298. Memorandum From the Director of the Office of Northern African Affairs (Newsom) to the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs (Williams)0

U.S. Policy Toward the Ogaden

Peace in the Horn of Africa depends in large measure on the stabilization, if not the ultimate solution, to two problems: the Northern Frontier District of Kenya and the Ogaden Province of Ethiopia.
Britain, Somalia, and the new African government of Kenya are currently seeking a modus vivendi on the Somali-inhabited portion of Kenya’s Northern Frontier District. The United States, representing British interests in Somalia, is acting as an intermediary in the steps leading to talks between the parties, but has not taken a stand regarding the substance of the issue.
The Ogaden is internationally recognized as being within the boundaries of Ethiopia, but is largely inhabited by Somali tribes, closely related to the peoples of the adjacent Somali Republic. It is one of the five parts of Greater Somalia (the other two unredeemed being: French Somaliland and the Northern Frontier District of Kenya) which the Somali Republic aspires, by its constitution, to bring under the sovereignty of the Somali Republic. It is a plateau area, for centuries the grazing place of nomadic tribes. These tribes, of Somali origin, wander across the international frontiers. One area in the north of the Ogaden Province, the Haud, contains water and livestock forage used by tribes on both sides of the line.
The problem of the Ogaden has, therefore, three elements: Somali irredentism, Ethiopian insecurity, and the traditional movement of nomadic tribes.
Somali irredentism toward the Ogaden has been pursued at various times in the past by press and radio propaganda and by seeking support in international meetings (e.g. Afro-Asian People’s Solidarity Conferences) for resolutions in favor of unification of all Somali inhabited areas. The Somalis were undoubtedly given some hope and stimulus immediately following World War II when the British administered all of the five Somali lands except French Somaliland, and proposed a Greater Somaliland Trusteeship under UK administration. The Somalis were led to believe, at a minimum, that Britain might hold the Ogaden for ultimate incorporation in an independent Somalia. The exact degree of Somali Government stimulation of unrest within the Ogaden is frequently difficult to determine because of the inherent sympathy of the Somali tribes for the Somali Republic and their antipathy for Amharas, because of the more or less free traffic back and forth across the frontier, because of the normal tribesman’s penchant for carrying a rifle, because of traditional illicit arms traffic through the area, and the fact that sizeable quantities of arms were acquired by tribesmen during World War II, and because of the Ethiopian tendency to assume that all unrest in the Ogaden is ultimately traceable to the Somali Republic. The Somali Republic, while having the reunion of all parts of Greater Somalia as its ultimate aim, has been careful to pursue this objective “by peaceful and legal means” as the Somali Constitution requires, and its leaders have frequently stressed their intention to adhere to this requirement.
Ethiopian insecurity is compounded of the fact that, historically, Somaliland has been an invasion route into Ethiopia, of the inherent Christian Ethiopian fear of being engulfed by Moslem expansion, and of the keen apprehension that the Somali Republic, perhaps with the assist-ance of the United Arab Republic, can, by subversion in the Ogaden, succeed in rendering the Ogaden unmanageable, if not detaching it. Basically, many leading Ethiopians undoubtedly see in the existence of a Somali Republic, as weak as it may be, a latent threat to the security of the Ethiopian Empire. Many Ethiopians undoubtedly see the elimination of an independent Somalia as the ultimate solution of the Ogaden problem.
The intractability of the problem cannot be overemphasized. The Ethiopian apprehension is very deep, going back to the sixteenth century when Somali tribes almost destroyed the Empire and, of course, to the Italian invasion in 1935, when an incident in the Ogaden became a casus belli. It is difficult, indeed, to see any real detente between the two peoples. It appears possible, however, to work for some form of modus vivendi which will lessen the continuing possibilities of serious trouble between them.
The United States is vitally interested in this problem essentially because of its important interests in Ethiopia. Any United States policy which would clearly alienate the Emperor of Ethiopia would seriously affect these interests. Similarly, any unrest affecting the security of the area or permitting the establishment of greater influence by either the Soviet Union or the Chinese Communists would also threaten these interests. It has, therefore, been the conclusion of the United States that, while not alienating the Emperor, we should seek to retain a broader influence in the Horn than our influence in Ethiopia, itself.
The United States cannot take any action which would appear to lend support to Somali irredentism. The United States supports the validity of current frontiers in Africa, despite the many claims and counter-claims which surround them and believes changes should come about only with the consent of all parties involved. The United States should continue to make this clear to the Somali Republic.
At the same time, it does not seem feasible, in a search for a formula which would stabilize the area, to seek to obtain a formal renunciation of Somali claims on Ethiopia. There is strong emotional and constitutional support in Somalia for these claims and it is doubtful any political leader could successfully make such a renunciation. Alternative formulae must, therefore, be found.
Essentially, the Ethiopian position is to leave Somalia weak and to isolate it as much as possible from other African relationships. Ethiopia feels that it can, with its military power, guarantee that unfriendly influences will not establish themselves in Somalia. At least one high-ranking Ethiopian has stated that Ethiopia would prefer to see arms [Page 472] coming into Somalia from the Sino-Soviet Bloc or the UAR because Ethiopia might then get wide support to eliminate the threat and, in the same action, establish Ethiopian suzerainty over Somalia. The Ethiopians feel that, because of Soviet and Chinese desires for influence elsewhere in Africa, they will not undertake support for Somali irredentism to a point that would genuinely threaten Ethiopia.
The United States cannot accept fully the Ethiopian position in this matter. The United States supports the integrity of independent nations in Africa except where there are changes in status brought about by peaceful means. We cannot appear to support the Ethiopian reluctance to accept fully the continued independence of Somalia. While it may well be true that neither the Soviets nor the Chinese would give support to Somali irredentism, it is also true that they have already shown a willingness and capability to establish positions of influence in Somalia which represent a threat to Western interests in the area, if not to Ethiopia.
Ideally, the United States would prefer that the alleviation of tensions in this area could be accomplished by direct talks between the two parties or by the intervention of an international agency. Unfortunately, direct talks appear possible only with the stimulus and diplomacy of a third party. The United Nations had a major role in the creation of Somalia and in some of the readjustments of frontiers after independence. Ethiopia, however, is not enthusiastic about bringing in the United Nations because of its reluctance to “internationalize” the Ogaden problem. The machinery of the Organization of African States is a possibility, but this machinery is not yet established. No other individual nation appears at the moment to have the influence in both capitals possessed by the United States.
Given these circumstances, United States policy should be directed toward establishing a peaceful modus vivendi between Ethiopia and Somalia which will set aside conflicting claims and result in a measure of actual accord which might result, in turn, in a reduction of the current emphasis of both on the building of military establishments.
To establish this policy, the United States might consider the following measures:
Continued efforts to stimulate direct Ethiopian-Somali talks leading, perhaps, to:
some form of frontier control, jointly administered by the two governments.
agreement to the joint development of the Uebi Scebelli River basin.
agreement on the use of watering places and forage in the frontier area.
agreement on periodic meetings at the Ministerial level to discuss common problems.
An examination by the United States, perhaps jointly with Britain and Italy or in connection with a UN agency of the arms traffic into the Ogaden.
A statement to the UAR (and Israel) of our interest in the peace and stability of the Horn of Africa and our concern over any activities which might disturb that peace.
A statement to both that we are interested in the maintenance of peace in the Horn of Africa area, will not condone aggression of one state against another, and will take appropriate measures in the UN or, if necessary, otherwise, in order to prevent aggression.
A clear statement to the Somalis that we do not support irredentism, but clearly support their independence.
A clear statement to the Ethiopians that we support the independence of Somalia, but do not support Somali irredentism.
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Brubeck Series, Somalia. Confidential. Drafted by Newsom on August 24. A handwritten notation on the source text reads: “Sent to Mr. Bundy for info. Aug. 26. S.B.”