This is the Conclusion of “Arms for the Horn,” a book about the 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



On 4 January 1991, while world attention was focused on the Persian Gulf and counting down the days to George Bush’s January 15 ultimatum for Saddam Hussein to withdraw Iraqi forces from Kuwait, a U.S. Navy Seals team arrived in Somalia. Their mission was to ensure the safe evacuation of the U.S. embassy in Mogadishu. By the evening of January 6, the U.S. embassy, which had already come under small-arms fire and had been hit by bazookas, was evacuated. A week later the Italian embassy, the last open foreign embassy in Mogadishu, had also closed down.


The embassy evacuations were brought on by the fierce fighting that had erupted in Mogadishu at the end of December 1990 between the forces of the United Somali Congress (USC) and Somali military units, including the presidential guard (Red Berets) that had remained loyal to Siad Barre. Half the city of Mogadishu was destroyed in the fighting. From the presidential palace, Siad’s forces randomly shelled the city and outlying areas for weeks, while street battles consumed the capital. Thousands were killed, mostly civilians, in the fighting. Electricity, water, and telephone links to the outside world were knocked out, and there were food shortages.

Mogadishu’s gothic Catholic cathedral was hit by grenades and burned. The U.S. embassy, along with many other foreign embassies, was blown apart by bazookas and looted by the Somali Army following the American evacuation. Civilians who had not fled the city were buying weapons in the street to fend for themselves and survive this anarchy.

Amid the rubble, Siad Barre made one last attempt to salvage the situation diplomatically. On January 24 he appointed a new government-led by Omar Arteh Ghaleb, a nationally known political figure from the Isaaq clan—and agreed to step down as president if the rebels accepted a truce. Siad’s deal was rejected. As the presidential palace came under siege, Siad and his top aides were forced to move to a fortified bunker near the Mogadishu airport. With the arrival of forces from the Somali Patriot Movement (SPM), the noose tightened, forcing Siad into a humiliating withdrawal. Finally, on January 27 the USC rebels declared victory.

Amid the jubilation, there remained a pervasive fear that the civil war was not yet completely over. Initially, it was reported that Siad Barre and his entourage had slipped into Kenya, having been promised safe passage by the Kenyan government, and from there Siad would retire to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. But instead, Siad and his top aides fled in a large armored convoy to the deposed president’s hometown of Garbaharre, 300 kilometers northwest of Mogadishu, perhaps in order to regroup for a new round of fighting.

Given the general belief outside the president’s own Mareehan clan that Siad Barre’s twenty-one-year reign had brought Somalia nothing but economic hardships, military setbacks, and political fragmentation, it is hard to imagine any significant role for Siad in Somalia’s future, especially given his age and poor health. The Mareehan as a clan, however, may not necessarily be out of the game if traditional Somali clan rivalries resurface in post-Siad Somalia, as they are likely to do.

Even without Siad Barre to contend with, the new USC (Hawiye) dominated interim government will have a long road to travel, not only in rebuilding Somalia but also in bringing peace, stability, and democracy to this war-ravished country. After claiming victory, the USC called for the formation of a broad-based democratic government of national reconciliation and a multiparty system. Ali Mahdi Mohammed, a member of the USC’s Mogadishu-based Executive Committee, was sworn in as interim president on January 28, and he appointed Omar Arteh Ghalib as prime minister.

Drawing upon the platform enunciated in the May 1990 Somali Manifesto I, the new president called for the convention of a shir (a traditional meeting of clan elders) to be held in February 1991. The Shir, to include all clans, would be responsible for drafting a new constitution and seeking a formula for national reconciliation. U.S. State Department analysts viewed the USC-appointed government as moderate and democratic, because of its ties to the much-respected Manifesto Group.

As the most conciliatory of the three main rebel movements because of its multi-clan affiliations, it seemed to offer Somalia perhaps its best chance for peace. Unfortunately, as of July 1991, the USC’s call for a unity conference has been rejected by the SPM and SNM.

However, a closer examination of the post-Siad political scene in Somalia leads to a dismal projection. The USC is itself divided. Although predominantly a Hawiye movement, the USC is fractured along subclan lines: the principal contenders are the Abgal Hawiye, who are numerous in and around Mogadishu and control the Mogadishu-based USC Executive Committee, of which President Ali Madhi Mohammed is a member, as are many signatories of Somali Manifesto I, and the Habr Gidir Hawiye, some of whom remained associated with the Somali National Movement (SNM), while others joined the Rome-based faction of the USC. Besides the Abgal, with nine subgroups, and the Habr Gidir, with five subgroups, there are four other Hawiye subclans, adding to the confusion.

In the south, the SPM and Daarood-based Somali National Front (SNF)—a group seen by some as a stalking horse for Siad Barre—continue to oppose the USC-dominated government in Mogadishu. While there is at least one Ogadeni minister in the new government, the SPM has demanded a greater share of political power.” Whereas for the Hawiye-based USC government the Ogaden issue is viewed with antipathy, it remains a fundamental part of the Ogaden (SPM) and Daarood (SNF) agenda.

Despite calls for moderation by Somali political leaders, the continued interclan fighting in the south seems to be favored by the populace, as there are old scores to settle; consequently, a new stream of refugees, mostly from the Daarood clan, are flowing into Westgate Mall siege in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2013. In recent weeks, they have carried out a spate of attacks in Kenya and the Ogaden.

Like the SPM, the Isaaq-based SNM believes it has earned the right to have a major voice in the distribution of power because it had been in the field waging its war against the government throughout the 1980s and had borne the brunt of Siad’s military crackdowns, especially in 1988. Thus, the SNM also views the USC as something of a usurper. The USC organization had only been created in 1989, and as late as mid-1990 was thought to be the weakest militarily and posing the least threat to Siad’s rule of the three insurgency movements.

However, the USC was politically well-positioned since its main base of clan support was in the center of the country, an area including Mogadishu. Nonetheless, the SNM and SPM feel that it was only owing to their persistent efforts that Siad Barre’s government was worn down to a point of exhaustion, thus allowing the USC to seize power. So even though several Isaaqs were appointed to the interim government, including the prime minister, the fact that no other northern clans were represented, coupled with traditional northern suspicion of the south, resulted in a break between north and south.

ARMS FOR THE HORN CONCLUSIONFollowing the fall of Siad and the collapse of the Somali Army, the Isaaq-based SNM went about consolidating control in the north and establishing a regional administration. At first, the SNM talked of moving the Somali capital from Mogadishu to a more central location.

However, the SNM agenda remained quite distinct from that of the southern clans—it would just as soon see the Ogaden issue disappear and wanted to reverse what northern clans believed had been years of discrimination against the north and domination by the south. Subsequently, the SNM renounced the 1960 act of Somali union and in May declared the Republic of Somaliland in the north, whose administrative lines were essentially the same as the old British Somaliland.

While it was not clear if other northern clans agreed with this move, at least among the Isaaq popular opinion favored secession. This seemed to be a replay of the situation in December 1960 when the Somali constitution was overwhelmingly adopted in the south but stiffly opposed in the north. The basic attitude in the north was that southern clans and Italian rule and intervention—in propping up Siad Barre by supplying arms—had ruined Somalia. Future association with the south would be on their terms.

Although the political leadership in the south is working to establish ties with the north, there is a feeling of bitterness among the general population toward the north. The SNM is seen as having betrayed the pan-Somali national cause. While many in the south would favor going to war to maintain Somalia’s unity, logistically war between the north and the south seems unlikely, given the 300-mile gap between the two sides.

The popular movement at this time has been toward greater clannishness and fragmentation. Conceivably, Somalia could be sliced into three or four big chunks—an SNM-controlled north, the USC in Mogadishu and surrounding areas, and smaller areas under the control of the SPM and SNF.

U.S. policy toward Somalia through the first half of 1991 was to encourage the factions to talk and get together through the auspices of the OAU, Egypt, or others, although the chances of success were not seen as great. The declaration of the Republic of Somaliland by the SNM was greeted with a “big yawn” at the Department of State. Washington was “not impressed” and refused to support or condone the secession. For the most part, there was only a limited role the United States could play, anyway.

The $35 million U.S. embassy in Mogadishu had been destroyed, so there had been no American diplomatic presence in Somalia since early January. Thus, most of the information provided to Washington was second-hand and at times suspect. Still, political analysts in Washington did ponder the question: what role would the Somali Army or Islamic fundamentalists play in post-Siad Somalia?

More important for U.S. analysts, Somalia was no longer regarded as a strategic piece of property. Berbera had been abandoned by the Americans in December, and the storage tanks at the port had been emptied of fuel for use in the Persian Gulf War. Basically, Somalia was seen as “a total write—off’—it had been torn apart by years of civil war and insoluble interclan rivalries, was economically bankrupt, and had now lost all strategic value.

The Bush administration did propose $300,000 in IMETP funding for FY 1992 to train sixteen Somali military students in the mass protests in cities around the U.S. against an executive order that would block millions of people from entering the United States, but this was contingent on the resumption of normal bilateral relations with the new government. While $10 million in aid was released in spring 1991 to help Somalis who had fled the civil war, in this alphabet-soup land of rival clan-based factions, Washington’s only interest was a humanitarian one.

In 1993 Somali militia shot down two Black Hawk helicopters in Mogadishu


The deteriorating political situation in Somalia over the past three years and continuing uncertainty about the new Somali government, the fall of the Mengistu government in Ethiopia, the end of the cold war, and the war in the Persian Gulf—which culminated in Iraq’s defeat on February 28—have created a vastly changed security environment. Mengistu and Siad had both got on board George Bush’s “new world order” bandwagon.

Throughout the late summer and fall of 1990, Siad Barre followed the lead of Egypt and Saudi Arabia in the Arab League by voting to condemn Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and supported the introduction of Western forces into the Arabian Peninsula. Reportedly, Somalia was handsomely rewarded with a $70 million cash payoff by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

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 played a supporting role at the UN Security Council, voting with the United States to condemn the invasion of Kuwait and to impose sanctions against Iraq, and then in December supporting the UN Security Council’s Resolution 678 authorizing the use of force to expel Iraq from Kuwait. Addis Ababa’s announcement at the beginning of November 1990 that all Ethiopian Jews were free to emigrate to Israel—ending what many interpreted as Ethiopia’s crude game of trading Ethiopian Jews for sophisticated arms from Israel—also improved relations between Ethiopia and the United States.

As a payoff, the United States, with the blessing of the Soviet Union, agreed to a more active role in mediating a settlement of the Ethiopian-Eritrean civil war. On February 22, 1991, more than a year after the collapse of the negotiations sponsored by former president Jimmy Carter between the Ethiopian government and the Eritrean insurgents, a new round of peace talks was convened in Washington under State Department auspices, mediated by Herman Cohen, assistant secretary of state for African affairs.

Following the breakdown of these talks, the Bush administration in April sent a special envoy, Rudy Boschwitz, to raise the issue of Mengistu’s resignation to achieve peace in Ethiopia. Finally, in May, spurred by a desire to get the remaining Falashas out of Ethiopia before Addis Ababa fell to advancing Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) forces, and to avoid a catastrophe such as that suffered by the Kurds in Iraq, the Bush administration persuaded Mengistu to leave Ethiopia and the rebel forces to hold their advance until the Falasha evacuation was completed.

Herman Cohen then brokered an agreement that allowed the EPRDF to enter Addis Ababa and assume control in order to preserve “law and order.” The United States thereby acted as the “midwife” at the creation of a new Ethiopia – one that had been abandoned by the Soviet Union and which, except for its location across the Red Sea from Saudi Arabia, was of no direct strategic value to the United States.

While the United States appreciated Somalia’s and Ethiopia’s political support at the Arab League and United Nations during the Gulf crisis, the war highlighted the fact that, strategically, regional threats to U.S. interests could be handled without using military facilities in the Horn. The economic embargo of Iraq, which included maritime sea—intercept operations in the Red Sea, was successfully conducted without using Berbera. With Addis Ababa torn by civil war and its Red Sea coastline largely under the control of insurgents, Ethiopia was a nonfactor in the strategic equation.

When war broke out, U.S. naval vessels continued to operate in the Red Sea by using Saudi and Egyptian facilities. An American attack submarine in the Red Sea even got involved in the fighting by firing a Tomahawk missile at Iraq. Much as the critics of the 1980 U.S.-Somali arms-for-access deal had predicted in the event of a serious military threat in the Persian Gulf, everything in the region was opened up to the United States, negating the importance of Berbera.

Turkey allowed U.S. jets to launch attacks against Iraq from its military bases; U.S. ground forces were “invited” into Saudi Arabia (which had apparently reached a secret agreement with Washington in the 1980s to construct military bases, command-and-control centers, and to allow the prepositioning of U.S. equipment at these secret sites) and other neighboring countries; and B-52 bombing runs were conducted from Diego Garcia.

Moreover, after the U.S.-Iraq War ended, the United States was offered permanent basing rights in the Persian Gulf, further reducing the strategic value of Somali or Ethiopian military facilities. Another indicator of decreased U.S. strategic interest in the Horn of Africa is that while base-access accords with Somalia and Kenya were allowed to lapse into the one-year notification provision, a new ten-year access agreement was signed with Oman in December 1990.

While the United States did not need to use Berbera during the Persian Gulf buildup and six-week war, some analysts still believe that Berbera might prove useful given a different contingency. The fact that the Somalis had granted the United States extraordinary access to the port weighs into this assessment. On the other hand, the prevailing feeling at the State Department is that, given the political situation in Somalia, the United States did not need such access.

It takes essentially no interest in Somalia, except for a humanitarian nature. Somalia could go down the tubes and it would not adversely affect the U.S. strategic posture in the region. Moreover, Berbera had suffered damage as a result of the civil war, and given the uncertainty of the situation, why should the United States go in there and repair facilities that might be blown up again?

Besides, Kenya appeared to offer all the access the United States would require to deal with potential contingencies in East Africa. Mombasa’s strategic significance in a Persian Gulf contingency had no doubt also decreased as a result of the Gulf crisis and war. The anticipated postwar U.S. security framework for the Persian Gulf—an increased naval presence in the Persian Gulf and access to bases in the affected area—would see to that.

However, there were certain contingencies in which Kenya could, and did prove to be of value. The evacuation of the U.S. embassy in Khartoum in January 1991, after security threats arising from Sudan’s alignment with Iraq, was conducted from Kenya. Furthermore, if something had gone wrong with the evacuation of the U.S. embassy in Mogadishu, there was an alternate plan to use Kenya.

Thus, even though U.S. security assistance to Kenya had been frozen by Congress in early July 1990 because of human rights violations, State Department officials were confident that given the pro-Western orientation of the Kenyan government, the use of Kenya’s military facilities would not be denied the United States. Strategically, Kenya was not absolutely necessary, but it would assure power projection in East Africa.

The FY 1992 security assistance proposal presented to Congress in the spring of 1991 is quite revealing as to U.S. strategic interests in the post-cold war, post-Gulf war world order. Sub-Sahara Africa ranks at the bottom of the Security Assistance Programs list of regional priorities.

The Bush administration requested just under $62 million for the entire region, about one-sixth the amount for East Asian and Pacific countries and one-sixteenth of that for Latin America—the other two regions perennially at the bottom of the roster. However, some $1 billion in development and economic assistance was also proposed for Africa, which underscores a significant shift in how the United States intends to support African governments.

In the Horn itself, the only security assistance of any significance was that proposed for Djibouti ($5,175,000) and Kenya ($5,100,000), placing them second and third, respectively, in the region behind Namibia ($5,180,000). Because of continuing human rights violations in Kenya, it was questionable whether the $4 million portion of Foreign Military Financing (FMF) grant aid requested for Nairobi would pass through Congress.

Only token IMET programs ($300,000) were planned for Somalia and Sudan, ranking them behind at least a dozen other SAP recipients in Africa. Washington’s disenchantment and detachment from events in these two countries is further emphasized by the fact that of the $1 billion in FY 1992 development and economic aid proposed for Africa, none was requested for Somalia, and only $1 million for Sudan. Even before the fall of Mengistu, the executive branch requested $11,200,000 in PL 480 funds for Ethiopia.

U.S.-Ethiopia relations can be expected to improve in the 1990s if the government of Meles Zenawi fulfills its promise to return the economy to a free market and to promote democracy, and does not fall into the trap of renewing the war in Eritrea. Although the Tigrean leadership, including Zenawi, had at one point espoused a rigid Albanian-style communist doctrine, that has been cast off and the EPRDF has professed a commitment to democracy and free enterprise.

As a sign of its commitment to democracy, the EPRDF government agreed to allow EPLF and OLF participation and to hold national elections for a constituent assembly to decide Ethiopia’s future by mid-1992. The Bush administration immediately drew a very clear and firm line with Zenawi: “No democracy, no cooperation.” One wonders, however, how far that cooperation will extend, given the fact that in the words of one high-ranking State Department official: “There are no geopolitical stakes in Ethiopia or the Horn of Africa anymore.”

Perhaps the most perplexing political question confronting American policymakers in the Horn of Africa concerns the fate of Eritrea. Following the collapse of the Ethiopian army in May 1991, the EPLF established a provisional administration in Eritrea.

Assistant Secretary Herman Cohen sparked several days of anti-U.S. protests in Addis Ababa following a comment he made on May 28 supporting Eritrea’s right to decide its own future. Such a concept—allowing for the possibility of Eritrean independence—is not accepted in Addis Ababa, especially by the Amharas. While Mengistu was bad and brought ruin to Ethiopia, he was committed to Ethiopian unity and was respected as a nationalist.

While the EPRDF government and the United States have come out publicly in favor of an independence referendum in Eritrea, both parties believe that Ethiopia and Eritrea should remain united, or tied together in some formal political or economic union. For its part, the EPLF has not shown much interest in power-sharing in Addis Ababa.

Although Isaias Afwerki, chairman of the EPLF, attended the reconciliation conference held in Addis Ababa in July 1991, apparently to emphasize Eritrea’s separate status he did not sit with the other delegates. While Afwerki has indicated that the EPLF would delay the referendum for up to two years to allow the situation to stabilize in Ethiopia, there is little doubt that the Eritreans will choose independence when given the chance.

Memories of the last independence referendum held in Eritrea in 1962, which was fixed by Haile Selassie, certainly color the Eritrean perspective. This time around, however, the EPLF controls Ethiopia’s Red Sea coastline and the situation on the ground, which grants it considerable leverage vis-a-vis Addis Ababa.

Although the United States has shown a more realistic attitude toward the possibility of Eritrea’s secession so not to give rise to any undesired speculation, State Department officials are closed-mouthed concerning under what conditions the United States would recognize an Eritrean declaration of independence.

Given the general mistrust of Somalia’s ultimate regional ambitions, it seems unlikely that U.S.-Somali military relations will return to the situation that pertained in the 1980s, of massive levels of security assistance. At best Somalia might expect minimum aid, such as funding for military training (IMETP) and internal security. However, since Somalia has run afoul of the Brooke Amendment, having fallen some $13 million in arrears in loan repayments, such aid will not be forthcoming.

This, unfortunately, holds up the transfer of development assistance to Somalia—though it should be noted that Washington wiped out Egypt’s military debt and helped reduce Cairo’s $50 billion foreign debt by one-third in appreciation of Egypt’s participation in the U.S.-led Gulf coalition. For the near future, U.S. involvement in Somalia will be limited to providing emergency and humanitarian aid and observing events from afar. At this point, chaos seems to be the order of the day in Somalia.


In considering the more general ramifications for supplier-recipient relations based on the U.S. experience in the Horn of Africa, there are several points to be noted.

First, while there are economic incentives to sell arms to recipients who can afford to pay cash, where strategic rationales are the lone motive for a supplier—as in the case of the Horn—there will be a direct correlation between the supplier’s perception of threat and its vulnerability to manipulation and reluctance to threaten defection.

Second, the above formulation will be strengthened if unique assets are at stake in the recipient country, or muted if comparable alternatives are available.

Third, the intensity of the game-playing will vary according to the weight of the domestic political debate toward engagement or defection. Thus, a supplier’s influence vis-a-vis an arms client can be increased by reaching some accommodation or rules of understanding with its primary adversary, by developing redundant capabilities, or by responding to countervailing domestic political pressures. Of course, these actions may be beyond the control of any state.

In their dealings with the United States, Ethiopia and Somalia present two contrasting pictures of how to win friends within and exert influence over, a reluctant supplier. First, if the internal or regional conflict cannot be contained or eliminated in the client nation, it must be exploited so as to place a supplier’s credibility on the line. Ethiopia did this with regard to Eritrea and the Ogaden by playing on the theme of defending Ethiopian unity.

Somalia failed to do so because of the aggressive and destabilizing nature of Somali irredentism. As a result, the superpowers have been reluctant to become involved in Somalia because they have little to gain and much to lose, politically and militarily, by associating with an aggressor.

Second, a client’s threats of defection carry little weight if global competition is muted or ones assets are deemed expendable or at high risk. Recipients interested in an enduring relationship with a supplier need to look beyond their own short-term strategic value to a supplier. It is important to develop a base of political support among influential political groups in supplier countries who can serve as advocates, especially in the permanent bureaucracy.

Viewed in this light, the decade-long U.S.-Somalia security relationship appears to be an aberration. Where recipients do not confront immediate high-level threats, time, patience, and public relations may be their best allies and resources for acquiring long-term influence. With the end of the cold war, recipients states will be more pressed than ever to acquire scarce resources from retrenching great powers.

In arms relations between great power suppliers and small power recipients in the Horn of Africa, the manipulation of weakness and the threat of defection may have lost most of their utility as bargaining tools. Arms transfers are unlikely to reemerge as a modus operandi for the superpowers in the conduct of relations in the Horn. Indeed, military disengagement will become more attractive in light of the declining Soviet threat, budgetary problems in Washington, and the continuing instability and seemingly intractable conflicts in the Horn.

Although the United States still maintains a strategic interest in the Horn, in terms of protecting SLOCS and the oil lanes, supporting Egypt’s efforts to protect its southern flank and the Nile waters, and blunting destabilization activities aimed at Saudi Arabia and other pro-Western states, with the Soviet Union detaching itself from the influence game and pursuing a policy of cooperation with the United States, the threat to these interests appears marginal at best.

Arms transfers will continue to play a central role in the security calculations of Ethiopia and Somalia as long as their internal conflicts remain unresolved. Consequently, they will have to look to the middle powers, such as Israel, Libya, Egypt, Iran, or perhaps Iraq to meet their requirements. In the new global security setting, arms transfers will play only a minor role in U.S. and Soviet calculations and involvement in the Horn of Africa. The United States will maintain and wield influence in the region more effectively through its influence in international financial institutions and by extending bilateral development assistance.

Other powers with more direct stakes in regional security issues have already begun, and likely will continue, to fill the arms void left by the superpowers. Of course, U.S. policy could abruptly change owing to the emergence of a new external threat or resulting from the loss of access to military facilities in the Persian Gulf.

Thus, in this altered global security environment, the manipulation of weakness and the threat of defection will have less meaning in U.S.-Horn relations. This type of game-playing may occur instead at the regional level, as Ethiopia and Somalia seek to exploit the Arab-Israeli conflict or intra-Arab rivalries and alignments to their advantage. But, in the absence of a direct military threat to U.S. interests, there is no need for Washington to develop strategic options. One cannot manipulate weakness if one’s target does not perceive a threat. One cannot threaten defection if the target state feels it has nothing to lose and questions what the defector stands to gain.

The United States is no longer strictly bound by the rules of the supplier-recipient bargaining game. Essentially, the game board has changed to Washington’s advantage. Consequently, this may be the end of an era of high-profile military relations between the United States and the countries of the Horn of Africa. Perhaps it is the beginning of a new era based on economic development, human rights, and political reform.