Djibouti Defense and Foreign Policy

djibouti military spending and defense budget

Foreign policy and defense

Djibouti is a nation in Eastern Africa. Its capital city is Djibouti. Djibouti’s strategic location at the entrance to the Red Sea has provided the country with ample assistance. Djibouti for a Western-friendly and pro-Arab policy, but has also approached China in recent years. The country lends military bases to the USA, France, Japan and China, among others.

djibouti military spending and defense budget

Djibouti’s ties to the old colonial power of France are strong. The country houses France’s largest military location on the African continent. At independence in 1977, Djibouti entered into economic and military agreements with France, which left troops to train, among other things, a domestic army. The port of Djibouti has served as a base for the French forces, both in the 1991 war in the Persian Gulf and during the UN intervention in Somalia a few years later. France pays about $ 30 million a year to Djibouti to keep its naval base there. In 2019, around 1,900 people were stationed on the French base.

The death of a French judge in unclear circumstances in Djibouti in 1995 created tension. Bernard Borrel was an advisor to Djibouti’s Justice Department. According to Djiboutian authorities, he committed suicide, but French police suspect he was murdered. The murder would then have happened when President Ismail Omar Guelleh was the head of the country’s security service. In 2004, a French court reopened the case, causing Djibouti to suspend all judicial cooperation with France. In 2006, the French court ordered two high-ranking Djibouti officials to be tried in France. The following year, the court also demanded that Djibouti security chief should testify in France as a witness. In 2009, a French appellate court rejected the lower court’s request and the trial was closed after the main witness was deemed unreliable.

US military bases

During the international “war on terror”, which began after the terrorist attacks in the United States in 2001, Djibouti’s strategic importance increased significantly. In 2002, the United States established its own military base in Djibouti, called Camp Lemonnier. From Djibouti’s port, Americans can reach countries that the United States suspects are terrorist groups. Camp Lemonnier is one of America’s most important military bases in the world. In September 2013, another American base was established, at the Chabelley airfield outside Obock, where the drone operations were moved at Djibouti’s request (see below).

In May 2014, the United States was granted the right to retain Camp Lemonnier for at least another ten years, at a rent of $ 63 million per year. At Camp Lemonnier, the United States has both conventional forces and special forces. At Chabelley, unmanned aircraft, “drones”, are used for reconnaissance and attack missions across Somalia and Yemen. Around 4,000 soldiers were stationed at the bases in 2019.

According to a 2009 report by Amnesty International, Djibouti was one of the countries where the United States had secret prisons during the war on terror where suspected terrorists were subjected to torture and other abuses.

Other important relationships

Djibouti is trying to increase contacts with countries in the Middle East to attract new investment and thus reduce dependence on France. The country is a member of the Arab League and receives development assistance from several states around the Persian Gulf.

Since the civil war broke out in Yemen in 2015, Djibouti has provided humanitarian assistance to the Yemenis and accommodates tens of thousands of Yemeni refugees. At the same time, the Saudi-led alliance in the war in Yemen has been allowed to use Djiboutian facilities for its fighter aircraft. This has weakened Djibouti’s relations with Iran (see Yemen: Current Politics).

In the spring of 2015, relations with the United Arab Emirates were severed due to disagreement over an Emirates aircraft’s right to land in Djibouti.

Great emphasis has been placed on building good relations with China, Russia, Japan and India. In 2011, Japan opened in Djibouti its first military base abroad since the Second World War. In 2018, the base numbered 170 people.

Since February 2014, China also has a military presence in Djibouti, which receives Chinese development assistance and has taken out a number of Chinese loans. A Chinese naval base, officially designated for “defensive” purposes only, was inaugurated in August 2017 and now houses 240 men.

In the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea (see Ethiopia: Modern History), Djibouti has formally stood neutral. Relations with Ethiopia have mostly been good. They have been deepened after Eritrea’s independence in 1993 caused Ethiopia to become dependent on Djibouti’s port. Since then, the railway between Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa and Djibouti Port has been refurbished and has become an important trading route for coastal Ethiopia and a significant source of revenue for Djibouti.

Border dispute with Eritrea

A border dispute in 1996 seemed to take Djibouti to the brink of war with Eritrea for a while. In 1998, Djibouti broke off diplomatic contacts with Eritrea since the neighboring country accused Djibouti of supporting Ethiopia in the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Djibouti also claimed that Eritrea helped Djibouti rebels. The relations were resumed in 2000 and four years later, the countries signed a cooperation agreement.

In May 2008, Djibouti reported to the UN Security Council that Eritrean soldiers had been digging trenches at the border for three months. A month later, border disputes broke out between Djiboutian and Eritrean troops. According to Djibouti, the origin of the fighting for Eritrean deserters fled to Djibouti, and Eritrean troops shot after them and demanded that they be extradited. According to Djiboutian sources, twelve Djiboutian soldiers were killed while 55 were injured.

French soldiers in Djibouti supported the Djibouti with logistics and intelligence but did not participate in the fighting. The UN Security Council, the Arab League and the African Union (AU) called on Eritrea to stop the offensive against Djibouti. In October 2008, President Guelleh appealed to the Security Council for help in resolving the conflict.

In a unanimous resolution, made on a French initiative, the United Nations Security Council in January 2009 invited Eritrea to withdraw its fighting forces from the border with Djibouti within five weeks. By then, Djibouti’s troops had already been withdrawn. When, almost a year later, Eritrea still did not obey the resolution, the UN imposed sanctions on Eritrea, partly for the country’s involvement in the Somalia conflict. The sanctions ceased in the fall of 2018 after Ethiopia and Eritrea resumed the peace process among themselves. Djibouti protested, saying that the border dispute between Eritrea and Djibouti must also be resolved before the sanctions against Eritrea were lifted. Although that did not happen, Eritrea and Djibouti agreed that diplomatic relations would be normalized.

After Qatar entered and mediated in the conflict in June 2010, Eritrean troops withdrew and 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 in the border area. Djibouti accused Eritrea of ​​bringing troops into the disputed area. Since then, Djibouti’s diplomatic relations with Qatar have been strained and downgraded.

Mediator in Somalia

Djibouti has been involved in attempts to broker peace in the civil war in Somalia. Following a reconciliation conference in Djibouti in 2000, a temporary Somali government was formed, but it had no greater influence and was countered by Ethiopia. However, Djibouti continued to play an active role in the efforts to reach peace and criticized the Ethiopian intervention in Somalia in 2006/2007 (see Somalia: Modern History), which caused shivers in relations with Ethiopia.

Djibouti has also been accused of providing arms to Somali Islamists (see Somalia: Foreign Policy and Defense). Since 2011, however, Djibouti has been contributing soldiers to the AU’s force in Somalia , which has the task, among other things, of fighting the Islamist militant group al-Shabaab. As Ethiopia and Eritrea 2018 initiated a peace process, relations between Djibouti and Somalia were also improved. The two countries signed a series of cooperation agreements, including on security arrangements. At that time, nearly 1,900 Djiboutian soldiers were in the AU force in Somalia.

Djibouti houses many refugees from Somalia. In January 2019, the UN agency UNHCR estimated that there were nearly 13,000 Somali refugees in Djibouti.

The Somaliland outbreak state, which declared itself independent from Somalia in 1991, was not invited to the talks in 2000. Relations between Djibouti and Somaliland have at times been strained, partly because of trade competition, and clashes have occurred along the common border. In 2001, both sides tried to settle the conflict and concluded a friendship and cooperation agreement.

A few years later, they agreed on increased trade cooperation, cooperation to enable refugees to return to Somaliland and a committee to try to resolve all disputes. However, competition between the ports of Djibouti and Berbera in Somaliland has led to new controversy. Somaliland’s liaison office in Djibouti was closed on a couple of occasions during the 2000s and in January 2011 Djibouti expelled two diplomats from Somaliland. During the 2010s, contacts with Somaliland were mainly through regional and international forums.

The Regional Cooperation Organization for Countries in the Horn of Africa and East Africa (Igad; Intergovernmental Authority on Development) is headquartered in Djibouti. In recent years, Igad has primarily been involved in peace talks in Somalia, but has also played a role in efforts to achieve reconciliation in South Sudan after 2013.


After the end of the civil war in 2000, Djibouti’s defense forces were reduced by several thousand men. At the same time, soldiers from the rebel group Frud (see Political system and Modern history) have been included in the national defense. The size of the defense is secret, but in 2018 the number of soldiers was estimated at 10,450 men. In addition, there is a semi-military police force and national security forces of around 2,000 people each.

In 2008, the EU launched the Atalanta military operation, based in Djibouti, to protect ships off Somalia’s coast from pirates. In 2009 Djibouti became the base for the EU’s mission against piracy (EUNAVFOR). Since 2012, the number of attacks by pirates in the area has decreased significantly.


Army: 8,000 men (2017)

The air Force: 250 men (2017)

The fleet: 200 men (2017)

Military expenditure’s share of GDP: 3.7 percent (2008)

Military spending’s share of the state budget: 9.1 percent (2008)