-+ Ethiopia Special Weapons

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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Ethiopia Special Weapons

Ethiopia is believed to have no programs for Chemical, Biological or Nuclear Weapons. In the past, Ethiopia was not among the states believed to be involved in the proliferation of ballistic missiles, such as the Scud. At the outset of the November 2020 Tigray insurrection, Ethiopia stated it had bombed sites in Tigray to destroy medium range missiles to keep them out of the hands of rebels. In turn, within days the Tigray rebels fired such missiles at targets in Eritrea and neighboring Asmara state in Ethiopia.

Leaders of Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region on 14 November 2020 claimed rocket attacks on two airports in a nearby state in Ethiopia and threatened to strike neighboring Eritrea, raising fears that the escalating conflict could spread. Two airports in Amhara state were targeted with one of the rockets hitting the airport in Gondar, partially damaging it, said Awoke Worku, spokesperson for Gondar central zone. A second projectile fired simultaneously landed just outside of the airport at Bahir Dar. The distance between Mekelle and Gondar is 239 km, while t distance between Mekele and Bahir Dar is 310 kilometers.

Tigray acknowledged it launched strikes on an airport located in Asmara, the capital of neighboring Eritrea on 14 November 2020, accusing that country of aiding Ethiopia's central government in its assault on the region. Distance between Mekele and Asmara is 213 kilometers. Tigray's President Debretsion Gebremichael acknowledged the attack on 15 November 2020, confirming earlier reports of the strike. At least two projectiles hit Asmara’s airport late on Saturday, yet it was not immediately clear what, if any, damage was inflicted. Gebremichael said the attack was retaliation for Eritrea’s alleged involvement in the Ethiopian infighting. The president claimed the region has faced “16 divisions” of Eritrean forces “on several fronts” for the past few days.

The Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) is an informal political understanding among states formed in 1987 that seek to limit the proliferation of missiles and missile technology. In 1992, the MTCR’s original focus on missiles for nuclear weapons delivery was extended to a focus on the proliferation of missiles for the delivery of all types of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), i.e., nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. The Regime places particular focus on rockets and unmanned aerial vehicles capable of delivering a payload of at least 500 kg to a range of at least 300 km and on equipment, software, and technology for such systems.

Ethiopia has deployed imported SA-2 surface to air missiles, a design which has also been adapted as a surface-to-surface ballistic missile in the Bosnian War and ongoing Yemeni Civil War, though its effectiveness in such a role must be questionable. This missile would have a surface-to-surface range of dozens of kilometers, well below the MTCR threshold.

The precise identification and source of this missiles remains a bit of a puzzle. In the past, Ethiopia acquired arms from North Korea, a popular source of the 300-km range Scuds that the MTCR was intended to contain. Although there were no reports of such transfers at that time or since then, Ethiopia was less than forthcoming on the details of their relations with North Korea and a transfer of Scuds would make sense for both sides.

The shortest range Turkish missile, the J-600T, is the Turkish edition of the Chinese B-611M. With performance parameters just under the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) cutoff point, China can legitimately transfer this missile and its' technology to Turkey, and Turkey could legitimately transfer the missile to Ethiopia. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said 22 January 2015: "We will encourage our businessmen, they can develop joint ventures in Ethiopia or they can invest in other countries together. Our construction companies can significantly contribute to the infrastructural and superstructural projects of Ethiopia. We can take joint steps in defense industry and military cooperation."

Ethiopia and Nuclear Weapons

Ethiopia was an original signatory [05 September 1968] to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). African is a nuclear weapon free zone, pursuant to the Treaty of Pelindaba, which demonstrated the commitment of African states to the nonproliferation regime. Ethiopia part of that and remains committed to the Treaty.

Ethiopian Ambassador Negash Kebret Botora, Permanent Representative of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia to the United Nations Office in Geneva, told the UN Conference on Disarmament 27 May 2015 : "Ethiopia’s record of its commitment to the maintenance of global peace and security is not only well-known, but dates back to the time of the League of Nations. As a victim of naked aggressions at different periods in its recent history, in particular the attack by mustard chemical gas on its defenseless civilian population and the denial of international protection is a constant reminder of the urgent need to ensure international peace and security through universally accepted solutions. It is in this context and since that time, we have been committed to global efforts for preventing the proliferation of all weapons of mass destruction and have signed all core multilateral and regional disarmament treaties and conventions. These include, among others: NPT, BWC, CWC, CTBT, Pelindaba Treaty."

On 07 October 2016, Ethiopian Ambassador Mahlet H. Guaday, speaking in the UN First Committee General Debate, stated that : "The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons remains the cornerstone of the global non-proliferation regime. ... The continued existence of nuclear weapons and of their possible use or threat of use poses existential threat to humanity. It is a conundrum that nuclear weapon, by far the most dangerous weapons of mass destruction, is the only weapons of mass destruction not yet explicitly prohibited under international law. To add insult to injury, these weapons are being further modernized and upgraded. Curbing the escalation of nuclear arms race is a task which should be accomplished without any further delay. The step-by step approach has failed to make concrete and systematic progress towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons. The need to take concrete actions to attain and maintain a world without nuclear weapons is critically urgent." Ethiopia is also a signatory of the Biological Weapons Convention, the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, and various other such arms control agreements.

Ethiopian Chemical Weapons

Ethiopia's history with chemical weapons began with Italy's use of mustard gas during the 1935-1936 war in which Italy invaded Abyssinia (Ethiopia). The first large-scale use of a traditional weapon of mass destruction (chemical, biological, or nuclear) involved the successful deployment of chemical weapons during the Great War. Although condemned, chemical weapons continued to be used during the interwar years, largely against civilians in colonial possessions. The most notable was the Italian government’s aerial spraying and bombing of Ethiopian soldiers and civilians during the Second Italo-Abyssinian War. In 1935 Italy began the conquest of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) using mustard gas delivered by aircraft spray. By early 1936, the Italians - who used chemical weapons and air power with deadly accuracy - had inflicted a severe defeat on the Ethiopians. Use of such weapons has been outlawed by the general opinion of civilized mankind.

On 26 August 1984 Jack Anderson reported on a CIA report, classified "secret," summarizes the threat posed by the expansion of chemical biological warfare capability. "The past decade has seen an ominous proliferation of chemical weapons acquired by Third World states which shows a momentum greater than before appreciated. Soviet military assistance has been a common source and major stimulus to this momentum ...."Much of the action has been centered in the Middle East, but other areas-parts of Southeast Asia and the Horn of Africa-are increasingly at risk. The attraction of chemical weapons for Third World forces, combined with a multiplicity of open market sources of chemical materiel, provide further nourishment for this growth. As more nations join the chemical club, a heightened sense of vulnerability is bound to manifest itself. We therefore expect a continued upsurge in chemical war-fare activities."

Anderson reported that Ethiopia - itself a victim of Italian mustard gas in 1936 - had acquired chemical weapon decontamination equipment and training from the Soviets, with Cuban advisers providing follow-up exercises. The Ethiopian Army reportedly used chemical incapacitants and irritants since 1980 against the rebel Eritrean People's Liberation Front.

The 1928 Geneva Protocol banned the use of biological weapons and toxic gasses in war and formed the basis for both the Biological and Chemical Weapons Conventions. As early as 1969, Secretary General Thant recommended a renewed appeal for accession to the protocol and a "clear affirmation" that it covered the use in war of all chemical and biological weapons, including tear gas and other harassing agents. The 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) banned the development, production, and possession of chemical weapons. The USA continues to assert the legality of the use of riot-control agents in riot-control circumstances to include controlling rioting prisoners of war.

In 2001 Ethiopia charged that Italy had left stocks of chemical weapons in Ethiopia from the conflict. Italy has denied leaving any stocks of chemical weapons in Ethiopia. (If Italy admits to leaving stocks in Ethiopia, under the CWC it will be responsible for destroying the material.)

In addition, Ethiopia has long been suspected of an in-house chemical weapons program. Unsubstantiated allegations have been made that Ethiopia used chemical agents against Eritrea in the 1970s and 1980s. Ethiopia was termed a "probable" chemical weapons possessor by Rear Admiral Thomas Brooks, Director of Naval Intelligence, in a statement before the House Committee on Armed Services, Subcommittee on Sea Power, Strategic and Critical Materials, March 7, 1991. More recently the Congressional Research Service, "Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Weapons and Missiles: The Current Situation and Trends," August 10, 2001, continued to list Ethiopia as a likely owner of chemical weapons (this report seems to again be citing Rear Admiral Thomas Brooks statement from 1991). Ethiopia signed the CWC in 1993 and ratified it in 1996.

Arms from North Korea

On 14 October 2006 the United States successfully pressed the United Nations to impose strict sanctions on North Korea because of the country's nuclear test, But within months the Bush administration officials allowed Ethiopia to complete a secret arms purchase from North Korea, in an apparent violation of the restrictions. The US allowed the arms delivery from the DPRK to go ahead in January 2007 because Ethiopian troops were in the midst of a military offensive against Islamic militias inside Somalia that supported the U.S. policy of combating religious extremists in the Horn of Africa.

In response to sustained general expressions of concern about the Ethiopia-North Korea arms relationship with senior Ethiopian Government (GoE) officials, the Ministry of National Defense in November 2007 agreed to take an Embassy team and a Washington-based USG expert to see the North Korean-supported arms and munitions factory in Ambo. Just days before the December 18 planned visit, State Minister for Defense Sultan Mohammed -- Post's principle defense interlocutor on the North Korean arms relationship -- unexpectedly resigned his position. Despite a Diplomatic Note to Post in mid-December 2007 noting that the visit would be postponed, upon pursuit of rescheduling the visit, the Ethiopian military's (ENDF) international relations officer Gen. Hassan informed Acting DATT on December 28 that the visit was canceled. Gen. Hassan stated that whatever relationship with North Korea existed in Ambo was technical and minimal, and therefore not worth all this attention and U.S. concern. He added that at a practical level, Ethiopia simply needed to keep this factory running to the degree possible to assure the ENDF supply of small arms munitions, but that the quantities produced were minimal and did not even suffice to ensure a proper supply for the ENDF.

By 2008, despite Prime Minister Meles' apparent receptivity to discussing Ethiopia's arms supply relationship with North Korea as well as discussion with the Secretary during her visit, Ethiopia's Chief of Defense Staff (CHOD), General Samora Yonus, adamantly opposed U.S. scrutiny of Ethiopian munitions factories connected with North Korea or any other country, and dismissed U.S. concerns over North Korea-Ethiopia ties arguing that these are productive and not in violation of international agreements.

General Samora was emphatic in stressing that North Korean arms are inexpensive and North Korean help with arms manufacturing will allow Ethiopia to meet its obligations in UN peacekeeping missions and its strategic interests in Somalia. The General criticized the Ambassador personally for delays in the provision of U.S. support for operations in Somalia and urged support for their UNPKO deployments. Samora noted that the ENDF "is working with North Korea, and will continue to do so, because they are cheap." Samora admitted that the ENDF has been relying on North Korean arms and is dependent on them, even for maintenance. They continue the established relationship with North Korea, however, because they are helping to build Ethiopia's capacity, which will reduce Ethiopia's dependence on North Korean supplies and technical assistance.

As evidence of Ethiopia's focus on developing national capacity to replace dependence on outside sourcing, Gen. Samora noted that the "North Koreans have now finished their work and are leaving" the Gafat factory near Debre Zeit, noting that the ENDF can now produce AK-47s fully themselves. Now, Chinese workers are in Debre Zeit to overhaul tanks, he continued, which also boosts Ethiopian capacity. Samora claimed that Ethiopia has not purchased arms for import form North Korea since a shipment was lost in a ship fire in the Spring. Now we are only buying skills from the North Korea, and will continue to do so, Samora repeated, because it is cheap.

The US Ambassador had pursued a visit to the North Korean-supported arms and munitions factory in Ambo. While the Ambo visit would have provided unprecedented first-hand observation of the largest North Korean-supported arms factory in country, it would have primarily provided a frank and direct dialogue between the two countries on the scope, nature and future of the Ethiopian-North Korean arms relationship and its effect on U.S.-Ethiopian ties.

The Eritrean gold mining complex at Bisha and other targets in Eritrea were hit on 20 March 2015 by Ethiopian missiles shot from Tigray in Ethiopia. The Bisha gold mine, run by the Canadian Nevsun corporation is said to be producing from 300 to 400 million dollars a year. If that is the product, no one still knows how much royalties and shares goes to the Eritrean government. Besides Bisha, the other targets included an unidentified target near Barentu. The missile did not cause damage in Barentu but the Bisha mine sustained a slight damage while the military facility near Mai Edaga was heavily destroyed. A military facility located between the villages of Tukhul and Wutuh in the Mai Edaga [both in southern Eritrea] area was hit on 20 March 2015 by Ethiopian missiles shot from Tigray [Regional State, bordering Eritrea] in Ethiopia. The military depot at Mai-Edaga near the town of Dekemhare was heavily damaged.

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Page last modified: 15-11-2020 18:29:46 ZULU