8. Intelligence Memorandum Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency1

IM 76.1–1–77

[Omitted here are the title page and table of contents.]



Since World War II, Ethiopia has been the centerpiece of US policy in the Horn of Africa. The Ethiopian revolution that began in early 1974 as an army mutiny has moved, stage by stage, through a period of “moderate reform,” a period of dispute between revolutionaries over how radical change should be carried out and who should do it, and a period of collegial military rule, to the present essentially one-man-with-advisers regime of Lt. Col. Mengistu Haile-Mariam. In the process, the Ethiopian government has been transformed from a difficult, occasionally embarrassing, but relatively reliable client of the US into a radical socialist regime struggling to keep control of the country and looking to the USSR, Eastern Europe, Cuba, and China for help.

The analysis that follows has no specific time frame, but generally the analysts have not tried to look beyond the next two years. The memorandum was requested initially by the Department of State, but has been completed with an eye to the Presidential Review Memorandum/NSC–21: The Horn of Africa,2 which was issued while this paper was in preparation.

The principal points of this paper are as follows:

—The Ethiopian revolution has produced a serious degradation of political authority throughout the country, but we do not believe that internal resistance in itself will lead to a breakup of the Ethiopian state.

—At the same time, the revolution has made it more possible—we think likely—that Eritrea will have de facto independence within the next 12 months because of the inadequacy of the military means available to the revolutionary leadership and its unwillingness to compromise its unitary political outlook. We think that some territory in the Ogaden would be lost if and when the Ethiopians take military action to preserve their interests in the French Territory of the Afars and Issas (FTAI).

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—With regard to the Afars and Issas, we believe that the odds on a war between Ethiopia and Somalia over this issue are still better than even, despite changes in French policy which appear designed to satisfy Somali demands. The Ethiopians object to these changes, and we think they will make some military demonstration if the postindependence arrangements in the FTAI do not promise to keep the Somalis out.

—Internally in Ethiopia, Mengistu controls the revolutionary council and is accepted by much of the military, but his personal position is not yet stable. He holds this position now primarily because he has physically eliminated rivals; he could himself be similarly removed. The elimination of Mengistu, however, while it would probably produce some changes in tone and rhetoric, would be followed by a military government with generally similar objectives and basic outlook.

—The present leaders, especially Mengistu, believe that the US Government is unsympathetic, and very possibly hostile, to the Ethiopian revolution. They look to the USSR, Eastern Europe, Cuba, and China for the specialized help they need in keeping Somalia at bay, securing the revolution, and organizing their internal support, even while they try to maintain a supply line of military materiel from the US. This attitude will persist at least as long as Mengistu heads the government, and US influence on Ethiopia’s actions is likely to be minimal.

—The full extent to which the USSR will be able to capitalize directly on this situation is not easy to forecast. Fundamentally, the Soviets are certainly attracted by the prospect of developing a new relationship with the largest and potentially most powerful country in the Horn region. But this involves careful management of their relationship with Somalia, and we think that this latter, with the facilities Somalia has provided the USSR, will continue to be the focus of Soviet policy in the region.

—The Ethiopian leaders are also reaching out to new relationships beyond the Horn—to South Yemen and Libya, for example—and while these particular relationships may well be emphemeral there is a good chance that, in a somewhat longer term, the Ethiopians will be able and will wish to cultivate understandings with the more radical Arab and Third World governments. Over time, this is likely to shrink the relations between Ethiopia and Israel.

[Omitted here is the Discussion section.]

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, History Staff Files. Secret; Noforn; Nocontract; Orcon.
  2. See Document 4.