The Challenges of the Horn


(MoFA 03/20/09):-Today", says Henry Kissinger in a book he wrote in 2001 (Does America Need a Foreign Policy?), "the Westphalian order is in systemic crisis.  Its principles are being challenged, though an agreed alternative has yet to emerge."  Kissinger is alluding to the growing momentum in international relations involving the abandonment of the principle of noninterference in the domestic affairs of other States" in favor of a concept", as he says, "of universal humanitarian intervention or universal jurisdiction".  Kissinger points out to the potential danger, in the absence of a strong substitute as a foundation for the international order, of allowing the doctrine of sovereignty to be abandoned or undermined.  He argues, quite convincingly, that the nation-state system which was legitimized by the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 which brought the Thirty years' war to an end, grew out of the realization that "domestic rulers were less likely to be arbitrary than crusading foreign armies bent an conversion".


There have indeed been many occasions when the doctrine of sovereignty has been used as a shield to protect those who have engaged in gross violations of human rights.  Many a ruler has made use of the principle to brutalize his own people and to make a mockery of the principle.  That a remedy has to be found for this is unquestionable. The practice should never be allowed in the 21st century.  Africa has gone a long way in this regard, as the contrast between the OAU Charter and the AU Constitutive Act makes it abundantly clear.  (Those who might wish to use the current on-going debate on the ICC decision as evidence that Africa has not changed, are well advised not to insist on such a view because what in fact the ICC -Sudan saga amplifies is precisely the concern this commentary wishes to highlight.)


The point, however, is that in the absence of a viable alternative to the Westphalian order, the result of the abandonment of the principles of sovereign equality of states and nonintervention, is less security and stability, and the creation of conditions for an even greater abuse of human rights and for even greater violence against the innocent.  A total breakdown of social order is not conducive for respect of human rights, to thrive.


Turning to Kissinger, what he forgot to add, perhaps unavoidably given his philosophical leanings,  was that this readiness to abandon the underpinnings of the nation-state system is done selectively and not in any uniform manner, the classical approach being allowed to continue to be relevant to the powerful while the not so powerful are called upon to concede to the application of an approach which requires their abdication of sole responsibility over matters within their domestic jurisdiction.  In the Horn of Africa, the consequences of the readiness to abandon the Westphalian principles, is reflected in the growing tendency to ignore the damage caused by the violations of principles of international law governing inter-state relations.  This is perhaps the explanation for why Eritrea's bizarre behavior in the sub-region has not led to any strong reaction on the part of the international community.  What is so strange and why should it be a matter of great concern if Eritrea were to make a mockery of civilized behavior among states, some seem to believe.  Indeed, what is civilized behavior among states, if there are no principles that constrain states from interfering, as they wished and as their whims dictated, in the domestic affairs of other States?


This is also perhaps why it continues to be difficult for some to realize fully the extent of the danger that Ethiopia had faced more than two years ago from the threat posed by the extremists of the UIC in Somalia.

The danger was in fact real, and the fanatic leaders of the group were issuing statements every day questioning the sovereign rights of not only of Ethiopia but of other countries in the region.  These same people whose wings have now been clipped --- thanks to those who paid the ultimate price, both Somalis and Ethiopians --- were making it clear in pronouncement made repeatedly that they cared little for boundaries that separate states in our sub-region.  They had also started to act on this in practice in cahoots with the Eritrean regime.  (Incidentally, Ethiopia's view is not that boundaries should be walls that prevent contact between people, but rather that they should be respected; if they need to be changed, that be done legally and peacefully and not through resort to force). 


For Ethiopia, two years ago, the danger was palpable.  For those who operate on the basis of the conviction that the principle of nonintervention is no longer relevant in relations among states, the activities of the UIC extremists and their expansionist philosophy may not have been all that critical.  That also perhaps explains why some are prone even now to argue, talking about Somalia, that the situation in the country two years ago was much better than it is now.  From the point of view of Ethiopia, and it might be added, from that of the region as a whole, it is rather the reverse which is valid.  For Ethiopia and the region, what made the situation two years ago much more dangerous than the situation at present was the fact that two years ago what we saw was far greater propensity to violate principles of international law by those who appear now to be in a much weaker position and at least, so far, not ready to repeat those dangerous tendencies of two years ago.  But Ethiopia cannot afford to lower its guards and thus it ought to continue to be vigilant, for it is not the philosophy of those groups that has changed, but rather their estimation of what they are capable of, now.


There is indeed one intriguing issue that needs to be highlighted here.  This has to do with the paradox of the Westphalian order as it applies to the developing world such as the Horn of Africa, being assaulted not only by the advocates of humanitarian intervention, but also by those who feel religious obligations make it imperative for them to ignore state-centric responsibilities and principles and, who on this ground, defy principles of international law governing inter-state relations.  Obviously, it should not be a source of great surprise if the latter's proclivity to disregard principles of international law that govern relations among states, was to be treated by the former as a small matter that ought to elicit little concern, because, at bottom, though there is no philosophical affinity between the two, the secular bashers of  the principle of non-intervention can have no quarrel with the religious zealots who reject those same principles of international law out of what they feel is a religious calling.


This convergence of views between two entities that have other wise virtually nothing in common, and are in fact implacable and mortal enemies, has contributed to making the task of restoring peace and stability in Somalia and in the Horn of Africa, in general, exceedingly difficult.


This also raises a number of issues with respect to practical matters in connection with international cooperation for peace and stability, including in the fight against terrorism and extremism.  If principles of international law, including those relating to non-intervention and the sovereign equality of states, are not adhered to in good faith as applying to all states, small or big, how would it be possible to conceive of effective international co-operation to promote peace, stability and security in all regions of the world?


Obviously, if terrorists that try to wreak havoc in the Horn of Africa are tolerated as non-international 'insurgents', representing no danger to the developed world, and are sometimes feted in Western Capitals, it must be that much difficult to put in place the bases for an effective international co-operation for durable peace and stability.


It is often stated, and not infrequently by some people in position of authority in partner countries, that the image of their states could be tarnished by close association with countries of the Horn such as Ethiopia who have a firm and uncompromising policy toward those who defy and violate principle of international law. The underlying concern is with the possible loss of opportunity for winning the friendship and trust of even those who are otherwise known to represent a threat to regional peace and stability and to the Security of countries such as Ethiopia.  The logic is simple: as long as the so-called domestic 'insurgents' do not target us, they seem to say, there should be no reason to disqualify them as potential friends and as a sources of valuable intelligence in the fight against those who are more internationally inclined.  This is obviously based on an interpretation of what constitutes the national interest of those concerned, but conceived in the narrower sense and in a short-sighted application of the Westephalian doctrine which is now supposed not to apply at all to the less powerful. 


The Westphalian doctrine, it must be stated, has never been sufficient in laying the foundation for ensuring an all embarrassing, healthy, constructive and comprehensive interaction among nation states.  There are public goods which are so critical for the international community and for the viability of nation states and their population that co-operation among states, on the basis of advancing common interests, is obviously a must and these cannot be conceived solely in terms of calculations based on national interest and might, in fact, often require making concessions regarding those interests.  The objectives of the ICAO or WHO or ITU or other such organizations, say, in the area of climate change, can only be advanced through international co-operation and the national interest of each country requires it.  The same applies to the need to fight against extremism, and fanaticism and against those who make it their vocation to defy principles of international law governing inter-state relation.  It is a public good from the achievement of which, all benefit.  All attempts to seek special favour from those who have made it their objective to undermine regional stability and to defy principles of international law are counterproductive.  In the long term, they serve the interest of no state, big or small.  All this does not require too much sophistication to make sense of, but when it comes to the developing world such as the Horn even the least complicated become murky and often situations can arise which permit the lionization of those who deserve condemnation.  This is the challenge of the Horn of Africa