Botswana's foreign policy has historically put a premium on economic and political integration in southern Africa. This has led to the development of the 12-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC), to which Gaborone is host. The SADC has been the primary vehicle for diplomacy in the region, as well as an instrument of regional development. Post-apartheid South Africa has been welcomed as a partner in these regional initiatives.
The Southern African Customs Union (SACU), which includes Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, Swaziland, and South Africa, dates to 1910. The SACU has provided duty-free access for Botswana's exports to the larger market in South Africa. However, South Africa's dominant role in the union became increasingly troublesome to other members. Barriers to the import of non-South African capital and consumer goods have caused a good deal of controversy. In 1995, an effort was made to renegotiate the terms of the SACU agreement.
Botswana maintains friendly diplomatic relations with most African nations, as well as with many European and Arab nations. The country is a member of the UN, where it established a reputation for consensual, constructive participation during its term on the Security Council. Botswana tends to exhibit solidarity with the African consensus on most international matters and was a member of the so-called "front-line states" that gave crucial support to the independence movements in Zimbabwe and Namibia, as well as in the opposition to apartheid in South Africa. In early 2002, Botswanan disaster relief agencies assembled tents and other supplies in anticipation of an influx of refugees from neighboring Zimbabwe after the controversial reelection there of Robert Mugabe. International observers described the elections as not "free and fair," and it seemed likely that citizens would flee the country and his repressive policies.
United States-Botswana relations have been warm since independence, with the United States viewing Botswana as a force for stability in Africa. The United States has had a significant presence in the country, providing development aid since the 1960s. In December 1997, after 30 years, the U.S. Peace Corps ended its mission in Botswana, leaving behind a legacy of assistance in education, business, health, agriculture, and the environment. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) also closed out its programs in 1996, although as of 2000 Botswana continues to benefit from USAID's initiative for southern Africa as a whole.
Nonetheless, several organizations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Merck Pharmaceutical Co., and Harvard University maintain presences in Botswana to combat the AIDS epidemic. While the government continues to seek financial investment for economic development, Botswana's most urgent need is for medical aid to stem the tide of the AIDS epidemic. Botswana is the only nation in Africa that has pledged to provide AIDS drugs to all citizens who need them; the country is among those likely to benefit from the pledge U.S. president George W. Bush made during his 2003 State of the Union address to provide aid to African nations struggling to cope with the AIDS epidemic.