the war between Somalia and Ethiopia

During the Cold war, the war between Somalia and Ethiopia was crucial in defining the course of the East African region. To begin, one must understand that Somalia was attempting to create a Greater Somalia by annexing regions of Ethiopia and Kenya populated by Somali-speaking ethnic populations. Despite being well-funded and supplied by the Soviet Union, Somalia's forces were outnumbered by Ethiopian forces, and the balance of power was stacked against them. However, due to the toppling of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974 and the Derg's (Security Council) disagreement over who should succeed him.  Consequently, separatist movements sprung all over the country thus shifting the balance of power in favor of Somalia. As a result, Somalia's then-president Mohamed Said Barre moved his 35,000 troops to occupy the contested Ogaden region in Ethiopia in 1977. Although the Organization of African Union (OAU) discouraged Somalia's aggression, its efforts had minimum effects compared to the actions of the then Soviet Union, other communist countries and the US in the conflict.

While Said Barre and his Somalian troops managed to take control of the contested area, they later lost to a united front of Ethiopian and Cuban troops aided by training from the Soviet Union. Furthermore, the Ethiopian regime received military aid from the People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) and People's Democratic Republic of Yemen. The interesting scenarios presented by the unfolding of the war events present a fertile ground for an examination of various theories relating to the causes of war. Some of these theories include the Marxist-Leninist Theories of Imperialism and War and the Balance of Power Theory. While considering the Ethiopian-Somalian war, the Marxist-Leninist theories explain the causes of the war better compared to the Balance of Power theory, which only explains a little part of the causes of the war.

The Marxist-Leninist theories of imperialism and war stress on the orientation towards addressing the class needs of the ruling elite rather than the state wants in international conflict. In other words, the capitalists use the state to advance their self-centered interests in the war, and the burden of cost is placed on other groups in the affected society. The key observation in the Marxist-Leninist theories’ contribution towards international conflict is that it can be traced to the capitalistic economic organization of the affected parties. In their argument, the unstable nature of capitalistic economies leads to the need of a constant external stimulus to prevent its intrinsic stagnation and impending collapse. The external stimulus comes in the form of imperialism, aggressive foreign policies, and war waged by the capitalist class to benefit from the resulting causal mechanisms. These theories of international conflict not only focus on the domestic causes of war but also the structure of the world economy which is centered around Europe and the Americas (West). The theories indicate that the dominant and the wealthy group was in the West, while the other countries are the periphery.

One of the Marxist-Leninist theory is the underconsumptionist theory which indicates the need for external markets due to the surplus production of the capitalistic economies. The low purchasing power of the proletariats due to the unequal distribution of wealth leads to under consumption hence need for external markets. Another theory is the raw materials theory which indicates that the capitalistic economies need various raw materials for their quickly expanding industries. Furthermore, Lenin argues that the higher returns to the capital derived from investments abroad were the dominant factor in the raw materials theory. The other argument fronted by the Marxist-Leninist theories is the military Keynesianism (war economies) which advocates for increased military spending aimed at reinvigorating the economy. As a result, capitalistic countries produce arms to enable surplus capital to be recirculated in the economy. The increased production of arms, hence, demand for the constant threat of war through arms, races, and conflict spirals.

From the evidence of the Ogaden war, the details of the Marxist-Leninist theories explain the causes of the war. First, the war was caused by global powers to exert their preferred economic organization and diplomatic control on the African countries by providing military support to those countries. This was the new imperialistic control after colonialism. Moreover, the aspects of the arms race in the region by the so-called superpowers at the time (The US and the Soviet Union) concur with the military Keynesianism theory. Whereas the Soviet Union was communist, their actions and those of the US in the war are highly congruent with the mentioned theory and showcased imperialism through diplomatic means. “Soviet involvement in Ethiopia may have been motivated by a blend of ideology and realpolitik…”. Initially, the Soviet Union supplied Somalia with weapons and artillery while the US armed the Haile Selassie Ethiopian regime. However, the ousting of Haile Selassie from power and the increased communist sentiments among the new Ethiopian regime forced the US to severe relations with Ethiopia while the Soviet Union switched sides to back Ethiopia in conflict. It is important to note that had the Soviet Union not intervened and armed the Ethiopian troops; the war had already been won by Somalia. The arms race between Ethiopia and Somalia reflected the arms race between the US and the Soviet Union as they made more arms to stimulate their economies.

Apart from the Marxist-Leninist theories, the Balance of Power theory is used in explaining the causes of war. In the argument, states are the key players, and they aim to maximize their power/security. As a result, the theory notes that most states avoid hegemony where a nation accumulates power in a region to dominate other states and putting an end to the multistate system. Aiming to maintain and protect their independence, most countries adopt various balancing options. The two types of balancing fronted by Balance of Power theorists are the external and internal balancing. External balancing involves the formation of coalitions and alliances to counterbalance the actions of any aggressor and maintain the sovereignty of the affected country. The internal balancing consists of the expansion of military power by the affected states in an attempt to countermand the actions of the aggressing nations.

From the facts of the Ogaden war, it is clear that the balance of power theory can be used to explain the causes of the war, although, a limited nature. To begin with, Somalia was the aggressor and threatened the independence of Ethiopia by aiming to annex the Ogaden province of Ethiopia. In response to this aggression by Somalia, Ethiopia reacted by seeking coalition and alliances from USSR, Cuba, North Korea, and Yemen. Somalia in its turn reacted and sought a partnership with the US by providing it with a former Soviet base in Berbera, Saudi Arabia, and other Western countries. Furthermore, Ethiopia tried to achieve internal balancing by mobilizing its military to counter the threat of aggression from Somalia.

Nevertheless, the balance of power theory is inadequate in explaining the causes of the war as it does not cover the broader global politics at the time. The theory does not explain the influence that the Cold War had on the Ogaden war itself. Moreover, Ethiopia had a superior position compared to Somalia as it had more troops and militia. Additionally, Ethiopia had a superior air power compared to that of Somalian forces as evidenced by the superior APN-24 and TPS-34D American radar systems that were able to detect any missiles the moment they were launched. The Ethiopian air force also had better US fighter planes in the form of F-5As and F-5Es. Furthermore, one might reason that the coalition formed by the Ethiopian regime with the Soviet Union was superficial as the USSR had already provided the superior military power that Somalia Possessed.

In summary, it is clear that the Ogaden war occurred mainly due to the involvement of the various cold war blocs. Whereas Somalia could capture the Ogaden region, the backing of Ethiopian troops of the Soviet Union and other communist countries resulted in the overwhelming defeat of Somalia in subsequent battles and the retake of the region by Ethiopia. However, the causes of the war are easily explained by the Marxist-Leninist theories which demonstrate the involvement of the Superpower countries in the war. Furthermore, the arms race by the US and the Soviet Union was heavily represented as the cause of the war. In addition to Marxist-Leninist theories, the balance of power theory explains the formation of alliances by Ethiopia in an attempt to deter Somalia's aggression. However, the argument falls short in describing the pre-existing global political conditions and how they could have resulted in the war.


Levy, Jack S., and William R. Thompson. Causes of War. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2011.

Nkaisserry, Joseph K., Brigadier Kenyan Army. The Ogaden War: An Analysis of Causes and Impact on Regional Peace on the Horn of Africa. Army War College Carlisle Barracks, 1997.

Ogundele, Ayodeji O. "Balance of Power Theory and the Ethiopian-Somali Conflict of 1977-1978." Thesis. North Texas State University, 1988.

Pearson, Frederic S., Robert A. Baumann, and Gordon N. Bardos. "Arms Transfers: Effects on African Interstate Wars and Interventions." Journal of Conflict Studies 9, no. 1, 1989.

Schaefer, Scott A. "Ethiopian Airpower: From Inception to Victory in the Ogaden War." Doctoral Dissertation. University of Florida, 2012.

Weiss, Kenneth G. The Soviet Involvement in the Ogaden War. Institute of Naval Studies, Center For Naval Analyses: Alexandria, Virginia, 1980.

Deadline is approaching?

Wait no more. Let us write you an essay from scratch

Receive Paper In 3 Hours
Calculate the Price
275 words
First order 15%
Total Price:
$38.07 $38.07
Calculating ellipsis
Hire an expert
This discount is valid only for orders of new customer and with the total more than 25$
This sample could have been used by your fellow student... Get your own unique essay on any topic and submit it by the deadline.

Find Out the Cost of Your Paper

Get Price