The Ethiopian-Eritrean Dynamic: Classic Proxy Warfare and How a Small Town is Destabilizing the Horn of Africa
Mahmood, Omar S.
- Submitted in partial fulfillment of the degree of Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Abstract: The inability to achieve wartime objectives has left the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea, in limbo. However, neither nation is prepared for a return to conventional warfare. Eritrea is too weak military to alter the situation, while Ethiopia currently occ... read moreupies Badme and retains good standing within the international community. The resulting condition of "no war, no peace" has lead to policies of indirect confrontation away from the disputed border, destabilizing the entire Horn of Africa region in turn, through the course of this violent competition. These indirect confrontations have settled mostly around Somalia, as Ethiopia enjoys a number of core security interests that Eritrea has sought to exploit. Ethiopia seeks to eliminate movements in Somalia that provide safe haven for anti-Addis Abba organizations, carry out terrorist attacks, and have designs on its ethnically Somali inhabited region of Ogaden. Ethiopia wishes to see dependable, but pliant central government rule, and thus has been propping up the Transitional Federal Government (TFG). Eritrea on the other hand has purveyed significant assistance to radical Islamist groups opposed to the TFG, mostly in the form of Hizbul Islam, and to a lesser degree Al-Shabaab. This is the crux of the past decade's war by proxy in Somalia, which has proved highly damaging to the entire region. Uniquely, the avoidance of direct confrontation produced a classic Cold War style proxy war, similar to U.S.-USSR indirect confrontations on distant third party battlefields. Proxy war however has evolved in the new security paradigm to predominately take place within the nations in conflict, making the chaos in Somalia an exception to the rule. The proxy war between Ethiopia and Eritrea underwent four iterations, two of which conformed to the classic model; from the late 1990's until 2006, and again from January to December 2009. The Ethiopian invasion and occupation from December 2006 until early 2009 made it a direct participant to the conflict, causing the proxy war to become a one sided affair. Since December 2009 though, the conflict has been in decline, marked by Ethiopia's withdrawal and Eritrea's subsequent drawdown. Eritrea's drawdown has occurred for a number of reasons, including the imposition of U.N. sanctions, the decline of Hizbul Islam, the lack of influence over Al-Shabaab, and incompatible long term goals. Yet the reduction of machinations in Somalia neither represents an improvement in relations nor a change in tactics, but rather that the stakes for continued Eritrean involvement in this arena have become too high. Despite not accomplishing long term objectives, proxy war will continue to be a policy option of choice because it provides an effective, low-cost measure to pursue short term gains.read less