“The 1960 “Secret” Commitment” is chapter 5 of the “Arms for the Horn,” a book about Great Power Competition or how the Cold War played out in the Horn of Africa, particularly from an American Foreign Policy perspective. 


U.S. Security Policy In Ethiopia And Somalia


Jeffrey A. Lefebvre

Pitt Series in Policy and Institutional Studies

University of Pittsburgh Press

CHAPTER 5 The 1960 Secret Commitment


The United States And Ethiopia, 1953-1977

CHAPTER 5: The 1960 “Secret” Commitment

The Middle East crisis of 1956-1957 left unresolved a number of issues in the U.S.-Ethiopia military relationship. Although the United States agreed to stabilize MAP assistance to Ethiopia at higher levels, this commitment fell far short of the amount required to accomplish two high-priority IEG force goal objectives: establishing a fourth Ethiopian Army division and creating a modern Imperial Air Force. Moreover, with Somali independence drawing near and the IEG seeing itself isolated internationally on this issue, an American security commitment would provide the necessary guarantee Haile Selassie felt he needed to combat this threat.


For its part, the United States was uncomfortable with the idea of paying “rent” for Kagnew Station in the form of military assistance. It seemed that U.S. arms transfers and MAP aid had the effect of creating new Ethiopian demands and placing Washington in the uncomfortable position of having to reject IEG requests. Washington’s decision to stabilize MAP aid to Ethiopia in 1956 at least ensured continued U.S. access to Kagnew for another four years, although at the end of this time a new arrangement would doubtless be required in which the emperor would attempt to up the ante.

Despite American efforts to play down the military side of U.S.-Ethiopia relations, events conspired in the late 1950s to bring the Eisenhower administration around to Haile Selassie’s way of thinking that a new understanding between the two arms partners was in order to solidify the original arms-for-base-rights agreement. A first indication that American resistance was wearing down occurred in 1958 when the Eisenhower administration agreed to provide aid to the Imperial Air Force. Then, in mid-July 1960 Ambassador Arthur Richards presented an aid package to the IEC worth almost $25 million, including $14.7 million in military assistance. Richards’s presentation was favorably received by the emperor. What followed from this American offer was the conclusion on August 29, 1960, of a secret executive agreement between the United States and Ethiopia that laid out an enhanced security framework for cooperation.

The military component of this agreement was rather straightforward. In exchange for continued access to Ethiopian military facilities, the United States agreed to train and equip an imperial army of 40,000 soldiers. Washington also pledged to continue providing military assistance to Addis Ababa. As a result of this “secret” commitment, U.S. military aid (including MAP and IMETP funds) to Ethiopia averaged more than $10 million annually over the next fifteen years (FY l961-FY 1975), a marked contrast to the previous eight-year period (FY 1953-FY 1960) during which U.S. military assistance averaged about $5 million per year.

Perhaps the most significant and controversial aspect of the 1960 agreement involved a clause in which Washington reaffirmed its “continued interest in the security of Ethiopia and its opposition to any activities threatening the territorial integrity of Ethiopia.” Ten years later when this military commitment was revealed before the U.S. Senate Committee on U.S. Security Agreements and Commitments Abroad, State Department officials would contend that the executive branch gave only a minimal interpretation to this particular clause. In their eyes, it simply meant that in the event of any attack against Ethiopia, the United States would “use all our good offices in the United Nations and elsewhere to insure the maintenance of Ethiopia’s integrity.” However, the Ethiopian government as well as several distinguished U.S. senators felt that it implied more. At a minimum, it suggested that the United States would come to Ethiopia’s defense if attacked. A maximalist interpretation suggested that the United States had committed itself to intervene, if necessary, with military forces and to defend the Ethiopian state from external as well as internal attack, and to preserve the political status quo in the Horn of Africa.

The ambiguity of the 1960 secret military commitment allowed both sides to apply their own favored interpretation to the meaning of this agreement. Haile Selassie viewed it as marking a new starting point in political-military cooperation between the United States and Ethiopia. Washington claimed that it merely represented a programmatic, standard arrangement that ensured continued access to Kagnew without committing the United States to a fixed timetable or deadline in the completion of its military mission in Ethiopia. While Selassie had upped the ante on the Americans, the United States could use the agreement to put a cap on increasing Ethiopian military requests. So, although the 1960 secret agreement was not the product of formal negotiation, Washington’s offer of a new long-term security understanding would perhaps avoid a future showdown with the IEG over the American presence at Kagnew.


It was no mere coincidence that the U.S.-Ethiopia secret military agreement was concluded less than two months after the formation of the Republic of Somalia. During the two years leading up to Somali independence, Ethiopia had been placed on the diplomatic defensive internationally. Discussions in certain Afro-Asian diplomatic circles and events occurring in the Somaliland Trust Territories pointed to the conclusion that Addis Ababa’s continued control over the Ogaden would be severely challenged after independence. Haile Selassie needed the United States to enhance its security commitment to Ethiopia in order to meet this challenge.

The unresolved question concerning the delineation of the Ethiopian-Somali border provided the Somalis with legal grounds on which to challenge Addis Ababa’s control over the Ogaden. Somali leaders had never accepted the validity of the Anglo-Ethiopian Treaty of 1897, which ceded sovereignty to Ethiopia over Somali-inhabited territories. After Great Britain had backed away from the idea of creating a Greater Somaliland (the Bevin Plan) from the territories it had administered in the Horn after defeating the Italians and liberating Ethiopia in 1942, London and Addis Ababa concluded another agreement in 1954 that reaffirmed the 1897 treaty and handed the Ogaden as well as the Haud and Reserved grazing areas over to Ethiopia. However, at the time no de jure borders had been established between Ethiopia and the Somaliland Trust Territories, only a “provisional administrative line.” Moreover, the Somalis would justify their efforts to redraw the borders in the Horn on the basis of the UN Charter and various resolutions and declarations that recognized the right of self-determination for colonial people.

As the date for Somali independence drew near, Haile Selassie sought to defuse the potentially destabilizing effects of a movement that threatened one-fifth of Ethiopia’s territory and that, if successful, would bring a large expanse of the Addis Ababa-Djibouti railway under foreign control. As one solution to this problem, the IEG proposed in 1957 a federation with Somalia as had been done with Eritrea. In 1958 the emperor asked the United States to support an association of Ethiopia, Somalia, and Sudan under Ethiopian leadership. Washington tabled this idea since it would require additional U.S. military and economic aid. While the emperor claimed not to be against Somali independence, it was obvious that any words or actions that might stimulate irredentist elements within his empire were deemed threatening and to be opposed.

Haile Selassie would ultimately triumph on the diplomatic front with regard to the Somali problem following the creation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1963. The OAU enshrined the principle of respect for the colonial-drawn borders of Africa in its charter. Throughout the 1950s, however, the Somali cause was supported by various African leaders and regional conferences. The idea of adjusting or abolishing the imperialist-constructed frontiers of Africa was given indirect support by the first Afro-Asian solidarity conference held in Cairo in 1957, which accepted a Somali resolution condemning all forms of colonialism, an oblique reference to Ethiopian rule in the Ogaden. At the December 1958 All-Africa Peoples Conference in Accra, a resolution was passed denouncing the artificial frontiers drawn by the imperialist powers “to divide the peoples of the same stocks” and called for the abolishment or adjustment of such frontiers “founded upon the wishes of the people.” The second All-Africa Peoples Conference held in Tunis in January 1960 also gave its support to the struggle of the people of Somaliland for independence and unity. Although these resolutions might have been seen as simply supporting the idea of a merger between Italian Somaliland and British Somaliland, the IEC put a worst-case interpretation on these words, fearing they would lend momentum to forces seeking to dismember Ethiopia. The fact that Chana’s President Nkrumah, one of Selassie’s rivals for influence in Africa, was drawn to the Somali case, further exacerbated Addis Ababa’s sense of threat.

Haile Selassie was also alarmed by political developments in the Somalilands. The Somali Youth League (SYL), whose primary objective since its founding in 1943 as the Somali Youth Club was to prevent the repartition of Somaliland, was very active in pressing the unity issue at international conferences and was becoming increasingly influential in the politics of Italian Somaliland. In 1959 the SYL, the Greater Somaliland League, and other allied parties issued the Mogadisico Manifesto calling for the union of Italian Somaliland (Somalia) with Kenya’s Northern Frontier District, British Somaliland, French Somaliland, and Ethiopia’s Ogaden region. Thus, Haile Selassie had every reason to be concerned about Somali designs on Ethiopia, especially when the SYL emerged as the most powerful political party in the Republic of Somalia after the merger between Somalia and British Somaliland in July 1, 1960.

Moreover, additional evidence that Ethiopia would be subjected to constant pressure by the newly independent Somali Republic was provided by Somalia’s new constitution. The Somali constitution, which was ratified in June 1961, but most of which had been drafted in the final months of the colonial period, referred in the preamble to the “sacred right of self-determination of peoples enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations” and an obligation “to consolidate and protect the independence of the Somali nation.” Subsequent articles described the Somali people as “an indivisible unit” and declared that “the Somali Republic [would] promote, with legal and peaceful means, the union of the Somali territories.”

Now that the Somali threat was at Ethiopia’s front door, Haile Selassie was in immediate need of solidifying the security relationship with Washington. Because the emperor had little in common politically with the forces controlling the Afro-Asian bloc in international forums, coupled with their disapproval of Addis Ababa’s already close relationship with Washington, Selassie felt compelled to look to the United States for support. But given Washington’s reluctance to make more than minimal gestures in the past, he would have to use Kagnew once again to blackmail the United States to increase military aid and, as a psychological crutch, insist upon an explicit security commitment aimed at the Somali threat— a commitment that subsequently would be directed at the Eritreans as well.


Washington’s perception of threat underwent a rather abrupt shift in 1960. Africa replaced the Middle East, at least temporarily, as the primary cold war arena. In 1960, sixteen states on the African continent gained independence. While the transition was for the most part peaceful, in the Congo destabilizing political strife prompted the new Congolese government to seek assistance from the Soviet Union to help it through its troubles, much to Washington’s displeasure. In this new regional context, Ethiopia came to be valued as an African state with no political ax to grind against the West and willing to cooperate with the United States and the United Nations in bringing order to the Congo, thereby keeping the Russians out of Africa.

The crisis in the Congo came at a time when the situation in the Middle East semed to be settling down following the July 1958 revolution in Iraq, which overthrew the pro-West monarchy and prompted the dispatch of 5,000 U.S. Marines to Lebanon. By the end of 1958, the Soviet-Egyptian threat, which had been cited as justification for seeking additional U.S. base rights in Ethiopia the previous year, had apparently dissipated. Although Iraq would leave the Baghdad Pact in March 1959, Egypt’s recent behavior calmed Western anxieties somewhat. In January 1959 London and Cairo had reached an agreement resolving their outstanding differences arising from the 1956 Suez crisis concerning frozen Egyptian assets and compensation for nationalized British properties. Nasser had also become publicly critical of Soviet attempts to penetrate the new Iraqi regime and interfere in Arab affairs. While some problems would arise in early 1960 between Egypt and Israel, from Washington’s perspective, all was relatively quiet in the Middle East.

The Eisenhower administration, in fact, had come to the conclusion during the fall of 1958 that the United States should adopt a less confrontational approach toward Nasser and seek to normalize relations with the Egyptian-led United Arab Republic (UAR). While the United States did not want to see newly emergent African states such as Sudan, or Ethiopia, fall under Cairo’s domination, American policymakers on the National Security Council recognized that Egypt would maintain an interest in the policies and actions of the Nile‘ riparian states and that those interests should not be threatened. Washington’s newfound willingness to view Nasser in this light was based on the premise that Cairo’s political objective of displacing—or blocking—foreign influence in the region was aimed at the communist bloc as well as the West. He was not playing favorites. While the core interests of Cairo would conflict at times with those of Washington, and Egypt’s expanding influence in the Middle East and Africa would continue to pose problems and dilemmas for the United States and the West, there was now less inclination to view Nasser simply as a Soviet stooge. The change in Washington’s outlook could also be attributed to the fact that John Foster Dulles had become less active in policymaking at the end of 1958 due to illness, and would resign in April 1959 for health reasons.

While the situation in the Middle East had become more stable, in the summer of 1960 the cold war shifted to Africa. The trouble began on June 30, 1960, when the Republic of Congo received its independence after seventy-five years of colonial rule by Belgium. Almost immediately an army mutiny occurred, followed by general civil unrest and attacks against Westerners, which Belgium cited as justification to delay its troop withdrawal and the secession of the province of Katanga. Although the United States and Egypt would support opposing factions during this crisis, the primary culprit in Washington’s eyes was Moscow, which at the beginning of August was threatening to intervene with military forces to help the government of Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba resolve its internal problems. Lumumba, who had appealed to the Soviet Union for bilateral aid in mid-July, was described by CIA director Allen Dulles as “a person who was a Castro or worse . . . [and had] been bought by the communists.”

Ethiopia proved to be a staunch supporter of UN policy, which during the early phases of this crisis converged with U.S. policy objectives. In mid-July, UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold had dispatched an all-African peacekeeping force to the Congo, which included Ethiopian forces. By the end of the month, over 11,000 United Nations peacekeeping forces were in the Congo drawn from the armed forces of Ghana, Morocco, Tunisia, and Ethiopia, as well as Sweden and Ireland. General Iyassu Mengesha of the Ethiopian Imperial Army served on the UN military staff in Leopoldville and later commanded UN troops in the rebellious Stanleyville area. Subsequently in September 1961, with Washington’s blessing, Ethiopia sent four U.S.-supplied F-86 jet fighters to the Congo to support the UN operation.

While the Congo crisis in central Africa did not have a direct bearing on U.S.-Ethiopia military relations, it created an atmosphere in which the United States wished to reward its friends. Ethiopia’s support for the UN operation in the Congo not only kept the Russians out of central Africa but also allowed Washington to find a balance between appeasing its NATO ally (Belgium) and maintaining an anti-imperialist stance in Africa. There was also the hope that the many new African states would look toward Ethiopia, as the oldest independent state in Africa, rather than to radical leaders such as Nasser, Sekou Toure of Guinea, or Ghana’s President Nkrumah for foreign policy guidance. Thus, Washington sought to use and would reward, conservative African states such as Ethiopia to keep the cold war out of Africa.


The new beginning that Haile Selassie sought in the U.S.-Ethiopia military relationship necessitated that once again the IEG use the threat of defection to the Soviet Union against the United States. In contrast to previous episodes, this time the threat was taken quite seriously by top-ranking officials within the Eisenhower administration. One reason for this was that Moscow’s position of influence in the Middle East seemed to be growing as the Soviets had established relations with the new Iraqi leader, Brig. Gen. Karim Kassim, who seemed to exhibit pro-communist sympathies. Moreover, owing to his obsessive concern with the Somali threat, Haile Selassie began playing hardball with the Americans by going to Moscow in 1959 seeking aid.

The threat of communist penetration in the Horn of Africa had begun to receive more studied attention in early 1958 when the Office of Naval Intelligence prepared a study on the opportunities for communist penetration of Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa. Soviet penetration opportunities had thus far been few because of the emperor’s fear of communism as a threat to his throne. However, Somali independence in 1960 and political disaffection in Eritrea might be exploited in the future as sites for penetration by the communists. Although Ethiopia’s expressed dissatisfaction with the level of U.S. assistance probably was exaggerated to obtain increased aid, according to the naval intelligence analysis, there was a genuine feeling that the United States had not been as generous to Ethiopia as to other states.

At the time, it seemed unlikely that Ethiopia would align with the Soviet bloc. Ethiopia itself did not present favorable grounds for communism. But Addis Ababa might elect to go the neutralist path, accepting aid from East and West, thereby diminishing U.S. influence. Any communist advance or Western loss in the Horn had to be taken seriously, for it would offer the Russians the opportunity to encamp themselves on the alternative sea and air routes to the Far East and South Africa; threaten communications in the Atlantic, the Red Sea, and the Indian Ocean; and provide a position to gain control of Egypt and expand into East and Central Africa, thereby threatening the strategic mineral resources of the Belgian Congo. Thus, Washington’s penchant for employing a domino theory in the region could be exploited by Addis Ababa.

The U.S. Navy’s March 1958 assessment of the communist threat, though highlighting the strategic implications of a hostile takeover in the Horn, nonetheless essentially dismissed the likelihood that the Ethiopians would follow through with their threat to defect to the Soviets. In mid-1958 the NSC progress report on U.S. policy toward Ethiopia (NSC 5615/1) observed that the Soviets would not make much headway in Ethiopia as long as Haile Selassie remained in power. Communism had made no significant gains among Ethiopia’s small educated elite, and had minimal impact, if any, among the vast majority of the country’s peoples. The NSC’s Operations Coordinating Board thus concluded, “It is unlikely that bloc offers of aircraft and training facilities will be accepted, although Ethiopia may use these offers to seek more aid.”

However, Haile Selassie apparently believed that he could shock the Americans into action by bluntly playing the Soviet card. At the end of June 1959, the emperor went to the Soviet Union on an official state visit. During his stay, Selassie signed a long-term, low-interest credit agreement worth $100 million with Moscow. On a more disturbing note, the Ethiopian prime minister had issued a public statement praising the Soviet Union. It appeared to the White House that after visiting the Soviet Union the Ethiopians, including the emperor, had completely reversed their opinion of that country. By according Moscow greater respectability, it was feared that future Soviet operations in Ethiopia would be facilitated and that disgruntled individuals within the imperial government, as well as politically active elements in Addis Ababa, could push for the emperor to follow a neutralist policy.

Despite the emperor’s dramatic action, the State Department believed that the U.S. position in Ethiopia was still quite secure. The Soviet-Ethiopian credit agreement was simply a way for Addis Ababa to gain implied East bloc diplomatic support on the Somaliland issue. No doubt the Ethiopians would also use the Soviet credits to blackmail Washington. But it was expected that several key government officials would both “covertly” and by “traditional means effective in the past” prevent or impede the use of these credits in sensitive political areas that might undermine U.S. influence. Their success, however, would depend upon Washington’s responsiveness to Ethiopia’s military and security requirements.


Despite the failure to acquire expanded base rights in 1957, the American strategic stake in Ethiopia continued to increase. Kagnew Station still remained the driving force behind U.S. security policy toward Ethiopia. Not only were U.S. officials within the executive branch in agreement about the strategic value of this communications facility, but also members of the legislative branch who knew of Kagnew were impressed by its capabilities. After returning from a tour of the station in 1955, Congresswoman Frances P. Bolton exclaimed before an executive session of the Foreign Relations Committee in February 1956 that the United States in possessing Kagnew had “[one of] the most important radio facilities in the world.” She went on to describe the communications site as “the greatest factor insecurity in the whole area.”

Even U.S. diplomats were impressed by Kagnew. Upon visiting Kagnew for the first time following his appointment as U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia in 1959, Arthur Richards was awed by the instantaneous hookup that permitted him to speak with his family back in the United States. Kagnew’s capabilities were beyond anything else the United States had in the region, if not the world. Maintaining unencumbered access to Kagnew, therefore, constituted the principal mission of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Addis Ababa.

As a consequence of Kagnew Station’s recognized strategic value, during the 1950s American requests for expansion were submitted almost continuously to the IEG. In each instance, Haile Selassie had personally given orders to grant Washington’s requests. The U.S. Army, in particular, had a major stake in Kagnew, since it formed a major link in the army’s worldwide communications system. Washington’s diplomatic corps in Africa also used Kagnew extensively to send and receive messages. Presumably, the National Security Agency (NSA) and the CIA had an interest in intelligence intercepts picked up at the station.

However, by the end of the decade, U.S. strategic interest in Kagnew Station had expanded beyond diplomatic and army communications and intelligence-gathering operations. Kagnew’s strategic value was now being assessed in the context of U.S. nuclear strategy vis-a-vis the Soviet Union. The launching of Sputnik I by the Russians in October 1957 had created a new strategic environment. As a consequence of the success of the Russian ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) program, American cities and strategic forces were now vulnerable to a Soviet nuclear attack.

In response, the Eisenhower administration accelerated the ICBM program as well as the Polaris SLBM (submarine-launched ballistic missile) program. The Polaris program, in particular, offered a new type of technology to counter this new threat. Submarine-based Polaris missiles would increase the survival capacity of U.S. strategic forces because of their mobility and would put Soviet assets (cities and other “soft” targets) at risk. The main drawback to the Polaris program was one of “command-and-control”—how to maintain communications with a mobile underwater system. Kagnew would help solve this problem by acting as a communications link for Polaris nuclear submarines operating in the Indian Ocean.

As a result of these strategic developments, the U.S. embassy’s diplomatic mission in Ethiopia continued to build momentum. To fulfill its future nuclear mission, the U.S. Navy now acquired an institutional stake in Kagnew Station. Shortly before Ambassador Richards presented the U.S. aid package to the IEG in 1960, President Eisenhower also noted “the importance of maintaining an atmosphere in Ethiopia which would assure continued unimpaired use of the key facilities at Kagnew.” Thus, when the United States entered into the secret military agreement with the IEG in August 1960, U.S. strategic nuclear considerations constituted part of the policy backdrop.


Although Haile Selassie kicked the Americans rather hard in playing the Soviet card in 1959, the likelihood that Ethiopia would actually defect to the Russians was diminished by the fact that the IEG was about to receive a squadron of F-86 Sabre jet fighters from the United States. The emperor was finally going to receive a tangible prestige item to show for his years of close association with the United States. Few Third World nations possessed such sophisticated weapons, and Selassie was not going to jeopardize U.S. Air Force support, for which he had fought so long to acquire, by getting too close to Moscow. He also knew that in order to support the imperial army and air force, the United States would have to increase military assistance to Ethiopia.

During the first half of the 1950s, Haile Selassie had focused his energies on acquiring U.S. support to equip and expand the Ethiopian Army. By the second half of the decade, however, the idea of creating a modern Ethiopian Air Force had assumed certain psychological importance for the emperor. The centralized decision-making style of the Ethiopian monarchy led Selassie to believe in the importance of things that people could see as an expression of personal as well as national prestige. President Eisenhower appreciated the imperial mindset, noting to one of his cabinet members, “You have your ‘best drag’ in that country when you do something for the Emperor.” Thus the Americans came under a persistent and expected diplomatic assault to provide combat aircraft and pilot training for the Ethiopian Air Force.

Addis Ababa first broached the airpower issue with Washington in 1956 by means of a subtle, but not very well disguised request for the United States to conduct a survey of Ethiopia’s air force capabilities. Until this time the United States had not set or accomplished any air force objectives, owing to Ethiopia’s “limited capacity to use and maintain additional or modern equipment.” But in October, the National Security Council agreed to grant this request with the understanding that the United States was not committing itself to a future air force program in Ethiopia by undertaking this survey. Because the Americans did not think anything constructive would result from this survey, as a stopgap measure President Eisenhower had ordered the U.S. Air Force in January 1957 to supply the IEC with a Constellation 749 aircraft drawn from Washington’s special mission squadron. The plane arrived in June and crashed two weeks later.

The creation of a modern Ethiopian Air Force was one issue on which the emperor refused to allow the Americans to sidetrack him. Selassie remembered the devastation caused by the Italian Air Force in the 19351936 war, which had dropped poison gas on his troops and broken the morale of his army. Twenty years later the Swedish-trained Ethiopian Air Force was equipped with fifty-eight “unmodern aircrafts” and no modern bombers or fighter units. Addis Ababa’s most urgent need, according to the U.S. embassy’s March 1957 report on the defense problems of Ethiopia, was to get started “training activity on modern airplanes at the Attack Wing.” This training activity would require the United States to deliver during FY 1957, or as soon as possible, ten dual-seater jet trainers, twelve Dakota C-475, one Cessna L-19A or Cessna EO-1, and PBY Catalinas. These aircraft were expected to be fully equipped and provided with spare parts and repair instruments necessary to keep the planes in service for five years. A detailed list for other equipment also was submitted by the Ethiopians through the U.S. embassy; the Ethiopians were leaving nothing to chance.

By the end of 1957, Selassie’s expectations regarding American air force support and Washington’s reluctance to commit to this specific force goal objective had created major operating problems for U.S. policy in Ethiopia. The emperor had made known to the Americans that he attached great importance to this issue and was anticipating the receipt of U.S. aid following the air force survey. American diplomats in the field argued that Haile Selassie’s obsession with the development of a modern Ethiopian Air Force, underwritten and trained by the United States, provided a perfect opportunity for Washington to demonstrate a long-term interest in Ethiopia. Achieving this force goal objective would take a number of years and require continued American financial support to offset increased recurring costs. Thus, both the U.S. embassy and MAAC supported Ethiopia’s request for air force assistance.

The USAF survey team that visited Ethiopia in April 1957 “favored extending assistance over a period of years starting with a modest jet training program.” Although the CINCE UR (Commander-in-Chief, Europe) recommended support for an Ethiopian Air Force, EUROCOM (European Command) and the Joint Chiefs of Staff opposed the idea. Because Ethiopia belonged neither to NATO nor the Baghdad Pact, “no valid military requirement for jet aircraft or for an Ethiopian Air Force to support current U.S. or NATO war plans was perceived.” On August 27 the JCS informed the secretary of defense that they saw “no valid military requirement” for providing such a program. The Department of Defense concurred with the JCS decision on October 9, also finding “no valid military requirement at this time for the establishment of force goals for the Ethiopian Air Force and . . . [that] none should be established.”

Though it was considered an unsound military concept by the Pentagon, Ethiopia’s air force demands were kept alive by political rationales. During the previous year, the U.S. embassy had advocated that aid to the Ethiopian Air Force was necessary in order to maintain “a strong U.S. position in Ethiopia.” In order to reverse the rapid erosion of American influence in the country that supposedly occurred during 1957 and to reach a “political accommodation that would secure current and future base rights,” the Eisenhower administration had agreed to initiate a small air force program in 1958 and provide three T-33 jet trainers, one C-47 aircraft, and training for pilots in the United States. Finally, in June 1958, the U.S. ambassador informed the IEG that the United States would program funds to provide a total of twelve F-86 jet fighters. Delivery of the F-86 Sabre jets, however, was conditioned on the grounds that proper preparation was made for their maintenance and operations, which pushed the delivery date back into 1960. Nonetheless, the decision to furnish Ethiopia with a modern weapon system few other Third World countries possessed reinforced Haile Selassie’s belief that the key to enhancing Ethiopia’s security and his own personal authority resided in the hands of the United States.


As a consequence of the June 1958 U.S. airpower commitment, MAP assistance to Ethiopia was increased in FY 1959 and again in FY 1960, totaling $5.8 million and $7.7 million, respectively. However, the IEC made little headway in persuading Washington to train and equip a fourth Ethiopian Army division. The Department of Defense continued to oppose this idea as long as it required an increased budgetary commitment. As it was, Pentagon officials already held a low opinion of the Ethiopian military, feeling that the Ethiopians were partially to blame for problems in the MAP program because of their “low maintenance aptitude . . . to operate motor vehicles successfully.”

After being rebuffed by the Americans in the spring of 1957, Haile Selassie again raised the army issue with U.S. Ambassador Don Bliss in late October. The emperor asserted his view that the Ethiopian armed forces should be increased and MAAG training extended to the imperial bodyguard without reducing aid to the army. On November 5, the State Department notified the U.S. embassy that “no justification was seen for increasing the number of commands.” While the United States was willing to provide supplies for two bodyguard brigades, there would have to be a corresponding reduction of MAP assistance for the army. This was unacceptable to the IEG, which refused to accept the U.S. force goal proposal to confine the Ethiopian armed forces to seven intact brigades.

If the IEG was to make any headway on this issue, either something dramatic would have to happen in the region or a change in attitude would have to occur in Washington. While the U.S. embassy and MAAC team in the field were willing to support IEG military requests, Ethiopia had no full-time advocate in Washington. The Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Department of Defense, preoccupied with U.S. defense requirements in Europe, the Northern Tier of the Middle East, and the Far East, were generally unsympathetic to the idea of increasing the U.S. military commitment to Ethiopia. Organizationally, Ethiopia fell under the Bureau for Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) at the Department of State. The bureau was dominated by Arab specialists who were not particularly sympathetic to the sometimes anti-Arab, anti-Islamic content of Addis Ababa’s security arguments. While occasionally President Eisenhower or Secretary Dulles might intervene for political reasons on the emperor’s behalf, U.S. policy toward Ethiopia was formulated for the most part on an ad hoc basis. Except for a small and relatively impotent Office of African Affairs located within N EA, there was no agency in the American bureaucratic machinery whose institutional mission was advanced by advocating Ethiopia’s cause.

Thus, until the very end of the 1950s, the only full-time advocates for IEC military requests were the U.S. embassy and MAAG in Addis Ababa, located far from the corridors of power and influence in Washington. It was only around 1956-1957 that even they began to support Ethiopian military requests on a regular basis. Moreover, Ethiopia was a poor second cousin in the eyes of NEA, which formulated U.S. policy primarily within a Middle Eastern context. The drawn-out 1952-1953 and aborted 1957 base-rights negotiations, as well as the inconclusive military discussions of 1954, had all been conducted under the auspices of NEA. It was not until late 1956, in anticipation of the massive decolonization process about to occur in Africa that the State Department began to expand its facilities and program for training specialists in African affairs.

Momentum for creating a separate Bureau for African Affairs continued to build in the spring of 1957. Upon returning from his March 1957 trip to Africa, Richard Nixon had recommended that an Africa Bureau be created. One argument given for expediting this reorganization was that it would reorient states such as Ethiopia and Sudan away from Arab affairs and more toward Africa. This would presumably enhance Washington’s influence because in the late 1950s the United States’ position in Africa was less tenuous and susceptible to regional challenges than its position in the Middle East. Thus, Ethiopia and Sudan were placed in the Africa Bureau when it was formally established in August 1958.

This bureaucratic restructuring at the Department of State would have a significant long-term impact on U.S. policy toward Ethiopia and enhance Addis Ababa’s leverage vis-a-vis the United States. Instead of being “a little fish in a big pond,” Ethiopia now became “a big fish in a little pond.” While the Africa Bureau was a “weak sister” at the State Department, the positions adopted by Ethiopia on various international and regional issues now carried greater weight and received more studied attention than they had at NEA. The Eisenhower administration hoped that Ethiopia’s continuous support for the U.S. position at the United Nations in preventing the seating of Communist China, Selassie’s backing of the Canadian-U.S. proposal for narrow territorial limits at the 1960 Geneva Law of the Sea conference, and participation in the UN military operation in the Congo would positively influence the positions of other Afro-Asian states. Thus, the Africa Bureau looked for Ethiopia to lead by example in orienting the newly independent African states toward the West.

The Eisenhower administration also hoped that Ethiopia could influence African states to support the general concept of keeping the cold war out of Africa. At the start of the new decade, Africa seemed to be breaking down into antagonistic blocs that held different perceptions of the Soviet threat in Africa. On the one hand there existed a group of twelve formerly French African states, which came to be known as the Brazzaville bloc, who chose to maintain their links to Paris, opposed Soviet policy and rejected any communist influence in Africa. These states were more particularistic and less pan-Africanist in their orientation by advocating cooperation not political union among independent African states; they generally aligned themselves with the West, particularly in favoring compromise solutions to the Congo crisis and the French-Algerian War. They were opposed by a more radical nationalist group of five states—Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Morocco, and the United Arab Republic—known as the Casablanca bloc, which favored pan-Africanist schemes, maintained friendly relations with the Soviet Union, were not opposed to accepting aid from the communist bloc and harshly attacked Western “neocolonialism” in Africa. Although not formally aligned with either bloc, Ethiopia’s foreign policy clearly fell in line with the more conservative Brazzaville group. Together, they could act to blunt what Washington perceived as the destabilizing policies of the Casablanca bloc.

Thus, the conclusion of the 1960 secret agreement between the United States and Ethiopia occurred in a vastly different regional and organizational setting than previous negotiations. The cold war had shifted to Africa, and it seemed likely that the United States would come under increasing pressure to provide arms to Africa as decolonization progressed. Washington was determined to deny the strategic location, resources, manpower, and influence of Africa as well as the Middle East to the communist bloc. In a 1960 Future Developments in Africa projection, the National Security Council observed, “In instances where the Bloc offers to furnish arms, as is currently the case in Ethiopia, the United States may have to face the difficult decision whether to run the risk of allowing African states to turn to Bloc sources of supply or pursue a distasteful policy of preclusive arming.” With the Africa Bureau adopting Ethiopia as the focal state for U.S. policy in Africa, it was more likely that Washington would opt for the latter course in its dealings with Addis Ababa.


The 1960 U.S.-Ethiopia military agreement was more than simply a reaffirmation of the 1953 MDAA and DIA treaties. While the underlying quid pro quo of the relationship remained intact, the IEC had upped the ante on Washington. Annual U.S. MAP funds for Ethiopia more than doubled as a result. Haile Selassie had finally achieved the three political-military objectives he had sought from the United States since the early 1950s: training and equipment for a four-division Ethiopian Army, support for a modern Imperial Air Force, and what he considered to be an explicit U.S. security guarantee.

However, the 1960 secret agreement carried a potentially disruptive political cost for the IEG and for Haile Selassie personally. As U.S. operations at Kagnew continued to expand, the radical nationalist governments in the region, who were already critical of Ethiopia’s close association with the United States, increased their activities to destabilize the IEC. Moreover, if the Americans did not follow through with a good-faith effort in implementing their side of the agreement, the emperor’s throne itself could be in jeopardy. Selassie accepted these risks because he felt vulnerable to the threat posed by an independent Somali state and believed that only the United States could provide the appropriate level of political and material support to keep the Somalis at bay; the Americans proved this belief through the 1958 airpower commitment and the delivery of the F-86 Sabre jets. While the emperor thought he had an ace in the hole in threatening to turn to the Soviet Union for assistance, Addis Ababa was in an extremely vulnerable position as Somali independence drew near. Selassie could not risk exposing Ethiopia or his own position by defecting to the Russians at such a precarious time. Besides, the Americans might decide to counter an Ethiopian threat of defection to the Russians by threatening to arm Somalia.

Washington’s decision to make this new political-military commitment to Ethiopia was primarily related to the value attached to Kagnew Station, which after more than fifteen years of operation and expansion had become indispensable. But the United States had also become increasingly sensitive to the changes taking place in Africa and the threat of the cold war spilling over into the African continent. Moreover, with the creation of the Africa Bureau in 1958, there was a more favorable bureaucratic climate in which to justify arms transfers to Ethiopia, which became the centerpiece for the new regional bureau’s policy. Given these concerns the United States found itself in a very vulnerable position vis-a-vis Ethiopia, becoming more susceptible to manipulation. Although when compared with the amounts of military aid the United States was providing to other states in the Middle East, the expanded U.S. military commitment to Ethiopia still seemed to be a bargain. Moreover, given the imprecise language of the agreement, there was considerable latitude in how the United States could interpret and implement its terms.

Subsequent events would prove that the 1960 U.S.-Ethiopia military agreement caused more complications than it resolved. It was not quite the new beginning in U.S.-Ethiopia military relations that Haile Selassie had expected, or the simple programmatic arrangement envisioned by Washington. Whereas the IEG became suspect of Washington’s commitment to enhance the fighting capabilities of the Ethiopian military, the emperor continued to use Kagnew to blackmail the United States. Because of the imprecision in the language and varying expectations with regard to the 1960 agreement, new problems and conflicts would soon emerge in U.S.-Ethiopia military relations.

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