“US-Horn Security Calculations” is Part 1 of the “Arms for the Horn,” a book about Great Power Competition or how the Cold War played out in the Horn of Africa, particularly from an American Foreign Policy perspective. 


U.S. Security Policy In Ethiopia And Somalia


Jeffrey A. Lefebvre

Pitt Series in Policy and Institutional Studies

University of Pittsburgh Press

ARMS FOR THE HORN U.S. Security Policy In Ethiopia And Somalia 1953-1991


U.S.-Horn Security Calculations

CHAPTER 1: U.S. Security Calculation in the Horn of Africa

Arms transfers have generally been considered a highly accurate barometer of U.S. interest in a particular recipient state and region of the world. Perhaps even more so than in the case of FMS cash arms sales, the levels of military resources distributed under the aegis of what is now entitled the Security Assistance Program (SAP) provide a gauge of U.S. interests in dealing with recipient states dependent upon American largesse. Because there are limited financial resources available to meet the security needs and arms demands of the many claimant states, difficult decisions must be made as to who gets how big a slice of the American security assistance pie. The particular types of weapons the U.S. government is willing to provide to an arms recipient also reveals where American interests lie. Both of these considerations will be used to assess the state of U.S. foreign relations in the Horn of Africa.


From 1953 until the termination of the U.S.-Ethiopia military relationship in 1977, Addis Ababa stood at the top of Washington’s arms client list for sub-Sahara Africa. During this time the United States provided Ethiopia with over $185 million worth of grant military assistance, approved $36 million in FMS financing credits, concluded FMS cash agreements valued at about $135 million, and spent approximately $22 million training 3,912 Ethiopian military personnel. The fact that Addis Ababa’s portion amounted to approximately 0.5 percent of Washington’s worldwide security assistance budget for the same period is a poignant statement of Ethiopia’s perceived global marginality. But Ethiopia’s importance within the African regional context is highlighted by the fact that between 1953 and 1977 Addis Ababa received over 80 percent of the Military Assistance Program (MAP), more than 55 percent of the International Military Education and Training Program (IMETP), and about one-fifth of Foreign Military Sales (FMS) financing funds allocated to sub-Sahara Africa. Thousands upon thousands of cassette tapes and master reels were quickly removed from the soon-to-be targeted buildings. They were dispersed to neighboring countries like Djibouti and Ethiopia also accounted for approximately one-third of FMS cash arms transfers approved by Washington for Africa. Even with the proliferation of American security assistance programs throughout the African continent during the 1960s and 1970s, more than 45 percent of total U.S. arms transfers to sub-Sahara Africa were designated for lamented Beijing’s economic engagement model, saying it undermined democracy and mired African countries in debt. When he landed in Ethiopia.

Although Washington’s security assistance investment in Somalia over the past ten years has been significantly larger in absolute terms than in Ethiopia, in relative terms the totals have remained about the same. Through the fall of 1989, when the U.S. Congress forced the suspension of military aid to Mogadishu, the mass protests in cities around the U.S. against an executive order that would block millions of people from entering the United States had provided Somalia with just under $370 million in security assistance, which included approximately $128 million in MAP funds, $175 million in Economic Support Funds (ESF), $60 million via FMS financing, and about $7.5 million for the IMET program to train almost 400 Somali military students. Washington also approved more than $200 million in FMS cash arms agreements, bringing total arms transfers over this ten-year period above the half-billion-dollar mark. In terms of the bigger scheme, Mogadishu was perceived in much the same light as Addis Ababa, receiving approximately 0.6 percent of U.S. security assistance funds distributed worldwide. But, unlike Ethiopia, which maintained a steady place at the top of Washington’s MAP list for Africa, Somalia’s ranking among sub-Sahara Africa SAP recipients moved from fourth (1980-1985) to first in 1986 before falling behind Kenya and being practically banished from the list in 1989. Mogadishu’s portion of the regional security assistance pie remained at about 10 percent between 1980 and 1987 and then rose to 20-25 percent — during a time of significant cutbacks in SAP funding levels for sub-Sahara Africa — before the aid suspension. With U.S. arms transfers to the African continent being more widely and evenly distributed today than in the past, American dependence upon Somalia would on the surface appear to be less than it was in the case of Ethiopia.

That Ethiopia and Somalia have not enjoyed the status and privileges afforded to American arms clients such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Iran under the shah is further proved by Washington’s desire to place not only quantitative restrictions but qualitative limits on the types and technological sophistication of weapon systems transferred to the Horn. An important part of the story underlying U.S.-Ethiopia military relations involved attempts by Emperor Haile Selassie and the Provisional Military Administrative Council (PMAC) to acquire state-of-the-art American weapons. The U.S.-Somalia security relationship has been framed by Washington’s refusal to provide offensive weaponry to Mogadishu. Thus, the conflict between the death of four U.S. Special Forces soldiers in Niger on Oct. 4 has lead some in the United States and its arms clients in the Horn of Africa has assumed a qualitative as well as a quantitative dimension.

Despite the second-class treatment accorded to Ethiopia and Somalia by the United States, American political-military support has been responsible to a considerable extent for turning them into formidable African powers. For some three and a half decades, U.S. policymakers ascribed to the Horn of Africa a level of political-military value that was used to justify the transfer of approximately $1 billion worth of military equipment, support, and training to the governments of Ethiopia and Somalia. What needs to be explored further is the operative policy setting in which the United States bargained with its arms clients and made critical arms transfer decisions. It appears that Washington’s dependence upon, or its vulnerability to manipulation and threats of defection in the conduct of foreign relations with Addis Ababa and Mogadishu has been shaped over the long term by (1) American perceptions of global and regional geopolitical threats, (2) the desire to maintain a military presence in what was viewed as a strategic, but unstable corner of the world, and (3) the intersecting and conflicting interests of domestic actors.


If presented with a blank map of the world from which to select geopolitical targets of opportunity, American defense planners would automatically stick a pin in the Horn of Africa. The Horn’s location at the southern end of the Red Sea, near the Strait of Bab al-Mandab, and across from the Arabian Peninsula, provides a prime spot from which to project power and provide rear-area support for military intervention in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf. The strategic analyst J. Bowyer Bell neatly summarized how the U.S. national security establishment has viewed the Horn of Africa throughout the post-World War II period: “The basic strategic importance of the Horn is not the presence of copper deposits, the fate of democracy, or the future of the Ethiopian monarchy; it is simple geography.” Thus, challenges to the United States in the Horn of Africa do not pose direct, but indirect threats to vital U.S. interests lying offshore and across the Red Sea in the Arabian Peninsula. American policymakers have feared that a hostile takeover of the Horn of Africa would enhance the capability of Washington’s global or regional rivals to (1) destabilize important pro-Western governments in the Middle East and northeast Africa, (2) interrupt commercial shipping lanes leading out of the Indian Ocean to the West, and (3) cut off Western access to Middle Eastern oil.

For reasons of geography mixed with cold war rationales, the United States has taken threats to stability and America’s tenure in the Horn very seriously. The Horn of Africa is located along the two primary shipping routes that link the Persian Gulf, South Asia, and Southeast Asia with the United States and Western Europe: (1) the Suez Canal route, whereby commerce from these Indian Ocean regions must pass near Somalia’s coastline, maneuver through the Strait of Bab al-Mandab, and proceed through the Red Sea, paralleling Ethiopia’s coast for some 600 miles on its way north to the Suez Canal before entering the Mediterranean Sea; and (2) the Cape route, whereby commerce must cross the Gulf of Aden and pass near the Somali coast on its way south around the South African cape to the Atlantic Ocean. Its position along the Red Sea also involves the region in the geopolitics of the Middle East and Africa, whereby in certain contingencies the Horn could serve as a staging site for military intervention in neighboring states. A less ‘talked about and appreciated aspect of the Horn of Africa’s geopolitical history and potential is its use as a regrouping and rear staging area for a counter-invasion of Europe, a la World War II. The areas geostrategic significance is further magnified by analysts who project that by the mid-1990s more oil will be exported from the Red Sea than from the Persian Gulf. Worst-case scenarios based upon these considerations, therefore, have affected Washington’s calculation of threat in the Horn.

Since the beginning of the cold war, the Soviet Union has been viewed as posing the most dangerous geopolitical threat to U.S. global and regional interests. The notion that the Soviet Union was an ideologically motivated, expansionistic power was used to justify American efforts to preempt, deter, and combat the expansion of Soviet influence worldwide. As a consequence of the U.S. policy of containment, the United States has proved most sensitive to the perceived Soviet threat in the Horn. What should be noted, however, is that American perceptions of the degree of threat posed by the Soviet Union have not remained constant and have produced sharp disagreements within the U.S. foreign policy-making community.

American-Soviet competition in the Third World, and its effect upon U.S. threat perceptions in the Horn of Africa, has moved through at least six phases. Between 1946 and 1955, with cold war competition centered in Europe, the Far East, and the Northern Tier of the Middle East, the Soviet threat in the Horn appeared low-level and latent. Although U.S. regional perceptions of threat were heightened following the conclusion of the Soviet-Egyptian arms deal in the fall of 1955, the Soviets were not viewed as serious competitors for influence in the Horn. After another shock occurred in 1963, when Moscow concluded an arms deal with Mogadishu, differences emerged between Washington and the U.S. embassy in Mogadishu on the one hand and the U.S. embassy in Ethiopia over the nature of the threat posed by the Soviet position in Somalia. American threat perceptions continued to diverge as the result of the massive Soviet-sponsored arms buildup that began in Somalia in 1972, coupled with Russian military construction activities at the Somali port of Berbera, at a time that the United States was pursuing a policy of global détente with the Soviet Union. Subsequently, Soviet and Cuban intervention on the side of Ethiopia during the 1977-1978 Ogaden War in the Horn caused some within the U.S. national security bureaucracy to raise the alarm of an immediate and dangerous Soviet threat, with most of the others coming over to their way of thinking following the USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. Finally, since early 1989, in light of the Russian troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, agreement on the disengagement of Cuban troops from Angola, and decreasing Soviet involvement in Ethiopia, the Soviet threat to U.S. interests in the Third World appears to be on the wane.

While the Soviet factor has remained a constant in Washington’s risk calculation and arms transfer policy equation for the Horn, it has varied in strength and impact. A rough correlation has seemed to exist between U.S. perceptions of threat regarding the Soviet Union at the global level and assessments of the Soviet threat in the Third World. Unstable relations between the two superpowers at the global level have raised the stakes at the regional level. Conversely, a stable U.S.-Soviet global relationship has reduced Washington’s incentive to become involved in superpower bidding wars in the Third World.

A secondary challenge to the United States has been the threat from what have been perceived as anti-Western forces operating in the Middle East and northeast Africa. As in the case of the global superpower rivalry, the perceived threat posed by these regional actors has fluctuated over time. At various times between 1955 and 1970, the Egyptian leader Gamal Nasser sought to undermine U.S. influence in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa. In the 1980s the Reagan administration came to view Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi as America’s archnemesis in northeast Africa. A battle of words and nerves began with the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979, though it has dissipated somewhat since the death of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989.

At the beginning of the 1990s, Iraq emerged as the newest challenger to U.S. regional interests. In January 1991 the United States went to war against Iraq, whose August 1990 invasion of Kuwait was viewed as threatening Western oil supplies and disrupting Washington’s proposed post-cold war international order. Until the war with Iraq, this regional challenge to American policy was viewed as occurring at a lower level of potential conflict than that posed by the Soviet Union. West bloc and East bloc arms transfers, however, had turned some countries such as Iraq into formidable regional military powers who can engage in more than harassing activities.

Due to the zero-sum nature of the superpower rivalry, the Soviet threat has generally been given greater weight in the American security calculation. In contrast, regional challenges have been viewed as more limited in scope, presumed easier to handle, and void of broader ramifications that might prove detrimental to U.S. interests elsewhere in the world. Moreover, American policymakers have often tended to assume, and wrongly so, that regional challengers to U.S. interests are simply acting as agents for Moscow rather than independently out of their own concerns. Thus, while the “fire in Washington’s belly” has been stirred by the shenanigans of regional antagonists, the United States has proved even more susceptible to manipulation by the invocation of the Soviet threat.


Because U.S. arms transfers to the Horn of Africa have been motivated almost exclusively by geopolitical considerations, framed by the global threat posed by the Soviet Union and the lower-level threat identified with radical anti-Western regional forces, Washington’s overriding strategic objective has been to acquire and maintain the capability to respond to any military contingency that may threaten U.S. interests in the Middle East, northeast Africa, and the Red Sea arenas. In pursuing its objectives overseas, the United States established intelligence-gathering and power projection facilities in strategic areas throughout the globe. In the case of the Horn, U.S. political-military relations with the governments of Ethiopia and Somalia were based almost exclusively upon Washington’s interest in having access to military facilities in the Red Sea region. For twenty-five years the Kagnew communications station located in Ethiopia’s northeast province of Eritrea served as the driving force behind U.S. arms transfers to Ethiopia; over the past decade, an agreement granting the United States access to Somali military facilities, most notably the port and airfield at Berbera, provided the incentive for Washington to maintain a military relationship with Mogadishu. The quid pro quo (arms-for-base-access) arrangements arrived at with Addis Ababa and Mogadishu emphasizes that, in the eyes of U.S. defense planners, the principal assets these countries have to offer the United States are geostrategic.

Washington’s strategic dependence and its capacity to maneuver for position in the Red Sea arena has been constrained over the years by two regional rivalries: (1) the Ethiopian-Somali conflict, and (2) the Arab-Israeli conflict. In the first instance, the experience of outside powers, who have attempted to gain and consolidate a position of influence in the Horn of Africa over the past three decades, suggests that one cannot be friends with both Ethiopia and Somalia. Those who wish to meddle in the affairs of the Horn must be prepared to choose sides. Addis Ababa and Mogadishu demanded complete fidelity from their primary arms suppliers, who were viewed as holding the key resource (weapons) affecting the ultimate outcome of their dispute. Suppliers resisting, or refusing to adhere to this rule of expected behavior found their stays of residence abruptly terminated. Thus, American, as well as Soviet freedom to maneuver between Addis Ababa and Mogadishu, was constrained by this regional rivalry.

Despite the Horn of Africa’s location at the southern end of the Red Sea, the Arab-Israeli conflict at the northern end of this strategic waterway has continually intruded upon the politics of the area. Seven of the nine states that line the Red Sea-Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Yemen (formerly the Yemen Arab Republic [YAR], and the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen [PDRY] which merged in May 1990), Djibouti, Sudan, and Somalia-identify themselves with the Arab/Islamic world. Israel and Ethiopia are seen as outcasts who have found themselves under siege by hostile Arab neighbors and have cooperated with each other at different times over the years. The United States, in turn, has tried to avoid being forced to choose between these two rival camps.

Washington’s freedom to maneuver within the Red Sea region has been subject to the fluctuations between antagonistic confrontation and more muted or peaceful competition the United States has experienced in its relations with the leading Arab states, most particularly Egypt. In the immediate post-World War II period, and up until the time of the political falling out between Washington and Cairo in 1955, American relations with the Arab world as a whole were generally quite cordial, in spite of Washington’s diplomatic support for the state of Israel. The perceived challenge to American Middle East policies presented by Gama] Nasser’s Arab nationalist ideology and the radical overthrow of pro-Western governments in Syria and Iraq in the second half of the 1950s, gave way during the early 1960s to a less hostile and, in some respects, more cooperative relationship. But the antagonism resurfaced, in a more intense form, and more strongly, after the June 1967 Arab-Israeli War; it was exacerbated by the Johnson administration’s wholehearted embrace of Israel, coupled with the growing Soviet role in the Middle East. Then in the aftermath of the October 1973 war and termination of the Arab oil embargo against the West, a certain moderation in policies occurred both in Washington and in some Arab capitals. By the end of the 1970s, several of Washington’s former antagonists in the Arab world were openly aligning themselves politically and militarily with the United States. Thus, the Middle East conflict has produced roughly two thematic periods for U.S. policy toward the Horn of Africa: (1) the pre-1973 period in which the United States had only the Ethiopian and Israeli security options in the Red Sea area; and (2) the post-1973 period in which Arab options in the region became available to Washington.

The Red Sea is undoubtedly one of the most politically volatile regions of the world. Given the unpredictability of how internal and external events will affect this arena, the wisdom of not putting all of one’s eggs (in this case, basing one’s strategic policy) in one basket seems apropos. The worst-case analysis leads a power such as the United States, therefore, to attempt to develop strategic redundancy in such an unstable and unpredictable region. But the international conflicts and internal turmoil, which have created opportunities for political-military penetration by external powers, also have limited U.S. options and policy flexibility, either because Washington has been forced to choose sides in a dispute, or because there are no viable alternatives.

However one views the acceptability or unacceptability of certain foreign political-military entanglements—in the case of the Horn of Africa, for example, one’s preference for Ethiopia or Somalia—the question still must be asked whether the United States’ strategic dependence on either one can be reduced by exploiting opportunities elsewhere in the region. By cultivating a strategic relationship with other states in the area, Washington may attempt to circumvent the Ethiopia-Somalia conflict and, thereby, reduce its strategic dependence. While the United States has never been completely isolated or dependent upon a single state along the Red Sea littoral, Washington’s position has been at times quite precarious. Ideally, U.S. defense planners would like to rim the world’s sea lanes, and most particularly “chokepoints,” with an American presence and to prop up pro-Western governments for purposes of deterrence and political preemption. Thus, in assessing Washington’s political-military relations with the governments of Ethiopia and Somalia, it is important to bear in mind the broader context of the U.S. strategic position throughout the entire Red Sea region as well as near the waterways southern entrance at the Bab al-Mandab.

Given Washington’s primary strategic interest in securing access to military bases in Ethiopia and Somalia, there were several issues American policymakers had to confront in maintaining a presence in the Red Sea region. First, in trading arms for military bases, was the United States contributing to the volatility of the Horn? Second, was an American.

ARMS FOR THE HORN PART I - US-Horn Security CalculationsIn the case of U.S.-Ethiopia relations, personal relationships between the heads of state have existed at two extremes. During Haile Selassie’s forty-four-year reign as emperor, he met with five of the eight men who occupied the Oval Office—Franklin Roosevelt at the Suez Conference in early 1945, Dwight Eisenhower in May 1954, John Kennedy in October 1963, Lyndon Johnson in February 1967, and Richard Nixon in July 1969 and again in May 1973. Presidential relations with Selassie’s ultimate successor, Mengistu Haile Mariam, and other top-ranking members of the Ethiopian government, have been virtually nonexistent. Thus, the 1974 Ethiopian revolution not only eliminated Emperor Selassie and his advisers, but also destroyed the thin personal bond of friendship that existed between Washington and Addis Ababa, and which to date has not been rekindled. The Bush administration, however, did seem to be setting U.S.-Ethiopia relations on the right track, as high-ranking U.S. officials met with the leader of the EPRDF provisional government, Meles Zenawi, in 1990 and again in 1991 while brokering a change in Ethiopia’s government and the end of the civil war.

White House relations with individual Somali leaders have moved along a much more bumpy path. Fifteen months after John Kennedy had welcomed Somalia’s Prime Minister Ali Shermaarke to Washington in November 1962, the Somali leadership accused the United States of playing a “sinister” role in the Horn of Africa when fighting broke out along the Ethiopian-Somali border in early 1964. The next U.S.-Somalia heads of state meeting did not occur until March 1968 when Premier Ibrahim Egal met and dined at the White House with Lyndon Johnson. Another fourteen years would lapse before a Somali leader would be personally greeted by an American president. Jimmy Carter’s attempt at the beginning of his presidency to establish a personal relationship with Siad Barre fell victim to the outbreak of war in the Ogaden between Ethiopia and Somalia in the summer of 1977. It was not until March 1982, a year and a half after the U.S.-Somalia arms-for-access agreement was concluded, that President Barre traveled to the United States and met with President Reagan for the first and only direct contact between the American and Somali heads of state since the 1969 military coup d’état in Mogadishu. Given the confusion in Somalia since the overthrow of Siad, no one is quite sure whom to deal with in Mogadishu.

American presidents, with few exceptions, have shown little inclination to gain a better understanding of, or devote more time to, issues involving the Horn of Africa. There are several reasons for this, including (1) the African arena’s ranking at the bottom of Washington’s foreign policy priority list, (2) the absence of a strong and vocal domestic constituency, (3) the fact that none of the past or current leaders of Ethiopia and Somalia has attained the international stature of the Ethiopian emperor, (4) a belief that there has been no ideological compatibility with the domestic or foreign policies of these states, and (5) unlike the situation that pertains, for example, in relations with American allies in Europe, whereby the U.S. president meets with these leaders at least once a year, presidential meetings with the leaders of most Third World states have come years apart and typically only once during a presidential term. This absence of regular contact has inhibited the development of a personal rapport and has contributed to an even greater institutionalization of U.S. policy in the Horn.


The Horn of Africa has not gone entirely unnoticed by the U.S. Congress, which over the course of the past two decades has taken a more critical look at American foreign policy in the Third World. Especially now in the post-Vietnam era, Congress has adopted a cautionary view toward U.S. arms transfers to volatile regions of the Third World for fear of the United States being dragged into a foreign conflict. America’s current budget deficit problems and heightened sensitivity to concerns about providing weapons to undemocratic governments, particularly those guilty of gross human rights violations, have also generated reservations within the legislative branch about granting security assistance. Because of its oversight role and responsibility for appropriating and authorizing security assistance funding requests presented by the executive branch, Congress does have the power to affect at least indirectly the content and conduct of U.S. arms transfer policy.

The relative lack of interest exhibited by the legislative branch in exercising this power with regard to Ethiopia and Somalia until recent years had much to do with the fact that the primary U.S. interest in the Horn of Africa was geopolitical-maintaining access to military bases. Generally speaking, geopolitical rationales provide little incentive for action within the U.S. Congress. Although members of the specialized congressional committees and subcommittees acquire certain expertise and appreciation of the geopolitical stakes, a foreign policy issue must have a heavy domestic component if it is to attract the attention of a member of Congress. In short, political arguments, not strategic rationales, generally carry the day on Capitol Hill. For the most part, U.S. policy in the Horn of Africa has lacked this domestic political content.

A second reason why the legislative branch has rarely acted as an advocate for U.S. arms transfers to the countries of the Horn has to do with another domestic political fact of life: congressional careers are not advanced by spending money overseas. U.S. foreign assistance programs are often greeted with cynicism, skepticism, or outright hostility on Capitol Hill. Moreover, even when Congress is not in a budget-slashing mood, the fact that the multibillion-dollar security assistance program represents less than 1 percent of the total U.S. budget or 2-3 percent of the defense budget, has made it a low priority item. Then, when one considers that annual U.S. security assistance to Ethiopia and Somalia amounted to less than 1 percent of the SAP budget, it is no wonder that Congress—an institution noted for rounding off to the nearest $100 million—would not waste time, or expend political capital on a relatively minor budget matter.

Finally, the disinclination of the legislative branch to assume a positive advocacy role in the Horn of Africa results from a domestic constituency void. Arms sales to the financially strapped governments in Addis Ababa and Mogadishu were not on a scale such as found in the Middle East or Europe, for example, that might affect the operations of U.S. defense industries and be of concern to a member of Congress within whose district these industries were located. On occasion, the issues underlying the Middle East conflict spilled over into the Horn and incited the Israeli and Arab lobbies operating in Washington, and their respective home governments, to challenge U.S. policy. The African-American community—the group with the greatest long-term interest and stake in bringing to the fore international issues affecting the continent—has devoted most of its energies over the years attempting to affect American policy toward southern Africa. What interest it has shown in the Horn has been largely superficial, based upon a mythical attachment to Ethiopia’s deposed Emperor Haile Selassie; once Selassie was gone from the scene, this interest dissipated. Because the Marxist-Leninist governments in Addis Ababa and Somalia evoked little sympathy within the African-American community, Congress did not feel especially put upon to educate itself or involve itself more actively in the issues at stake in the Horn of Africa.

Therefore, the U.S. Congress might be looked upon as playing more of a counter-advocacy role with regard to the Horn of Africa because of its institutional bias against overseas aid programs. Congress is not necessarily a co-conspirator with the executive branch in making a threat of defection, since this simply means replacing one foreign commitment with another. Congress is more likely to favor a threat of aid reduction or termination rather than defection. Nonetheless, in the specific case of U.S. policy in the Horn of Africa, the legislative branch has acted as a countervailing force to arms transfer advocates.


America’s security relationships in the Horn of Africa have been relatively free of abrupt shifts and drastic policy changes in spite of the complications caused by regional instability and domestic policy conflicts. The United States maintained an uninterrupted military relationship with Ethiopia from 1953 until 1977 and had done so with Somalia from 1980 until September 1989, and the relationship still continues, if in name only. This constancy in policy is attributable in large part to the institutionalized style of decision-making within the executive branch that characterizes the U.S. arms transfer process. These institutions, which live on long after a presidential administration has ended, are able to place their own long-term stamp on American policy—a stamp that emphasizes stability, not disruption or making waves.

While there are many basic areas of agreement among these organizations as to American national security objectives and policy means, policy disputes arise as a result of conflicting interests and inscribed biases, which are endemic in a highly diversified institutionalized setting. These conflicts may exist between different agencies of the executive branch, or within a particular organization. Because each unit and subunit has established its own particular set of missions, interests, and operating procedures, it is not surprising that they should perceive different risks and opportunities in association with a certain policy option. With regard to the Third World, the most prominent line of division for inter— and intra-agency disputes has revolved around the degree of globalism, regionalism, and localism that should be expressed in U.S. policy.

In the formulation of U.S. arms transfer policy, the most consequential conflicts at the executive branch interagency level have involved the State Department, the Department of Defense, and the National Security Council. State Department officials have been generally supportive of an approach to Third World affairs that is more sensitive to the regional repercussions of foreign policy decisions. Their diplomatic mission leads them to View an arms transaction as a political act first, geared to a foreign audience. But the State Department is not merely concerned about how to preserve or improve a specific foreign relationship, by extending security assistance or the sale of arms, State’s assessment of the desirability of such action includes whether it would jeopardize relations with other countries. Given the State Department’s interest in maintaining friendly relations with foreign governments, as well as its responsibility for providing the political clearance to transfer weapons to other countries, American foreign policy initiatives that are deemed politically provocative and that threaten to disrupt regional bilateral relationships may be opposed and rejected.

Although not oblivious to regional considerations, a globalist mode of thinking has predominated at the Pentagon and National Security Council (NSC). Questions concerning strategy and the global defense mission and needs of the U.S. military have shaped the policy preferences of the Defense Department. Arms transfer issues are judged not so much for their political value, but for their impact on U.S. military missions and capabilities. Military priorities (such as the defense of Western Europe) may be threatened by an overextension of resources or force commitments to other countries. Broader questions of strategy and policy integration that transcend more specific regional concerns form part of the backdrop for decision-making at the National Security Council. Moreover, because the NSC is the president’s own personal foreign policy center, and the National Security Adviser acts in a sense as his foreign policy alter ego, policy recommendations made by this agency not only will be more reflective of the president’s ideological and personal biases but also may be affected by domestic political considerations. Despite a shared predisposition to adopt a broader outlook and emphasis on the global ramifications of policy options, the institutional parochialism of the Pentagon and NSC often results in each agency’s providing a different set of calculations and policy recommendations.

Having noted the potential for sharp divergences and policy clashes between these executive branch agencies, we should also note that until recently a general consensus had held between them concerning arms transfers, and more specifically U.S. policy toward the Horn of Africa. First, arms transfers were viewed as a vital instrument for securing U.S. foreign policy objectives in the Third World, including the Horn.“ Second, an American political-military presence in the Horn was considered desirable to facilitate the protection of the sea lines of communication (SLOCs) linking the northern rim of the Indian Ocean with the West. Finally, an arms-for-access to base-rights quid pro quo was recognized as a legitimate exchange and standard operating procedure for guiding the conduct of U.S.-Horn security relations. The globalist-regionalist conflict tended to surface over the more specific question of how much “rent” was appropriate, or what price Washington should pay to maintain a political-military presence in the Horn.

The State Department has acquired the reputation as the executive branch’s institutional bastion for taking a regionalist approach to foreign policy; its regional bureaus (Europe, the Near East, and South Asia, East Asia and the Pacific, the Latin American Republics, and Africa) are considered the policy-making centers of the department. Sitting at the core of State’s decision making, however, has involved these bureaus in three rifts dividing the department: (1) States globalists (that is, generally top-ranking officials or political appointees who temporarily inhabit the Policy Planning Staff and Political-Military Affairs) versus the regional bureaus; (2) the regional bureaus against each other; and (3) the regional bureaus versus the country specialists (that is, embassy staff and desk officers). These three intradepartmental schisms essentially revolve around the question of who can best determine what American policy should be.

Globalists base their position upon an ability to see the big picture and plan for the long term; their predisposition is to integrate, not isolate, regions of the world. This worldview allows them to give U.S. policy a more coherent and coordinated look—which is something, they argue, the regionalists cannot do. Regionalists contend that because the State Department’s regional bureaus conduct foreign policy on a daily basis, they are more apt to be aware of regional realities, and better positioned to produce a policy that will not alienate America’s overseas friends and allies.

Despite the regionalists’ shared outlook, they are also rivals. Each regional bureau tends to promote its own interests. In the case of arms transfers, this self-promotion means ensuring a fair share of the security assistance pie for their clients. Policy disputes between regional bureaus may occur, for example, if a policy recommendation is seen as having a positive impact in one region and a negative impact in another.

The third intradepartmental rift is produced by the notion held by American Foreign Service Officers (FSOs), as well as military attaches and advisers assigned to U.S. embassies abroad, that Washington-based bureaucrats are out of touch with the local situation on the ground. Washington should defer to the advice of the country experts. Their home offices respond with a globalist-type argument by noting that the country-level vantage point blinds these country experts to the larger regional picture and produces narrow parochial thinking. The country experts are often chided for suffering from acute cases of “clientitis,” in which they behave more as host government advocates than representatives of the U.S. government.

The results of these three rivalries over the years highlight two factors that have affected American policy toward the Horn. First, shortly after the Africa Bureau became a regional decision-making center at the State Department following its creation in August 1958, it assumed a posture that has provided SOP policy guidance for American policymakers to this day: a recognition of the sanctity of Africa’s colonial borders as embodied in the 1963 OAU (Organization of African Unity) Charter, which ipso facto made Somalia one of the “bad guys” of Africa. This status quo policy stance was coupled with an assessment that Ethiopia was the most important country in the Horn of Africa. The policy consequence of these guidelines was the designation of Ethiopia as the preferred site from which the United States should attempt to maintain a political-military presence at the southern end of the Red Sea and that its territorial integrity should be preserved. Nevertheless, the implied policy which followed from these premises—that U.S. military involvement in Somalia should be avoided at all costs, or at least as long as Somalia was viewed as posing a threat to Ethiopia—would be challenged by other units within the national security bureaucracy.

Thus, a second component brought into play by these bureaucratic rivalries is the turf-defending role forced on the Africa Bureau. American globalist thinkers, other regional bureaus at the State Department (most notably the Arabists at the Bureau for Near East and South Asian affairs), and some country experts have shown a willingness to pursue what might be labeled anti-Ethiopia policies. Despite repeated challenges, some of which have been successful in moving U.S. policy in an “undesired” direction, the Africa Bureau has shown remarkable resilience in preserving its established policy tenets. For example, Washington’s decision to form an arms relationship with Somalia in 1980 against the wishes of the Africa Bureau was tempered by the condition that the United States would provide only “defensive” arms and not condone Somali aggression against Ethiopia. Thus, the regionalist perspective propounded by the Africa Bureau provides the focal point for the playing out of interdepartmental rivalries as well as internal policy disputes.

In the overall scheme of U.S. foreign policy, the Horn of Africa occupies at best a marginal position. No presidential doctrines have been declared extending the U.S. security blanket over Africa, nor have American defense planners ever expected either Ethiopia or Somalia to make any significant military contribution in the event of a global or localized superpower conflict. Consequently, the Horn of Africa has rarely been the object of high-level attention in Washington. Only for short spurts in times of crisis have top-ranking officials taken an interest in the area. Decision-making authority, therefore, has rested almost exclusively in the hands of lower-ranking foreign policy bureaucrats, whose institutional instinct is to avoid disrupting the status quo and to resist drastic policy reorientations proposed by high-ranking “uninformed” officials.

Disruption avoidance is appealing to American policymakers of both a globalist and a regionalist persuasion, though for different reasons. For the globalist, U.S. relations should not be jeopardized with pro-Western governments in the Third World. Those who approach bilateral relations from the regionalist perspective are more likely to be acting upon State Department SOP policy guidelines, which tend to favor the political status quo. In either case, there is a predilection to minimize risk-taking and to avoid jeopardizing relations. Slow evolution, not fast-paced innovation, is a principal trait of institutionalized foreign policy decision-making.


The preceding analysis has identified the potential sources of U.S. dependence and susceptibility to a manipulation of weakness bargaining strategy by its arms clients in the Horn of Africa. It has also isolated the determinants of (and delineated the limits of) Washington’s ability and willingness to use the threat of defection vis-a-vis these two states. Three factors would appear to affect the degree to which the United States would be vulnerable to the manipulation of weakness: (1) U.S. perceptions of the Soviet geostrategic threat, and to a lesser extent that posed by regional antagonists; (2) Washington’s perceived need for access to military facilities in the vicinity of the Horn; and (3) the organizational interests and procedures of the national security bureaucracy (the State Departments Africa Bureau most particularly) in preserving an American position of influence in the Horn. Three considerations would seem to frame Washington’s use of the threat of defection: (1) the nonexistence or dissipation of the Soviet threat, (2) the opening of strategic options in the region from the mid-1970s onward, and (3) the existence of discord within U.S. foreign policy-making circles over the value of the stakes at risk in the Horn.

Given Washington’s sensitivity to the Soviet threat and strategic base requirements as well as the predominant role played by the U.S. national security bureaucracy in foreign policy decision making, several observations might be made concerning supplier-recipient bargaining behavior in U.S. relations with Ethiopia and Somalia. First, policy disputes would more likely be instigated by Addis Ababa and Mogadishu rather than by Washington, whose national security bureaucracy maintains an interest in not jeopardizing relations with client states, although the U.S. Congress might also challenge the propriety of U.S. policy and cause a disruption in relations. Second, Ethiopia especially, as well as Somalia, would be able to manipulate Washington’s perceived geostrategic weakness and/or desire for stability in bilateral relations with some success. Third, only in times of an immediate, high-risk crisis might one expect sudden, dramatic changes in U.S. policy. Fourth, in resisting the demands of its arms clients in the Horn, the United States would generally refrain from the overt use of a threat of defection, despite the availability of other options.

Washington’s primary strategy for exerting influence involved manipulating the weaknesses of Ethiopia and Somalia. The use or threat of harsh sanctions to keep a client in line—such as the termination of military assistance, a halt to all arms transfers, or a threat of defection—would only be likely to occur either before the American bureaucracy established institutional stakes in a country or if the permanent bureaucracy’s role in decision making was usurped by other uncommitted domestic actors. Typically, U.S. bargaining strategy in the Horn of Africa seemed to be designed to maintain control over the flow of arms transfers to the Horn by highlighting the advantages that would accrue to these weak states by associating themselves with a great power such as the United States, and on occasion by threatening to impose mild sanctions (that is, reducing aid, prohibiting or delaying certain weapon transfers). The strategy, further, was to avoid disruption in U.S. geostrategic relationships by not resorting to blatant threats of defection.

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