Monday, January 17, 2011

Ethiopia’s Somalia Policy: A Very Brief Critique


Part II of the Foreign Affairs and National Security Policy and Strategy (hereinafter referred to as the 'FANSPS') of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, under a section devoted to explicating Ethiopia's policy towards Somalia, which goes by the same title, sets forth, in clear and unequivocal terms, the country's official foreign and security policy position. In the words of the FANSPS: "Our fundamental policy remains to persistently work towards the birth of a peaceful and democratic Somalia. But in light of the continuing instability, the policy we pursue should essentially be a damage-limitation policy to ensure that the instability does not further harm our country." (Italics mine) To this end, the FANSPS identifies three distinct, and yet inextricably intertwined, damage-limiting strategies, namely: (1) Extending assistance to the relatively stable parts of Somalia such as Somaliland and Puntland to enable them to continue enjoyment of the relative peace and stability they have managed to maintain; (2) Increasing Ethiopia's defense capability to defend and foil any terrorist or extremist attacks launched from Somalia; (3) Weakening and neutralizing any force coming from any part of Somalia in cooperation with the Somali themselves and the international community. Though, it appears to point out three different damage-limiting strategies, each of them are inextricably intertwined in that the second and third strategies boil down to one and the same strategy in the final analysis, i.e. resort to force or reliance upon military means, while the first may still consist in military assistance.


It should be borne in mind that Ethiopia's Somalia Policy, as can be gleaned from a close perusal of the FANSPS, takes the form of what I might call a 'negative policy', rather than a 'positive policy' inasmuch as it concerns itself with the need to primarily limit the harm arising from the instability in Somalia. By so doing, it relegates the FANSPS's fundamental policy consideration of "persistently work[ing] towards the birth of a peaceful and democratic Somalia" to a secondary place. Therefore, it appears that Ethiopia's Somalia Policy is misguided insofar as it downplays the role the positive policy can play in achieving the objectives of the negative policy, officially known as the 'damage-limitation policy'. On top of this, in order to demonstrate how others' misconceived perceptions of Ethiopia's defense capability resulted in unprovoked aggressions in the past, the FANSPS invokes Somalia under the leadership of Siad Barre along with Eritrea. According to the FANSPS, "Some time ago the Siad Barre regime in Somalia launched an attack on Ethiopia on the presumption that Ethiopia was unable to offer a united resistance and that it would break up under military pressure." In this regard, it is interesting to note the continuity in Ethiopia's foreign and security policy towards Somalia, despite the change in regime. The bottom line is that Somalia has never been taken off Ethiopia's security agenda.


That said, Ethiopia's incursion into Somalia is a clear indication of its strategy of conducting foreign policy through war, in lieu of conventional diplomacy, albeit war had to be kept to the minimal. It reminds us of Clausewitz's famous dictum: "[w]ar is merely the continuation of policy by other means." Thus, one has to say that Ethiopia's decision to intervene in Somalia remains to be its biggest national security and foreign policy blunder, though it is hard to deny that she has had legitimate national security concerns in Somalia. This is so, because there were other ways and means of dealing with its security concerns short of resort to force. One was for Ethiopia to order the ENDF to keep on high alert by assuming a defensive military posture in keeping with a carefully crafted Grand Strategy and Somalia Strategy taking into account all elements of the power at its disposal, viz., diplomatic, informational, military, economic, intelligence, legal, and financial. Another was to adopt conventional deterrence as a military strategy to prevent aggression. In this connection, strategists must keep in mind one major limitation on deterrence, i.e. effective deterrence only works against states or groups that fear the consequences of retaliation. Suicidal states or groups cannot be deterred—they are willing to suffer severe damage or death in response to an attack, so threats of retaliation are rendered meaningless. A further strategy was for Ethiopia, in cooperation with the US, IGAD, and AU, to mediate between the UIC and the TFG so that they can reach a comprehensive peace agreement acceptable to both sides. Commenting on the non-military option, John Prendergast writes: "Had Ethiopia, the United States, and other regional powers focused on brokering a deal between the Islamic Courts and the transitional government, the current civil war may have been avoided."


If Ethiopia had embraced what Owen Harries calls the 'prudential ethic' as a signpost to international relations, it would not have opted for the use of force in a preemptive strike a la the Bush doctrine with a view to neutralizing potential security threats emanating from the Islamists in Somalia. According to Harries, the just war theory, assuming that war is inevitable, provides an important prudential ethic. The aim of the theory is two-fold: on the one hand, it prohibits an unjust war, by laying down rules for the determination of the legitimacy of use of force (jus ad bellum), and makes war less savage, by establishing rules of conduct (jus in bello), on the other. Hence, a resort to force must have a just cause, in that it is resorted to in response to injustice, is authorized by a competent authority, and is motivated by right intention. It must meet four prudential tests in that it must be expected to produce a preponderance of good over evil, have a reasonable chance of success, be a last resort and be expected to result in a state of peace. The requirements of jus in bello are that when force is resorted to, it must be discriminate and proportional.


Leaving the issue of legitimacy aside, (not least because it was invited by the TFG) Ethiopia's incursion into Somalia hardly passes the four prudential tests. At least, we have every reason to doubt that the military intervention was a last resort and was expected to result in a state of peace. With the benefit of hindsight, it has become crystal-clear that Ethiopia's resort to force failed to bring about a state of peace in Somalia. Besides, reports that Ethiopia violated the requirements of jus in bello abound. For instance, in March and April 2007 Ethiopian soldiers allegedly violated international humanitarian law by using heavy artillery and rockets to fight an insurgency in Mogadishu, killing hundreds of civilians and displacing up to 400,000 people. Though Ethiopian troops have since withdrawn from Somalia, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi stated in June 2009 that the country has not ruled out a future redeployment. According to David Shin, "both the United States and Ethiopia followed a misguided policy in Somalia."


Though analysts, worth their salt, contend that Ethiopia fought in Somalia as proxy for the US, I agree with David Axe's claim that "Ethiopia had received significant help — even urging — for its invasion." However, it has to be noted that a copy of the actual wikileaked cable has not yet been produced and still remains to be seen if further wikileaked cables detailing the form and quality of the American support whether military intel, hardware, personnel or moral urging, if any, provided to the ENDF in the Somalia operation can be produced anytime soon. Granted, both Ethiopia and the US have had their own, albeit concurrent, legitimate national security interests in Somalia. As Terrence Lyons aptly put it, "it's important to note that Ethiopia moved into Somalia not as the puppet or proxy for the United States. Ethiopia had its own very specific national security interest relating to Somalia. Ethiopia saw stepped-up attacks on Ethiopia as originating in Somalia, aided by Eritrea. Ethiopia saw this as a real threat to the Ethiopian state and region. That´s why Ethiopia invaded, I believe, rather than just because the United States said ´Go get al-Qaeda.´" But the crux of the matter is whether they had to pursue their national security interests in the manner they did, i.e. through war.


The Ethiopian invasion, instead of improving, aggravated the status quo, and turned out, in the final analysis, to be disastrous as long as it eventually emboldened the threat emanating from the very Islamists Ethiopia had hoped to neutralize. It rallied Somalis of all clannish allegiance and political persuasion against the invaders, ultimately boosting support for extremist Islamic groups that now had a clear enemy in the invaders and their American allies. Violence reigned throughout the two years of Ethiopian occupation. In what seems a rare admission of guilt, Donald Yamamoto, the former US ambassador to Ethiopia reportedly said in March 2010, "We've made a lot of mistakes and Ethiopia's entry in 2006 was not a really good idea."