Somaliland:Berbera basing politics: Understanding actors, interests, and animosities( Full Length Research Paper)

Somaliland would be the second military base after the UAE facility in Eritrea’s Assab port. This writer argues, the establishment of naval and air base along with port facilities by the UAE will boost the existing economic and political relation between Somaliland and neighboring Ethiopia

Full Length Research Paper BY: Najah M. Adam
Department of Diplomacy and International Relations, EUCLID University, Gambia.
Received 8 May, 2017; Accepted 5 June, 2017

Key words: National security, basing politics, interests, actors, animosity, deterrence, collective security,collective defense.

HORNDIPLOMAT-The presence of forward forces in foreign soil is not a modern notion, but is thought-provoking when a small state projects its military might in multiple locations of a similar strategic importance.

The United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) base lease in Berbera is a case in point which attracted a reproach from the public, and politicians. The joint parliament sitting to approve the draft agreement further complicated the reproach, resulting in many stakeholders to argue that the approval process suffered insufficient consultation, citing ambiguity, and suspicion. Berbera basing politics is critical to Somaliland’s national security, but gained little scholarly attention that can explain the rationale, and the underlying assumptions.

This paper will, therefore, provide a qualitative assessment on impact of UAE’s overseas
defense posture on Somaliland’s political direction. Specifically, it tends to analyze the structural architect of the basing politics including actors, interests, risks (animosities), and prophesy on scenarios for use. This paper uses secondary and primary sources to sketch out the key issues; it also employs relevant international relations theories: security dilemma, deterrence, defensive, proxy war, geopolitics, pre-emption, beggar-thy-neighbour, and safe-haven concepts to make sense on this matter.


Somaliland declared its independence in May 1991 in armed struggle, but with Somalis this time. Geographically, it borders with Ethiopia to the South, Djibouti to the West,Somalia to the East, and the Gulf of Aden to the North. The Gulf of Aden is directly facing the southern part of Yemen with a coastline of 850,800 km. The population estimate of Somaliland is 4.5 million (Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization, 2017) with an area of 137, 600 km2 (Ministry of Planning, 2013). Historically, the Republic of Somaliland gained its independence in 1960 from Great Britain, and then united with what was then known as Italian Somaliland in July 1960. After the collapse of the Siyad Barre regime, Somaliland collected its remnant from the ash to establish a de facto state that manages its domestic and international affairs, enjoying a relative peace, and stability as ―an oasis of stability in a volatile region.

Today, it enjoys a de facto state status under international law (Arieff, 2008), though it fulfills the entire statehood standards set out in the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States. In terms of its economy, the livestock plays the key driver where close to ―65% of the population depend either directly or indirectly on livestock and livestock products for their livelihood (Ministry of Planning, 2013). In summary, it is a
fourth-world country dying for employment, economic development, and international cooperation.
In the last two decades, Somaliland achieved tangible strides towards peace and security amidst a conflict prone region. In doing so, this tiny republic spends approximately half of its national budget in the different security and law enforcement departments (McGregor,
2014) to ensure law and order is maintained. Despite this investment in the security sector, the country suffered from several terrorist attacks waged by the Islamist militant group known as al-Shabaab. Consequently, Somaliland established a coastal guard unit with sundry of ―boats to patrol more than 500 miles of coastline along the Gulf of Aden‖ (Langfitt, 2011) to secure its waters. While it is a very daunting task to tackle a sophisticated piracy with such limited resources, this unit made sure to secure its waters. Therefore, it is evident that such security measures had expanded the strategic importance of Somaliland to attract international investment, and the military base establishment.

Since hosting foreign forward forces is complex and multifaceted axiom, which had a profound impact in both domestic and exterior political arenas. Hence, this paper conducted a thorough analysis on the establishment of Berbera Military Base. Moreover, the geographical interest of this study was confined within the Horn of African region certain particularly states, enjoying an established link with Somaliland, and the United Arab Emirates as well as other non-state actors ranging from civils society, media, and clan elders.

In doing so, this paper has employed both secondary and primary sources to sketch out the key issues on Berbera basing politics, including literature of relevant text books, academic papers, and close observation to the political development relating to the establishment of the military base. In addition, this paper relies on relevant international relations theories such as security dilemma,deterrence, defensive, proxy war, geopolitics, preemption, beggar-thy-neighbour, and safe-haven concepts to make sufficient sense on this matter.

Generally, presence of forward foreign forces appeals for domestic, regional, and international controversy, mainly stirred through media channels. Historically, presence of military bases in a foreign soil dates back to the ancient Greece and its city states, particularly during the era of Thucydides (c.460 B.C.–c.400 B.C.), who realized the relevance of military base in the military discipline and subsequently transcribed on its rudimentary stage (Harkavy, 1989). Modern historians trace the military bases back in the fifteenth century during which the European civilization attained an economic, political, and military advancements. In Europe, this period saw that the ―commercial importance began to walk together with military issues, with basing access turning crucial to defend new lands for exploration‖ (Lersch and Sarti, 2014)‖.

This is a vibrant demonstration that military basing politics maintained its relevance in the
contemporary international agenda. Currently, the USA alone maintains ―approximately 800 of US military bases in the world‖ (Vine, 2015) on which it spends over millions of dollars a year. There also another more than ―21,564 combat troops‖ (Hesse, 2015) in the neighboring Somalia, in the name of African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

Military installations operated by smaller states are less prospective in the history of military basing politics. Indeed, it is the powerful states that acquire military access rights in the soil of smaller states. However, the recent establishment of military bases by the United Arab Emirates, a relatively small state, in the Horn of Africa region, is a noble phenonium but confrontational around in the political encircles. In most cases, establishment of military bases in a foreign soil is a very daunting task for defense personnel, and diplomatic corps, due to divergent security interests; Somaliland is not an exception. The United States, for instance, ―found it difficult to perusal many of its erstwhile clients that their security interests are convergent with its own‖ (Harkavy, 1989), resulting in many of its negotiations to conclude rejection from the prospective accommodating states. In Somaliland, the confrontation toward the establishment of the military base lies with the opposition political operators and local inhabitants, albeit only to some degree.

Types of military bases are too diverse based on their security needs. However, scholars of defense and international relations agree that the establishment of military bases is directed towards attainment of national security objectives. These objectives are: collection of intelligence, supply chain support for certain operation, and communication needs. If communication, intelligence, and logistical operations is assumed to cut across the different types of military bases, then the ―Naval and Airfield‖ bases are the most prominent foreign military presence (bases); it is the naval and airfield bases, which are the case in point to our discussion on Berbera basing politics.

Because of its strategic location, Somaliland contributes its share to the history of military basing literature, particularly during the Cold War. In the 1970s, the former Soviet Union (Federal Republic of Russia) established a military base in Berbera, which was a naval and aerial base. This base was aimed at protecting Russian interests in the Gulf of Aden, Red Sea, and generally the  Horn of Africa region. The United States leased this very
military installation for comparable purpose when the diplomatic relation between Somalia and the Soviet Union severed to its lowest.

Considering the perspective of hosting state, there are both merits and demerits, which are associated in providing access rights to foreign military installation. A protagonist argument to the foreign military base claims that the presence of sophisticated military will boost the attainment of national security objectives, thus leading to a global peace and security.
This argument relies on offensive (deterrence) and defensive concepts in the realist tradition of international relations.
On the other hand, antagonistic interpretation to this subject does not rule out the national security factor; however, it posits that establishment of military bases lead to potential arms race, and security dilemma in the region, which are other international relations theories to explain the subject in discussion. Henceforward, this monography acknowledges these two arguments, and tends to establish an inclusive sense through careful analyses, observations, and discussions.

Readmore for the Research: Berbera Basing Politics (Understanding Actors, Interests, and Animosities)

Full Length Research Paper:Berbera basing politics: Understanding actors,
interests, and animosities  BY: Najah M. Adam

Department of Diplomacy and International Relations, EUCLID University, Gambia.
Received 8 May, 2017; Accepted 5 June, 2017


The views expressed in this Research are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect Horndiplomat’s editorial policy.

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