eligible for loans of materials and equipment for research, development or testing.
  • US-owned War Reserve Stockpiles can be placed on MNNA territory.
  • MNNAs can be considered for the purchase of depleted uranium ammunition.
  • The allies can enter a formal agreement with the US Department of Defense to carry out research and development projects. Additionally, firms of the MNNA can bid on contracts to repair and maintain US Defense Department equipment outside of the US.

But the designation would not guarantee new defence agreements or weapon sales between Nairobi and Washington.

Which other countries has the US designated major non-NATO allies?

The US has currently designated 18 countries as MNNAs. These include Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Brazil, Colombia, Egypt, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, Qatar, South Korea, Thailand and Tunisia.

In 2022, Biden rescinded Afghanistan’s status as an MNNA, 10 years after the designation was first announced.

What about other major US defence partners?

The US State Department says it treats Taiwan “as an MNNA, without formal designation as such” based on a 2002 statute — effectively giving the self-governing territory the benefits of that status without the legal recognition restricted to sovereign states.

This is because of the one China policy under which the US does not recognise Taiwan as an independent nation — even as it supports the territory economically and militarily. The relationship is fundamentally governed through the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act.

In 2016, the US designated India as a Major Defense Partner, under this designation, India can get licence-free access to military and dual-use equipment regulated by the US Department of Commerce.

What else happened during Ruto’s US visit?

Ruto arrived in Washington on Wednesday for a three-day visit. Here are the key developments that have taken place since:

  • During bilateral discussions between Biden and Ruto, the two countries decided to establish dialogue on artificial intelligence, collaboratively support Somali “antiterrorism” efforts and push for a ceasefire in Sudan.
  • Ruto also affirmed that both countries are committed to the US-backed initiative to send a Kenya-led police force to Haiti, which is currently rife with gang violence. Biden defended his decision to withhold US forces from the Haiti mission.
  • Biden and Ruto launched the US-Kenya Climate and Clean Energy Industrial Partnership, where the two will work with international financial institutions and multilateral trust funds to mobilise investment in clean energy.
  • The two countries additionally announced collaboration in healthcare, between US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kenya’s government to work towards the launch of the Kenyan National Public Health Institute.
  • Biden hosted a state dinner for Ruto on Thursday with about 500 guests including former President Bill Clinton and his wife and former presidential nominee, Hillary, as well as former President Barack Obama.
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