This is the Introduction of the “Arms for the Horn: U.S. Security Policy in Ethiopia and Somalia, 1953–1991,” 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. This is a superb case study by the late Professor Jeffrey A. Lefebvre, one inculcated in the history of the Cold War, the Horn of Africa, and the wider political history of the Middle East.


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 Introduction


Nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations and passionate attachments for others should be excluded, and that in place of them just and amiable feelings toward all should be cultivated. The nation which indulges toward another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest.

—George Washington, Farewell Address, September 17, 1796

Foreign influence and the “variety of evils” it may produce has been an issue of concern to American leaders since the beginning of the republic. President Washington recommended in his Farewell Address that “the great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is, in extending our commercial relations to have with them as little political connection as possible.” Washington went on to warn that sympathy for a favorite nation might facilitate “the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists” and lead the United States into “a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification.”


Another inherent danger was posed by the “ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens [who devote themselves to the favorite nation] facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country without odium, sometimes even with popularity.” Many opportunities existed for foreign nations “to tamper with domestic factions, to practice the arts of seduction, to mislead public opinion, to influence or awe public councils!” Washington thus cautioned his fellow citizens to “steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world,” and advised that “so far as we have already formed engagements let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop.”

Needless to say, since the end of the Second World War George Washington’s advice has not been heeded. In 1947 the mass protests in cities around the U.S. against an executive order that would block millions of people from entering the United States extended military assistance to Greece and Turkey under the aegis of the Truman Doctrine. By the end of the 1940s, the death of four U.S. Special Forces soldiers in Niger on Oct. 4 has lead some in the United States had tied itself to a collective defense organization (NATO) to defend Western Europe from communist (Soviet) aggression.

During the 19505 U.S. foreign policy assumed a truly global dimension as the United States not only joined in establishing collective defense organizations in regions outside of the Western Hemisphere, but also began to supply military and economic assistance to small and weak countries in the Far East, Africa, and the Middle East.

Whether or not the United States has overextended itself via the numerous political-military commitments it has concluded since the end of the Second World War is not the subject under scrutiny here. Rather, the takeoff point for my analysis draws its inspiration from the great prescience President Washington exhibited in warning about the danger and manner in which foreign powers with whom the United States developed political-military relations would attempt to influence U.S. foreign policy.

More specifically, I seek to explore and add a corollary to Washington’s depiction of influence in great power-small power relations. After citing the many dangers arising from entangling alliances Washington observed that “such an attachment of a small or weak toward a great and powerful nation dooms the former to be the satellite of the latter.” What he neglects to mention is that the very same forces might also subordinate a great and powerful nation to do the bidding of a small or weak nation.

Thus, this is a study about influence and how it is wielded in a great power supplier—small power recipient arms transfer relationship. The protagonists starring in this bargaining game of influence are the United States in the role of the great power arms patron and the governments of Ethiopia and Somalia, alternatively, in the role of America’s small and weak Third World arms client. What makes the question of influence so intriguing and perplexing in the case of U.S.—Horn relations is that here in Africa’s northeast corner reside two of the world’s poorest, yet most heavily armed states in the African continent.

For more than a quarter-century, 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 and Somalia have been locked in a cycle of violence that has made the Horn of Africa one of the world’s “hot spots.” Despite the tragedy of having two countries that can least afford it wasting their scarce resources acquiring weapons and dealing with security problems, over the past four decades Ethiopia and Somalia have received American weapons, spare parts, ammunition, and military training valued at almost $1 billion.

Moreover, Soviet arms transfers to Mogadishu and Addis Ababa during just the past two decades have totaled more than $11 billion. This analysis will seek to explain why the United States has transferred military resources and various types of sophisticated weaponry to lamented Beijing’s economic engagement model, saying it undermined democracy and mired African countries in debt. When he landed in Ethiopia and Somalia as well as identify the main determinants that have shaped arms negotiations between Washington and its two primary arms clients in the Horn of Africa.


The question of “who influences whom” in great power—small power arms partnership has been a subject of much debate among scholars, analysts, and government officials for more than two decades. Government proponents, who favor using arms transfers to secure relations between two countries, claim that because both supplier and recipient benefit from this “voluntary” exchange of arms for military-political-economic assets, influence is exerted in a benign fashion. Third World and “radical left” critics argue that arms transfers create a form of client dependence and allow the imperialist Western powers to manipulate and exploit the vulnerable and dependent nations of the Third World.

At the end of the 1960s “revisionist” critics affected by the U.S. experience in Vietnam and later dealings with the state of Israel began writing about the “big influence of small allies,” “the limits of power,” and “reverse leverage,” suggesting that arms transfers created a supplier-recipient relationship characterized by donor dependence in which arms clients are able to manipulate and force their patrons to accept undesirable costs or risks.

Still others, in noting the trend toward increasing global interdependence, believe that the diffusion of arms to the Third World has been accompanied by diffusion of influence as well, infusing a quality of mutual dependence that allows both partners to exert influence over the other at a given time. Despite the different conclusions drawn by these models, they do seem to agree that an inverse relationship exists between influence and dependence— as one’s relative dependence upon an arms partner increases (or decreases), one’s relative influence decreases (or increases).

Influence in supplier-recipient relations becomes important as the result of the inherent competition that arises when two parties seek to maximize benefits and minimize costs and risks. But this is not a static relationship. The relative influence or dependence of each partner is fluid and may shift over time, thereby affecting bargaining outcomes. Arms relationships might be envisioned as in constant flux, moving along a continuum between the two extremes of supplier-dependence and recipient-dependence. Thus, two key questions need to be explored: (1) What are the determinants of supplier and recipient dependence? and (2) What strategies are used by arms partners to translate their relative bargaining strength into influence?


One bargaining strategy used by arms partners involves the manipulation of weakness. Weakness in this context is derived from a state’s perception of external and internal threats, the value of strategic, political, and economic assets offered by its partner, and the vested interests of domestic actors in maintaining a stable partnership.

Whereas the “balance of interests” model of conflict resolution confers the bargaining advantage upon the player for whom the stakes (interests) are relatively greater, and is motivated therefore to accept risks and costs shunned by its opponent, the opposite situation seems to pertain in supplier-recipient relations. Interests and threats are sources of bargaining weakness. To the extent that one arms partner requires the services or assets of the other, it is vulnerable to manipulation.

The first source of weakness and vulnerability arises from the need to respond to a real or perceived threat. A great power supplier may feel compelled to transfer arms on less than ideal terms in order to deter, contain, or roll back the attempted intrusions of international rivals seeking to usurp their interests in a client state or in the surrounding region.

A recipient who is confronted by hostile neighbors or internal insurrection may accept a less than optimal arms package, sacrifice other interests, or make humiliating concessions so as to keep a potentially critical weapons pipeline open or to avoid antagonizing a great-power benefactor whose extended deterrent protection services might be needed in the near future. The manipulation of weakness in this context involves playing upon the fears of the other country. Thus, a first hypothesis might read that a state’s relative influence and ability to manipulate and exploit the weakness of its partner increases (or decreases) as the threat perception of its arms partner increases (or decreases).

The second source of weakness that may be manipulated concerns the value of the assets involved in the quid pro quo exchange between supplier and recipient. A great-power supplier may be willing to pay a high price in the form of military assistance to acquire and maintain access to military bases situated near maritime chokepoints, resource-rich countries, or other strategic locations.

Likewise, a recipient may compromise certain interests in order to appease a supplier who can provide desired quantities and various types of sophisticated weapons, or is capable of transferring arms on favorable financial terms, or has demonstrated a willingness to bring its political and military assets to bear in defense of a client’s interests. The manipulation of weakness strategy also involves a bit of “look what I can do for you” posturing. Thus, a second hypothesis is that a state’s relative influence and ability to manipulate weakness increases (or decreases) as the perceived value of its assets rise (or falls).

The third source of vulnerability arises from the vested interests of influential domestic actors (individuals, groups, and institutions) who define and perceive threats as well as determine the value of the other country’s assets. These assessments are often affected by considerations that have little or nothing to do with objective strategic reality.

For a multitude of reasons—including the enhancement of personal power and prestige, maintaining control over an unstable political system, attachments built on moral, ethnic, religious, or ideological grounds, the need to appease or impress domestic interest groups, public opinion, or foreign governments, to maintain international credibility, or as the outcome of the implementation of bureaucratic missions and SOPs—influential actors who can significantly affect the decision-making process might oppose policies that threaten to antagonize an arms partner.

In short, they have a vested interest in avoiding the disruption or destabilization of relations. These actors, in effect, serve as foreign advocates and undermine the influence of their own government by exerting pressure to meet the demands of an arms partner. Thus, a third hypothesis might suggest that a state’s relative influence and ability to manipulate weakness is enhanced (or diminished) where there exist influential domestic actors in the partner state who advocate (or oppose) its cause.

A state may manipulate the weakness of an arms partner by (1) playing upon a partner’s fear of a menacing external or internal environment, (2) threatening to impose sanctions or jeopardize access to valued assets, and/ or (3) exploiting the services of domestic factions in the partner state to advocate one’s cause.

However, this strategy does carry certain risks. In particular, the game board may change as threats may recede, alternatives emerge, or interests change. Nonetheless, given the fact that suppliers and recipients share a basic interest, which may vary in intensity, in maintaining the arms connection, the manipulation of weakness will remain a valued bargaining strategy for both partners.


A second strategy used by arms partners to influence bargaining outcomes involves the threat of defection. The ability to threaten defection or to secure valued assets from a third party is a function of time pressures, the availability of viable alternatives, and the willingness of domestic actors to execute such a threat. In contrast to balance-of-power theory, which contends that increasing power reduces constraints and consequently enhances a state’s capacity to affect international outcomes, the ability to threaten defection to a third party has less to do with increasing power than with the reduction of constraints.

A great power, for example, may have less flexibility or room to maneuver than a small and weak power because of greater constraints on its behavior imposed by external conditions and internal forces. To the extent that a state can make a viable and credible threat of defection, its relative dependence is diminished and influence increased vis-a-vis its arms partner.

A first constraint that may limit a state’s ability to make a threat of defection is related to the immediacy of a threat. “Crisis behavior” theory suggests that as the time frame for making a critical decision contracts, actors may assume risks or accept consequences they would typically avoid under less pressured circumstances. A supplier confronted by an immediate threat to its regional interests or position of predominance in a client state may feel coerced into transferring military resources on less than desired terms.

Likewise, a recipient state faced with similar circumstances might wish to avoid the logistical problems associated with changing arms partners in the midst of a crisis or war. Although a crisis atmosphere may in fact prompt a desperate arms partner to make such a threat, in and of itself, the immediacy of response required by the burdened state does not necessarily make the enactment of the threat viable or believable. Thus, a first hypothesis might read that a state’s relative influence and capacity to enact (rather than make) a threat of defection decreases (or increases) where threats are immediate (or latent).

The time-frame problem is intimately linked to a second constraint that directly affects the viability of a threat of defection: the availability of alternatives. Valued assets of an arms partner may be replaced in part or in full by outside parties. Arms suppliers may in fact attempt to diminish their dependence upon anyone recipient by developing redundant assets and capabilities in a particular region. Recipients, on the other hand, may seek to diversify their sources of supply in order to decrease their dependence upon and vulnerability to actions taken by suppliers.

Thus, a second hypothesis to be proposed under this model is that a state’s relative influence and capacity to make a viable threat of defection increases (or decreases) as the number of potential alternative partners offering comparable assets increases (or decreases).

A third constraint affecting the use of a threat of defection involves those internal actors who define the parameters of choice. For the threat of defection to be effective as a weapon of influence, it must be credible. It is made credible by the presence of positive and/or negative countervailing pressures in the form of influential individuals, groups, or institutions within the manipulating state. There must be advocates willing to make the case for defecting to another partner, and/or advocates opposed to the terms of the current arms relationship.

Essentially, these countervailing forces ensure that the internal debate is not one-sided, and therefore one partner cannot take the other for granted. Thus, a third and final hypothesis is that a state’s relative influence and the credibility of a threat of defection will be enhanced (or diminished) by the presence (or absence) of countervailing domestic pressures within its own political system.

The threat of defection is a rather crude and blunt bargaining strategy in which one partner threatens to terminate the exchange of its valued assets to the other and to offer them to a third party willing to meet its demands or play by its rules. This strategy places arms partners in a chilling game of “chicken” or “called bluff,” which may leave a very bitter taste in the mouth of the loser.

The threat of defection carries several risks that may ultimately backfire and defeat the long-term purpose of this strategy:

(1) a state constantly being threatened by the defection of its partner may seek out a new and more dependent supplier or recipient;

(2) one’s partner may tire of dealing with this threat and opt out of the relationship entirely, thereby forcing the manipulator to carry through with the threat of defection and perhaps be thrust into a more dependent relationship vis-a-vis its new partner; or

(3) potential alternative partners who observe this manipulative behavior may decide they do not want to be victimized in the same way. Assuming that states do learn from their own experience and observed experiences of others, the threat of defection should be used sparingly; otherwise, it may lose its impact.


The supplier-recipient bargaining model, which I will apply to the study of influence in American arms relations in the Horn of Africa, involves two different, though complementary strategies: the manipulation of weakness and the threat of defection. From these two bargaining strategies flow six fundamental questions that will shape the organization and conclusions of this foreign policy analysis.

Three questions that fall under the manipulation of weakness strategy will be asked of each partner. (1) Is the external environment perceived as high-risk or threatening? (2) Are the assets being obtained from the arms exchange unique or of high value? (3) Are there influential domestic actors who wish to avoid disruption in the relationship?

Each partner will also be asked three questions derived from the hypotheses developed under the threat of defection strategy. (1) Is the external threat deemed to be immediate or latent? (2) Do viable alternatives exist? (3) Are there influential domestic actors who will support actions that may cause disruption in the relationship?

The above hypotheses and questions will provide the organizational framework for ten case studies of influence in U.S.-Horn arms bargaining; six cases involve the United States and Ethiopia between 1953 and 1977, and four involve the United States and Somalia between 1977 and 1990. Ideally, the six questions identified as critical to the manipulation of weakness and threat of defection bargaining strategies will prove applicable not only in the case of U.S.-Horn relations but in any given supplier-recipient arms relationship.

This analysis will begin in part I with an overview of the arms transfers policy setting in the United States (chapter 1) and the Horn of Africa (chapter 2). Part II will present the six case studies involving key decision points in the U.S.-Ethiopia arms relationship (chapters 3-8). Part III will pick up the story with an analysis of the four case studies pertaining to U.S.-Somalia arms transfer and security questions (chapters 9-12).

My conclusion will explore the usefulness of this supplier—recipient model and what it portends for the future of U.S. arms transfers to the Horn of Africa in light of recent developments.

Read Part I: U.S.-Horn Security Calculations

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