22 June 2019
by DAVID WARE
There are three likely flashpoints that may soon draw the United States into a military conflict with a major adversary. While the first two are well-known, the third may not be. Hence this concise analysis.
● Persian Gulf against Iran
● South China Sea against China
● Horn of Africa against China
Djibouti is a tiny country of less than 9,000 square miles on the Horn of Africa with just under 1 million people where the median age is 24 years. 90% of the population is Muslim and the official religion is Islam.
The country received its independence from France in 1977. President Ismaïl Omar Guelleh is both head of state and head of government of Djibouti and the commander-in-chief of the Djibouti Armed Forces. He has been in office since 1999.
“Camp Lemonnier is a United States Naval Expeditionary Base, situated next to Djibouti–Ambouli International Airport in Djibouti City, and home to the Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) of the U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM). It is the only permanent U.S. military base in Africa.”
“The Chinese base of the People’s Liberation Army Navy is located by the Chinese-operated Port of Doraleh west of Djibouti City. To the south of the city are several other foreign military bases, including Camp Lemonnier (United States Navy), Base Aerienne 188 (French Air Force), and the Japan Self-Defense Force Base Djibouti.”
“The Red Sea is an extension (or inlet) of the Indian Ocean, located between Africa and Asia. Entrance to the sea in the south is through the Gulf of Aden and the somewhat narrow Bab el Mandeb (strait). In the north the sea is accessed from Middle Eastern countries via the Gulf of Aqaba (or Gulf of Eilat.)”
CHINA’S DEBT TRAP DIPLOMACY
As part and parcel of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, Djibouti ~ along with a number of other emerging African nations ~ has been extended enormous amounts of infrastructure-related loans which cannot possibly ever be repaid. China’s ploy is to demand ports and terrain in repayment.
BATTLE FOR STRATEGIC CONTROL
The narrow Strait of Bab-el-Mandeb between Djibouti and Yemen controls the entrance from the Indian Ocean via the Gulf of Aden into the historic Red Sea. Therefore, access to the Gulf of Suez and the Suez Canal and to the Gulf of Aqaba and the Israeli southern Port of Eilat must pass through this volatile waterway. It is the only way to get from Asia into the Mediterranean and Europe without having to sail all the way around the immense African continent.
HOSTILE ACTS BY CHINA
With this backdrop, it really comes as no surprise that China seeks to dominate this choke point of world maritime commerce. After an incident last year in which Chinese military were accused of aiming lasers at American Pilots, similar warlike actions have just occurred.
Djibouti’s proximity to restive regions in Africa and the Middle East makes it an ideal location for military bases.
China is alleged to have tried to obstruct freedom of the skies by preventing U.S. military aircraft from flying over the Chinese base in Djibouti. Once again, lasers were used to potentially blind American Pilots and precipitate a fatal crash. The Chinese are alleged to have also attempted to surreptitiously enter the U.S. Camp Lemmonier south of Djibouti City.
Somalia to the southeast of Djibouti has been a hotbed of unrest.
While due attention is also being focused upon the South China Sea and West Philippine Sea for Chinese attempts to exclude all other nations from exercising freedom of the seas navigation and sovereign control of their territory, some 5,000 miles southwest of there, the People’s Liberation Army Navy is also threatening American personnel and assets in the Horn of Africa.
The conflict in Yemen is less than 20 miles away.
All of this of course is happening simultaneously with Iranian bellicose actions in the Persian Gulf. These are very interesting times in which we live. Expect Djibouti to get its 15 minutes in the sun as a household word and part of everyday vocabulary in the near future.