Regional Security Cooperation in Ethiopia


The maintenance of peace and security is one of the crucial goals for all nations around the globe. Regarding their past experiences, mistakes, and achievements, the governments of many developed and developing countries underline the importance of security cooperation in regional organizations. After the Cold War and World War II in European countries and decolonization in the US and African regions, the promotion of security concepts has become the reason for the establishment of peace missions. In Africa, the United Nations is involved in horizontal relationships with many peacekeeping bodies and strengthens its capabilities for monitoring and control. In addition, US support in Ethiopia gains new forms of cooperation, including opening new borders, political prisoners freeing, and media restriction lifting. In this paper, Ethiopia’s military capabilities and the stability of its government will be analyzed with respect to regional security cooperation. The Ambassador to Ethiopia addresses an analyst of the Department of Ethiopia at the Africa Desk to encourage increased cooperation in the region. The impact of the United States and the United Nations’ involvement in Ethiopia and its security remains significant at local, national, and regional levels of politics.

Military Capabilities Background

In Ethiopia, the main military body is the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) that is administrated by the Ministry of Defense. According to the Global Fire Power (GFP) review, the country is ranked 60 of 138 as per its defense strengths in 2020. Although these numbers do not make the nation a leader in its military capabilities, attention should be paid to its history and development under multiple wars, rebellions, and international conflicts. During the last decade, Ethiopia underwent a number of restructuring processes, especially in its security sector. As soon as changes were analyzed and adopted, the government faced new military threats and security needs. However, current military capabilities have to be regarded through the prism of past military regimes and interventions.

In fact, the history of the country can be divided into two major periods: imperial and military. After the end of the Italian occupation in the middle of the 20th century, Emperor Haile Selassie I supported the idea of the creation of a strong centralized army in order to promote the imperial regime. Traditional methods was removed, and national control was established at the expense of economic or social improvements. The United Nations organized a number of peacekeeping missions, and the Ethiopian leaders were sure that their participation was integral for the development of international relationships and national security. At the early stages of this regime, the initial goal of the army was invasion and restoration, but with time, the defense of the throne at any cost became the only mission that caused concerns and public discontent. The outcomes were the Ethiopian Revolution of 1974, the replacement of the government, and the introduction of military rule.

The capabilities of the military were significantly improved in terms of national governance between 1974 and 1991. The size of the army was enlarged, as well as its technical capabilities and foreign military assistance. With a total population of about 108,000,000, available manpower of the country is about 41,000,000 (approximately 38%) and active personnel is 162,000. According to the latest reports, the Ethiopian army possesses 400 tanks, 114 armored vehicles, and 183 rocket projectors. These numbers are twice bigger as they were at the beginning of the 21st century. Although the major changes have already been made, the armed forces of the country continue undergoing, and the ENDF finds it necessary to build coalitions with local guerilla armies. However, certain shortages in its military position cannot be ignored in the analysis. The findings by the World Peace Foundation show that Ethiopia does not have a properly organized military doctrine, which makes the country dependent on foreign military advisors and weak in the eyes of the civilian population. Due to the lack of military budget, many resources are spent on strengthening the economic situation and predicting military spending.

Government Stability

To understand if Ethiopia gains benefits or experiences losses as a result of regional security cooperation, the evaluation of its governmental stability is required. It is the Federal Democratic Republic in the Horn of Africa, with Sahle-Work Zewde as the President and Abiy Ahmed Ali as the Prime Minister. Although the President is the head of the state, she gains more ceremonial powers, compared to the Prime Minister, who is the actual head of the government. The President is elected for six-year terms, and the Prime Minister does not have specific term limitations. However, during the last several years, the current Prime Minister considers the necessity to limit the terms of this position up to two because Ethiopia grows fast, and it is not appropriate for few individuals only to remain in office for long. In the African region, Ethiopia is known as one of the oldest independent states that were colonized once in its history, by the Italians. The Constitution was adopted in 1995, uniting nine National Regional States. It is the main document that has to be addressed in case some political, economic, or social changes are required.

Abiy Ahmed Ali was appointed to the position of the Prime Minister of Ethiopia in 2018. Although the country was not in its best form due to its security and humanitarian crises, this 42-year-old reformist demonstrated rather strong intentions to promote the success and prosperity of the country. The main challenges could not be neglected, including the existing ethnic conflicts, violent behaviors, and concerns about freedom restrictions. However, Abiy’s ruling is associated with optimism and hopes for a better future with time. The Prime Minister introduced commissions to solve the administrative border problems, improved the martial law, released political prisoners, and established peace with Eritrea, the African country with which Ethiopia was in the cold war for years. His rise of power was not imposed but supported by the locals. Today, this person is associated with new hope for Ethiopia’s long-term stability. The sense of responsibility and respect are the main characteristics of the Ethiopian government. The role of Abiy has to be underlined because his actions and decisions prove the stability of the government and the possibility of the country continuing its growth at the global level.

US Support in Regional Security Cooperation

The concept of regional security was frequently applied during the period of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. During the last several centuries, many countries have become members of some regional organizations to support the idea of regional peace. Today, all countries join at least one organization to achieve their economic, environmental, or political purposes. The desire of the United States to get involved in the political or military activities of other countries causes a number of discussions abroad, but the American government never loses hope to help the nations in need. The role of the United States in international affairs is tremendous, and many African countries could gain a number of benefits from these interventions.

The relationships between the USA and Ethiopia have been changed during the last several years. Since 2018, observations show that the city of Washington is full of Ethiopians (the second-largest diaspora after Nigerians). America could support Ethiopia in a variety of ways, focusing on its political and economic influence. In addition to several attempts that were made, including preparations of the country for national elections in 2020 and redistribution of collation government power, funding for security is possible. At this moment, Ethiopia has already received about $4bn from the US government, and additional help is expected because Ethiopia remains the only not-colonized country at the formal level. Many Ethiopian democrats admit that the US impact on their visions is remarkable because people learn how to remove the authoritarian regime and promote human freedoms.

Free access to media sources can be another step forward to regional security cooperation. As soon as local citizens and the American population grasp how to exchange information and share personal experiences, new security issues will be raised and explained. Although the United States is not able to take full responsibility and give guarantees to other countries about the intentions of Ethiopians, new discussions and observations may be organized to demonstrate the quality of life in Ethiopia and identify the areas of improvement, as well as current needs of the locals. Recent achievements of conflict resolution with neighbors serve as evidence that the country takes care of its security. Today, many Ethiopians suffer from the impossibility of setting clear regulations for water access. As a result, the water and sanitation crisis remains the two major problems, and the United States could evaluate its opportunity to help women and children reduce their walking-to-collect-water hours by providing technologies and experts in the field.

The Role of the United Nations in Ethiopia

Regional security governance may be an independent aspect for consideration in the country or a connection with other settlement agreements. In the case of international arrangements, the role of the United Nations cannot be ignored that this organization aims at maintaining peace and security internationally and helping other countries to develop friendly relationships. According to Franke, the United Nations is at the center of world political affairs, and, regarding all treaties, any country is allowed to start a military intervention without the approval of this organization. Being responsible for the decisions of other countries to begin a conflict or a war, the United Nations does not have its military force and stays dependent on the contributions of its participants and stakeholders. In Ethiopia, the United Nations already had the mission to stabilize the conflict with Eritrea, and its task was to monitor the ceasefire on the borders. In addition, the main directions of the United Nations’ work include economic growth and the delivery of sustainable development goals.

The role of the United States in Ethiopia depends on how well the country manages its military force and allows using external resources. However, in the majority of cases, the needs of the population are basic, including sanitation, energy, equality, and employment. Regional security was never a direct goal of the United Nations in Ethiopia, and its representatives continue talking about data management, climate control, gender equality, refugee affairs, industrial development, and humanitarian purposes. In addition, the United Nations support the country in terms of its education system and the opportunities young people could get nationally or internationally. Focusing on the particular demands of the population, Ethiopia is not always ready to demonstrate its support for regional security cooperation, and the task of the United Nations is to educate and give clear examples of how this step could influence overall progress.

Finally, the potential role of the United Nations as an international military force in Ethiopia is closely connected to the idea of peacemaking. Using its powers, the representatives of the United Nations should promote reconciliation in the region and maintain a ceasefire. In the example of the Ethiopia-Eritrea conflict, the participation of the United Nations in resolving conflict was minimal. Still, it was a serious backup for Ethiopian leaders to start a dialogue with the neighbor. Despite the fact that the number of tanks and military vehicles is not high for a country with such a population, there are always opportunities to get involved in conflict or provoke genocide. Living conditions for Ethiopians are characterized by certain challenges, and the task of the United Nations is to assess the current situation in the country and predict the worst development of the events.

Goals to Support Justification for Increased US Involvement

During the last several years, Ethiopia remains one of the most effective American partners in the African region. First diplomatic relationships in such areas as health care, education, and security were established at the beginning of the 1900s. After the Imperial rule in the country, military principles with dictatorship characteristics were accepted. Then, the Revolutionary Democratic Front changed the system and created the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, where developmental democracy prioritized economic growth at the expense of political ambitions. Although the forms of the government underwent considerable changes in the country, it did not influence the ways of how Americans treat Ethiopians because much depended on the people and their intentions. These grounds should be enough to justify increased US involvement in Ethiopian security affairs and cooperation at local, national, and regional levels.

The goals that could be achieved from US-Ethiopian relationships depend on the current leaders of the countries. However, in general, there are several social, economic, and political aspects for consideration. The protection of American and Ethiopian citizens is a primary goal of this cooperation. Secondly, the United States could share its experience in expanding human rights and freedoms to improve the quality of life and reduce the impact of military interventions. Ethiopians should learn how to deliver basic services and underline the role of media and justice in human relationships. Although these two purposes seem to have nothing in common with regional security and the military sphere, they cannot be ignored because they help to stabilize the mood of the population. The next goal is the promotion of peace and security not only in Ethiopia but on the whole Horn of Africa. Ethiopia’s military power and population size make the country one of the regional leaders in security policies and initiatives. As soon as the US government achieves trustful relationships with one country, similar influence could be spread in other regional nations.

Theories to Support Ambassador’s Request

The establishment of international relations and regional security is a mutual goal for many countries; however, it is normal for every government to follow its own theoretical orientations and principles. In Ethiopia, as well as the United States, the concepts of democracy and human freedoms are frequently promoted to improve the quality of life and achieve peace, either nationally or internationally. The theory of structural liberalism seems to be appropriate for both countries to support the idea of regional security cooperation. Its main idea is the creation of a platform for communication, representation, and access. Communication is one of the crucial steps for nations to explain what they want, how and why they behave the way they do, and what they expect from other countries. In other words, as soon as a country and its government realize how they want to be represented globally, they use communication as a means to achieve their goals. Therefore, structural liberalism can be applied to support the ambassador’s request for increased regional security cooperation between Ethiopia and the United States in terms of managing not just preventing problems.

The theory of hegemonic stability is also commonly discussed in terms of international relationships and peaceful agreements between several countries. Hegemonic principles are used to represent an individual or a whole country as a peacemaker who is able to ensure a balance between nations. Despite the already existing regulations and peaceful treaties, security remains poorly managed even in developed countries. Therefore, the maximization of power (promoted by the hegemonic theory) is one of the available steps for Ethiopia with the help of the United States. At the same time, alliance theory in international relations must be followed because it helps to keep a balance between the countries and gain mutual benefits from cooperation. Following these main theoretical aspects, the United States can never lose its leading position, and Ethiopia receives a partner for support in the international arena.

Impact of Local, National, and Regional Politics

The idea of promoting peace and security in Ethiopia by means of US involvement and support has a number of benefits. Still, the Ambassador to Ethiopia and other stakeholders should understand that any change or improvement in the country requires certain steps in local, national, and regional politics. Besides, the factor of competition has to be recognized because other African countries may be interested in the promotion of regional security cooperation, relying on other alliances. At this moment, four main aspects have to be identified and assessed:

  • Local Politics: Prime Minister Abiy is interested in the development of friendly relationships with other countries, without neglecting his direct responsibilities for economic development and humanitarian support. He declared freedom of speech and the press and distinguished world leaders for further diplomatic ties. The current situation in Ethiopia is favorable for the promotion of security cooperation with the United States and the United Nations.
  • National Politics: The recently achieved peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea contributes to the creation of a positive image of the nation in the global political arena. At the same time, the lack of resources among the population, the necessity to stabilize commodities, and poor hygiene regulations may play a negative role in regional security cooperation. However, this impact has to be admitted in the report because the United States has to understand what beliefs, principles, and standards are followed by its potential partner.
  • Regional Politics: Ethiopia was involved in several military interventions on the basis of the Islamist threat in Somalia. Such a step to regulate the conflict introduces the country as an influential player in the Horn of Africa to solve regional security problems. Several decades ago, not many regional states were able to take on responsibility for security and peace. The governments of Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania prefer to follow the principles of isolation, providing Ethiopia with a chance to demonstrate its political potential in national politics.
  • Competition: The factor of competition has to be identified in this discussion because many African countries want to obtain American support and protection. However, the threat of competitors is minimal for Ethiopia because the US government considers Ethiopia as a good option for cooperation due to the lack of colonized impact and dependence on other nations. The competitiveness of Ethiopia in front of other countries in the Horn of Africa is high due to the intentions of the Prime Minister to restore security forces.


In general, the request from the Ambassador to Ethiopia to support regional security cooperation in that nation has a number of strong grounds and benefits. The country was involved in several military conflicts, but all of them were terminated because of the United Nations’ interventions and properly organized local politics. At this moment, Ethiopia gains leading positions in the Horn of Africa, and its neighbors respect the chosen economic and political policies. The United States has enough reasons to increase security power in Ethiopia, relying on its past relationships, recent social changes, and humanitarian potential.


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