The Horn of Africa in a Bipolar World – The Cold War as the Origin of the Somalia Crisis

Philipp Schulz, Philipps University, Marburg, Germany

Full paper:

Abstract Somalia on the Horn of Africa is what we nowadays describe as the “world’s most failed state (Foreign Policy, 2010), characterized as a symbol of UN peacekeeping failure, escalating piracy, and thus a resulting state of anarchy.

A now more twenty years-long lasting civil war has left the country destroyed, which is an irony in a world overcrowded with centrifugal figures, because Somalia has a society as homogenous as almost any other post-colonial country. But what lead to the fact that Somalia destroyed itself? Among different specific internal and external historical, political, and social factors, the bipolar system during the Cold War significantly marked the state on the Gulf of Aden.

Although Peter Schwab (1978) defined the general Horn of Africa as “a major geopolitical area of the world” (p. 6), it became evident that Somalia but also Ethiopia had only little chance of escaping the rivalry coming along with the “superpower competition” (Parsons, 1995, p. 198) during the Cold War. Until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 regional development-especially on the Horn of Africa–has been governed by the performance of the East-West-Conflict’s main players.

Because both states, Somalia and Ethiopia have been dependent on external aid and support to fulfil an existing power-vacuum, the Horn of Africa and in particular Somalia became a match-ball between the United States and the Soviet Union. This essay examines to what extent this caused today’s situation. By analyzing the importance of and political chances in the region, one can see that the Cold War on the Horn has been dominated by the impact of dictatorships, a partner exchange, as well as removable allies in addition to internal political dynamics.

Foreclosing a political radicalization in the relevant era first enabled a large Soviet presence in Somalia and consequential a response by the US administration, fearing its own strategic interests thereby threatened.

Read the full paper: