“The 1957 Expanded Base Rights Negotiations” is chapter 4 of the “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

CHAPTER 4 The 1957 Expanded Base Rights Negotiations


The United States And Ethiopia, 1953-1977

CHAPTER 4: The 1957 Expanded Base Rights Negotiations

Less than nine months after the Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement and Defense Installations Agreement were signed the Imperial Ethiopian Government (IEG) again raised the issue of military aid with Washington. At the end of January 1954, the IEG presented an aide-mémoire to the U.S. embassy requesting further assistance, including help in establishing a coast guard service and a military air-training program. Then in early May, several weeks before Emperor Haile Selassie was to arrive in the United States on a good-will tour, the Ethiopian ambassador to the United States, Yilma Deressa, met with Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Henry Byroade and the director of the Office of African Affairs, John Utter, to express concern over the delay in the arrival of U.S. military equipment and to press for a reply to Ethiopia’s January request. Secretary Byroade informed Deressa that while Addis Ababa was welcome to purchase equipment and services on a reimbursable basis, “Worldwide demands on the United States made it imperative that we give priority to those countries most vulnerable to communist subversion, and Ethiopia did not fall in this category.”


However, 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 was unwilling to let the matter rest. Because no specified amount or time period had been stipulated in the MDAA, Washington’s commitment to fulfilling future military requirements beyond the initial $5 million seemed suspect. The State Department contended that the presence of the U.S. Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) in Ethiopia provided evidence of Washington’s continuing interest in the military needs of Ethiopia and that American “friendship should not be measured by the amount of money [given] to any particular country.” If the IEC wished to obtain aid, it could transmit any requests to the chief of MAAG in Addis Ababa who would then forward the requests to the Department of Defense where they would be assessed. Mindful that it had taken the U.S. bureaucracy two months to approve grant military aid for Ethiopia in the spring of 1953, the IEG was not mollified by this suggestion.

The Ethiopians used the emperor’s seven-week visit to the mass protests in cities around the U.S. against an executive order that would block millions of people from entering the United States (May 26-July 14) to initiate what they hoped would be a new round of military negotiations. During a meeting with Secretary Byroade on June 15, Ethiopia’s Foreign Minister Aklilou offered the Americans, on behalf of the IEG, what amounted to a new quid pro quo. Ethiopia would grant the United States additional military facilities, including air and naval bases, in return for enough military equipment to equip completely one division of the Ethiopian Army. This offer provided the background for two days of what Secretary Byroade insisted were military “discussions,” not negotiations, at the State Department on June 29-30.

Although a variety of issues were discussed at these meetings, particularly Ethiopia’s desire for U.S. support to construct new ports at Assab and Massawa in Eritrea, Aklilou stated very clearly that the military question differed from the other investment and development issues raised by the Ethiopians because the basis for such aid had been established in the MDAA and DIA of 1953 which they viewed as interdependent. The IEG was troubled that while the DIA was in force for twenty-five years, the MDAA seemed to be good for only one year. Addis Ababa feared that the Joint Chiefs of Staff had downgraded Ethiopia’s strategic importance to the detriment of the U.S. military aid program. This conclusion was supported by Washington’s claim that there were no MAP funds available to provide training aircraft or training for Ethiopian pilots and refused to provide a specific commitment to address the IEG’s naval requests. The State Departments retort that it was willing to discuss the subject of military aid further and would give IEG requests serious consideration appeared to be nothing but another brush-off.

The emperor and his entourage left the United States empty-handed. Even the quid pro quo offer was rejected. While the Americans appreciated the Ethiopian offer, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noting Ethiopia’s strategic position, had no immediate need for military facilities in Ethiopia. Though the United States would “consider their generous offer if such need should arise in the future.” Ethiopia’s offer was considered a ploy to acquire increased U.S. military assistance and perhaps get the Americans to develop Eritrean ports and airfields for the IEG on military grounds.

It was not until mid-1956 when Western relations with Egyptian President Gamal Nasser were rapidly deteriorating over the funding of the Aswan High Dam, control over the Suez Canal, and East bloc arms shipments to Egypt that Washington began to reexamine its military aid program and defense posture in Ethiopia. As the Suez crisis built toward its October 29-November 7 climax, the Eisenhower administration was already considering the political and strategic implications of implementing a new American doctrine for the Middle East. It was obvious that British and French predominance in the region was coming to an ignominious end. The United States began planning for the possibility of direct U.S. intervention in the Middle East in order to safeguard Western interests. This would necessitate the establishment of military facilities in the region. U.S. defense planners, who had began considering the possibility of requesting additional base rights in Ethiopia the previous June, now recommended that Washington acquire expanded base rights to Ethiopian military facilities.

On February 15, 1957, the United States submitted a request to the IEG requesting additional base facilities in Ethiopia. In March 1957 Vice President Richard Nixon was dispatched to the Middle East in order to sell the recently announced Eisenhower Doctrine. In Ethiopia Nixon was to raise the issue of acquiring expanded U.S. base rights directly with Emperor Selassie, since the IEG had failed to respond to the U.S. request. Not to exacerbate an already tense political situation in the region, Washington tried to keep the negotiations under wraps. When confronted with a question at a March 13 news conference about American plans to seek a Red Sea base along the Ethiopian coast, President Eisenhower equivocated: “We have no plans at the moment for any base; . . . we do have arrangements with Ethiopia for communications facilities and things of that kind . . . and negotiations are going on, [but] we have no plans further than that at this moment.” When asked if the vice president was in Ethiopia to inquire about bases, Eisenhower responded, “I think there is some mistake because we have no immediate plans for a base; . . . as of now the subject of the base itself or of a base is not in our consideration. . . . It is facilities that we would like to keep there, communications facilities, largely.” Despite what the president was trying to feed the American public and foreign audiences, the nature of the Nixon mission was a poorly kept secret in Washington as well as in Ethiopia.

In this instance, Addis Ababa was not so quick to jump on the U.S. strategic bandwagon. Haile Selassie felt that Ethiopia already had granted the United States extraordinary basing privileges, more favorable in fact than those anywhere else in the Middle East, yet had been left hanging by the Americans after the first year of military assistance. The emperor wondered how the Americans could expect him to agree to additional long-term privileges when Ethiopia was still without the means to defend these installations. Already the target for criticism by other Middle Eastern states because of the U.S. presence at Kagnew, Ethiopia, in granting these new American demands would no doubt raise considerably more political problems. Only recently Egypt had objected to the presence of U.S. naval units in the Red Sea. If Ethiopia were to give privileges to the U.S. fleet at Massawa, according to the emperor, “serious political repercussions may be expected at this time, both as regards other countries in the Middle East and public opinion in Ethiopia.”

Haile Selassie apparently had made his point. The Nixon delegation left Ethiopia somewhat shaken by what they had heard. In a report submitted to the White House detailing the vice president’s conversations with Ethiopian officials and the staff at the U.S. embassy, Nixon recommended, “In order to reassure Ethiopia of our good intentions and our desire to assist them, we [should] increase moderately the size of our military and economic programs; . . . this will be necessary in any event if we are to secure the additional base facilities we are now seeking [and] should be done this year, if possible, but in any event next year.” At the end of March the vice president also sent a letter to the secretary of defense asking for a moderate expansion of the military program in Ethiopia. Then in mid-April a second U.S. diplomatic mission arrived in Addis Ababa, led by Eisenhower’s special ambassador, James P. Richards, to continue the negotiations. But the stalemate continued. By now it had become very apparent to the National Security Council that while Ethiopia would allow the United States continued use of existing military facilities, Washington’s request for additional military facilities (the air force communications installations and certain naval requirements in Eritrea, such as anchorage rights) would “be considered in light of the magnitude of U.S. aid to [Ethiopia’s] armed forces.”

Haile Selassie clearly intended “to use pending U.S. requests for additional military facilities as a means of obtaining more military aid.” The emperor was of a mind that it was time for the Americans to pay up. According to the U.S. embassy, the figure the Ethiopians had in mind was at least $10 million in military assistance for the coming fiscal year and help in establishing an Ethiopian Air Force. Anything less than this would be unacceptable to the IEG.

Washington refused to budge. Both the State Department and Defense Department opposed the idea of allowing Ethiopia to link the question of additional military facilities to the request for air force aid, especially since Washington had recently agreed to conduct a survey of Ethiopian Air Force requirements. The Department of Defense, in particular, which had agreed in the fall of 1956 with a State Department request to provide Ethiopia with approximately $5 million in military assistance for FY 1957 and to stabilize MAP aid for Ethiopia at that level over the next four years (FY l957-FY 1960), felt the asking price was too high. Moreover, the Pentagon had now determined that U.S. requests for additional facilities were not “of such urgency as to warrant their use by [the] IEG as [the] basis for increased military assistance.” On the evening of April 11, the State Department sent a telegram to the U.S. embassy and the Richards mission instructing them not to give any indication to the Ethiopians that U.S. action on the air force request and increased aid would be conditioned upon any quid pro quo. By the end of the year, the negotiations for expanded U.S. base rights in Ethiopia had been terminated.


Haile Selassie’s attempt to blackmail the Americans into upping the ante in this latest round of negotiations was motivated by the crisis he anticipated would erupt once the British and Italian Somaliland territories received their independence in 1960. Already in the mid-1950s an open propaganda campaign for the dismemberment of Ethiopia was underway in the Horn. Tribal attacks and raids by foreign military planes had exposed the vulnerability of Addis Ababa. The IEG did not possess any antiaircraft units, antitank units, mines, minesweeping equipment, or fighter squadrons, and only enough rifles for one army division. Thus, according to a March 1957 U.S. embassy report, Ethiopia could not defend itself against external aggression or maintain internal security in the face of “deliberately subversive campaigns supported from nearby territories with funds and agents.”

Haile Selassie had studiously followed the Somaliland issue since the Allied liberation of East Africa in 1941. During the subsequent period of British administrative and political predominance in the area, London’s colonial office had developed the idea of incorporating the Somali-inhabited parts of Ethiopia, Italian Somaliland, and British Somaliland into a Greater Somaliland. The movement favoring the creation of a Greater Somaliland had been restrained temporarily after the United Nations decided to allow Italy to administer a UN trusteeship over its Somaliland territory beginning in 1950. But as Italy’s and Great Britain’s ten-year trusteeships over the Somalilands drew to a close, the Greater Somaliland issue reappeared and became a source of tension that pitted Addis Ababa against West European colonial powers, the Somalis, and Arab states.

With the Somaliland issue assuming a position at the top of Addis Ababa’s national security agenda, as he had done in the case of the Eritrean federation, the emperor once again looked to the United States for support. Selassie did not trust the British, especially in the wake of London’s offer in the spring of 1956 to purchase the Haud and Reserved areas from Ethiopia. The Ethiopians were not enamored of the French, who controlled Ethiopia’s access to the sea through Djibouti and charged high freight rates on the French-owned railway. Addis Ababa viewed Gamal Nasser’s “Unity of the Valley of the Nile” concept as a guise for an Egyptian version of Greater Somaliland that would subordinate Ethiopia to Egypt. Moreover, the Islamic content of Egyptian propaganda broadcasts seemed designed to stimulate Somali nationalism and that of other Moslem minorities inside Ethiopia. Given Addis Ababa’s sense of isolation on this issue, the primary objective of the Ethiopian foreign ministry during the latter half of the 19503 was to prevent Washington from aligning with London on the Somaliland issue.

Washington was quite aware of the potential for crisis presented by Somali independence. The State Department had received reports from the field at the end of 1955 indicating that the Ethiopian government had been having problems with Somali tribesmen. A January 1956 Department of State intelligence report had explored the economic, political, and social weaknesses of an independent Somalia and the effect such a state would have upon the Horn. The report concluded that Somali leaders would likely encourage militant irredentism on behalf of creating a Greater Somaliland in order to divert attention from internal problems. When the National Security Council adopted NSC 5615/1 as the U.S. government’s official policy guideline toward Ethiopia in mid-November 1956, one of the general considerations highlighted by this document was that the Somali problem likely would create instability in the Horn over the next few years. It would therefore be crucial for the United States to ease Selassie’s fears concerning the Somali threat; the emperor was becoming so overly preoccupied by the Somali issue that he lacked adequate appreciation for the communist subversive threat in the region.

Selassie’s obsession with the potential threat posed by an independent Somali state was brought to the attention of officials at the highest levels of the U.S. government. At the London Suez Canal Users Association conferences held in August and September 1956, Ethiopia’s Foreign Minister Ato Aklilou spent considerable time explaining the Somali threat to Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. President Eisenhower also was aware of this problem and during the Suez crisis expressed privately to Secretary Dulles his grave misgivings over London’s handling of the Ethiopian-Somali situation, believing the British would “make a mess of it.” Then in March 1957, Vice President Richard Nixon was treated to a firsthand account in Addis Ababa by Haile Selassie of Ethiopia’s defense problems and the Somali threat. Thus, the dangers posed by Somali nationalism to Ethiopia were well known in Washington.

The American embassy in Addis Ababa played a critical role in advocating the IEG’s position. According to the U.S. mission, a subversive campaign was being waged against the Ethiopian government by agents in the Ogaden who were “Moslems, and for the most part, at the same time, communist sympathizers.” As outlined in an embassy document detailing the defense problems of Ethiopia, antigovernment agents operating in the interior were advancing the argument that by remaining faithful to the West and in granting base facilities to the United States, Ethiopia was “showing her unfaithfulness to the Arab world and, to Moslems in Ethiopia, in particular” and “that the attachment of the central government to the Western Colonial powers [was] evidence that the government [did] not have the interests of the Moslems at heart.” The propagandists concluded, “So long as Ethiopia continues with the West the only salvation for the Moslem inhabitants of the Ogaden territory is to seek to unite in order to form in 1960, the great and independent state of Greater Somaliland.”

In early 1957, the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs presented the Nixon delegation with an alarming memorandum in which Ethiopia was described as confronting “a studied campaign pursued by certain colonial interests as well as by anti-Ethiopian elements in the Middle East, for her dismemberment.” Selassie used the occasion of the Nixon visit to express vehemently his great dissatisfaction with the level of U.S. military assistance, as well as Washington’s perceived lack of support on the Somali issue. The imperial government had come to believe that “a thoroughgoing re-examination of Ethiopian-American relations in the light of the situation existing in the Middle East” was in order. Of course, such a reassessment would not be necessary if Washington were to increase the level of U.S. military aid.


During the mid-1950s, the Eisenhower administration began to expand U.S. involvement in the Middle East, incurring the wrath of Egypt’s President Gamal Nasser. In the spring of 1954 Washington had established bilateral military aid programs with the pro-Western governments in Iraq and Pakistan. By the fall of 1955, the United States had drawn together Iraq, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, and the United Kingdom into the Baghdad Pact the culmination of Secretary Dulles’s Northern Tier concept. But the conclusion of the Baghdad Pact, which included an Iraqi government at odds with Cairo, coupled with the ongoing tensions between Egypt and Israel and Washington’s refusal to provide Cairo with arms on Gamal Nasser’s terms, led to a deterioration of U.S. relations with Egypt, as well as with other Arab governments who had fallen under the sway of Nasser.

Top-ranking American officials, Secretary of State Dulles in particular, would come to view Nasser as a communist stooge especially after Cairo signed an arms agreement with Prague in the fall of 1955. Nasser’s method of retaliation against “union busters” — threatening any state that broke ranks with him — seemed to further Soviet interests and undermine those of the West. Because of his alignment with the United States, Haile Selassie was one of the targeted union busters. As a result, the United States needed to support Ethiopia so that the emperor would not be intimidated by Nasser and feel compelled to expel the U.S. military presence.

The Eisenhower administrations concept of promoting regional self-defense, as embodied in the Baghdad Pact, was to all intents and purposes a dead letter by the end of 1956. In recognition of this fact, during the fall of 1956, the Pentagon had begun working on a new plan for the defense of the Middle East. The result of this effort was the announcement of the Eisenhower Doctrine in January 1957, which was passed by a joint resolution in the U.S. Congress in early March. The new defense doctrine contained three features: (1) increased U.S. economic cooperation with nations in the Middle East, (2) greater flexibility for the president to use funds already allocated to assist any nations desiring military assistance and cooperation; and (3) a willingness to use the “armed forces of the United States to secure and protect the territorial integrity and political independence of such nations, requesting such aid, against overt armed aggression from any nation controlled by International Communism.”

Egyptian, not to mention Soviet, opposition to Washington’s call for an enhanced U.S. presence in the Middle East made the Ethiopian connection, at least in the short term, seem quite valuable to the United States in light of the political-military ramifications of the Eisenhower Doctrine. Politically, this policy was extremely provocative to the Arab nationalist governments in the region. Addis Ababa’s willingness to support this doctrine would lend it some legitimacy. Militarily, U.S. operational plans required the development and maintenance of strategic infrastructure. Kagnew Station, as well as a pending request for expanded U.S. base rights at Massawa, would form part of this base network. Vice President Nixon’s March 1957 trip to Africa and the Richards mission sent to the Middle East the following month were designed to prepare the way politically and militarily for the implementation of the Eisenhower Doctrine.

The military assistance component of the Eisenhower Doctrine was premised upon three primary U.S. objectives: (1) to keep nations of the Middle East independent of communist domination; (2) to secure strategic positions, resources, and transit rights in the area; and 3) to deny resources and strategic positions to the communist bloc. Eisenhower’s authorization for the use of U.S. forces in the area was expected to increase the will of pro-Western governments to resist communist aggression and decrease their susceptibility to overtures from those states not aligned with the West. Moreover, U.S. plans for military operations were based on a concept of cooperation using combined forces, including U.S. forces possessing an atomic capability. To support U.S. forces deployed to the area in a given contingency, the Defense Department needed to acquire base and transit rights in the area for greater flexibility. Thus, U.S. military assistance would be used to reward those governments who helped to facilitate the execution of this policy, and who would undoubtedly wish to receive maximum aid.

Haile Selassie felt that Ethiopia, in particular, deserved special consideration when it came time for Washington to hand out military aid. Selassie’s embrace of the Eisenhower Doctrine had provoked increased Arab nationalist propaganda attacks against his government. In this tense atmosphere, the emperor might opt for the easy way out by giving in to Egyptian pressures and expelling the Americans from Ethiopia. The Eisenhower administration believed that in order to prevent further Soviet penetration in the Middle East, Egyptian influence had to be checked as well and U.S. support had to be extended to leaders such as Haile Selassie who would resist Nasser’s call for regional unity.

More than ever before the American foreign policy-making community appreciated the need to keep Ethiopia out of the neutralist camp. Some U.S. diplomats feared that powers hostile to the West had already beaten Washington to the punch in consolidating a position behind the Northern Tier. Although American influence and prestige in Ethiopia was viewed as still being quite high, affording Washington a chance to salvage the situation, the Ethiopians could no longer be taken for granted. Moreover, the possible political decline of the besieged Ethiopian emperor was cause for great concern in Washington: Selassie was seen as the key to stability in Ethiopia, and his demise would adversely affect U.S. interests. In order to counteract internal and external forces threatening the emperor, strengthen Addis Ababa’s political-military alignment with Washington, and secure the U.S. strategic position in the Middle East from hostile interlopers, the United States would need to provide tangible evidence of a long-term interest in a strong Ethiopia.

However, Ethiopia was somewhat remote from the central Middle East arena where the communists seemed to be threatening. Because of the lack of a present danger to Ethiopia, it would be difficult to justify a major increase in military aid for the IEG under the Eisenhower Doctrine. The State Department believed that African countries on the periphery of the Middle East such as Ethiopia, Libya, Tunisia, and Morocco could be protected by increased aid to those states most directly threatened and that they should as far as possible not be offered amounts of aid that “would invite invidious comparisons.” In seeking access to Ethiopian facilities to help implement the new U.S. regional defense doctrine, the United States refused to invoke the Eisenhower Doctrine to justify additional benefits to Ethiopia.


For Haile Selassie, American interest in Ethiopia could best be expressed in the form of military assistance. Judged on this basis, U.S. support seemed dubious, given the way the Americans had extended military aid and training to the Ethiopians after the conclusion of the 1953 Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement. During FY 1953-FY 1957, Ethiopia was allocated approximately $17 million worth of aid, considerably less than the $25 million Addis Ababa would have received if Washington had adhered to the first year’s $5 million figure. Moreover, the IEG claimed that as of the beginning of 1957 less than $8 million worth of arms had actually been delivered. Thus, the new situation in the Middle East was seen as an opportunity for Addis Ababa to exploit its strategic location and press the Eisenhower administration to increase MAP funding and expand U.S. military programs in Ethiopia.

Following the June 1954 military discussions, U.S.-Ethiopia relations entered a very rocky period. Addis Ababa was particularly frustrated by the United States’ refusal to make a long-term military commitment to Ethiopia. Washington would only approve MAP funding on a yearly basis, as opposed to guaranteeing aid levels for a longer period. The net result was an Ethiopian military assistance program that was described by a high-ranking member of the JCS’s Joint Staff in mid-1956 as “feast or famine”— $5 million one year, $1 million the next. In fact, the Department of Defense was planning in the spring of 1956 to request only $554,000 in MAP funding for Ethiopia in FY 1957.

The Ethiopians were also upset by how the MAP program was being implemented. Besides erratic deliveries and delays in the program approval process, it seemed that the Americans were deliberately concealing information regarding the price of equipment delivered and that the actual value of the weapons and equipment received was less than the amount of military assistance allocated by Washington. Particularly disappointing to the emperor was that most of the equipment the Ethiopian military received was used and required extensive repairs to be made serviceable. The IEG claimed that it had been supplied with used and recharged ammunition—a charge the DoD denied. This all added up to an insult to the IEG, which was proud of its long military tradition and now was being treated in such a second-rate manner by the Americans.

The American military training mission also was plagued by problems that disturbed the IEG. In 1954 the chief of the U.S. Military Assistance and Advisory Group had informed Emperor Selassie that the “MAAG would train personnel and assist in any way the Ethiopian government desired, including the foundation at Harrar, of a military academy.” Twenty-one months later, Washington declared the promise of the MAAG chief to have been “completely unauthorized.” Moreover, because about 10 percent of U.S. military assistance was used to train Ethiopian officers in the United States, there was less available to purchase weapons and supplies. These problems, plus the “frequent and unfortunate experiences of the Ethiopian officers with [racial] segregation in the United States,” began to alarm the U.S. embassy in Addis Ababa that the United States was failing to achieve the originally “designed purpose of fostering closer and more friendly relations as well as improving the technical standards of the Ethiopian army.”

Perhaps the one event that most strengthened Haile Selassie’s bargaining leverage vis-a-vis the United States at this time occurred in September 1955, when Egypt concluded an arms agreement with Czechoslovakia. The Czech-Egyptian arms deal established the East bloc as a viable arms alternative to the Western powers in the region. Ethiopian overtures and threats to turn to the Soviet Union for aid if the Americans did not satisfy their military requests now had to be taken more seriously than in the past. Although Emperor Selassie feared the communists, the Soviets could still be used to bluff the Americans.

Haile Selassie’s ability to use a threat of defection to the Soviets against the Americans was made all the more plausible by Gamal Nasser’s already having done so. American defense planners were particularly sensitive to the possibility that a repeat of the Egyptian defection to the East bloc for arms could be replayed in Ethiopia and jeopardize U.S. base rights. Admiral Radford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had received a memo from his staff at the end of June 1956 in which the emperor indicated he wanted American military and economic assistance on an “urgent basis,” or else Ethiopia would turn to the Soviets. During the fall of 1956, President Eisenhower had been made aware of an implied Ethiopian threat to get arms elsewhere if they could not get them from the United States. Because the Pentagon and the NSC were exploring the possibility of obtaining additional base rights in Ethiopia at this time, the president felt that Ethiopia’s friendship had to be assured even if it meant establishing new military programs; however, he hoped they could be kept as small as possible.

The IEG had nurtured this threat of defection from the Western bloc by implying that Ethiopia might go the neutralist course by a series of diplomatic initiatives. Between December 1955 and June 1956, Selassie played host to Marshal Tito for two weeks, signed a general trade agreement with Czechoslovakia, welcomed the head of a touring Chinese communist cultural delegation, and allowed the Soviet Union to raise its legation in Addis Ababa to the embassy level. Moreover, throughout the first half of 1956, the IEG had begun to seek out a political rapprochement with Gamal Nasser, who still hoped to gain Ethiopia’s adherence to Cairo’s Unity of the Valley of the Nile concept and planned to receive the emperor on a state visit to Egypt at the end of the year. Although the emperor aligned Ethiopia with the U.S. position during the Suez crisis, he would subsequently decrease his backing and his support for the U.S. position in the United Nations as well as delay responding to the U.S. base request.


Although Kagnew Station represented Washington’s core interest in Ethiopia, U.S. strategic interests in Ethiopia kept expanding during the mid19505. Not only had the scope of U.S. operations at Kagnew grown over the years but also requests for further expansion were being submitted almost continuously to the Ethiopian government. American officials, of course, were quite cognizant of the explicit linkage between U.S. military assistance and base rights in Ethiopia. Thus, when the Joint Chiefs of Staff began contemplating in mid-1956 the idea of asking the IEG for additional base rights privileges, they realized that the emperor would use the request to up the ante.

During October 1956, a draft statement for U.S. policy guidance toward Ethiopia (NSC 5615/1) was being circulated throughout the U.S. national security bureaucracy; the statement examined the base-rights question in Ethiopia in light of U.S. defense requirements. On November 19, 1956, President Eisenhower approved a slightly edited version of NSC 5615/1. Two days later, the Joint Logistics Plans Committee for the JCS submitted its base requirements for U.S. forces in the Middle East in support of CINCSPECOMME (Commander-in-Chief, Special Command Middle East) Operations Plan 215-56. Although recognizing that in the aftermath of the Suez Crisis, with tensions and anti-Western sentiments still inflamed, it might be inadvisable to seek basing rights outside the NATO structure, the JLPC considered it appropriate to inform the Joint Chiefs of Staff about “the nature of and type of additional requirements necessary to implement plans in the Arab-Israeli dispute . . . so negotiations may be effected.”

NSC 5615/1 essentially defined those U.S. strategic requirements in Ethiopia that prompted the United States to enter into the base-rights negotiations with the IEC in 1957. In this policy guidance the U.S. Air Force indicated the need to establish a signal communications base in Eritrea, in lieu of Aden, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff “established requirements for post-D-Day facilities” in Ethiopia. Along with Aden and Port Sudan in the Red Sea area, the U.S. Navy requested that an agreement be reached with Ethiopia to permit continued procurement of petroleum products, the maintenance of petroleum, oil, and lubricants (POL) and ammunition storage sites, and access to the anchorage and harbor facilities for replenishment and repair operations at Massawa. This access would support shipping lanes to the Far East, Europe, and the Middle East. Thus, NSC 5615/1 defined U.S. strategic objectives in Ethiopia at the end of 1956 to include assuring “continued use of existing military facilities and to obtain additional military rights as required.”

The Eisenhower administration knew it would have some difficulties in these negotiations, given the recent and frequent expressions of dissatisfaction by the IEG with the American effort in Ethiopia. After Selassie’s 1954 visit to the United States, the president had directed that annual funding for U.S. MAP assistance to Ethiopia be maintained at its original $5 million level. When this did not happen, Eisenhower received a disturbing note from the Ethiopian emperor in 1956 which implied that the United States had violated the 1953 MDA agreement with Ethiopia. The Joint Chiefs of Staff also had been warned at the end of June 1956 that the breakdown in U.S. military aid, as perceived by the Ethiopians, “would not only make negotiations for new bases impossible but could also result in cancellation of our present base rights.” While the latter threat seemed extreme, the former was taken very seriously.

However, in negotiating with the IEG over these expanded base rights, the Eisenhower administration did not have to give away the shop, especially since by April 1957 the Pentagon no longer saw any urgent need to acquire access to Ethiopian facilities. NATO facilities in Greece and Turkey would be available for a Middle East contingency. Through 1957 the Arab governments in Iraq, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia still maintained a pro-Western posture in crises outside the realm of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Moreover, the port facilities in Eritrea were not in the best condition, as the Ethiopians had been trying for years to get the Americans to finance the improvement of them. While these facilities could prove valuable for backup support it would require a substantial U.S. financial investment to improve their handling capacities, and given the time lag involved in construction and dredging the harbors they would be of little value in the short term. If in 1962 the Eritrean Parliament chose to dissolve the federation, then soon after the improvements were made at Massawa, Eritrea might not even be a part of the Ethiopian empire. Washington’s strategic cost-benefit analysis simply weighed against investing more than the $4.1 million in MAP funding approved for FY 1957—an amount that represented a more than $3 million increase over what had originally been proposed by the Defense Department for Ethiopia.


While Ethiopia’s sense of threat made it almost inevitable that the IEG would use a threat of defection to the Soviets for arms in order to pressure Washington to meet its security needs, and the 1955 Egyptian-Czech arms deal suggested that this threat was viable, it was questionable whether the emperor would actually implement such a threat. According to the U.S. embassy and the IEG, he would. The possibility of Ethiopia going the neutralist course and seeking aid from both East and West seemed more credible because the Soviet example in Egypt had created a credibility problem for the United States in Ethiopia. As a result, neutralist elements in Addis Ababa were gaining support for their argument that Ethiopian interests would best be served by going the neutralist course and terminating the military relationship with Washington.

Ethiopian critics of the IEG’s pro-West policy began their argument by noting the greater benefits received by neutralist states. During 1956 Moscow had provided Egypt with $450 million worth of arms, while Syria and Yemen, states much smaller in population and size than Ethiopia, had received armaments valued at $60 million and $7.5 million, respectively, from the Soviet Union. Moreover, these arms transfers had apparently occurred without an exchange of bases. In contrast, Ethiopia had supported the United States during the entire Suez Canal episode and had endorsed almost immediately the Eisenhower Doctrine for the Middle East, yet had received little material support in return. It made little sense to antagonize Egypt by supporting the Americans if Ethiopia’s security needs continued to be ignored.

Moreover, as reported by the U.S. embassy and the IEG, a propaganda campaign that exhibited a distinct anti-Western theme was being waged in Addis Ababa and elsewhere. Ethiopia was accused of betraying its geography and tradition as a Middle Eastern state in working with the Western colonial powers and the United States and “playing the stooge of the Colonial Powers, in sending her sons to die in Korea and in being the stalking horse for the imperialist designs of those same powers [seeking to limit] freedom of national development, of which the two Suez Canal Conferences [were] but the most recent examples.” The Western powers were using Ethiopia to further their own imperialistic designs as evidenced by the fact that “the Communist Powers fully support with arms, the struggle of Middle Eastern peoples towards freedom and independence,” while “the West has never intended seriously to support Ethiopia’s defense efforts, on the contrary, the arms received by Ethiopia are pitiful in comparison with those being received elsewhere in the Middle East.” Although the United States wished to use Ethiopian territory for bases, the Americans “refused to defend the territory or the bases and [had] sent no arms that would permit Ethiopia to defend them herself.” If Ethiopia would “refuse to act as a stooge of the West, the problem of Greater Somaliland could be immediately solved, and at the same time, the problem of national defense.”

This seemed like a lot of shrill talk back in Washington. Besides voicing his doubts about the seriousness of the dangers facing Ethiopia, Eisenhower’s special envoy James Richards told Ethiopia’s Foreign Minister Aklilou during the April 1957 round of negotiations that the benefits of U.S. friendship were “worth more than [the] dangers involved in the presence of [U.S.] bases.” International communism was the main threat the IEG should be worried about and how to stop its advances. If the Ethiopians did not think this was so, remember that “some countries behind [the] Iron Curtain once felt [the] same way.”

While attempting to throw the communist scare into the Ethiopians, American officials were mainly concerned that the emperor might cast his lot with the neutralists rather than fall in with the communist bloc. Although the communists were seen as building up nationalism in Africa to undermine Western influence, the State Department felt that the threat of communist penetration was not particularly great or imminent in Ethiopia. Even given the feeling in Ethiopia that the benefits of Addis Ababa’s pro-Western alignment had been small, the communists had made few inroads in Ethiopia. On the other hand, pro-U.S. groups in Ethiopia had been weakened while the influence of the xenophobic clique that favored isolationist or neutralist policies had increased, particularly in the aftermath of the Suez crisis, owing to Washington’s perceived indifference. Since the Eisenhower administration was determined to check and reduce communist as well as Egyptian influence in Ethiopia and the rest of Africa, the Americans would have to give the emperor something to keep him on their side.


Perhaps the most serious difficulty the IEG faced in dealing with the Americans was that the U.S. military assistance and training programs in Ethiopia were shaped and implemented by a defense establishment that first and foremost assessed Ethiopia’s military requirements in terms of its ability to contribute to global or regional defense. Unfortunately for the IEG, the Pentagon did not take the Ethiopian military very seriously. In a February 1957 review of U.S. military assistance programs in the Middle East, the Joint Chiefs of Staff had observed that Ethiopia’s armed forces were, and would continue to be, “too small to be of any consequence in the global war.” Addis Ababa’s military forces—then composed of three commands totaling 24,000 soldiers and 4,000 support troops—were deemed to be capable only of maintaining internal security and offering limited resistance to local aggression; they were considered unable to provide “effective defense against invasion by an army with modern weapons.” Thus, the Pentagon saw its military mission in Ethiopia as very limited—to provide equipment and training so the Ethiopians could maintain internal security and resist local aggression.

The Defense Department seemed determined to resist bureaucratic pressures from outside as well as inside the department to enhance the scope of the U.S. military mission in Ethiopia. In November 1955 the Joint Chiefs of Staff had received a report from General Orvall R. Cook who, “while not much impressed with the needs of Ethiopia,” recommended that the JCS not only reassess the Ethiopia program, based upon a number of geopolitical considerations but also undertake a number of new tasks within the country. The following March the Joint Chiefs reported, “Present conditions do not justify a change in MDAP (Military Defense Assistance Program) objectives.” At the end of 1956, in putting together the FY 1957 Program Guidance for Ethiopia, the JCS recommended “only such minimum military assistance . . . as will insure utilization of the U.S. base rights.” Even after President Eisenhower directed the NSC in the fall of 1956 to stabilize the U.S. MAP in Ethiopia, the Pentagon persisted in its belief that no sound military rationale existed for extending military aid to Ethiopia and that the United States was wasting time, energy and resources on a client state that could be better spent in other places.

The Defense Department’s inherent hostility toward the Ethiopian MAP program was counterbalanced by a State Department that favored extending U.S. military and economic assistance to as many countries as possible in order to score political points in the battle to contain communism and radicalism. Secretary Dulles felt that increased military aid to Ethiopia would serve a propaganda purpose in the area, especially in light of the Egyptian challenge to U.S. policy in the Middle East. Even though the emperor seemed more interested in strengthening Ethiopia’s armed forces than in undertaking political, economic, and social reforms, the State Department favored stabilizing the U.S. military assistance program in Ethiopia on political grounds. It was well known at State that Haile Selassie devoted an inordinate amount of attention to military affairs, so failure to follow through with some kind of military program would have a negative impact on the IEG’s pro-West orientation.

The Department of State typically found itself in the hot seat with regard to Ethiopia when it came time to justify U.S. foreign military and economic assistance programs before Congress, thanks to the IEG’s low-priority rating among U.S. aid recipients. In years in which U.S. foreign aid programs were subject to reductions, as in FY 1955, Ethiopia was a likely candidate to be cut out altogether. Since the beginning of the U.S.-Ethiopia military relationship, “It was only the strong pressure of the State Department for political considerations that led to any money at all being allocated to Ethiopia.” Thus, if the State Department was not on Ethiopia’s side the game would be lost.

In July 1956 the deputy undersecretary of state for political affairs sent a letter to the assistant secretary of defense requesting that the Pentagon scrap its original half-million-dollar proposal and instead submit a MAP program for Ethiopia in the range of $5 million for FY 1957. State-based this request on the grounds that “neutralist or outright hostile elements” were making it difficult for the United States to cooperate with certain Arab governments. Given Ethiopia’s political stability, desirable geographical location, and friendly attitude, the United States could use Ethiopia to “build a position of strength in the area.” Washington hoped to establish “a crescent of friendly countries south and west of Egypt” which, if successful, would reinforce the American position in the Middle East and obstruct the further penetration of Africa by “inimical forces.” Basing its action almost exclusively upon political considerations, the National Security Council decided in October 1956 to provide the IEG with $20 million in MAP aid over a four-year period (FY 1957-FY 1960) and to increase the size of the Ethiopian Army to 28,000 troops by FY 1962. To maximize the political impact of this decision Secretary Dulles sent a personal message to Ethiopia’s foreign minister informing him that for FY 1957 the United States would provide $5 million for the Ethiopian Army, a naval patrol craft, up to $5 million in economic aid and conduct a survey of Ethiopia’s air force capabilities. Aklilou’s immediate response to what amounted to a total aid package in excess of $13 million was that “the military aid figures were too low.”

Aklilou’s curt response was predictable; the four-year $20 million MAP package had the effect of setting an upper limit on the level of military assistance that the United States would provide to the IEG through the end of the decade. There was no doubt that the United States hoped to use this decision to achieve political objectives in Ethiopia while avoiding “a military build-up which would seriously strain the Ethiopian economy or lead to commitments for indefinite U.S. support.” Washington’s strategic interest in acquiring expanded base rights in Ethiopia was counterbalanced by a desire to avoid a costly military buildup that would do little to enhance the global or regional defense posture of the United States. Besides, the State Department had stretched the political line of argumentation to the extreme to get $5 million annually for Ethiopia; it could not turn around only months later to ask for double that amount in military aid for such a low-priority ally. Moreover, if the United States did not give in to the emperor’s $10 million arms demand this time around, Selassie might learn that whenever the IEG wanted something from the United States he could not simply exploit Washington’s strategic vulnerability by using Ethiopian facilities to blackmail the Americans.


The 1957 expanded base rights negotiations ended in a stalemate because of the refusal of either side to adjust its original demand. Washington, which had initiated the negotiations, finally terminated them because the emperor’s $10 million asking price was deemed too high, especially in light of the fact that the administration had just committed itself to give Ethiopia approximately $5 million annually in military aid through the next four fiscal years. Addis Ababa, on the other hand, did not view Washington’s decision in the fall of 1956 to stabilize the U.S. MAP program in Ethiopia as compensation for expanded base rights. It was merely a fulfillment of what the Americans should have been doing in the first place as part of the original 1953 MDAA-DIA quid pro quo. Granting the United States expanded base rights in appreciation for this decision would be like giving the Americans something for nothing.

Ethiopia was under no great pressure to knuckle under to the United States in this newest round of negotiations. While Addis Ababa was concerned about the Somali threat, there was no need to panic. Somalia would not receive its independence until mid-1960, and the emperor could play the neutralist game to stall the opposition. Although Washington still seemed to be the place to go to receive military, economic, and technical aid on generous terms, the Soviet Union was proving to be a very viable alternative—an option that if not exploited at the moment could be later when Ethiopia’s needs became more pressing. The emperor of course had no real desire to realign Ethiopia with either the communists or the neutralists. But to placate those who felt that he had been deceived and taken advantage of by the Americans in the past, out of political necessity Selassie had to set a high price on Washington’s request for additional facilities.

Washington, too, felt no compelling reason to enter into a new and expended quid pro quo with the Ethiopians. In contrast to Ethiopia’s position, Washington’s perception of threat had reached the point of panic. But it would be other more centrally located Middle Eastern states such as Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq that would receive increased aid and emergency U.S. arms shipments under the rubric of the Eisenhower Doctrine during the latter half of 1957 rather than Ethiopia. The Americans appeared vulnerable to manipulation because of their desire to acquire expanded base rights in Ethiopia. This perceived vulnerability, however, was offset by the marginality of these facilities, at least in the short term, in supporting U.S. intervention in a Middle East contingency. Moreover, the Department of State could only go so far in justifying increased U.S. military assistance to a low-priority ally, and one that could add little to U.S. defense capabilities. Because the Pentagon was willing to forego these expanded base privileges there was nothing more for State to do for Ethiopia; it had already made a good-faith effort in acquiring the NSC’s consent to stabilize MAP aid to Ethiopia. Thus, if the Ethiopians wanted to up the ante on them, the Americans could simply back out of the negotiations without undercutting the U.S. ‘military defense posture in the region.

Washington’s decision to terminate the 1957 base rights negotiations simply meant that Addis Ababa would have to try again. Persistent IEG pressure had resulted in a four-year commitment from the United States to provide military assistance at the original $5 million level. While the $13 million military, economic, and technical grant aid package Ethiopia received for FY 1957 was nothing for the IEG to snub, in the military realm it fell far short of what the emperor desired. Despite his avowed friendship with the United States, Haile Selassie had no qualms about playing hardball to acquire support for the Ethiopian Air Force, higher levels of guaranteed grant military aid, and a U.S. security commitment.

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