Six months ago, I predicted that Eritrea was on its way to becoming the newest pariah state on the international scene. Later today, that status may be officially confirmed as join the ranks of Sudan, North Korea, and Iran when the Security Council votes on a sanctions resolution on Eritrea and its political leadership. How did it come to this? I’ll refer back to my original post.
It all began in 2000, when Eritrea and Ethiopia, exhausted from war, decided to end their bloody border dispute by submitting to international arbitration. When the arbiters in the Hague handed down their ruling, they awarded the key disputed territory to Eritrea. End of story, right? Wrong. Ethiopia simply refused to withdraw and a stalemate ensued.
A changing international scene did not help things. The Clinton administration was instrumental in forging the original settlement between Ethiopia and Eritrea. But by the time of the arbitration ruling, September 11 had already occurred and the Bush administration was focused on leveraging the support of Ethiopia on terrorism issues in the Horn of Africa. Accordingly, the United States was reluctant to press Ethiopia to abide by the ruling.
From an Eritrean perspective, you can see how this might be unsettling. Asmara had agreed to binding international arbitration, but the international community was apparently unwilling to enforce the ruling. Caught in the middle were a few thousand UN Peacekeepers along the border, acting as a buffer between the two armies.
As Eritrea’s understandable frustration with the international community grew, Asmara began to lash out in patently unhelpful ways. It kicked out UN Peacekeepers by blocking their shipments of petrol and food; made threatening statements aganst top American officials; attacked neighboring Djibouti; and supported a faction opposed to the internationally-backed Transitional Federal Government of Somalia.
This latter point is particularly troubling, as the insurgent group in question is Al Shabaab, a State Department-designated terrorist organization that routinely threatens aid workers and has conducted suicide bombings against the African Union and United Nations.
Will the sanctions help bring Eritrea back into the international fold? I’m not sure. But I am certain that the sanctions are a useful as a punitive measure to demonstrate that there are consequences for this kind of irresponsible behavior.
For more on the political dyanmics behind this sanctions resolution check out the always-helpful Security Council Report.
UPDATE: At a press stakeout a few moments ago, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice explained the U.S. position on the sanctions resolution, which just passed 13-1 (with Libya voting “no” and China abstaining.)
Thirdly, I want to talk about the resolution we just adopted imposing sanctions on Eritrea. This was an African initiative. It was the consequence of a decision taken by the African Union. It was consistent with a prior resolution passed by this Council, 1862, that demanded prompt action by Eritrea with respect to Djibouti. Nearly a year later, that action has not been forthcoming. The Council acted today, not hastily, not aggressively, but with the aim quite sincerely of encouraging Eritrea to do as this Council and so many of its members have repeatedly called upon it to do, which is not to continue actions which destabilize Somalia, to halt assistance to those violent elements in Somalia that are working to overthrow the government and attacking AMISOM peacekeepers and to resolve peacefully and in accordance with Resolution 1862, the border skirmish and dispute with Djibouti.
From the United States’ point of view, let me say that we have for many, many months sought a constructive dialogue with the government of Eritrea. We have sought to encourage quietly the government of Eritrea to take the steps that it claims it intends to take, but it will not take, and has not taken. And we still hope frankly that they will. We do not see this as the door closing on Eritrea, but on the contrary, we view this as another opportunity for Eritrea to play a more responsible and constructive role in the region. We did not come to this decision with any joy – or with anything other than a desire to support the stability of peace in the region.
The United States stands with the people of Eritrea who have fought long and hard for their independence and to build a country in which we have great hope for the future.
Reporter: Madam Ambassador, can you tell us about (inaudible) the figures to be included in the committee? What does it mean that the political and military leadership of Eritrea will be subject to sanctions?
Ambassador Rice: Well obviously that will be something for the committee to decide. There has been a lot of work done by Somalia Monitoring Group and that sanctions committee that has shared with the Council its recommendations as to who ought to be considered for designation under the Somalia regime, and now we will look in addition at who ought to be considered based on the criteria in the resolution we just passed.