Foreign policy and defense
The authoritarian and closed Eritrea have
since a new peace agreement been signed with the
archipelago of Ethiopia 2018 to some extent opened up to
the outside world. The peace agreement has resulted in
the lifting of UN sanctions against Eritrea, and
relations with Somalia have also been improved. But the
regime in Asmara still looks with distrust on the
outside world and the peace process with Ethiopia has
recently slowed down.
After independence from Ethiopia in 1993 (see Modern
History), Eritrea established good relations with both
neighboring countries as well as the Arab world and the
Western world. However, conflicts with countries in the
region arose immediately due to territorial demands and
mutual accusations of support to rebel groups.
Overview of business holidays and various national observances in Eritrea for years of 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025.
The relationship with Ethiopia became directly
hostile when a border war between the two neighboring
states was fought in 1998–2000. Despite a first peace
agreement in 2000, and a decision on the border
demarcation made by a UN commission, the war did not
reach a definitive solution. Ethiopia did not leave the
disputed border town of Badme, which was awarded to
Eritrea, and the border was not excellent.
In Eritrea, the outrage was great that the outside
world let Ethiopia ignore the UN Commission ruling. This
was one reason why Eritrea was gradually circling the
freedom of movement of a UN peacekeeping force, Unmee,
which patrolled a security zone between the countries
after the war (located on the Eritrean side).
UN sanctions 2009–2018
Finally, in July 2008, the United Nations decided to
withdraw the force entirely. In 2009, a UN commission
stated that it was Eritrea that started the war. Both
countries were sentenced to pay damages to the other
party; Eritrea somewhat more to Ethiopia than the other
Following a direct call from the AU in December 2009,
the UN imposed sanctions on Eritrea. The cause was a
conflict with Djibouti and, not least, Eritrea's
involvement in the conflict in Somalia (see below). It
was the first time that AU has called for sanctions
against one of its own members. An arms embargo came
into effect, and official representatives of Eritrea
were banned from travel outside their home country and
assets abroad were frozen. Eritrea denied all charges
and in protest withdrew his representation at the AU. It
was restored in 2011.
The sanctions were extended, and in a tightening in
2011, the United Nations Security Council urged the
world's states to thwart transactions made to fulfill
the Eritrean regime's demands for foreign Eritrean to
pay 2 percent in "tax" to its home country.
Peace Agreement with Ethiopia 2018
The peace agreement 2018 was a quick and unexpected
turn. After some political summit meetings, Eritrea and
Ethiopia announced on July 9 that the war between the
two countries was over. At a meeting in Asmara,
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali and Eritrean
President Isaias Afwerki signed the "Joint Declaration
on Peace and Friendship" under which "the war between
the countries ends and a new era of peace and friendship
After the peace agreement was concluded, diplomatic
relations were restored with Ethiopia as well as with
Somalia. Ethiopia and Eritrea established trade
relations, transport and communications with each other.
Ethiopia asked the UN to lift sanctions against Eritrea,
which happened in November 2018.
In the summer of 2019, one year after the historic
agreement, it became increasingly clear that the peace
process had stagnated. Several border crossings had
again been closed and a number of planned cooperation
agreements had been laid on ice. Many observers felt
that Eritrea's leaders wanted to slow down the rate of
reform for fear of losing control of the country.
Internal conflicts in Ethiopia also contributed to
inhibiting peace work.
Djibouti and Somalia
Even in relation to Djibouti, border crossing causes
tension. It was called at the border in 1996, and in
1998, diplomatic relations were broken after President
Isaias Afwerki accused Djibouti of supporting Ethiopia
in the war that just broke out. The connection was
re-established in 2000.
In April 2008, Djibouti reported to the UN that
Eritrean soldiers gathered at the border, and despite
mediation efforts, strikes broke out in June. The
world's condemnation became harsh. The UN, the Arab
League and the AU all identified Eritrea as the
aggressive party. Following mediation from Qatar,
Eritrea withdrew its troops from Djibouti in 2011. Qatar
sent an observer force to guard the border.
In the summer of 2017, both Djibouti and Eritrea
stood on Saudi Arabia's side in the country's conflict
with Qatar. As a result, Qatar withdrew its observer
power and tensions rose again in the border area.
Djibouti accused Eritrea of bringing troops into the
disputed area. In September 2018, in the wake of the
peace agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea in June of
the same year, Djibouti and Eritrea signed a new peace
agreement and the relations between them were
Eritrea's support for Islamist groups in Somalia has
largely emerged as a way of indirectly waging war on
Ethiopia, which in turn supported the so-called
transitional government in Somalia's capital Mogadishu.
In 2013, Eritrea was no longer reported to support the
Following the peace agreement between Ethiopia and
Eritrea in the summer of 2018, Eritrea and Somalia also
approached each other. In July 2018, the two neighboring
countries decided to establish diplomatic relations.
Yemen and Sudan
The diplomatic relations with Yemen and Sudan were
broken already in 1994, and it would take until 2005 and
2006, respectively, before they were fully restored. A
conflict with Yemen over the Hani Islands in the Red Sea
in 1995-96 led to sporadic fighting. The conflict was
resolved in 1998 by the International Court of Justice
in The Hague dividing the archipelago, giving Yemen the
Relations with Sudan were long disturbed by
accusations that each country supported rebel groups on
the other side of the border. Eritrea was also accused
of supporting the Sudanese regime's opponents in Darfur
in western Sudan. Gradually the situation improved and
in 2008 the Sudanese government banned Eritrean
opposition groups from being active in Sudan. After the
regime in Sudan in a military coup in spring 2019,
Eritrea and the new Sudanese transitional government
have relatively good contacts with each other.
Eritrea early supported the struggle for independence
in southern Sudan and welcomed the proclamation of the
new state of South Sudan in 2011. Relations deteriorated
as mutual fighting broke out in South Sudan 2013; the
South Sudanese government accused Eritrea of
supporting the rebel side. Despite this, in June 2016
Eritrea opened the port of Massawa so that the United
Nations Food Program (WFP) from there could transport
humanitarian aid to distressed South Sudanese.
Relations with the Western world are strained, mainly
because of the Eritrean regime's serious violation of
human rights (see Democracy and Rights). In 2005, the
United States was ordered to cease all aid and leave the
country after Washington, among others, accused Eritrea
of supporting terrorism. In May 2017, the United
States removed Eritrea from its list of countries that
do not fully cooperate in the fight against terrorism,
but Washington has continued to criticize Eritrea for
human rights violations.
With the EU, Eritrea maintains relations and the
Union has continued to provide some assistance, despite
protests from human rights activists. After 2018, the
regime in Asmara has shown some willingness to increase
dialogue with, among others, the UN and the EU. In the
spring of 2019, the EU's Special Representative for
Human Rights got to visit the country. In the same year,
Eritrea was elected a member of the UN Human Rights
Council, but the Council's special rapporteur was not
allowed to enter the country. Italy also provides
assistance and has visited Asmara after the summer of
2018 to discuss trade and other economic cooperation.
Contacts with China have increased since 2005; the
Chinese make investments in infrastructure, agriculture,
energy, trade and healthcare. Russia is also showing
increased interest in trade with Eritrea. Countries such
as the United Arab Emirates and Qatar are important
lenders. In April 2015, Eritrea signed an agreement with
Saudi Arabia to support the Saudi-led military alliance
in Yemen against the Iran-backed lumberjacks. The
alliance had to deploy troops in Eritrea, who also
Due to the conflicts with several neighboring
countries and the perception that the outside world is
hostile, Eritrea is constantly in the highest readiness.
All adults between the ages of 18 and 40 are required to
do national and military service, formally for 18
months, but many remain for years (see Current Policy).
The entire society is described as militarized.
For a more detailed description of the conflict
between Ethiopia and Eritrea read Conflicts:
FACTS - DEFENSE
200,000 Men (2017)
The air Force
350 men (2017)
1,400 men (2017)
Military expenditure's share of GDP
20.9 percent (2003)
Military spending's share of the state budget
31.1 percent (2003)