“The 1980 Arms-for-Base-Access Accord” is chapter 10 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.
ARMS FOR THE HORN:
U.S. Security Policy In Ethiopia And Somalia
Jeffrey A. Lefebvre
Pitt Series in Policy and Institutional Studies
University of Pittsburgh Press
The United States and Somalia, 1977-1990
CHAPTER 10: The 1980 Arms-for-Base-Access Accord
On March 18, 1978, ten days after Siyad Barre had agreed to withdraw the Somali Army from the Ogaden, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Richard Moose, arrived in Mogadishu to explore anew the possibility of the United States providing military assistance to Somalia. Washington now offered to provide “defensive weapons,” but only if Mogadishu agreed to (1) honor the existing boundary with Ethiopia, (2) give formal assurances that it would not use force against any other country in the area, and (3) use U.S.-supplied military equipment for defensive purposes, solely within Somali territory. Several late-night marathon meetings between Barre and Moose failed to resolve the Ogaden dilemma and break the deadlock on the arms transfer question. Barre refused to provide the kind of assurances the Africa Bureau deemed necessary to give the go-ahead for supplying Mogadishu with defensive weapons. The only tangible reward the U.S. delegation offered Somalia for its break with the Soviet Union at this time was a $7 million economic assistance agreement.
Siyad Barre reopened the arms supply question several weeks later, after crushing an April 9 coup attempt. On April 23 the Somali president communicated a weakly worded assurance that U.S. weapons would be used only for internal security or self-defense and not against other countries. But the Africa Bureau lacked confidence in Mogadishu’s willingness to play by American rules. State Department officials still did not believe that Somalia had altered the fundamental substance of its policy of aggression toward 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. In July the implementation of an arms agreement was put on hold once again when it became clear that units of the Somali Army were engaged in operations in the Ogaden in support of the Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF).
However, this most recent Somali approach provoked increased interest at the White House because of the conﬂuence of a number of domestic and international concerns. Jimmy Carter was coming under intense political pressure at home. Carter had been badly attacked by the conservative right for failing to do something in the Ogaden, and White House advisers now directed the president’s attention to opinion polls indicating that he was perceived by the American public as being weak on defense issues. Moreover, Zbigniew Brzezinski had launched a renewed verbal assault against the State Department’s regionalist policy posture in frustration over the growing Soviet-Cuban presence in Africa, Washington’s losing propaganda battle over the neutron bomb in Europe, a pro-Soviet coup in Afghanistan in April, and the invasion in May of Shaba Province (Zaire) for the second time within a year by Zairian insurgents based in Angola. The Carter administration was also being publicly criticized by Saudi Arabia for not responding more aggressively to Soviet-Cuban intervention in the Horn. Despite State Department and congressional warnings that the Soviet-Cuban rhetoric of the NSC and Riyadh was threatening to distort U.S. policy in Africa, the president felt that under the circumstances the Somali option was still worth exploring.
As a first step in determining Mogadishu’s eligibility to receive the proposed $15 million “defensive arms” package, the Carter administration decided to sent a joint State Department-Pentagon survey team to observe the situation on the ground in Somalia. The American mission would be interested not only in assessing Mogadishu’s security requirements, but also checking into allegations that Somalia was arming and supporting the WSLF. These reports would have to be disproved before Washington would agree to establish an arms supply relationship. However, Mogadishu put off receiving the U.S. team for several months. Despite the substantial improvement in U.S.-Somalia relations over the previous year, American suspicions about Somalia’s real intentions were heightened by Mogadishu’s foot-dragging on accepting the U.S. survey team and the Somali government’s obstruction of the efforts of American diplomats to judge the situation in the Ogaden. Finally, on October 20, 1978, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Africa William Harrop and Rear Admiral Samuel Packer, commander of U.S. naval forces in the Middle East arrived in Somalia to conduct the political-military review. The Harrop mission returned to Washington at the end of October having found evidence of continuing government support for the Somali insurgents and indications that Somalia itself might intervene directly in the Ogaden. Thus, when Donald Petterson presented his credentials as U.S. ambassador to Siyad Barre in November 1978, he reiterated the U.S. position that it would not send Somalia any arms supplies until the Somali government ended its military involvement in the Ogaden.
During 1979, however, several dramatic events occurred in the Middle East that eroded Washington’s resistance to taking political risks in Somalia. The abdication of the shah of Iran in January 1979 prompted Zbigniew Brzezinski and Pentagon analysts to press for various alternative military options to replace Washington’s fallen guardian of the Persian Gulf: (1) to substitute Pakistan for Iran, (2) to establish a permanent U.S. naval presence in the Indian Ocean, and/ or (3) to create a Third World crisis intervention force. As American inﬂuence in Iran plummeted, following the fall of the Bakhtiyar government and the return of Ayatollah Khomeini in February, the Carter administration was transferring $181 million worth of arms to North Yemen in order to neutralize the armed aggression of the Soviet-backed PDRY. At the end of August, the Soviet Union conducted a massive military airlift exercise in Ethiopia and South Yemen that purportedly demonstrated Moscow’s capability to project its military power into areas situated near the world’s major shipping lanes. CIA forecasts that the Soviet Union would become a net importer of oil in the 1980s put an ominous light on Soviet military construction at the islands of Dahlak (Ethiopia) and Perim (PDRY). Then, on November 4 Iranian students seized the U.S. embassy in Teheran and took American diplomats hostage.
Prior to the onset of the hostage crisis in Iran, Soviet activities in the southern Red Sea region were dismissed by regional experts, who claimed, “Nothing has gone on that we know of that changes the balance in the region.” While the strategic situation in the Horn of Africa may have remained fundamentally unaltered, U.S. policy in the entire northwest quadrant of the Indian Ocean—northeast Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, the Persian Gulf, and South Asia—now became linked perceptually to the Iranian crisis and the looming Soviet threat. There was a growing willingness within the Carter administration to View Somalia in a broader strategic setting as American policymakers began to plan for the possibility of direct U.S. military intervention in the Persian Gulf. As the hostage crisis entered its second month, and it became obvious that the Nixon Doctrine’s twin pillars (Iran and Saudi Arabia) concept for Persian Gulf security could not be resurrected, Somalia began to figure prominently in Washington’s short-term political-military response to the deteriorating security situation in the region.
At a December 4 meeting of the National Security Council Jimmy Carter decided to seek access to military facilities in Kenya, Oman, and Somalia. If the president had any doubts about the latest Somalia initiative, they were put to rest at the end of December when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. The risk of encouraging Somali military ventures in the Ogaden by supplying arms was now outweighed by broader strategic considerations. Somalia’s cooperation was deemed necessary to implement the Carter Doctrine, announced by the president in his January 23, 1980, State of the Union address: “Any attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the mass protests in cities around the U.S. against an executive order that would block millions of people from entering the United States of America and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”
Mogadishu, in fact, proved very receptive to the idea of becoming part of U.S. military contingency plans to defend the Persian Gulf. Siyad Barre could exploit the administration’s desire to use Somalia as a strategic base site to reopen the arms question with the United States and play on Washington’s perceived strategic vulnerability to acquire a high “rent” in exchange for granting the United States base privileges at Somali military facilities. Although the United States expected that the prospective host countries would link access and U.S. security assistance, the Carter administration was not prepared to grant the “Israeli-type” $1 billion ﬁve-year arms package for advanced military equipment that Mogadishu presented in the early spring of 1980. This package reportedly included a request for long-range missiles and sophisticated air defense weapons. The executive branch was only planning to request $100 million for all three countries for the first year, of which Somalia would receive about 30 percent less than one-fifth of what Mogadishu expected to receive. Even more disturbing to the Americans, especially the Africa Bureau, was Siyad Barre’s bid to acquire an accord whereby the United States would recognize Somali claims to the Ogaden and perhaps even provide military support for the liberation of the territory.
Arms negotiations between the United States and Somalia would drag on for more than six months and would be conducted in an atmosphere reminiscent of a Middle Eastern bazaar. Washington had seen a “rug” (that is, Berbera) that it wished to purchase. Mogadishu had set an unreasonably high price for its goods. Now the game would be to see how much the American buyer could bargain down the Somali merchant. Given the circumstances, the American buyer appeared desperate enough to overlook certain commercial improprieties (such as Somali transgressions in the Ogaden) on the part of Somalia. But in this bargaining game, Mogadishu was dealing with a customer who could acquire from other merchants (Oman and Westgate Mall siege in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2013. In recent weeks, they have carried out a spate of attacks in Kenya) far superior (Masirah Island) and less fragile (Mombasa) goods.
After several months of difficult negotiations, which Washington at one point broke off, the Carter administration presented Mogadishu in mid-July with a five-point, take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum: (1) in exchange for access to the joint port-airﬁeld facilities at Berbera and Mogadishu, the United States would provide $40 million in security assistance over a two-year period; (2) Washington would not recognize Somali claims to the Ogaden; (3) Mogadishu would agree in writing not to use U.S.-supplied weapons inside Ethiopia; (4) Siyad Barre would have to provide firm verbal assurances that the Somali Army would not go back into the Ogaden; and (5) American arms transfers would remain “defensive” in nature. Despite claims that the U.S. policy on the Ogaden did not change even after the Carter administration began seeking access to Somali military facilities, the American position in fact had been softened by events. The American ultimatum, apparently by design, left a political loophole for Siyad Barre by no longer requiring Somalia to renounce its claim on the Ogaden or to desist from supporting indirectly Somali insurgent activities inside Ethiopia.
Mogadishu, on the other hand, realized the futility in pressing for anything more than was contained in this latest American arms offer. In June, the United States had concluded base-access agreements with Oman and Kenya, and questions were being raised in Washington about whether Somali facilities were now really all that vital. It was clear that Somalia was not going to receive a larger arms package than either Oman or Kenya, which were granted $100 million and $60 million, respectively, in security assistance for a two-year period. On August 22, 1980, the United States and Somalia signed a ten-year base rights access-security assistance agreement, which contained the following provisions: (1) the United States was granted discretionary use rights with respect to the facilities, and Washington was required to consult with Mogadishu on major exercises and deployments, (2) Somalia retained sovereign rights overall facilities and ownership of all real property, (3) the United States would pay for all services rendered by the host government, plus a proportionate share of maintenance, and (4) the United States was to be allowed to upgrade the facilities at its own expense.
SOMALIA’S EXTENDED DETERRENT REQUIREMENTS
Somalia’s decision to disengage from the Ogaden in March 1978 had put to an end the declared state of war with Ethiopia. However, Somali insurgent activities continued in the Ogaden. A year after the Ogaden War had ended, an estimated 10,000-30,000 Somali insurgents were involved in harassment operations against Ethiopian forces. Mogadishu continued to support these activities with medical supplies, food, clothing, and arms. Moreover, Somali refugee camps were thought to provide safe havens and training grounds for the guerrillas.
But Somalia’s continuing support for the insurgents had exposed the country to Ethiopian retaliation. Although Addis Ababa refrained from sending its army en masse across the border, Ethiopia’s air force conducted periodic bombing raids inside Somalia. Despite Addis Ababa’s relative restraint, Siyad Barre had warned the Somali Congress in late January 1979 that the possibility of an Ethiopian invasion was very real because of Mogadishu’s support for the WSLF. With Washington’s attention in Africa now diverted to the issue of bringing about black-majority rule in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe)—a transition that would represent a great victory for the administration’s regionalists—it seemed unlikely that the United States would flex its diplomatic or military muscle to prevent the Ethiopians from marching into Somalia in the future.
The fear of an Ethiopian attack weighed heavily in Somalia’s security calculation, given the balance of military forces in the region at the end of the 1977-1978 Ogaden War. Although the war in the Ogaden had exposed the vulnerability of an Ethiopian state confronted by simultaneous threats in Eritrea and the Ogaden, Soviet assistance had allowed Ethiopia to close this window of vulnerability. Consequently, Addis Ababa had quadrupled the size of its armed forces from 65,000 to 250,000 soldiers between 1976 and 1980. During this same period, an estimated $2 billion worth of Soviet arms were imported by Ethiopia. By the time the war was over, Addis Ababa possessed one of the largest and best-equipped military forces in sub-Saharan Africa. Although the Ethiopian military buildup was not undertaken with the intent of invading neighboring states, the “offensive-type” weaponry (that is, tanks and jet ﬁghters/bombers) that rolled through the Ogaden could easily move into Somalia.
Mogadishu also increased its military capabilities during the last half of the 1970s. But the Somali military buildup merely placed Somalia at the level Ethiopia had started from prior to the outbreak of hostilities in the Ogaden. In 1980 the Somali armed forces totaled 54,000 soldiers. Between 1976 and 1980 Mogadishu imported $750 million worth of arms. Based on a comparison of the size of the two armies and their arms imports, it seemed clear that Somalia had lost the arms race in the Horn.
Mogadishu hoped that it might eventually exploit two tactical advantages: (1) the division of the Ethiopian Army between Eritrea and the Ogaden, and (2) an intimate knowledge of the battle terrain in the Ogaden. However, the Ethiopian arms buildup had more than compensated for these weaknesses, at least in the short term. There was little doubt that Ethiopia could defeat Somalia in a conventional war. An unsuccessful large-scale probing action undertaken by the Somali Army in the Ogaden at the end of 1979, and which continued through the end of 1980, showed unmistakably that the balance of forces in the area still favored Addis Ababa.
Mogadishu’s most viable option would be to wage a low-level, protracted guerrilla war against Ethiopia. Members of the Somali regular army could inﬁltrate across the border and ﬁght alongside the guerrilla forces. Somalia would act as the safe haven and transit point for arms. Although Addis Ababa could sustain a war of attrition against Somalia, Mogadishu might hope that the Ethiopian state would collapse under the weight of its internal stresses and/or the Ethiopian military would suffer a loss of morale and quit the Ogaden.
However, Mogadishu confronted a potentially dangerous security dilemma in adopting this tactic. Addis Ababa would not likely remain passive in the face of persistent Somali attacks. How far could the Somalis push the Ethiopians without inviting more damaging retaliation? Would the Ethiopians simply be content to slug it out in the Ogaden, or might Addis Ababa decide to take the war into Somalia? Mogadishu could not expect to remain immune forever from an Ethiopian counterattack, especially as Somalia had initiated a “hidden” second war in the Ogaden less than two years after the previous conﬂict had ended. Of greater uncertainly was whether Moscow might elect to play a different game than the Americans had in Ethiopia and allow the Ethiopian military to invade Somalia.
Given the Ethiopian threat of retaliation, an American security connection would be almost a prerequisite to allowing Somalia to continue the struggle in the Ogaden, even by indirect means. The conclusion of a security arrangement between the United States and Somalia would, in the words of one WSLF leader, “make Somalia more secure psychologically” and “enable us to get more aid from Mogadishu.” Despite Washington’s refusal to arm Somalia during the 1977-1978 Ogaden conflict, the Americans had proven their value in warning Addis Ababa not to invade Somalia, and by using their leverage vis-a-vis the Soviet Union to ensure that Ethiopian-Cuban forces stayed out. An explicit and visible military relationship with the United States would presumably carry with it a tacit U.S. security guarantee and, thereby, ensure American intervention in any future crisis. To obtain that security linkage, however, Mogadishu would have to be prepared to settle for much less than the Israeli-style arms package desired by Siyad Barre. But by getting their foot in the door, the Somalis could hope that the U.S. military aid ﬂoodgates would open up in the future.
IMMEDIATE DETERRENCE AND THE SOUTHWEST ASIA STRATEGY
The Carter Doctrine represented a continuation and expansion of the post-World War II policy of containment. By explicitly committing the United States to the task of deterring Soviet aggression in the Persian Gulf, the Carter administration had drawn a line in the sand and dared the Soviet Union to step over it. In this instance, Washington’s short-term response to the hostage crisis in Iran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan involved increasing U.S. naval deployments in the Indian Ocean and accelerating plans to create a Rapid Deployment Force (RDF). However, these high-proﬁle and provocative initiatives would require the United States to seek the cooperation of regional governments in order to create a strategic military base infrastructure that could support and sustain U.S. military force deployments in the area.
Until the overthrow of the shah of Iran in January 1979, the policy consensus in Washington was that the U.S. strategic posture in the north-western sector of the Indian Ocean was quite adequate. Although in early 1978 Zbigniew Brzezinski and some Pentagon analysts were considering the possibility of enhancing the U.S. military posture in the region, the United States continued to rely upon the Nixon Doctrine’s twin-pillar concept for the region founded upon support for the Pahlavi government in Teheran and the Saudi Arabian monarchy. Consequently, the permanent U.S. naval presence in the area was limited to the three warships assigned to the Middle East Force (MIDEASTFOR) based at Bahrain. As for a U.S. base structure, American planners relied primarily upon Diego Garcia, where significant military construction projects had been funded since the mid-1970s. In exceptional circumstances and given proper notification and authorization, military facilities in Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Oman, and Turkey could also be made available to U.S. forces. But, except for the Soviet-Cuban intervention in the Horn of Africa, the political-military environment in the Indian Ocean arena remained relatively stable through the end of 1978. There seemed to be little reason for the United States to assume anything more than a low-proﬁle military posture.
However, following the abdication of the shah, and as the political situation in Iran became more uncertain, a renewed and vigorous debate concerning U.S. strategic policy in the Indian Ocean region divided the American policy-making community. There were five main objectives framing U.S. policy at this time: (1) protecting Western economic interests in the Persian Gulf, (2) employing or threatening to use force in support of U.S. diplomatic objectives in the Middle East, (3) securing the Indian Ocean air and sea routes against harassment or interdiction, (4) intervening in support of other objectives in the Indian Ocean littoral, and (5) balancing Soviet forces in the region and attaining superiority in a crisis. On Capitol Hill, the negative strategic ramiﬁcations of recent events tended to be played down. Congressional defense and foreign policy analysts felt that American trade interests in the Indian Ocean basin, which were quite extensive, as well as U.S. political-military objectives, could be secured by arms transfers and diplomacy rather than by an increased or more highly visible U.S. military presence in the area. Even with the collapse in February 1978 of the Indian Ocean demilitarization talks between Washington and Moscow—which sought to place restraints on superpower naval bases in the area—because of the developments in the Horn of Africa, and even given the unstable situation in the Persian Gulf, the U.S. military posture was deemed adequate.
Despite far-reaching U.S. objectives in the Indian Ocean, congressional analysts saw little need to establish American bases in Africa. The strategic signiﬁcance of the Horn of Africa for facilitating these goals was diminished by the limited military and economic value ascribed by congressional defense analysts to the Suez Canal-Red Sea trade route. Because the Suez Canal and the Bab al-Mandab could be sealed off quite easily in a crisis— and Israeli and Western trade had not been seriously impaired when the canal was closed between June 1967 and June 1975—little strategic advantage would accrue to a power in wartime that was encamped along this sea lane. This assessment led to the conclusion that maintaining a military base in the Horn of Africa would have a marginal effect upon broader U.S. military objectives.
However, within other policy-making circles, the United States was seen to be in need of a new security framework for the region in order to reassert U.S. power and inﬂuence. The fall of the shah of Iran had demonstrated the risk of relying upon a regional power to protect U.S. interests. Officials on the National Security Council and at the Pentagon expounded the View that the United States must adopt a higher military proﬁle and prepare to go it alone. While Pentagon analysts argued that Washington should increase the U.S. naval presence in the area, Zbigniew Brzezinski renewed his call for the creation of a “quick-strike” force to be used for emergency situations in the Third World.
The situation in Iran also heightened Washington’s sensitivity to political constraints that might restrict the use of “friendly” bases in the area, previously taken for granted by American defense planners. Iran, itself, was now off-limits. Riyadh’s fear of becoming linked too closely with the United States, along with the Saudi kingdom’s susceptibility to Arab pressures, meant that Washington could not depend upon access to Saudi Arabia’s military facilities in a crisis not directly involving the Saudis. Political constraints would rule out using Israel as a staging area to intervene on behalf of a friendly Arab government. Diego Garcia was too far away to serve as anything but a rear staging area for military intervention in the Persian Gulf; sea-lift operations would require five to six days to travel the 2,500 miles to the Strait of Hormuz. Mombasa in Kenya was ﬁne for conducting sea-control operations along the East African coast, but like Diego Garcia, it was too distant—2,500 miles from the Strait of Hormuz—to support forward military operations in the Persian Gulf area. Although Washington had occasionally used the Masirah Island airﬁeld in Oman, no formal arrangement existed with Sultan Qaboos, and the facilities were badly in need of repair and upgrading. Bahrain, alone, would not be able to support a larger U.S. naval presence. The United States might be prevented from using bases in eastern Turkey in certain contingencies, given the risk to Turkey posed by the Soviet Union, Turkish doubts about U.S. reliability as an ally, and a desire by the Turkish government not to jeopardize its growing economic ties and good diplomatic relations with governments in the Middle East.
Thus, at the end of 1979 American defense planners essentially found the Indian Ocean area devoid of a strategic infrastructure to support U.S. military operations or intervention in the Persian Gulf. These activities could prove extremely difficult to execute if the United States was forced to rely exclusively upon Diego Garcia. Moreover, this single operative base would be the primary target for a focused knockout strike which, if successful, would cripple U.S. military support capabilities. Robert Komer, the undersecretary for policy in the Department of Defense, described Washington’s predicament in the Indian Ocean as follows:
In order to support forward-deployed forces better and introduce the RDF faster, it is imperative that facilities in the region be made available for U.S. use. Logistic support is critical to the success of military operations. Unfortunately, in the Indian Ocean, the U.S. lacks the logistic facilities to support operations, especially during crisis. Access to regional air and port facilities, storage facilities … and assured host nation support help to overcome this shortfall.
The Carter administration’s newly proposed high-proﬁle policy would depend upon the cooperation of states located close to potential trouble spots. Washington was attempting to make up for years of neglect in having focused its attention on building up military forces and base structures in the Atlantic region and Paciﬁc basin. Constructing a strategic network from scratch would take time. The Carter administration did not feel it had this luxury, given the belief that the United States needed to be able to respond to immediate threats to U.S. interests in the region. In order to deter a Soviet move into Iran, seen as the most likely threat at the time, the United States decided to assume a high proﬁle in the area by increasing the U.S. naval presence and creating the RDF. To support the creation of this immediate deterrent capability, the United States would need to acquire access to existing military facilities.
Thus, Washington’s determination to acquire the capability to conduct a forward defense strategy in the Indian Ocean region led the Americans to Somalia. Any doubts raised regarding Somalia’s strategic value were overwhelmed by the administration’s short-term political and strategic requirements to respond to the events in Iran and Afghanistan. Access to Somali military facilities, especially the much-heralded Soviet-built base at Berbera, offered the administration part of a quick-ﬁx solution. By concluding base-access arrangements with regional states, the United States would be able in a short time to ﬁll the void that it had discovered in the U.S. Indian Ocean strategic infrastructure. Washington’s perception of an immediate Soviet geopolitical challenge to U.S. interests in South-west Asia had the effect of raising, at least temporarily, Somalia’s strategic value.
MOGADISHU’S ALTERNATIVE ARMS CONNECTIONS
The U.S.-Somalia arms-for-access accord was notable for what was not written into the agreement. On at least three occasions arms discussions between the United States and Somalia had broken down as a result of Washington’s insistence on linking U.S. military assistance with securing a promise from Mogadishu to renounce its claim on the Ogaden. Without any direct threat to vital U.S. interests, the United States had no reason to show any ﬂexibility on this issue. However, under the new circumstances, the Americans not only stopped pressing Mogadishu to renounce its irredentist claims but also now seemed willing to close their eyes to certain Somali indiscretions in the Ogaden. There appeared to be a tacit understanding that so long as Somalia did not intervene directly or provide U.S.-supplied weapons to the WSLF, Mogadishu was free to supply the WSLF with weapons acquired from non-U.S. sources.
While Mogadishu certainly would have welcomed U.S. military support at the level being provided by the Soviet Union to Ethiopia, the primary value of the American security connection was the extended deterrent protection offered from Ethiopian retaliation, not the ability to acquire an offensive capability. Somalia could continue to harass Ethiopia and supply arms to the WSLF even in the absence of a major U.S. military commitment. Somalia was able to lessen the impact of accepting the U.S. security assistance package, which amounted to only a small fraction of what the Somalis originally had demanded, by using its Arab connections to acquire secondhand equipment and to finance arms purchases from European suppliers. Following the termination of the Soviet arms connection at the end of 1977, Somalia had replenished its arsenal without any U.S. assistance. Saudi largesse played a major role in this effort. When the Saudis had first offered Somalia $300 million worth of annual assistance back in 1977, the only condition Riyadh had imposed was that the Somalis kick out the Russians. As long as Somalia stayed out of the Soviet orbit and the radical camp, Saudi Arabia would subsidize the Somali economy and military.
Somalia’s security equation was altered during the 1977-1978 Ogaden War by circumstances that forced Mogadishu to adopt a new policy of arms diversiﬁcation. Mogadishu’s break with Moscow in 1977 had ended a ten-year period in which Somalia had developed an exclusive supplier-recipient arms relationship with Moscow. During that time, Mogadishu had acquired more than 95 percent of its arms from the Soviet Union. With financial assistance provided by Saudi Arabia between 1976 and 1980, Somalia began to diversify its sources of supply; it purchased for cash some $600 million worth of arms from non-superpower arms suppliers. Italy, in particular, played an extremely important role in this capacity. As far as can be determined, none of Somalia’s other suppliers attached any political strings regarding the Ogaden to these arms transactions. Thus, Somalia was in a position to agree to U.S. arms restrictions and still pursue its core interests in the Ogaden.
By pursuing a policy of arms diversiﬁcation, Somalia had fostered a situation in which certain components of Somalia’s policy would be beyond U.S. control. Washington could exert control only by imposing the condition that Somalia not acquire weapons from other sources. In March 1978, the U.S. Congress had suggested that the United States discourage third parties from providing Somalia with other than defensive arms. However, such a policy was bound to fail, given the circumstances of the time. A number of Washington’s Arab and West European allies who held a political, military, and economic stake in supplying arms to Mogadishu would oppose the congressional restriction. Somalia would reject the former condition. If the Americans desired access to Somali military facilities, there were some things they would have to live with.
REGIONAL OPTIONS AND A DIVIDED ADMINISTRATION
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was a landmark event for the Carter administration. An administration that had set out to create a global community based upon common interests and world justice now sought to establish global stability in an increasingly turbulent international system. In the Horn of Africa, U.S. officials who had previously opposed sending any military equipment to Somalia unless Mogadishu renounced its claim on the Ogaden became resigned to the idea of an arms relationship with Somalia. Washington’s global objective of countering the Soviet Union now outweighed U.S. regional objectives in Africa. In order to correct a situation in which U.S. strategic vulnerability had been exposed, the United States needed Somalia. This willingness to take the risk of possibly alienating Ethiopia by embracing Somalia was symptomatic of the Carter administrations “revival of the old U.S. policy of containment with an emphasis on a global political-military response to the Soviet threat in Southwest Asia.”
Washington’s decision to reopen arms negotiations with Somalia in 1980 was based on a logical assumption: “Once a decision is made that you need greater access for ship and aircraft in that part of the world, Somalia becomes a logical candidate [because] if you look at the map you find that you don’t have a lot of choices as to where to go.” Advocates of the U.S.-Somalia arms-for-access agreement justiﬁed the political risks that Washington would run in taking on Mogadishu as an arms client by highlighting the strategic flexibility offered to U.S. forces by Somali military facilities in the event of a military emergency. Berbera’s location — 1,350 miles from the Strait of Hormuz — would save two to three days in sea-lift time over Diego Garcia and Mombasa. It would also put American B-52s, which could use Berbera’s 15,000-foot concrete runway, within striking range of almost any trouble spot in the region. Moreover, Somalia could act as a rear-staging area in a Suez Canal, Persian Gulf, or Arabian Peninsula military contingency, and as a forward-staging area for crises in and around the Bab al-Mandab.
In more peaceful times, Berbera would be of value in supporting air reconnaissance of the southern Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. Facilities at Mogadishu could facilitate sea-control and reconnaissance operations along the East African coastline. Somalia would fill the gap between Kenya and Oman, and between Kenya and Egypt, making it easier for the U.S. Navy to defend sea lanes. Although some of Berbera’s envisioned functions were redundant, given the shifting political winds in the region, anything that increased military ﬂexibility was welcomed by the Pentagon.
The belief that Somalia was a necessary and vital part of any U.S. strategic base network was unfounded, given the security relationships Washington had nurtured over the past several years in the vicinity of the Red Sea. American military relations with Kenya and Sudan, in particular, had enabled the United States to maintain a hands-off approach toward Somalia since the termination of the U.S.-Ethiopia security relationship in the spring of 1977.
The attractiveness of Mombasa for the U.S. Navy and the absence of perceived political liabilities in helping a stable, pro-Western state almost surrounded by neighbors heavily armed by the Soviet Union formed the political-military backdrop for American security assistance to Kenya. This assistance totaled just under $90 million between FY 1975 and FY 1979, along with the transfer of an additional $118 million worth of U.S. military equipment through the FMS cash sales program. Moreover, some nine months before the base access idea had even surfaced in Washington, the State Department had proposed a $26 million FY 1980 SAP for Kenya, which represented more than half the total amount ($45.4 million) requested for all of sub-Sahara Africa.
In the Red Sea, Sudan offered the United States another alternative site from which to counter Soviet inﬂuence in Ethiopia. Khartoum had established its credentials in Washington by aligning with Saudi Arabia’s anticommunist-antiradical front in the Red Sea region, maintaining close ties with Egypt, supporting the Camp David peace process, and exerting moderate inﬂuence in the Horn. During the last several years of the 1970s, Sudan had been rewarded with token U.S. security assistance—$5 million in FMS ﬁnancing and some $600,000 for an IMETP. Khartoum had also been permitted to purchase more than $320 million worth of arms from the United States between 1977 and 1979, through FMS cash sales financed by Saudi Arabia. During FY 1980, the Carter administration moved to seal the geopolitical orientation of the Nimeiri government by programming $65.4 million worth of security assistance (IMETP, ESF, and FMS ﬁnancing) funds for Sudan.
U.S. political inﬂuence in northeast Africa and the Red Sea region as a whole was pervasive at the beginning of 1980, even without the inclusion of Somalia. Besides Kenya and Sudan, the United States had cultivated modest ties with Djibouti and the Yemen Arab Republic (YAR) by implementing minimal security assistance programs. In the case of the YAR, ties also involved large-scale FMS cash arms transfers in 1976 ($130 million) and 1979 ($181 million) ﬁnanced through the courtesy of Riyadh. Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan also were aligned to various degrees with the United States on global and regional issues. Thus, Washington could turn in many directions to contain perceived Soviet expansionism.
If American policymakers had continued to see these relationships simply in terms of Red Sea security, the Somali base access option might have been deemed unnecessary and inﬂammatory. Already U.S. policy gave the appearance of a political-military encirclement of Ethiopia. Bringing Somalia into this U.S. network of inﬂuence would only increase Ethiopia’s dependence upon the Soviet Union, thereby provoking an Ethiopian response that might close the line of communication between Washington and Addis Ababa and require the United States to provide even more security assistance to its regional allies. However, following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the less alarmist regionalist assessment found little favor in Washington outside of the Africa Bureau.
There was little reason at this time for the United States to be sensitive to Ethiopian security concerns. Although Ethiopia continued to receive aid from the European Community and international institutions and conducted most of its trade with the West, relations were cool with the United States. Addis Ababa opposed the United States on most international issues, and the Ethiopian press and radio denounced the United States as the world’s leading imperialist state. Ethiopia was one of the few countries to vote against the 1980 General Assembly resolution calling for the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan.
In July 1980 the United States invoked the Hickenlooper amendment—requiring the president to suspend foreign aid to any country that nationalizes or expropriates U.S. properties without adequate compensation—and suspended all U.S. aid to Ethiopia except for humanitarian aid. At the end of the month, the Ethiopian government, though not breaking diplomatic relations, asked U.S. Ambassador Frederic Chapin to leave the country.
Given the growing chill in U.S.-Ethiopia relations throughout the first half of 1980, it created a climate for top-ranking administration officials, including the president, to focus upon the broader geopolitical picture in response to the crises in Iran and Afghanistan. When the globalist-Africanist debate resurfaced this time, Zbigniew Brzezinski and his supporters found a more receptive president. Jimmy Carter was in need of a foreign policy success to reverse his own declining political fortunes at home as he headed into the 1980 presidential campaign.
As he had done during the 1977-1978 Ogaden crisis, Brzezinski took the lead in challenging State Department policy. Brzezinski’s challenge in this instance was facilitated by a number of key personnel changes within the Carter administration that had diluted the ranks of the regionalist advocates. During the first half of 1979, the National Security Adviser eased out the chief of the NSC’s Africa policy sector (Henry Richardson, who had espoused the hands-off, regionalist policy favored by the Africa Bureau) and had brought onto his staff a number of individuals who shared his tough-minded approach.
In August 1979 Andrew Young, one of the administration’s leading proponents of the “African solutions for African problems” policy and a vocal critic of Brzezinskfs globalist orientation, was forced to resign as UN ambassador. Thus, by the end of 1979, many top-ranking officials in the Carter administration who had resisted Brzezinski’s policy recommendations with regard to the Horn of Africa (including the president) had left or had been converted to his way of thinking.
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, in particular, neutralized most opposition to the proposed arms-for-access arrangement with Somalia. Virtually no one outside of the Africa Bureau wanted to examine the pros and cons of a Somali base deal. Instead, the discussion in Washington focused almost exclusively on how to go about getting the designated base agreements. The negotiations with Somalia were turned over to Reginald Bartholemew, director of politico-military affairs at the State Department, who was judged to be attuned to and capable of presenting the big picture to other governments. It was deemed especially important to get Kenya to drop its resistance to the Somali base deal.
The Carter administration certainly was not jumping into Somalia without weighing the consequences. Brzezinski, Robert Komer, and other civilian officials at the Pentagon who favored going into Somalia considered the Ogaden element carefully. They realized it was not a risk-free proposition. But they now assumed that the United States could control the risk that the Somali government would interpret Washington’s newfound willingness to provide arms to Somalia as a signal to continue its efforts in the Ogaden.
Brzezinski and other proponents of the base deal argued that a U.S. presence in Somalia, along with the improved relations that would follow the implementation of an arms-for-access accord, would give the United States enough inﬂuence to contain Somali ambitions in the region. The administration further argued that some sort of political gesture was needed to reward Mogadishu for exhibiting a reasonable attitude toward the Camp David accords and for maintaining close ties with Egypt during this perilous time. In the ﬁnal judgment of Jimmy Carter and most of his closest advisers, the political risk Washington would run in arming Somalia paled in comparison to the strategic stakes.
MOGADISHU’S OGADEN GAMBLE
During the latter half of 1979, Mogadishu seemed on the verge of making a major concession designed to end its regional isolation and, consequently, to break down American resistance to the idea of furnishing Somalia with arms. In September, Saudi Arabia had brought together Kenya’s president, Daniel Moi, and Siyad Barre at Taif to discuss Kenyan-Somali differences. At the beginning of the month, the Somali people had approved a new constitution recognizing that “large chunks of neighboring countries [were], not legitimate campaigning grounds for [Somali] insurgents.” With apparent reference to Kenya’s Northeast Province and the Ogaden, the Somali constitution called for the liberation of “Somali territories [by] peaceful and legal means.” Washington’s subsequent withdrawal of the renunciation demand, perhaps, was influenced by the hope that Siyad Barre would pursue the Somali quest through diplomacy.
However, by the end of the year, these articles of Somalia’s new constitution had lost all practical meaning. Unknown to American ofﬁcials, elements of the Somali Army had reappeared in the Ogaden. The liberation of the Ogaden still ranked at the top of Mogadishu’s foreign policy agenda. It had not been sacriﬁced before and would not be now for the beneﬁt of acquiring American arms and protection. Besides, if the Somali reuniﬁcation claim were to be renounced, then the U.S. security umbrella would be unnecessary.
In April 1978, Adrian Mohammed, Siyad’s leading political theorist, publicly discussed the political constraints that shaped Mogadishu’s approach to the Ogaden. Telling the Somali Army to stay out of the Ogaden and restricting U.S. arms supplies to defensive weapons was one thing. But to ask the Somalis to renounce forever all claims to other states including the Ogaden was “too much.” While it may have been true, as Richard Moose and the Africa Bureau believed, that by 1980 the Somalis were willing to give away their whole country in order to acquire a U.S. base and the benefits that would presumably go with it, the liberation of the Ogaden was not negotiable.
Although the Somalis were prepared to quibble over the means of liberation in accepting U.S. preconditions prohibiting intervention by the Somali Army and the introduction of U.S. weapons into the disputed territory, the ultimate objective of liberation was not negotiable with foreign parties. The United States had apparently come to understand this fact of political life, which Siyad Barre had also made abundantly clear to Richard Moose during their discussions in March 1978. Thus, when American-Somali arms negotiations reopened in 1980, Mogadishu had already scored a small victory of sorts as a result of Washington’s apparent consent to Somalia’s indirect or diplomatic liberation of the Ogaden.
Washington might even bend farther with regard to the Ogaden issue, given its heightened sense of strategic vulnerability. Mogadishu, in fact, would gamble that the Somali Army could intervene in the Ogaden and provoke only minimal U.S. reaction. Given the new international situation, the United States might accept this inevitable aspect of Somali policy. At worst, Washington would simply hold up military aid until the Somali Army felt compelled to withdraw.
Certainly, the United States would not tolerate the invasion of Somalia by a Soviet client state at this time, even if Mogadishu was the provocateur. With the United States now consumed by the need to respond to any Soviet challenge and in apparent need of Somalia’s cooperation, it appeared to be an opportune time for Mogadishu to press its cause in the Ogaden and test the limits of Washington’s tolerance and support. Siyad Barre’s assessment proved quite accurate with respect to Washington’s anticipated reaction. Despite the administration’s knowledge that at least two Somali Army brigades were operating in the Ogaden during the summer of 1980, Washington continued to negotiate with Mogadishu.
When the arms-for-access accord was signed in August, these Somali units were still engaged in combat operations inside Ethiopia and would remain there for several more months. Washington’s obsession with the Soviet factor in regional political-military affairs, in effect, granted Mogadishu greater latitude in pursuing an objective the Americans were led to believe Siyad Barre could never renounce.
President Barre’s willingness to risk another gamble in the Ogaden was made possible by the proclivity of top-ranking U.S. officials to play down Mogadishu’s regional pariah status by placing Somalia into a broader strategic setting. By early 1979 Brzezinski, along with some Pentagon and NSC analysts, had come to View the Horn of Africa as part of an “arc of crisis” bounded by the Horn to the west and the Indian subcontinent to the east, with the Middle East lying at the arc’s central core. This geographic entity, which transcended the Department of State’s traditional ﬁxed regional lines, was a close approximation of the area Washington would designate “Southwest Asia” at the end of 1979. By blurring regional distinctions, Brzezinski and his allies had established a basis on which to challenge the Africa Bureau’s hands-off policy guidelines toward Somalia.
The trick for Siyad Barre, as well as for American supporters of the Somali option, was to keep the Carter administration looking at the big picture in the area. This would be the only way to avoid having Somali interests held hostage to the Africa Bureau’s “Ethiopia imperative.” The arms negotiations could not be viewed as simply a bilateral Horn of Africa matter; if it were, the Africa Bureau could claim preeminence and emphasize U.S. objectives in Africa to the exclusion of Middle Eastern or U.S.-Soviet issues. Rather, the negotiations would have to remain focused upon the role Somalia could play in helping the United States establish a base network in the Southwest Asia region, rather than the political risks posed by the Ogaden issue.
Under the pressure of circumstances, a small but significant crack had developed in Washington’s stance toward the liberation of the Ogaden. The United States was now willing to consider the WSLF a separate entity pursuing an independent policy, not simply an extension of the Somali government. Siyad Barre had played an important role in forcing (manipulating) the Americans to demonstrate a keener awareness of the political constraints that limited his freedom to maneuver. Since U.S.-Somalia arms discussions began back in 1977, he had stood firm and refused to renounce Somalia’s claim to the Ogaden. It was clear that Siyad Barre would not formally align Somalia with any foreign power that took away that hope of liberation for the Ogaden Somalis. Washington’s insurgency loophole was a necessary political concession that was at least as important, if not more so, than the amount of U.S. military assistance to be provided to Somalia in securing U.S. access to Somali military facilities.
THE AFRICA BUREAU’S HOLDING ACTION
Siyad Barre’s attempt to force open the crack in the U.S. position and turn it into a crevice ran into a familiar bureaucratic obstacle: the Africa Bureau. The freeze in diplomatic relations between Washington and Addis Ababa had begun to thaw at the end of the Ogaden War. Frederic Chapin, who assumed the post of U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia in July 1978, was given a mandate by the Carter administration to improve U.S.-Ethiopia relations. Chapin recommended a $20 million development assistance program to get the United States back into the influence game in Ethiopia. However, because of some $30 million in U.S. compensation claims for nationalized property which the Ethiopian government showed little interest in settling, the Hickenlooper amendment went into effect and resulted in the termination of U.S. development assistance in July 1979.
Despite the souring of U.S.-Ethiopian relations in 1979, the State Department still wanted to keep the lines of communication open to Addis Ababa and to avoid actions that would make Ethiopia even more dependent upon the Soviet Union. Even after Mengistu established a Marxist-Leninist vanguard party—the Commission for the Organization of the Party of the Workers of Ethiopia (COPWE) in December 1979, supported the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, and expelled Ambassador Chapin at the end of July 1980, Africanists at the State Department felt that an American military relationship with Somalia, if it had to be, should not come at the total expense of U.S.-Ethiopia relations. But with the window of opportunity in Ethiopia closed for at least the short term, Brzezinski was better positioned to push the Somali arms option once again. Now the Africa Bureau simply hoped to hold the newly drawn line and ensure that Washington’s longer-term regional interests were not sacriﬁced for the sake of short-term global concerns.
Following Somalia’s March 1978 withdrawal from the Ogaden, the Department of State went to great lengths deﬁning a policy for the Horn geared toward arms restraint and defensive security requirements. Richard Moose had already drawn the line in private with Siyad Barre in Mogadishu.
In June 1978 Secretary of State Vance publicly stated that the United States would “consider security requests from African nations with legitimate defense needs,” but would not simply respond to Soviet and Cuban activities in Africa. Andrew Young buttressed this regionalist perspective by denigrating Washington’s past propensity “to View Africa as if it were Europe, where every mile of territory assumes some strategic significance,” and offered the conclusion that so long as Somalia posed a threat to Ethiopia, other African countries with concerns about disputed borders would be grateful for all the help Ethiopia received from the Soviets and Cubans.
Moreover, Ethiopia did not appear stable enough to pose a threat to Western interests in Africa. Before that danger would emerge, in the words of Ambassador Young, “inherent African pride and typical Russian blundering probably will have solved the problem for us.” In a statement before the House Subcommittee on Africa in February 1979 Richard Moose reaffirmed the administration’s desire not to use security assistance “to match the Soviets riﬂe-for-riﬂe, tank-for-tank.”
Even in the wake of the crises in Iran and Afghanistan, the Africa Bureau and other Africa specialists in the Washington foreign policy-making community were not ready to concede that Somalia’s strategic value merited a reassessment of American policy in the Horn. Within the context of the Southwest Asia strategy, Berbera would be a backup facility whose loss would have virtually no strategic impact. Most reconnaissance missions that were expected to be performed from Somali facilities at Berbera and Mogadishu could be accomplished from other sites located in Kenya or Djibouti. Moreover, not much was planned for Somalia in the way of prepositioning military equipment for the RDF. Somalia’s strategic utility was marginal at best.
Envisioned military contingencies also raised questions in the minds of the critics about Somalia’s value. In the event of an intra-Arab conflict in which Washington provided military assistance to one side, Diego Garcia would provide adequate backing or, if circumstances allowed, facilities in Oman could be used. The Somali government could not be expected to permit its facilities to be used in support of Israel if another Arab-Israeli War erupted.
Mogadishu likely would hesitate if Washington wished to take action against an Arab state, such as Iraq, which at the time maintained cordial relations with Somalia, but opposed American policy in the Middle East. If the Soviets invaded Iran or threatened Saudi Arabia, Somalia would not be needed; everything in Europe, Turkey, and probably elsewhere in the northwest quadrant of the Indian Ocean region would be open to the United States. Moreover, with South Yemen lying just across the Gulf of Aden, and the Ethiopian border less than 150 miles away, Berbera was one of the most vulnerable of base sites.
The main argument raised against the Somali component of Washington’s new base access approach for Southwest Asia was political in nature: what would happen in the Ogaden? Opponents of the U.S.-Somalia arrangement noted that the Soviets had provided Somalia with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of weapons, had stationed thousands of advisers in the country, and maintained control of Siyad Barre’s security apparatus, yet failed to keep Mogadishu out of the Ogaden in 1977.
If Somalia were to go after Ethiopia with American weapons, the United States would be faced with two impossible choices. It could commit itself to Somalia and try to control the level of danger or hostilities—a task Moscow had failed to accomplish. Or it could not support Somalia and give rise to the appearance of failing to back an ally—a situation that Washington had found itself caught in three years before in Ethiopia and more recently in the case of the shah of Iran. Why risk U.S. involvement on the side of an aggressor in a war Somalia was bound to lose? Or, why risk credibility and prestige on a nation viewed by the rest of Africa as an outlaw state? Arming Somalia appeared to be nothing but a losing proposition any way one looked at it.
However, these arguments did not prove potent enough to dissuade the White House from seeking out Somalia as an arms partner. The twin crises in Iran and Afghanistan had allowed Zbigniew Brzezinski to outmaneuver the Africa Bureau and win the strategic debate in Washington concerning the need to acquire access to Somali military facilities. Whereas the Africa specialists at the State Department considered the situation in the Horn too complex to attempt a military balancing act and to predict the outcome, top-ranking administration officials were willing to take that chance.
Although Richard Moose and his staff were unable to win the 1979-1980 strategic debate in Washington, they had won and, for the most part, had held the line in the critical policy battle with the NSC adviser in 1978. At the time, the Africa Bureau had persuaded President Carter not to exploit the Ogaden situation or to stir up problems in Eritrea in order to confront the Russians. Washington would encourage Ethiopia to pursue a truly nonaligned foreign policy through affirmative gestures, not confrontation.
The administration conceded to Mogadishu the right to support, indirectly, the Somali struggle—a concession the Africa Bureau believed to be a mistake, assuming that “if you gave the Somalis an inch they would take a mile.” This assessment proved prophetic in early 1980 when reports began to surface that Somalia’s army was back in the Ogaden. The Africa Bureau, nonetheless, prevented the panicked administration from giving Somalia free rein in the Ogaden by ensuring that none of the other preconditions were rescinded.
CONCLUSION: THE RELUCTANT PARTNER
The superpower supplier-arms client realignment in the Horn of Africa ﬁnally became complete in August 1980 with the conclusion of the U.S.-Somalia arms-for-access arrangement. However, the switch in the Horn offered contrasting pictures of the formation of a supplier-client partnership. Whereas there existed at least a surface level of compatibility between Addis Ababa’s battle to preserve its territorial integrity and Moscow’s desire to expand its influence by defending the political status quo in the Horn, the American foreign policy-making community was divided. Many did not believe that such a reinforcing bond existed between Mogadishu’s irredentist imperative and U.S. strategic and political objectives in the region.
So, while the Soviet Union gladly seized the initiative in Ethiopia, the United States only reluctantly embraced Somalia. The U.S.-Somalia arms relationship ended up being based on a compromise in which the two sides tried to gloss over their differences. Washington would not require Mogadishu to renounce the Somali claim on the Ogaden, and Somalia agreed to modify its means of liberation.
Mogadishu’s accession to Washington’s July ultimatum had less to do with Somalia’s need to acquire American weapons than its growing fear of Ethiopian retaliation. Siyad Barre was willing to take measured risks to liberate the Ogaden. But, given the Soviet-sponsored military buildup in Ethiopia, it seemed unlikely, unless events elsewhere distracted Addis Ababa, that the Somalis could defeat the Ethiopians in a conventional war. While the United States had made clear that it would not be a party to any Somali activity seeking to undermine Ethiopia’s territorial integrity, Somalia could probe the Ethiopians and support the WSLF guerrilla struggle, by relying upon its other arms sources.
What the Somalis needed from the Americans was psychological and diplomatic backing to ensure that Ethiopia would not invade. While Washington did not overtly manipulate this point of Somali vulnerability, some U.S. officials believed that this political-psychological dependence would give the United States enough leverage to control Somali activities.
The Carter administration’s decision to accept Somalia as an arms partner without requiring a formal renunciation of Somali irredentist claims was not the result of a lack of U.S. options, but to Washington’s heightened sense of strategic and political vulnerability in the wake of the twin crises in Iran and Afghanistan. Although the political risks and strategic value of going into Somalia were hotly debated in Washington, the voices of those urging caution (namely, the Africa Bureau) were drowned out by other top-ranking U.S. officials who felt that the U.S. response had to be complete.
Failure to bring Somalia into the U.S. strategic network would be perceived as a loss. However, the United States was able to resist Somalia’s maximalist demands and enhance its bargaining leverage following the conclusion of the base access agreements with Oman and Kenya by hinting that Somalia was now an expendable asset—a supplier version of threatening defection. Moreover, as the sense of threat receded during the year, the Africa Bureau reasserted itself: it refused to condone Barre’s military gamble in the Ogaden and resisted his attempt to press Washington to lift one or more of the preconditions.
This would be an uneasy partnership. Washington’s principal objective, to be able to deter a Soviet military move into the Persian Gulf, had nothing to do with Mogadishu’s ambition to wrest control of the Ogaden from Ethiopia. By entering into the arms relationship with Somalia, the United States was throwing away the ability to exploit any future opportunity in Ethiopia. Somalia, on the other hand, was making a difﬁcult tactical sacriﬁce even given the loophole in the agreement. But with the Somali Army back in the Ogaden, and given the ground rules for U.S.-Somalia relations established by Washington’s preconditions, the arms-for-access arrangement was temporarily in limbo.
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