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On 06 February 2007, by order of then-President George W. Bush, the Department of Defense established United States Africa Command. The creation of Africa Command is due in large part to the increased significance of the African continent to the national security strategy of the United States of America. Two important areas related to Africa’s significance come into question when dealing with the current situation in Eritrea.
The first relates to the relative fragility of the Eritrean state. Within the 2002 National Security Strategy of the United States of America, it states that “weak states can pose as great a danger to our national interests as strong states. Poverty does not make poor people into terrorists and murderers. Yet poverty, weak institutions, and corruption can make weak states vulnerable.”
The document’s assertion also applies to the Horn of Africa nation, Eritrea. Eritrea’s poor governance, and external aggression and competing border claims with Ethiopia may lead to the same ends of a failed state and humanitarian disaster, outlined by then-President Bush. The second area of the United States’ strategic interest as it pertains to Africa and more importantly Eritrea remains the humanitarian concern for the devastating toll that protracted conflict, poverty, famine, and disease continues to play on the well being of the African continent and more specifically on the Eritrean state. Eritrea continues to struggle with significant internal developmental issues.
The country’s authoritarian government, under the rule of President Isaias Afwerki, has essentially closed the borders to any and all outside influences. Under United States’ strategy “the path of political and economic freedom presents the surest route to progress” but in Eritrea, that progress has been stymied in a call to militarize in part due to a perceived Ethiopian military threat.
In examining Eritrea’s history, the country went through several stages and decades of struggle in order to gain its independence. Formerly a part of neighboring Ethiopia’s federation through a UN Mandate in the 1950s, Eritrea’s independence would be finally re-instated not until about four decades later. The conflict with Ethiopia can be regarded as critical to Eritrea’s own development especially as the latter would implement means to maintain autonomy after its independence in 1993, following a long period of war with the former. In addition to this, Eritrea has also had strained relations with its neighboring nations due to long standing issues such as border demarcation and other disputes.
Interestingly, although it seems that Eritrea’s independence and its continues pursuit of its own economic and political soundness, the country has remained critically in conflict with Ethiopia. A few years after its independence from Ethiopia, in 1998, the countries got involved in another border-related war. Despite the third party attempts to maintain the peace, initiatives such as the United Nations’ peace keeping operations, an international commission, and the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission still failed to establish the peace between the two nations.
Such events can be regarded to contribute to Eritrea’s other struggles, particularly in terms of its economic performance. Even though militarization cannot be considered as a sound response to the eminent threats Eritrea continues to face, militarization seems to be a likely solution in order to protect itself. As can be seen in the US government’s approach to Eritrea’s situation, under the presidency of George W. Bush, it can be gathered that the country had been identified as a form of threat not only in terms of the security in the Horn of Africa but also, potentially, in Eritrea’s alleged role in being a breeding ground of terrorists.
It is interesting to examine the Africa Command especially as how this assesses Eritrea in the context of security and militarization in the economic framework. Due to the country’s long history of conflict and dispute, it is already a given that Eritrea has been struggling economically as the county had not maximized its potential. Moreover, resources-wise, the authoritarian regime would mean that there would be greater control in the flow and distribution of goods; as Eritrea has been considered to getting more and more isolated for the purpose of protection and greater internal control, the concerns of nations such as the United States is that Eritrea could possibly become a breeding ground for terrorism.
Militarization and the economy can be regarded to be more evident in Africa like the diamond wars in the East Coast, and in the case of Eritrea, the militarization may be due to its protectionist intentions in which economic components such as money and goods would serve tools that could further finance more conflict and more wars. In addition, the militarization of the economy can worsen the social conditions in the country where in the end it is the people who end up suffering. In addition, in the global context, Eritrea’s position as a possible threat due to allegations of terrorism sponsorship can further push the country and worsen its current situation.
At this point, the American expressed concerns of the United States over the Horn of Africa and Eritrea echoes how militarization does not only pose a threat to national and regional security but also, a weak nation may fall under certain regimes and influences that may have a greater global impact. This therefore does not only raise the issue in Eritrea specifically as to how the country remains undeveloped and critically on the road to militarization, but also how such conditions can be deemed similar among many underdeveloped nations that rely on military activities as a source of national and economic strength.
In a sense, it can be gathered that Eritrea’s situation demonstrates a Catch-22 in which both security and economic factors seem to have caught the country in a web that creates a strong sense of threat in the region. At this point, as Eritrea is in a defensive stance, its sense of isolation that is supposed to protect the country creates more conflict among internal groups in addition to its current disputes with other nations such as Ethiopia and Yemen. Economically, the lack of activity, development and the increasing impoverished situation may lead to further internal conflict in which any economic activity may just lead to the hoarding of goods for the wrong the purposes despite its security impact such as the trading of weapons to be used for more wars and terrorism, in addition to internal unrest due to the misallocation of resources. Militarization, therefore, becomes an immediate solution for survival but in the long run, Eritrea may be digging its own grave.
An examination of such developments is presented by several literatures especially in the aspect of the militarization of the economy. Signs of nationalist stances — as represented by greater economic activity as a means to establish “self-reliance” — can be destructed by the lack of economic sustainability. In Eritrea’s case, the growing problem is that since the country has had problems to rise economically, much has been depended on the remittances sent by Eritreans in other parts of the world. Again, these remittances, which have been fuelling the economy for years, have so far benefited the government thereby outside money has been used to maintain power and not to address the dire situation Eritrea has been experiencing.
At this point Eritrea represents a nation that has fallen victim to the strengths of its neighboring nations, and that the country’s current stand on its situation represent a more focused strategy through defense allocation. Eritrea has been under threat for several decades, and the impact has been both external and internal. Internally, Eritrea has been suffering economically and socially, with the country subject to authoritarian regime that has prevented the country from receiving substantial help from international organizations and countries that would enable Eritrea to get itself on track. As a result, poverty in Eritrea is prevalent.
Externally, in addition to its disputes, Eritrea further contributes to the conflict that has been present in the Horn of Africa. For instance, its conflict with Ethiopia has been identified as influential to the problems in Somalia, mostly due to Eritrea’s influence to encourage anti-Ethiopia groups in Somalia and even inside Ethiopia.
What highlights the situation is the fact that conflict dynamics in this case has had a strong political and autonomous influence which has created a sphere of implications that further make Eritrea a critical component in the security web in the Horn of Africa. This is an interesting factor because of Eritrea’s economic and political position, but apparently, its militarization has further put Eritrea in the list of one of the country’s to watch as a potential source of regional and even global security threat. This also shows that, similar to the Richardson’s model of arms races, Eritrea demonstrates that the militarization is due to the military burdens the country has been experiencing that even its economy and development have been put to sacrifice.