Ethiopia’s rooting of foreign policy in domestic considerations is fundamentally correct, as it shifts the priority and urgency towards solving internal challenges. By rectifying long-standing policy misdirection, the Foreign Affairs and National Security Policy and Strategy (FANSPS) transformed the country’s pillars of national security and foreign policy. Nonetheless, it was this inward-looking posture that led to an underestimation of the dangers posed by Eritrea’s animosity-based nation-building and Egypt’s long-standing support to armed rebel groups within Ethiopia, as well as a failure to appreciate the enormous and vital geopolitical, geo-economic and strategic security importance of access to the sea and port services.
Ethiopia’s sudden surge in diplomatic activity came with the 1998 Eritrean invasion and the border and diplomatic war that ensued. Until then, at the policy level, Ethiopia had been completely consumed by domestic developmental and political considerations. The 1998 war exposed the country’s vulnerability to military threats, even from a much smaller nation such as Eritrea. More importantly, it uncovered diplomatic failings arising from an inward-looking foreign policy posture; for example, until that point the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) was dismissive of concerns expressed in relation to Eritrea and the security of Ethiopia’s access to port services, and the possible encirclement of Ethiopia as a landlocked country.
In sum, an excessively inward-looking policy orientation has led to grave miscalculations and an underestimation of external threats. In all cases, balance between inward and outward looking orientation and foresight are essential considerations in the allocation of resources to predict, prevent or respond to identified threats; and proportionality provide adequate attention to external threats and opportunities.
As it did in initiatives such as NEPAD, AMISOM, UNISFA and the South Sudan talks, Ethiopia could lead the way in many regional and global forums. For example, as Ethiopia is one of the largest host, origin, and transit countries to refugees and one of main countries of origin for irregular migration (as well as a transit for significant onward migration), a leadership role in governing migration would be greatly welcomed by regional and global actors.
Mehari Taddele Maru is a specialist in international human rights and humanitarian law, an international consultant on African Union affairs, and an expert in Public Administration and Management.
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