November 29, 2007

HARRISONBURG—In his weekly “Strategic Interests” column for the World Defense Review, Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, renews his warning of the dangers of a new border war between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Noting that United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recently verified Eritrea’s remilitarization of the Temporary Security Zone (TSZ) in violation of the 2000 Algiers Agreement which ended the last conflict as well as the internal political dynamics of the country, Dr. Pham concludes with a policy recommendation for the United States:

While the official U.S. position in the border standoff… is to “call on the governments of Eritrea and Ethiopia to exercise maximum restraint and avoid any actions that might further heighten tension or reignite conflict” and “urge both governments to disengage militarily from the most critical locations along the border and to cooperate with the United Nations Mission,” what happens if conflict comes despite best efforts to prevent it?

I have previously argued that “we have to ensure that the spat between Ethiopia and Eritrea over a literal scab of a border zone does not metastasize into a runaway infection consumes everything in its path, including the gains America has made in recent years against Islamist terrorists in the region.” While in principle the absence of overt hostilities between the two countries is desirable, maintenance of the status quo is not an end in itself…

To this end, the United States should not “green light” any Ethiopian aggression on Eritrea; if anything, Addis Ababa should be counseled to weigh very carefully the regional ramifications of any renewed conflict. That being said, however, should Eritrea’s erratic despot, Isaias Afewerki, begin a conflict, the international community should not rescue him from his own folly by brokering another ceasefire so he can rearm…

While Ethiopia is not without its defects and the pace of progress on democratization and other priorities may not be what we would want, there is nonetheless movement forward. Furthermore the country is a reliable partner, not only in counterterrorism efforts, but also numerous UN and African Union stability and peacekeeping operations, including those being mounted in Sudan’s Darfur region (to which Ethiopia has pledged 5,000 troops, the largest commitment to date). If a choice needs to be made between a responsible stakeholder in the international system and a rogue state that sponsors terrorist groups and foments conflicts throughout the critical Horn of Africa, is there really a question of where both America’s principles and its national interests lie?

To read the full text of Dr. Pham’s article, “Winds of War Blow along Ethiopia-Eritrea Border,” click here.