What the US should do:
US policy should seek to prevent instability and violence in Zimbabwe and to reduce the severity should they occur.
To achieve these goals, the United States could pursue three potentially complementary paths that focus on shaping the calculus of leaders in Zimbabwe, positioning the United States internationally to take effective action in the event of significant instability and violence in Zimbabwe, and working in the regional context to increase the likelihood that Zimbabwe’s SADC partners would act to reduce any violence.
The United States should expand contacts with a variety of first- and second-tier ZANU-PF and government figures and with influential business leaders to make clear that it would be willing to offer incentives to a government in Harare that demonstrated commitment to the rule of law.
Such an approach to a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe would be similar in spirit to that being applied toward Sudan.
Initial steps would include discussions of possible progressive modifications of sanctions if Zimbabwe makes progress on rule of law issues.
Before embarking on these contacts, the US government should complete an internal review of its policies toward Zimbabwe to determine how a gradual relaxation of sanctions might be orchestrated should a successor government in Harare move toward political and economic liberalization.
In addition, the United States should continue to reach out to the opposition to encourage developing an effective coalition and should continue efforts to influence the successor generation through programs such as the Young African Leaders Initiative.
The U.S. government should complete an internal review of its policies toward Zimbabwe.
Internationally, the United States should consult actively with its European partners, especially the United Kingdom, to develop a common assessment of the situation that would provide a basis for coordinated actions should instability and violence occur.
The outlines of the internal US government review of its policies toward Zimbabwe should be shared with allies.
Because China is the external partner most likely to be able to influence a successor government led by ZANU-PF, Zimbabwe should be on the agenda of US-China consultations on Africa.
Beijing has already demurred in response to the Mugabe government’s requests for new assistance; this stance might indicate that Zimbabwe could become a relatively easy test case for US-China cooperation, especially in the context of US acceptance of China’s substantial role in Africa.
Finally, the United States should make it a priority to consult with South Africa and other SADC governments on steps they could take individually and together to limit instability and violence in Zimbabwe.
Although prospects for cooperation on Zimbabwe with the current South African government led by President Jacob Zuma are not promising, other leaders in the ruling African National Congress, in opposition parties, and in civil society might be more receptive to proactive approaches to averting instability and dealing with the complexities of a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe.
The United States should pursue any opportunity for dialogue on Zimbabwe with receptive partners in South Africa.
By George F. Ward- Council for Foreign Relations