THE STRATEGIC IMPORTANCE OF SETTLING THE ERITREA-ETHIOPIA
By The Sub Saharan Monitor Staff (Special to the site)
Seven years after independence, Eritrea and Ethiopia were once again at war,
fighting over Ethiopia's claims to sovereign Eritrean territory. Two years
later, after more than 100,000 people died, the two countries signed a peace
agreement in Algiers that established a United Nations commission to determine
the legal border between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Both countries agreed that the
findings of the commission would be "final and binding" and that the
commission's rulings would have the force of law, respected in the same way as
any international treaty would be.
Representative Edward Royce (R-California), the chairman of the subcommittee on
Africa in the U.S. House of Representatives, said at a congressional hearing
last October: "The commission represents the rule of law, which must be
backed if this and Africa's so many other conflicts are to be resolved"
(see full context of testimony).
The government of Ethiopia has persistently rejected the rulings of the
Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission despite its clear promise to accept them.
At that same subcommittee hearing, Congressman Donald Payne (D-New Jersey)
observed that "Ethiopian authorities continue to obstruct, delay, and
frustrate implementation of the Border Commission's decision."
Unfortunately, the chronic, nagging problem of Ethiopia's refusal to obey
international law and allow the border to be properly demarcated has distracted
both Eritrea and Ethiopia from playing their full and appropriate roles in the
war on terrorism.
The United Nations, the European Union, and other international organizations
have expressed their support for a rapid settlement of the border dispute
between our countries. There is precedent, too: A longstanding boundary dispute
between Qatar and Bahrain was settled through international legal action in 2001.
The Bush administration stated earlier this year:
"Both Ethiopia and Eritrea agreed to accept unequivocally the Eritrea
Ethiopia Boundary Commission's decision as final and binding. The United States
expects each government to uphold its commitment to abide by this agreement.
The United States urges both parties to implement the Eritrea Ethiopia Boundary
Commission's decision peacefully, fully and without delay" (see "Ethiopia-Eritrea
Boundary Issue," U.S. Department of State, January 21, 2004).
Eritrea has always insisted on the validity and integrity of the Algiers
Accords, and has always stated unequivocally that Asmara would accept the
Boundary Commission's decisions.
As noted in a recent speech by the Eritrean Ambassador to Washington, Eritrea
wishes to fulfill its role as a partner in the war on terror (see "Eritrean Ambassador Pledges His Country's Support in Global
Terror War"). That country's strategic location, on the Red Sea
across from the Arabian Peninsula, in a dangerous "neighborhood" that
includes Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen, makes it both vulnerable to attack and
useful for anti-terrorist operations by the United States and other allies.
Foreign policy analyst Jonathan Schanzer of the Washington Institute for Near
East Policy explained at a conference on African strategic issues in April:
"It is easy to move between the Gulf States and East Africa and the Horn
by air and sea. The lengthy coastline from Eritrea to Tanzania is poorly
monitored. The borders between these states are porous... . Nearly all of the
international terrorism in the region has links to Islamic groups" (see
"Leave No Continent Behind: U.S. National Security Interests in
Africa." American Enterprise Institute, April 13, 2004).
This situation is fearsome and unacceptable, but as long as their own borders
are not secure, Eritrea and Ethiopia are unable to give their full, undivided
attention to global and regional responsibilities.
In a recent "Dear
Colleague" letter addressed to every member of the House of
Representatives, Representative Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) urged swift passage of
HR 2760, the "Resolution of the Ethiopia-Eritrea Border Dispute Act,"
introduced last year by Representatives Tom Lantos (D-California) and Donald
Payne, with several other cosponsors.
The United States needs to offer more than mere rhetorical support in this
seemingly parochial boundary dispute. Further delays in demarcation are
unacceptable. Peace and stability require nothing less.