23 December 2009

How Did Eritrea Become a Villain?

This post is related to Frosty's recent post.

With the young state of Eritrea poised to join the ranks of UN-sanctioned international pariah states such as Sudan, North Korea, and Iran due to its support of Al-Shabab in Somalia, it is worth considering how it got to this point. Mark Leon Goldberg at UN Dispatch provides some background:

It all began in 2000, when Eritrea and Ethiopia, exhausted from war, decided to end their bloody border dispute by submitting to international arbitration. When the arbiters in the Hague handed down their ruling, they awarded the key disputed territory to Eritrea. End of story, right? Wrong. Ethiopia simply refused to withdraw and a stalemate ensued.

A changing international scene did not help things. The Clinton administration was instrumental in forging the original settlement between Ethiopia and Eritrea. But by the time of the arbitration ruling, September 11 had already occurred and the Bush administration was focused on leveraging the support of Ethiopia on terrorism issues in the Horn of Africa. Accordingly, the United States was reluctant to press Ethiopia to abide by the ruling.

From an Eritrean perspective, you can see how this might be unsettling. Asmara had agreed to binding international arbitration, but the international community was apparently unwilling to enforce the ruling. Caught in the middle were a few thousand UN Peacekeepers along the border, acting as a buffer between the two armies.

As Eritrea's understandable frustration with the international community grew, Asmara began to lash out in patently unhelpful ways. It kicked out UN Peacekeepers by blocking their shipments of petrol and food; made threatening statements aganst top American officials; attacked neighboring Djibouti; and supported a faction opposed to the internationally-backed Transitional Federal Government of Somalia.

Asmara has also moved closer to Tehran in recent years, according to some reports.

So what lesson do we take away from all of this? It looks like the situation is somewhat similar to as well as closely related to the problems Frosty diagnosed in Somalia. The War on Terror mentality, the Bush Administration's "with us our against us" mentality, and the too-close relationship with Ethiopia seem to have screwed us here, just as in Somalia. By backing our "ally" Ethiopia unconditionally, just as in its invasion of Somalia in 2006, and ignoring the World Court ruling, we undermined international norms and institutions and created backlash that ended up being even more problematic (just as removing the ICU in Somalia led to the rise of Shabab). I guess Ethiopia is a loyal and submissive client, but it doesn't seem like the relatively authoritarian Zenawi regime is our best option as an East African proxy.

1 comment:

  1. http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=42407