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The end of the Cold War initially was hailed by academics and policy analysts as providing opportunities for a reexamination of U.S. foreign policy toward Africa.(1) Much to the chagrin of those seeking significant changes in U.S. Africa policies, however, the end of the Cold War seemingly reinforced the historical tendency of Washington to ignore African issues in favor of other regions of greater concern, such as Western and Eastern Europe and, more recently, the Middle East.(2) As succinctly noted by Michael Clough, former Senior Fellow for Africa at the Council on Foreign Relations, the White House's response to the end of the Cold War was the adoption of a "wavering, hypocritical policy" in Africa best characterized as "cynical disengagement."(3) Specifically, in the absence of the rallying points of Soviet expansionism and anti-communism, the myriad of seemingly insuperable socio-economic and politico-military problems besetting the continent have reinforced the historical tendency within the U.S. policymaking establishment to relegate Africa to "other" countries that presumably know Africa better, and therefore are better equipped to respond more effectively. The purpose of this article is to clarify the impact of the end of the Cold War on U.S. Africa policies by focusing on the evolution of U.S. foreign policy toward the Horn of Africa from 1991 to the beginning of 1993.(4)
Ethiopia: Renewing the Ties in the Post-Mengistu Era
When guerrilla advances during the first four months of 1991 signalled the impending overthrow of Ethiopian leader Mengistu Haile Mariam, the U.S. intensified its involvement in negotiations between the Ethiopian government and the guerrilla opposition by sending a high-level delegation to Addis Ababa that included Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Irving Hicks, Robert C. Frasure (a member of the National Security Council), and former Senator Rudy Boschwitz (R-Minnesota) who acted as President Bush's personal envoy.(5) In addition to meeting with Mengistu, both Hicks and Frasure traveled to Khartoum to meet with Issaias Afwerki, leader of the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF), and Meles Zenawi, the head of the Tigrean People's Liberation Front (TPLF). The level of U.S. involvement in these negotiations intensified when, in the aftermath of Mengistu's departure from power on May 21, 1991, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Herman B. Cohen flew to London to mediate personally between the guerrilla factions and a collapsing Ethiopian government.
The net result of U.S. involvement was a significant contribution to a transfer of power which largely avoided the bloodshed and clan conflict still evident in Somalia more than two years after the regime of Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown by a coalition of guerrilla forces. As part of an agreement that was publicly endorsed by Cohen on May 28, 1991, the TPLF took control of Addis Ababa and began putting together a broad coalition government that was expected to include representatives from all of the country's major ethnic groups and political organizations. A critical element of the May agreement--which led to rioting in Addis Ababa--was U.S. support for a UN-supervised referendum in Eritrea to determine if the people of the territory desired independence. This decision to support regional self-determination through the ballot box--which in April 1993 led to a vote overwhelmingly in favor of independence--represented a significant change in U.S. foreign policy. Rather than giving unswerving support for the territorial integrity of the Ethiopian empire as had been the case from the 1950s to the 1980s, the U.S. endorsed a policy that questioned the concept of territorial integrity as enshrined within the charter of the Organization of African Unity (OAU).
Several factors accounted for the proactive U.S. response to events in Ethiopia. First, both the Mengistu government and the guerrilla opposition sought a greater role for Washington as a mediator between their conflicting claims. These positive signals coincided with rising pressures within the national security bureaucracies that comprise the executive branch, particularly the State Department's Africa Bureau, to avoid the policy disasters that had occurred in Liberia and Somalia.(6) In both cases, U.S.-supported leaders were driven from power by coalitions of guerrilla forces which, after achieving initial victories, presided over the escalation of ethnic or clan-based violence. Having "learned" that policies of inaction potentially entail far greater costs than initially may have been apparent, the Africa Bureau sought immediate action in order to avoid another disaster in Africa. "We want to see law and order," explained a diplomat who was stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa during 1991. "What we want to do is facilitate a soft landing and prevent the kind of bloodshed that has affected Liberia and Somalia."(7)
The decline of Cold War competition in the Horn of Africa was an important element in the calculations of Ethiopian and U.S. officials. As far as several segments of the policymaking establishment were concerned, the hardline Marxist positions of both the Mengistu regime and the guerrilla opposition made support for either side highly unlikely during the 1980s. The decisions of both sides to modify their attachment to Marxism in the face of Soviet retrenchment at the end of the 1980s removed a major obstacle to the reestablishment of closer ties with Washington. "If this had happened five years ago, we wouldn't have been involved because in the Cold War, it would have been hard to work with the Marxists," explained Cohen. "Even two years ago," he continued, "it was hard for me to work with SWAPO (South West African People's Organization)," a reference to the difficulties of dealing with a guerrilla organization that maintained a strong attachment to Marxism prior to taking power in Namibia. "The big difference now," he concluded, "is that people talk about Marxism and people laugh."(8)
The end of the Cold War was also an important reason for the new U.S. position concerning the territorial integrity of Ethiopia. During the Cold War era, when unimpeded access to a telecommunications center known as Kagnew Station and other facilities in Eritrea guided U.S. foreign policy toward Ethiopia, support within the national security bureaucracies for the territorial status quo remained virtually unquestioned.(9) It was greatly feared that an independent Eritrea would terminate access to what at the time was considered to be one of the most valuable U.S. telecommunications centers in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. With the decline of the Cold War, the bureaucratic justifications for Ethiopia's territorial integrity no longer rang true. Although portions of the national security bureaucracies, such as the CIA and, to a lesser extent, the Pentagon questioned whether an independent Eritrea would be financially insolvent and potentially susceptible to manipulation by "radical" foreign powers (such as Libya), the Africa Bureau successfully argued for a policy that supported the pursuit of self-determination through legal means. This position was based on the simple facts that the EPLF, which had been fighting for Eritrean independence for over thirty years, militarily controlled the entire region, and that the TPLF, although in favor of maintaining the territorial integrity of the country, was willing to recognize Eritrean independence if a majority of the population in the territory truly desired that.
An equally important aspect of the proactive U.S. response was the episodic involvement of the highest levels of the U.S. policymaking establishment, including President Bush, despite the fact that the White House never perceived the unfolding events in Ethiopia as constituting a crisis in the Cold War mold. For example, the need to create an orderly transfer of power in Ethiopia captured the attention of the White House when it became clear that a humanitarian disaster on a par with the 1983-85 Ethiopian famine was imminent. Already faced with a domestic uproar over the plight of Iraq's Kurdish population--a group for whom no domestic constituency existed--the White House sought to avoid the public criticism that resulted from the Reagan administration's slow response to alleviating starvation in Ethiopia. An integral aspect of this approach was a political calculation that domestic demands for higher levels of humanitarian aid to Ethiopia, already annually topping $150 million since 1984, would multiply dramatically in the event of ongoing civil war and bloodshed in a post-Mengistu era.(10)
The delicate process associated with the emigration of Ethiopia's Falashas, approximately 14,000 of whom found themselves stranded in Addis Ababa while awaiting departure for Israel, served as an even more important reason for White House involvement in the policymaking process.(11) The White House began paying greater attention to this issue not only because of ongoing congressional concerns with the Mengistu regime's practice of trading visas for arms, but also due to a private appeal to President Bush from Israeli …