Wednesday, September 15

WMD Legacy from Mengistu & Mussolini

Global Security has a World Special Weapons Guide that includes some unexpected data on Ethiopian Chemical Weapons development during the 1974-1991 period.
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). 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,” Aug. 10, 2001, continues 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.
According to this report
Ethiopia ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention in May 1996, but has a somewhat checkered history with regard to allegations of chemical weapons use. Charges to that effect surfaced in the late 1970s and continued through the mid 1980s during conflict in Eritrea.

The allegations generally mentioned incapacitating rather than lethal agents, but there were sporadic references to the use of nerve gas (supplied by the Soviet Union). The Ethiopian government adamantly denied the charges. Although some sources do not view Ethiopia as currently capable of producing chemical weapons, a 1989 compilation of open-source materials listed Ethiopia as probably either developing, possessing, or producing chemical weapons.
The current Ethiopian government has behaved correctly in this regard and chemical weapons activities date back to the openly murderous Mengistu regime (scroll down to the end of Chapter 1) which was overthrown in 1991 following decades of bitterly fought internal wars, deliberate famines and other horrors. Mengistu is currently a guest of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe - local press reactions to his presence are here and here.

On the Italian front as late as 2001 chemical weapons were still not a dead issue. Italy may have brought up to 80,000 tons of chemicals into Ethiopia during the 1935 invasion. The Ethiopian government states that “persistent attempts to get Italy to comply with its international obligations have failed.” The Italians disagree - as late as 2002 they denied that any such weapons remained in Ethiopia according to records from 1935-36.

Despite the advantages that industrialized first world Italy had over undeveloped third world Ethiopia in 1935, Mussolini's invasion was failing to advance before the use of chemical weapons broke up Haile Selassie's army and laid waste to entire civilian districts.

When Anglo-Ethiopian forces drove the Italians out the fascists did not use WMD. Perhaps as the Italians claim today, the weapons were gone by 1936 or more likely they were worried about eventual British retaliation in kind.

Thankfully chemical weapons did not help Mengistu. The harm they may have done to the Ethiopian people is largely undocumented.

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