Back in early 2000 some opponents of the Ethiopian regime, which I prefer to call appeaseniks, vigorously supported the regime’s military campaign to regain the territory that was lost to Eritrea in May of 1998. The appeaseniks reasoned that Eritrea’s invasion of the "disputed" stretches of land along the border area and the subsequent bombardment of civilian targets in Tigray region by Eritrean warplanes had taught the ruling TPLF party a lesson it won't forget: a politically divided Ethiopia that it helped to bring about is not in the interest of Tigray region.
The appeaseniks further argued that TPLF’s fallout with the Eritrean regime had left it with no choice but to pursue a policy that will put Ethiopia’s national interest ahead of Tigray’s parochial interest, and that the TPLF could eventually be persuaded to create a healthy political space for its domestic opponents as a derivative of this change of policy – the so-called peace dividend. The wishful thinking of the appeaseniks was understandable to some extent, but history teaches us that appeasement of dictatorial regimes and power-crazed militant groups has never worked and is invariably destined to fail.
It did not take very long for the TPLF to disappoint the appeaseniks as it signed the Algiers Peace Agreement without consulting them or the Ethiopian people who made the decisive victory on the battlefield possible in May and June of 2000. Alas, the TPLF’s primary interest did not match that of Ethiopia’s primary national interest once again! The Algiers agreement also demonstrated that, at its core, the TPLF is a group that is made up of an incorrigible bunch of power thirsty individuals who do not possess the wisdom that would enable them to share real political power with the vast majority of Ethiopians from other regions. And, just like that, the wishful thinking of the appeaseniks came to an abrupt end before it had a chance to be tested.
Now, five and a half years later, Ethiopia’s victory on the battlefield, which cost tens of thousands of lives, has become a distant memory and it is clear that the 1998-2000 Ethio-Eritrean war was fought on a false premise. Most Ethiopians believed that their army was fighting for the territorial integrity of their nation and to secure Ethiopia’s natural access to the sea. Sad, but true, we now know that the real reason for the conflict was the long standing rivalry and the resultant animosity between the leadership camps of the two parties that ruled the two countries, and not the border dispute as it was made out to be.
The belligerents who gave us that senseless war, a war that should never have taken place, are now back at it again beating the all too familiar drums of war and readying their poor soldiers to die for a totally unjustifiable reason. The border dispute that sparked the war in 1998 could have been resolved through negotiations, and it can and it should be solved through negotiations regardless of how long it takes to resolve it. The Jane's group recently summed up the state of tension between the terrorist regimes of the two countries in this way:
This, I think, is a pretty good short summary of the state of the stalemate between the two belligerent parties at this point in time. That said, my view, for what it's worth, is that there cannot be any real peace between the states of Ethiopia and Eritrea until both countries have representative governments that can negotiate a real peace agreement on behalf of their respective people. Furthermore, even if the belligerent parties somehow manage to avoid going to war this time around and settle their differences by ratifying the Algiers agreement and demarcating the border, any peace agreement that is reached by the current holders of state power in Addis Ababa and Asmara will not be considered complete by the Ethiopian people if the agreement fails to address Ethiopia’s unencumbered access to the sea through the port of Assab.
Ethiopia has not been inclined to accept the award of territory to Eritrea and has difficulty coming to terms with its loss of direct sea access. Eritrea, meanwhile, just seems bent on being difficult. Both also have internal political and security problems, making an external 'threat' a welcome distraction.