Thursday, June 28, 2007



In 1977 the longstanding U.S. – Ethiopian alliance came to an end. In short course Ethiopia moved from the U.S. sphere of influence and seamlessly, into the soviet sphere of influence.
[1] How to explain this fluid alliance arrangement the task of this paper. The quest shall be to utilize existing two realist theories[2] of alliance formation, to assess Ethiopia’s decision making. The predictions of both theories shall be tested against the historical record, and the explanatory power assessed. Both theories – though they rely on different variables – arrive at the same explanation of Ethiopian foreign policy behavior.

The paper shall begin with a brief description of the Balancing and Bandwagoning. These are two concepts that lie at the heart of the difference between Balance of Threat and Balance of Interest. The paper shall then proceed to provide a description of the main claims of the two theories; this is followed by a brief history of Ethiopia with particular emphasis on the three years prior to the realignment. The final part of the paper shall apply the theories to the historical record and ascertain which of the theories predicts the behavior of Ethiopia best.

Balancing v. Bandwagoning:
These are two state behaviors that dominate realist theories on alliance formation, and foreign policy debates.
[3] Balancing is the act of aligning against the most threatening power.[4] Balancing predicts that a state shall look to either form an alliance (external balancing) or increase capabilities (internal balancing), in order to deal with a threatening power. Bandwagoning on the other hand, can be conceived in to ways: appeasement bandwagoning, or bandwagoning for profit. According to the former, a threatened state will ally with the threatening power, after coercion and resulting in an unequal concession.[5]States can also bandwagon with the stronger state, not out of fear, but out of expectation of profit.[6] Randall Schweller[7] identifies a number of bandwagons for profit: Jackal Bandwagoning, Pile on bandwagon, and wave of the future bandwagoning. The first occurs when a state attaches itself to a rising power for a share of the spoils. The second occurs mainly at the end of wars when a winner has all been but assured. The latter, occurs when states attach themselves to a “rising star”: “States may bandwagon with the stronger side because they believe it represents the ‘wave of the future.’ During the cold war era, for example, many less developed countries viewed communism in this way.”[8]

This theory contends that states are prone to balancing behavior. In addition, they balance against threats and not just capabilities (power). According to the theory, there are four variables that states take into consideration when assessing the threat posed by another state. These are aggregate power; this is mainly concerned with opposing states’ capabilities, military, economic and technological. Geographic proximity, an opposing state that is much closer is likely to be considered a greater threat than one far way. Offensive Capabilities, this is concerned primarily with an opposing states ability to threaten another’s sovereignty; this is a function of offence-defense calculations. Perceived intentions, a state with aggressive, revisionist intentions is likely to be considered a greater threat than one perceived to have benign intentions. These elements form a threat matrix that states use to assess the threat of a particular state.

States will form an alliance to remedy an imbalance in threat. These threats can either be internal or external, the alliance shall be formed to counter the most pressing of the threats: “Balance of threat theory accommodates this possibility that is, states seek allies to counter internal or external threats whichever is the most imminent.”[10] This is especially true in the periphery, where local issues – and not the global balance of power at the core – dominate. States in the periphery will align with nations at the core, not to participate in the politics of the core, but to balance against threats in their particular region, on intrastate: “The desire to balance against regional threats has also inspired most Middle Eastern states to align with one or the other superpower.”[11] These distinctions shall become more apparent as an assessment of Ethiopia (a peripheral state) is undertaken below.

Schweller argues that bandwagoning is a much more common than most realists would admit. Most realists unnecessarily constrain the meaning of bandwagoning to “Appeasement Bandwagons”, failing to realize that states also bandwagon for reward.[13] He further argues that a states behavior shall be determined by the extent to which it is willing to defend its current “values”/ possessions; as opposed to extending those values.[14]
State preferences (interests) are likely to range from: satisfaction with current possessions, marginal satisfaction with current possession, dissatisfaction with a strong desire for more; and complete dissatisfaction and rabid desire for more. Based on these “state interests” Schweller develops a topology of states, based on their satisfaction, goals and predicted behavior.
[15] From this he identifies four state types:

Satiated states, likely to favor the status-quo and will do all that is necessary to defend its possessions: These state will either balance against a threatening power, or buck pass.

The weakest states in the system, likely to be the prey of other states. Prone to appeasement bandwagoning or wave of future bandwagoning: “lambs are weak states in threat they possess relatively few capabilities, or suffer from poor stat-society relations for a variety of reasons…”

Limited aims revisionists
[17]. These states are willing to pay a high price to maintain possessions, as well as, extend them. These states are likely to pursue policies of jackal bandwagoning.

Unlimited aims revisionists. These states are likely to be extremely aggressive and willing to go all out to achieve their aims, even at the cost of losing all they have.

Based on the state types predicted by Schweller, we can assess Ethiopia’s
[18] foreign policy aims and determine what sought of state it was in 1977, and see if the predicted foreign policy behavior holds true.

The nation of Ethiopia has always struggled to reconcile its various ethnic groups into a nation-state.
[19] This quest for a united polity has constantly been under threat from a variety of groups seeking self-determination[20], or foreign interference[21]. The principal goals of Ethiopian leaders – through the generations – have been: state legitimacy, territorial integrity and regime survival.

These aims were the guiding principals of Ethiopian foreign policy, from the reestablishment of the Ethiopian empire in 1855, through to the realignment in 1977 and beyond.[22] To achieve these goals, the Ethiopians, relied upon external alliances to deal with the multitude of internal and external threats they faced: “He [emperor Haile Selassie, leader from 1930-1974] also recognized Ethiopia’s need for a powerful external patron until he could restore the state’s administrative capacity for autonomous action.”[23][24]

Ethiopia sits on a very strategic part of the world, an area that is of great importance to the sea line of communications between the U.S., Europe and Israel. It is also at the mouth of the Red Sea, and the crucial oil transport lines from the Persian gulf. As a result, the region was crucial to the strategic concerns of both cold war powers.[26]

The relationship between the U.S. and Ethiopia begun in 1953 when Selassie determined to end his dependence of the British, offered the use of a communications facility in the Eritrean province. This facility (Kagnew) was to be utilized for military communication and monitoring of Soviet radio messages.[27] In return, the Ethiopians received military and economic aid totaling $650 million from 1954-1974.[28] The alliance proved to be mutually beneficial, as the Americans got a strong ally in the Horn and Africa, and the Ethiopians the military equipment and training needed to deal with its threats.[29] The Soviets[30] were also interested in the horn of Africa, for much the same reasons as the United States. Its principal ally from 1969 – 1977 had been Somalia[31], which was Ethiopia’s principal external threat.

On September 12th 1974, after months of civil unrest, emperor Selassie was overthrown. He was replaced by a 120 man military committee, the: Provisional Military Administrative Committee (PMAC, or Derg in Amharic). The new regime aimed to uproot the feudal system of government that had been in place, with a more socialist system: “Accordingly, the new rulers approached the stultifying social system in Ethiopia by arguing that the old structures and traditions have to be eliminated rather than modified, and must be replaced by a new society in which each individual may develop personally, while participating in a fair share of the necessary work of the nation, even that which no one wishes to undertake.”
The PMAC was by no stretch of the imagination a united group. It was a motley crew of various ethnic groups, social classes, educational levels and ideological leanings. Almost immediately there was strife within the ranks and bloodshed was soon to follow. In November of 1974, the leader of the PMAC – General Aman Andom – was assassinated.[33]

The apparent disunity and elite fragmentation – as well as a realization that changing alliances so quickly after gaining power – meant that though some elements in the PMAC wanted to review the Ethiopian-US alliance, the alliance continued.[34] However, a major incursion into the Eritrean province by Ethiopian troops and militia in mid 1975, begun to fray the U.S.-Ethiopian relationship. The Americans were concerned about the worsening human rights situation and actually placed Ethiopia on a list of states that should receive limited American military aid.[35]

With the U.S. slowly moving away from its alliance with Ethiopia, and after a purge of the PMAC ranks, as well as, secret meetings with the Soviets[36]; the PMAC announced its first authentic socialist policy guidelines[37]. This was followed by yet another purge of the PMAC ranks in July of 1976, in the same month an Ethiopian delegation held meetings with the Soviet premier and foreign minister. On December 14th 1976, a secret agreement was signed that promised Ethiopia $100 million in arms to be delivered in 1977.[38] On February 3rd 1977 a final purge of the Derg ranks occurred – this eliminated the last vestiges of the pro-American military leaders and assured control for the Soviet wing under Mengistu Haile Miriam: “In a bloody shoot out at the Grand Palace, Mengistu formally became the chairman of the Derg. Eight officers were killed at that fateful meeting, including the existing chairman, General Teferi Banti.”[39]

On February 24th 1977, the United States informed Ethiopia that it would not receive military aid in 1978. This was followed in April 1977 with a withdrawal of military advisors, and a request to end the Kagnew lease ahead of time. Mengistu responded on the 23rd of April with a request that the Kagnew base, be closed immediately and US embassy staff be cut in half. On April 28th the US froze all military transfers to Ethiopia (including those already paid for). On the 30th of April, Ethiopia abrogated all military and economic agreements with the U.S.[40] By May1977, all ties with the U.S. had been broken.

As the Ethiopians were slowly extricating themselves from the U.S. alliance, the first shipment of Soviet arms arrived in March. In May Mengistu traveled to Moscow and signed an arms deal valued at around $450 million, more military aid than Ethiopia had received through the duration of its alliance with the US.

It is worth noting that during this period of alliance shifting, the PMAC was faced with a multitude of threats that threatened to undermine its hold on power and the nation. Aside from the internal conflicts raging within the PMAC, there was an urban guerilla movement of Marxist students, civil servants, and unions; that targeted the PMAC. The Marxist – under the banner of the Ethiopian People Revolutionary Party (EPRP) – aimed to overthrow the Derg, and replace it with a legitimate revolutionary government. The EPRP operated in the shadows of the capital Addis Ababa and target PMAC leaders with assassinations, and bombings.
[41] The Derg also faced a significant secessionist movement in the Northeast province of Eritrea (under the Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front EPLF), which by January 1977 controlled 75% of the region. In the Southeast Ogaden region, yet another secessionist under the Western Somali Liberation Front. (WSLF) was actively pushing to separate from Ethiopia. By the summer of 1977, this latter conflict had metastasized into a full blown war (the Ogaden War) with the irredentist state of Somalia.[42]

By the summer of 1977, the Derg was under attack from all quarters and in danger of losing power, as well as, losing Ethiopia. It is worth noting, that all the threats had a common ally (prior to Summer 1977) in the Soviets. Who directly supplied the Somali with arms, assisted the EPRP in propaganda and organization, and through proxies (Yemen) assisted the Eritrean rebels.[43]

With the end of the U.S. involvement in Ethiopia and the elimination of all pro-American elements in the Derg, and the signing of the May arms agreement, the realignment was assured. Now it was up to the Soviets to supply the Ethiopians with the required hardware. A massive air and sea lift of equipment was undertaken in the summer and early fall, this was followed by an airlift of Soviet advisors (and 14,000 Cuban military personnel), and stepped up training on how to operate Soviet weapons.
[44] These material and personnel were immediately dispatched to the Somali front for combat operations. By November, the Soviet-Cuban-Ethiopian forces were able to repulse Somali advancement further in Ethiopia. In January 1978, a counter offensive was launched, and on March 9th 1978, the Somali’s retreated back into Somalia, with Ethiopia now in firm control of the Ogaden territory.[45]

As the Ethiopians were focused on the Somali front, the Eritrean’s had managed to solidify there gains and now controlled 95% of the region.[46] With no more Soviet or Somali assistance, and the Ethiopians flush with victory and Soviet weapons, the Eritrean threat was neutralized in July 1978.
Once Soviet assistance was no longer available to the threats against PMAC, and the Soviets supplying arms and assistance, the PMAC was able to dispatch of its enemies with relative ease. By November 1978, the PMAC was in firm control of Ethiopia, and gladly consummated its alliance with the signing of a “Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation.”

Balance of threat predicts that a threatened state would form alliances to balance against its principal threat. Considering the Soviets could be considered the primary threat to the Ethiopians
[48] Therefore, the theory would predict an intensification of the alignment with the U.S. However, as we have seen, this was not the case, even with some increased aid to Ethiopia in 1975 and 1976, it was clear that the U.S. was reevaluating its alliance with Ethiopia. The Ethiopians were also actively involved in trying to lure the Soviets from as early as 1974.[49] They chose to appease the Soviets (bandwagon) rather than strengthen the U.S. alliance
Walt does anticipate a problem with his theory, a situation where states would bandwagon more often – as the Ethiopians did – than his theory would allow. His fall back position is based on the strength of the states in question (badnwagoners). He argues that balancing is less likely if: the states in question are too weak to provide an effective balance against the threatening state; states are unable to find effective allies; and the threatening state is perceived to be appeasable.
[50] The Ethiopian case would seem to fit well in to this category of states. It did not have the wherewithal to balance against the Soviets; the U.S. had proved to be a reluctant ally and the Ethiopians perceived that the Soviets would be appeasable, especially considering their ideological affinities. The Ethiopians bandwagoned, because they were weak.

From the topology created by Schweller, we can approximate Ethiopia to have been in the ranks of the Lambs. Ethiopia was a weak state, trying to preserve it territorial and regime legitimacy in the face of insurmountable internal and external threats. Among which was a Jackal, Somalia, supported by the Wolf USSR. From the predictions of state behavior ascribed to lambs: wave of future bandwagoning and appeasement bandwagoning, it is plausible that both apply to the Ethiopian case.

Ethiopia had just emerged from years of feudal exploitation, and the leadership was committed to changing this system completely. Communism provided an alternative social, political and economic system that was radically different from the system under Selassie, and that provided for more equitable distribution of wealth. It is plausible that the Derg decided that a Soviet alliance was best, based on its ideology. Moreover, with Americans bogged down in Vietnam, it is possible that the Ethiopians saw an ascending Soviet Union and a declining United States

The Soviet Union was Ethiopia’s principal benefactor of all the threats that the PMAC faced. The Soviets were therefore uniquely placed to provide the necessarily material and leverage to deal with the threats, and considering the U.S.’s reluctance to provide aid, the Ethiopians had no alternative but to bandwagon with the Soviets to insure state and regime survival.

Whereas both forms of bandwagoning predicted by Schweller seem to fit the Ethiopian case, it is more likely that the latter (appeasement) was the likely state behavior. The Derg, (though it had soviet leanings and socialist aspirations) was more inclined to align with the Soviets based on security calculation, this would be the optimal situation, as the principal motivations of Ethiopia’s foreign policy were: territorial integrity, state legitimacy and regime survival. Therefore, Ethiopia Bandwagoned with the Soviet.

From the brief assessment provided above, it is clear that both Balance of Threat and Balance of Interests would predict “appeasement bandwagoning” in the case of Ethiopia and more generally weak states without the wherewithal to effectively balance against the threatening power. However, there are problems with both theories, as mentioned above, States in the periphery are likely to focus on regional matters, as opposed to global issues when deciding which alliance to join, the focus of both theories seems to be periphery response to the threat by the core, this is not always the case, though Walt does note
[51].and consider this point. States in the periphery are also likely to have to deal with internal, as well as, external. The focus of both theories is external threats – though Walt’s theory does allow for internal threats[52] Walt’s theory though does try to deal with states in the periphery. On balance, the Balance of Threat theory seems to be the more robust of the two – especially in providing a systematic analysis of states in the periphery. Schweller’s model is found wanting for its ignorance of the periphery, as well as the problem noted on footnote 20. Ethiopia would be considered both a “Lion” and a “Lamb”, according to Schweller’s “interests”, without further elaboration on this point (which tendency would dominate in such a situation?), Balance of Interests theory shall remain wanting, at least in it application in the periphery.[53]

[1] This was followed by a switch in alliance partners by Ethiopia’s primary external threat: Somalia. Which moved from the Soviet sphere of influence and into the American alliance?
[2] These are: Balance of Threat and Balance of Interest.
[3] Snyder, Jack “Introduction” in Jervis, Robert and Snyder, Jack, eds. Dominoes and Bandwagons: Strategic Beliefs and Great Power Competition in the Eurasian Rimland (New York: Oxford University press, 1991), p. 3
[4] Walt, Stephen: “Alliance Formation in Southwest Asia: Balancing and Bandwagoning in Cold war competitions.” In Jervis and Snyder (fn5) p. 53
[5] Ibid, 53
[6] Schweller, Randall “Bandwagoning for Profit: Bringing the Revisionist State Back In”, International Security, Vol. 19 No. 1 (Summer 1994), pp. 74
[7] Ibid, 95-97
[8] Ibid, 96
[9] Jervis and Snyder (fn5) p. 54
[10] Ibid, 71
[11] Walt, Stephen: “Alliance Formation and the Balance of Power.” International Security, (Spring 1985). Vol. 9, No. 4. p16
[12] Schweller (fn8)
[13] Ibid, 88
[14] Ibid, 94
[15] ibid, 100
[16] ibid, 102
[17] Schweller, Randall Unanswered Threats (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006), 29
[18] As noted earlier, states in the periphery worry more about regional matters than global issues. With this in mind, Schweller’s model does pose some problems, under the global spotlight, a state may be considered a Lamb, however, at the regional level; this very state may be the “lion.”
[19] Keller, Edmond, “The Politics of State Survival: Continuity and Change in Ethiopian Foreign Policy” Annals of the Academy of Political and Social Sciences, vol. 489, International Affairs in Africa (Jan., 1987); 77
[20] Ethiopia is made up of 40 ethnic groups, under the hegemony of the Amhara. A number of secessionist movements have existed in the nation: in the Northeast, there was an Eritrean movement, in the Southeast the Ogaden region has agitated for self – determination, as have the Oromo in the South Central region of the country.
[21] Ethiopia resisted Sudanese attempts to conquer it in the late 19th century, the British were in control of parts of the empire and in 1896 the Ethiopians defeated the Italians at the Battle of Adowa, effectively ending Italy’s attempts to colonize it. In the 1930’s the Italians – under Mussolini – managed to take control of Ethiopia, but never had effective control. For further information on foreign influence in Ethiopia see: Henze, Paul: “The Horn of Africa: From War to Peace” (London: Macmillan, 1991)
[22] Keller, (fn21); 77
[23] Ibid, 81. This begun with an Anglo-Ethiopian alliance from 1941-1953, followed by the US-Ethiopian alliance, 1954-1974 and Soviet alliance, 1974-1990
[24] For an additional assessment of continuity in Ethiopian foreign policy see: Tekle, Amare: “The Determinants of the Foreign Policy of Revolutionary Ethiopia” The Journal of Modern African Studies, 27, 3 (1989) pp. 479-502
[25] The Horn of Africa is considered to be the states of Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti and Eritrea (the latter did not become a state until 1992). For a map of the region, see appendix
[26] Schwab, Peter: “Cold War on the Horn of Africa” African Affairs Vol. 77, no. 306 (Jan., 1978) pp 8
[27] Keller, 82
[28] David, Steven R: Choosing Sides: Alignment and Realignment in the Third World (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press), 99
[29] For further analysis of the US-Ethiopian alliance see: Selassie Bereket: “The American Dilemma in the Horn” The Journal of Modern African Studies, 22, 2 (1984), pp 249-272
[30] For further analysis of the Soviet influence in the Horn see: Brind, Harry: “Soviet Policy in the Horn of Africa” International Affairs, vol. 60, No.1 (winter 1983-1984) pp. 75-95
[31] Somalia, was an irredentist state that hoped to unite all its people (Somalis) - spread into Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti – into one state: “Greater Somalia”
[32] Schwab (fn28); 15
[33] David, 103. for apparent ideological moderation and appeal for a peaceful settlement of the Eritrean insurrection. Andom was an Eritrean, as well.

[34] There was actually an up tick in the amount of aid provided to the PMAC by the U.S. in 1975 ($37.5 million) and 1976 ($40.7 million): Gorman, Robert: Political Conflict on the Horn of Africa. (New York: Praeger) p. 52 and David (fn30) p 119
[35] David, 109
[36] David, 117
[37] David, 119
[38] David, 120 and Gorman, 53
[39] David, 122
[40] David, 124-125 and Gorman, 53-54
[41] Gorman, 57
[42] This occurred in July 1977, by August the Ethiopians had conceded the loss of the Ogaden region to the WSLF and Somalia. David, 130 and Gorman, 71
[43] David, 110, 113, 114. The Soviets were simultaneously the cause of all the PMAC’s problems and the likely panacea of its ills.
[44] Gorman, 185
[45] David, 136
[46] David, 139
[47] David, 141
[48] The Soviets made the proximate threats to the PMAC, more pressing by providing those threats with the wherewithal to threaten the PMAC
[49] David, 111
[50] Walt, Stephen: “Testing Theories of Alliance Formation: The Case of Southwest Asia” International Organization. (42, 2, Spring 1968) 314
[52] fn 6
[53] For an alternative theory on balancing in the periphery, see “ominbalancing” in David.


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