Strategic and Tactical Issues of Ethiopia’s Foreign Policy: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats
By Makonnen Tesfaye
Tigrai Online, Oct. 18, 2017
Strategic and Tactical Issues of Ethiopia’s Foreign Policy: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats
To what extent are the fundamentals of Ethiopian foreign policy aligned with the multi-polar global order and regional geo-politics, as well as attuned to recent political and diplomatic developments in neighbouring countries? The paper aims to address such issues and provide a perspective on the ongoing debate on Ethiopia’s strategic and long-term foreign policy positioning as well as its tactical and short-term stance vis-à-vis its neighbouring countries and the geo-political areas of the Horn of Africa and the Middle East. It assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the basis of its foreign policy and recent politico-diplomatic developments that present opportunities and threats. Specifically, it reviews briefly Ethiopia’s foreign policy challenges and prospects regarding recent developments in Somalia, Eritrea, South Sudan and Djibouti on the one hand and Egypt, the Sudan, Israel and the GCC countries on the other. It argues the importance of contextualising regional politics within the global and multi-polar power politics, which is the prime driver of the regional geo-politics that impacts on Ethiopia.
2. Global Power Politics and Ethiopian Foreign Policy
During the era of the Cold War and “bi-polar global order”, and under the Monarchy and Military regimes, Ethiopia was politically and ideologically pigeon-holed and treated as a pawn in the grand strategic chess game of the Super Powers. In contrast, the contemporary world is a “multi-polar global order”, which is characterised by unevenly evolving world order consisting of a declining and increasingly “isolationist” but dominant USA; a retreating and fracturing but powerful Western Europe; emerging economic power-houses and rising but non-hegemonic China, India, South Korea and Brazil; a weakened but resurgent and assertive Russia (cf. USSR); a stagnating but strong Japan; and the increasing political and economic awakening of Latin America, Africa and Asia. Moreover, globalisation and its counter-currents, such as protectionism and the prevalence of “nationalistic and populist politics”, have further weakened the old bi-polar world power configuration. In such an emerging multi-polar world order, Ethiopia has pursued a relatively independent foreign policy, fashioning a successful non-aligned, “Win-Win” foreign policy, benefiting in terms of greater access to foreign resources and diplomatic weight from China, the USA, the EU, and indeed from the world at large. Ethiopia, because of its accelerated economic growth, relative political stability and pivotal role within the AU, is a much respected and preferred country for foreign direct investment (FDI), and political and diplomatic influence. In one major respect, the multi-polar global power politics has provided a decisively favourable setting for Ethiopia’s achievements internally and regionally. In contrast, the current global power politics has brought about massive regime failures of hitherto Ethiopia’s adversarial states, ranging from Libya, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia to Eritrea. Similarly, its real and perceived adversaries are preoccupied with regional political crisis due to the Saudi-Iranian rivalry, the Islamist (important to make the distinction that it is not Islamic!) terrorist phenomenon and declining economic fortunes. The paper argues Ethiopia should continue to develop and fine-tune its strategic pillars of foreign policy towards the global powers and regional forces as a pre-condition for safeguarding its sovereignty and creating an environment conducive for its internal development, both economically and politically.
3. The Horn of Africa &Middle Eastern Geo-Politics and Ethiopian Foreign Policy
For most of the second half of the twentieth century, the geo-politics of Middle Eastern countries was fundamentally and strategically hostile to the sovereignty of Ethiopia. The main drivers were Egypt’s historic meddling in Ethiopia’s internal affairs; Greater Somalia Irredentism; the threat of Jihadist terrorism and the propagation and infiltration of Wahhabist Islamist ideology into the socio-politics of the country; and the regional and external dimension of the Eritrean national movement. Eritrea has been a major geo-political focal point for regional interventions in the internal affairs of Ethiopia, in particular since the Ethio-Eritrean war of 1998-2000. The Eritrean liberation movement was based on a historically legitimate and just struggle for self-determination and had popular support amongst its peoples and Ethiopia at large. Despite the historic opportunities for unity presented by the victory of Ethiopia at Adwa against the Italian colonialists in 1896; the Federation of Ethiopia and Eritrea in 1952; and the seminal Ethiopian Revolution in 1974, the Eritrean Question was resolved by secession in 1991-93 due to the intransigence and inherent inability of the ruling classes of Ethiopia to resolve what was essentially a national self-determination and democratic question. Externally and historically, the Eritrean national movement was backed by Arab nationalist and Baathist regimes in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt and Yemen as well as conservative Arab nations that were hostile to Ethiopia. The reasons were complex, varied and included: the diplomatic presentation of the Eritrean liberation movement as an “Islamist struggle” to the religious and conservative Arab regimes by Saleh Sabe of the EPLF and the leadership of the ELF. Alternately, the EPLF presented the Eritrean liberation struggle as progressive, nationalist or Baathist to the then dominant political forces in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen. Furthermore, Egypt’s support for the Eritrean national struggle was based on its ulterior motive of weakening and dismembering Ethiopia due to its existential fear of Ethiopia controlling the flow of the Blue Nile. Similarly, Egyptian and Middle Eastern Arab support for Greater Somalia irredentism and the threat of Jihadist terrorism against Ethiopia was predicated on the same logic and motives.
Yet, in the new Millennium the alignments of forces and ideologies in the Horn of Africa and the Middle East are significantly different and do not present too strategically hostile geo-politics for Ethiopia. The major regimes that were strategically hostile to Ethiopia: Libya, Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Eritrea and Yemen, have become “failed states”, not in positions to undermine Ethiopia’s internal and external dynamics in fundamental ways. Ethiopia has a good foreign relation with the Sudan as demonstrated by the latter’s support for the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and its recent security agreement with Ethiopia. Saudi Arabia is in a predicament of a zero-sum game of political struggle with its arch regional rival, Iran, as well as being immersed in an unwinnable war in Yemen. Challenged by drastically falling oil revenues, internal dynastic succession problems, rifts within the GCCs, the all-consuming Sunni-Shia schism, Islamist terrorism, and increasingly embolden Iran, Saudi Arabia and the GCCs are in no position to pose fundamental and strategic threats to Ethiopia, at least in the short to medium-term. The recent acquisition of the use of Asab port is mainly motivated not by a strategic, compelling imperative to destabilise Ethiopia, but by a tactical need to use the port for their war effort in Yemen and their strategic fear of and a rear-guard action to pre-empt Iranian presence and influence in Eritrea. Unlike the Isaias Regime, Ethiopia should avoid, by following a principled non-alignment and respect for national sovereignty policy, a zero-sum game of political entanglement in the nexus of Saudi-Iranian rivalries and its attendant destructive ramifications in the region and beyond. However, the new situation requires a policy response by Ethiopia, including the verifiable assurance by Saudi Arabia and the GCC countries that the use of Asab port does not pose a strategic threat to Ethiopia’s interest and does not alter the strategic balance between Ethiopia and Eritrea militarily, or diplomatically. The stationing of Egyptian forces in Eritrea and any direct threat and action against Ethiopia’s sovereignty should be considered crossing a triple “red line” for Ethiopia, requiring a calculated and planned response, including the option of a strategic defensive military action against the rogue Eritrean regime forces. Tactically, Ethiopia should press all diplomatic buttons to ensure the arms embargo imposed on Eritrea by the UN Security Council is vigoursly enforced.
Strategically, Ethiopia should employ vigorous “economic diplomacy” to maximise opportunities presented by the current Middle Eastern geo-political equilibrium, or deadlock to pursue a non-aligned foreign policy with a view to promoting its and the region’s political and economic interests by maximising Middle Eastern trade with and investment in Ethiopia. Between 2006 and 2017, Middle Eastern FDI in operation in Ethiopia equalled 28 billion Birr, accounting for 31% of all FDI in operation in the country, including Saudi Arabian investment amounting to 14 Billion Birr and Turkey’s 11 Billion Birr. Similarly, the UAE, Qatar and Kuwait have expressed strong desire to invest in Ethiopia. Over the last decade, Middle Eastern operational investment in Ethiopia provides permanent and temporary employment for over 60,000 people. Moreover, according to the latest estimate by MOFA, over 1 million Ethiopians work in the Middle East, a significant proportion of whom as undocumented immigrants. The value of remittances to Ethiopia that originates from the Middle East is close to $US 1.5 billion per annum. The increasing economic links and co-operation between Ethiopia and Middle Eastern countries are positive and create an environment conducive for the promotion of cordial diplomatic relations and a sustainable Middle Eastern foreign policy.
Ethiopia’s economic diplomacy, however, needs to go beyond securing foreign direct investment by putting increased emphasis on regional economic integration and co-operation in Africa. Ethiopia’s current regional trade and economic linkages with countries in Eastern Africa are under-developed and below their potential as evidenced, for example, by the relatively low volume and value of trade with neighbouring African countries. Moreover, Ethiopia is not a member of the East African Community (EAC), or the Free Trade Area of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA). Regional economic integration is vital and impacts on geo-politics, since economic development, regional co-operation and internal unity based on diversity and democracy are the foundations for a strong defence and foreign policy. In contrast, engaging in regional political machinations and interventionist posturing in response to transient and unstable regime behaviour could not and should not be the basis for Ethiopia’s strategic policy-making. Tactical and short-term policy positions need to support and be subordinated to the imperative of the strategic interest of Ethiopia and the big-picture geo-politics of the near Middle East and the Horn of Africa.
A vital component of Ethiopia’s foreign policy in the Middle East is its relation with Israel, which could be characterised as very cordial; and is anchored on historical ties and a mutual strategic and security interest, in particular in combating Jihadist terrorism. The 150,000 Ethiopian Jews, known as “Bete Israel”, residing in Israel have further deepened the cultural ties between the two countries. Over the last decade, Israeli investment in Ethiopia totalled over 600 Million Birr and is growing. Israeli investment and transfer of technology, in particular in agriculture conditioned by semi-arid climate, has the potential to contribute to Ethiopia’s quest for rural transformation. On the politico-military front, whilst acknowledging the strategic and tactical value of Ethio-Israeli relation as a countervailing force against Ethiopia’s potential geo-political adversaries in the Middle East, it should not be posited as an “alliance or block” against Arab nations, or least of all, Muslim countries, because Ethiopia is a country of many faiths. Strategically, Ethiopia should advance its interest by pursuing just, non-aligned and even-handed policies on issues that blight the Middle East, such as, for example, the Israel-Palestine conflict, or the nexus of Saudi-Iranian-Israeli hostilities.
Please read the whole article by following this link MORE