Defense Forces Day: Perfect Accolade To Our Revered Institution.

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Defense Forces Day: Perfect Accolade To Our Revered Institution.





Ezana Sehay Feb 08, 2013

I have always believed and I believe more now than ever before, that our defense personnel are our best citizens – not just today, every day. Their performance, their attitude, their professionalism, their duty represents the very best in them and the very best in the people of Ethiopia that exude the aura of bravery and compassion.

Our military has shown the world its unique form of war fighting, which include a rare ability to build trust in its area of operation. It has proven to be highly skilled and properly equipped [emotionally] breed, which defends its nation and safeguard the security of other. Our soldiers are respected around the globe for their battle hardened professionalism, innovative application of counter-insurgency doctrine and holding their nerve during testing times. Consequently, Ethiopia has acquired a reputation for having the best army in Africa, and one of the best in the world.

Evidently, these gallant men and women members of the armed forces are everywhere: playing a crucial role like the joker [wild-card] in a card game. Thus acquiring an endearing reputation and recognition by Ethiopians and fellow Africans alike

Outside its borders: our army’s globetrotting peace keeping is well recognized and appreciated by the international community. As Per- it being one of the founding and prominent members of IGAD and the Peace and Security Council of the African Union, Ethiopia is contributing more than its share to maintain peace in the continent. In places like Rwanda, Burundi, Liberia, Sudan and south Sudan, our brave soldiers have played and are still playing an exemplary role of peace keeping and building harmony among the indigenous communities.

Invariably, by understanding its relative strong position and clout, Ethiopia has gone a long way toward simultaneously safeguarding its own interest and serving as a responsible and powerful local anchor of safety in the troubled horn of Africa as well.

In the domestic front: our military is demonstrating its sense of vocation by, not only buffering the border but also contributing to the overall social safety schemes by actively assisting farmers; collecting harvest, building schools, clinics and roads. Thus earning the title, deservingly, a genuine people’s army. Thanks to the vigor of our defense forces, Ethiopia is enjoying an era of relative peace and security more than any other time in its modern history.

Needless to say, Ethiopians are mindful, that the current peace and security should not render our military any less important; its preponderance should not be confined to war time only. War or peace our military deserves our constant admiration and attention.

The doctrine of national defense:

The conventional objective of any country’s defense policy is self explanatory; protection of national sovereignty, territorial integrity, national security and maintain stability. But, over the years, as the nature and scope of threats evolve so does the role and sphere of operation of the department of defense.

The source of threat could be a state, non-state or domestic actors. The threats could be in the form of direct military confrontation, terrorism, economic sabotage or cyber war. In the last 22 years, Ethiopia has experienced a multitude of menaces which fit in to the aforementioned categories.

Till now though, thanks to government’s pragmatic foreign policy and our military’s gallantry the country has managed to eliminate any perils our adversaries posed. Nevertheless, the Horn still remains a nest for anti-Ethiopian vipers. That is why the Ethiopian people are amplifying calls for more focus in to our defense forces.

The government’s positive role:

  • Thanks to the EPRDF government Ethiopia commands one of the best disciplined army; well trained in tactical, conventional and guerilla tactics. It deserves full credit for creating such indomitable and venerable force; for honing, inoculating it with populist ideology and making it a perfect embodiment of the liberation army [EPRDF fighters]
  • The government should be applauded for laying the foundation, for the role of the military in a democratic society; making it non-politically affiliated whose loyalty is to the constitution only.
  • The Civilian control of the executive body of the military.
  • Making the Disposition of the armed forces an executive prerogative of the parliament.
  • Creating the Ethiopian Metal and Engineering Corporation [MetEC]: which is doing excellent job in; research and development, refurbishing old armaments and vehicles, and upgrading existing weapons.
  • Establishing Africa’s West Point.

    Unfortunately, there is another side to this story. The EPRDF government has a track record of abandoning its army in peace times. I am afraid there still lays an albatross of neglect. There are multitudinous areas where the government is failing our military, but I will dwell on one which I think is fundamental and encompasses other underpinning variants.

    The defense budget

    By all accounts, our defense sector is underfunded, undermanned and under sourced. This despite conventional wisdom which advocates for more allocation. The country may be stable and peace full at the moment, but that doesn’t mean there are no threats. There are signs that indicate the aspiration of our enemies is not extinguished. To the contrary, they are resurfacing in the form of “unofficial” or” unsanctioned” veiled threats against our rights to build dams along the river Nile. I am of course talking about our Egyptian brothers.

    Recently I come across a piece of information that, I admit have influenced my view on this article’s motto. In the Jan. 17, blog of The Times of Israel is a piece written by Ahmad Hashemi, a former employee of the Iranian foreign ministry as a Turkish translator; who among other things disclosed a “confidential” meeting between the head of Iran’s highly regarded military force and Isayas Afeworki, the Eritrean president, in May 20, 1998, days after isayas’s foray in to Ethiopia. The aim of the rendezvous, according to the official was to boost the military ties between the two countries.

    From Ethiopians perspective this is not entirely new information but, it confirms what we have always suspected. Egypt’s active involvement in the 1998 Ethio-Eritrean conflict is well documented. However, the role of the Iranians was clouded and supposition, at least to the public. So what does the new info tell us? Well, - loquitur prose ipsa - although Egypt and Iran don’t see eye to eye on a lot of other issues, when it comes to Ethiopia, they ostensibly have managed to form a common front.

    Iran’s political attitude and military activity in the Red sea area has been a constant source of intrigue for many observers. But there shouldn’t be any ambiguity now. Its recent naval presence on the shore of Eritrea should be seen in the larger picture of the continuation of that alliance with the Isayas regime, not a sudden impromptu gesture.

    From its base in Eritrea Iran is engaged in destabilizing Yemen. And don’t forget the cordial and military alliance with Al Basher’s Sudan. Sure, Sudan is in good terms with us, but, that doesn’t mean it is not susceptible to persuasion by our adversaries. I am not alleging these two countries [Egypt and Iran] will start a fight any time soon. But they wouldn’t hesitate to destabilize our country or the whole region through their proxies.

    That is why, I think the government needs to redirect its strategic objective; recognize and refocus on potentially larger and more potent adversaries in mind.

    Factors that facilitate a winning army are: training, discipline, strength in number, military strategy, intelligence, surveillance and quality of arsenal. All these are dependent on adequate expenditure and procurement. Unfortunately, the Ethiopian defense budget is a meager $450 million dollars, or <1.2%, of GDP; one of the lowest military expenditures in the world. That falls far short of reflecting the nation’s military strategy.

    Such insufficient military budget is impacting the country’s capability in two ways, namely its volumetric and arsenal capacity.

    Volumetric capacity: according to the latest Global Fire Power.com, data, Ethiopia has about 185,000, military personnel. Ethiopia is a big country not merely in terms of geographic and demographic size but also in terms of its influence. It has a population of almost 90 million, porous borders and is under constant threat from foreigners. In other words it is a particularly challenging country to secure.

    Consquently, one can extrapolate dangerous consequences of such scanty standing army might have on the institution charged with national security. Our leaders need to do a better job of discerning; their most important obligation is the security of the country, its sovereignty, safety and wellbeing of its citizens.

    That means, the country’s defense forces need adequate man power capacity to fulfill those responsibilities. True, thanks to its tremendous resolve, so far, our army has been able to defeat all adversaries in head to head combat. In other words, that responsibility of the defense of the nation is fulfilled through a commitment by the armed forces personnel to serve the national security interest. But, those same defense personnel also incur significant obligations to the state. On way of reciprocating the sacrifices of our military personnel is by reinforcing [augmenting] their manpower capacity instead of downsizing. To effectively surveil our borders as well as detect and when necessary engage would be interlopers require much more than the current volume of personnel.

    In such reality, it is an axiomatic Ethiopia needs a much larger or pro rata army than it currently has. Stream lining and skimping the defense sector, at this time is perplexed to say the least. Keep in mind, having a bigger army and flexing muscle [I don’t mean aggression but simply demonstrating], conveys an image of strength and keeps our enemies within the orbit. The aim would be to render our enemies aggression – riskier and costly.

    We shouldn’t forget our regional responsibilities too. We are bound by both treaties and honor to pull our weight in defending the whole region. The government has exceptionally well in creating trust and amicable relationships with our neighbors. We have become interlinked both politically and economically and so, Ethiopia has a vital national interest in the stability of the region.

    Nevertheless, The Horn of Africa is dangerous and shatterbelt geography. Terrorism is alive and well, humanitarian and natural disasters are constant feature of the neighborhood. We don’t know when our military will be called upon next, or what they will be asked to do. Therefore, regional security and stability should be one of the main spurs for our military modernization.

    Arsenal capacity: of course, strength in number in itself shouldn’t be considered an advantage. It has to be paired with hardware: advanced weapons, that will lessen the burden on our infantry, defensive weapons technology, air power and transportation that will enhance in rapid deployment or national and trans- regional mobility.

    The government will have you believe, that the Ethiopian army is well equipped with modern hardware. The fact of the matter is, Ethiopia is not a manufacturer [doesn’t make its own armaments]. That means, whatever advanced weapons the government alludes to, our adversaries have them - a lot more of them. According to the Global Fire Power data: Ethiopia’s fire power capacity is miniscule compared to what our potential adversaries’ [the likes of Egypt] posses.

    So, the sixty four thousand dollar question is; what possible reason could there be influencing the government to undermining the precedence of strengthening the army? Is it economy? Or is it still listening to the ill advises of the West?

    In the current Ethiopian reality, Economic progress and military strength are not contradictory rather complement each other. i.e., economic impetus without the power to shield it is fruit less. Regardless, the reality of national security supersedes the argument “guns verses butter”. We are in a state of undeclared war and have macroeconomic projects that need to be protected at all times. Our soldiers need to be in a state of readiness and armed with the best equipment money can buy. Therefore, the focus shouldn’t be on saving money, it should be where it belongs; saving lives.

    Sovereignty means having supreme independent authority over a nation’s geographic area and as a corollary, the capability to enforce that authority. Such task is daunting given our unique logistic location. That requires having an army with the best equipment possible.

    Furthermore, the contract of unlimited liability between the soldier and the state postulates, the soldier agrees to lay his/ her life for his/her country, but expect the state to provide him/her the best tools. We shouldn’t be debating whether investment in fighter jets, tanks, choppers, and armored vehicles is worth it. Our soldiers need them, we should supply them.

    So long as our region continue to be in a state of Manichaean struggle, we shouldn’t shy away from building up our military capacity and The government should take mantle the people’s tacit desire for modernized military machine.

    Ethiopia has survived in this rough neighborhood for three millennia by convincing would be adversaries, that unprovoked attack would be met with far more powerful counter attack. In other words, when we fail to demonstrate that principle is when we become susceptible to aggression. Vivid examples are: the 1998, Eritrean aggression and the UIC, Al-Shebab threat [2006-2012].In both cases, Ethiopia found itself with no choice but fight back. That is to say, Ethiopia was forced in to a war of necessity not a war of choice.

    Under such circumstances, I feel a nation should take up arms without fail or compunction, if by undergoing the first it has a reasonable hope of avoiding the second. I think failing to go to war for the right reason is as big an error as going to war for the wrong reason. But if there is a right reason other than a country’s security and sovereignty, I can’t think of any.

    Hence, the government should forget, or accept the arguments suggesting that the Ethiopian army no longer needs budget increase or continue modernization. We did follow those advises and we know where it got us in to. We can’t afford to forget the lessons learned then.

    In light of this, nickeling and dimming ourselves into the pre 1998 status of reduced military personnel and budget cut will exact too high a price. Putting the armed forces in to the back burner means not only death on the battle field, but also, put at risk our national security, economic achievement, regional reputation, and international standing. A cost no Ethiopian or the Ethiopian government should be willing to pay.

    Happy defense forces day!


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