U.S.-ROK Ties: Enhancing Collaboration on Maritime Security in Africa
Maritime Security: A Reflection of Terrestrial Conditions
Maritime security is a complex and often overlooked aspect of the African security picture that crosses political, economic, and diplomatic lines. Indeed, insecurity at sea is often a manifestation of broader historical, governance, and security issues taking place on land, shaping African leaders’ perceptions of the maritime space and their capacity to fully monitor and understand how their personal and national interests are impacted in this area. African governments, particularly those with authoritarian leanings, tend to focus narrowly on preventing and managing those issues that most directly threaten the regime in power and their political allies—concerns that, on the surface, often appear disconnected from the maritime space. Land-based conflicts and instability have drawn significant regional and international attention throughout the years, prompting cooperation on building police and army capacity to counter these threats among host governments and their foreign partners. However, this focus on addressing immediate, traditional security risks has often excluded a maritime component. Indeed, insecurity in Africa’s waters can often exacerbate the causes of instability on land by disrupting local economies, driving localized unemployment, and increasing competition for diminishing resources.
Indeed, insecurity in Africa’s waters can often exacerbate the causes of instability on land by disrupting local economies, driving localized unemployment, and increasing competition for diminishing resources.
Instability at sea has a profound impact on the economies and development of not only coastal states but also those landlocked countries that rely on their coastal neighbors for commerce and trade. For example, the cost to African economies of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing goes beyond the direct impact on GDP to food security and poverty reduction efforts. Fish is the main source of nutrition for 200 million people across the continent, and the legal, artisanal fishing industry employs at least 12 million people in sub-Saharan Africa. Legitimate fishing is also an employment multiplier—for every Mauritanian fisherman, over three more jobs are created on land in the industry, according to the World Bank. Yet, African economies lose nearly USD 2 billion yearly through illegal fishing and nearly USD 600 million in household incomes every year. The disruption that IUU fishing poses to food security and economic stability becomes more acute against the backdrop of climate change, which has contributed to diminishing fish stocks in the Gulf of Guinea.
Piracy has disrupted seaborne commerce, raising shipping costs as insurers increase their rates on vessels and their operators hire guards to protect crews, increasing the overall cost of commerce. While the Gulf of Guinea has overtaken the Gulf of Aden as a piracy hotspot, ongoing instability in that region risks reversing those gains. The spread of jihadist insurgencies to coastal communities, combined with preexisting criminal networks operating at sea, heighten the threat to human security. Violence in the Sahel region has already spilled into Côte d’Ivoire and threatens Senegal, while the insurgency in northern Mozambique leveraged its presence in coastal towns to increase attacks against nearby islands, disrupting tourism and liquified natural gas exploration. While the insurgent presence in major port towns of Cabo Delgado Province has diminished, regular attacks on fishermen serve as a reminder of the jihadists’ potential reach into the sea and its capacity to continue disrupting commerce and stability, albeit on a lower scale than before foreign intervention forced the group to reduce its presence this area.
Countering these maritime threats is a complex challenge for the countries most impacted and their regional and international partners. A fundamental stumbling block has been the effort to generate political will at the highest levels of government to devote resources toward developing and implementing a strategic, long-term approach to securing each country’s territorial waters. The lack of political will stems in part from a lack of understanding and knowledge of the activities taking place in this area, which is in turn a function of weak domestic capabilities to monitor and defend the maritime space. For example, despite having the fourth-longest coastline in Africa, as of 2020, Mozambique had only 12 patrol and coastal combat vessels and an estimated 2,000 active naval officers. Furthermore, the lack of transparency in this domain has allowed for official corruption to flourish, further disincentivizing governments to take more proactive and collaborative approaches to maritime insecurity. The impact and heft of corruption in this space is best illustrated in the hidden debt scandal in Mozambique and the Namibia Fishrot scandal, schemes which lined the pockets of senior government officials. African naval and coast guard capabilities are insufficient to effectively monitor and enforce their exclusive economic zones, even among countries with robust armies. Moreover, even in a scenario where states have the capacity to confront maritime crimes, the absence of a legal foundation can weaken these efforts as criminals and pirates are released from detention or serve minimal sentences. Indeed, the development of laws governing hot pursuit has helped to counter maritime crimes in the Gulf of Guinea.
The transnational nature of these threats calls for a multinational approach, and indeed, a host of African and non-African actors have emerged to answer this call. Regional organizations have developed protocols and agreements to govern cooperation in the maritime space. For example, the Yaoundé Code of Conduct, signed in 2017, creates a framework to deepen cooperation, coordination, and interoperability of community resources among African states in the Gulf of Guinea to better counter piracy and other maritime criminal activity. The Djibouti Code of Conduct, developed in 2009 and revised in 2017, creates a similar system for states with a vested interest in security in the Gulf of Aden; it encourages them to share intelligence, define maritime crimes, and coordinate their operations in the region. However, weak political will at the national level, disagreement on the prioritization of issues, and a lack of resources have slowed implementation of some aspects of these accords. Furthermore, the growing presence of international actors who themselves have at times competing interests in the region further complicates this space. Djibouti, for example, is home to eight different foreign bases, with other countries reportedly interested in establishing a military footprint there as well. In Mozambique alone, at least four foreign actors are active in the maritime space: the United States and the European Union are training Mozambican marines, India has donated multiple patrol boats and sought to deepen the bilateral relationship within the maritime context, and the Rwandan military has deployed a small coastal patrol unit within its broader deployment to Cabo Delgado Province. However, these actors are operating without a clear coordinating body, risking duplication of effort. Additionally, China’s presence in the maritime space can exacerbate at times the very trends these regional groupings and partnerships are attempting to counter. A Pew Charitable Trusts study from 2012 estimated that West Africa accounted for 64 percent of China’s annual catch between 2000 and 2011.
A coordinated U.S.-Republic of Korea (ROK) approach to African maritime security has the potential to help make progress on some of the issues that have stymied the sector. The United States and South Korea share extensive experience in the areas where African partners need the most assistance, such as developing maritime laws and building the capacity to enforce those laws. The Biden administration’s new Africa policy, with its focus on supporting efforts at climate conservation, transparency, and economic growth, is in line with different aspects of the maritime security problem set. Further, South Korea’s experience in supporting entrepreneurship and small- to medium-sized enterprises will enhance a more comprehensive approach to maritime security that incorporates each individual country’s development goals. Coordination will have the added benefit of reducing the risk of redundancies and inefficiencies in foreign approaches to African maritime security; indeed, both countries could work in multilateral forums to advocate for greater coordination and collaboration in the maritime security space.
Further, South Korea’s experience in supporting entrepreneurship and small- to medium-sized enterprises will enhance a more comprehensive approach to maritime security that incorporates each individual country’s development goals.
This paper will explore three of the major maritime security threats facing Africa today: IUU fishing, human security, and piracy. Using case studies, this paper will assess the factors driving these security issues, their impact on governance and economic security, and the specific impediments each case study country faces in managing these threats. This paper will address explore ways the United States and South Korea can better partner to address these maritime security issues and look at ways the United States has partnered with other countries in addressing maritime issues in Africa.
Case Studies: Senegal, Equatorial Guinea, Djibouti, and Mozambique
Senegal, Equatorial Guinea, Mozambique, and Djibouti illustrate the dynamics on land that drive insecurity at sea. Each of these countries has directly experienced the economic and security costs of neglecting the maritime domain, but at the same time, they have struggled to develop and sustain the political will and dedicate the necessary resources to better address these issues—even with substantial international support.
Senegal: Battling IUU Fishing amid Shifting Political Dynamics
Senegal has benefited from decades of relative stability and peaceful political transitions, which has allowed the country to evolve into a regional political and security leader despite its maritime security challenges. Senegal’s contributions to the UN peacekeeping missions and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) deployments have burnished its security credentials, while its active role in negotiating political transitions among its turbulent neighbors has elevated its diplomatic role in West Africa. Senegal has also emerged as key partner to the United States in the region, having signed a bilateral defense agreement in 2016; it is a beneficiary of such programs as the Millennium Challenge Account, Build Back Better, and the African Growth and Opportunities Act.
Senegal is facing potential spillover from neighboring jihadist conflicts, a simmering separatist movement, and a changing political landscape, issues that will push maritime security further down the government’s priorities list. Senegal’s proximity to the highly unstable Sahelian region, combined with its lucrative gold mines, make it a potentially appealing target to these groups as they eye expansion into the coastal region of West Africa. President Macky Sall is also facing more rigorous opposition to his government. Ousmane Sonko, a rising opposition politician based in the restive Casamance region, has announced his intention to run for president in 2024, potentially challenging Sall—if the constitution is amended to allow for a third term—or his chosen successor candidate. Furthermore, the parliamentary elections that took place in July 2022 resulted in the ruling party losing its supermajority in the legislature, forcing Sall and his allies to increase political bargaining with the majority coalition and constraining to some degree his ability to push policies through. At the root of these shifting political winds is a disgruntled population demanding more transparency in government and respect for rule of law.
Against this backdrop of changing political dynamics and potential security threats, Senegal must also manage multiple maritime security concerns, including IUU fishing. The legal, artisanal fishing industry employs 17 percent of the population, emerging as an important source of income for rural populations who may otherwise have limited employment opportunities. Fish also represents the primary source of animal protein for over 75 percent of Senegal’s population, making it a staple food in the Senegalese diet. However, IUU fishing, combined with generous fishing agreements with foreign partners, caused the licit fishing industry to lose USD 300 million of its revenue in 2012, a trend that has worsened in subsequent years. While the overall direct economic impact may be minor—fishing only accounts for 3 percent of Senegal’s GDP—the impact on fishing communities has been heavy and has contributed to an uptick in migration to Europe as youth seek better economic opportunities. Continued disruption in the fishing industry and lack of government progress in developing a sustainable solution may further inflame popular frustration with governance.
Senegal’s overall approach to the maritime space has improved with international partnership that has helped those individuals in the Senegalese government most committed to securing this space develop and enforce maritime laws. However, Senegal’s response to this economic issue has been uneven and insufficient to meet the precise needs of those most impacted by this fishing trend. This highlights how governments are faced with the ongoing challenge of properly assessing the problem they are facing in the maritime space despite lacking the resources to do so, hindering their ability to develop appropriate policy responses. Last year, Sall proposed a plan to provide artisanal fishermen with motorized, fiberglass boats and subsidized lifejackets to support the fishing industry. However, the Association for the Promotion and Empowerment of Artisanal Fishing Actors—an organization that represents the interests of artisanal fishermen—pushed back against the government’s plan, demanding that the government focus greater attention to the state of exploitation and poor transparency in this industry, noting “if fish is not there, we will not be able to fish, even if they gave us gold canoes.” The government’s approach to IUU fishing further drove a wedge between the government and the artisanal fishing community earlier this year when it reportedly issued licenses to Chinese fishing vessels that had been implicated in IUU fishing.
Equatorial Guinea: Autocratic Approach to Combating Piracy
Equatorial Guinea’s closed political environment adds complexity to the country’s ability to manage its maritime space even as international attention to piracy in the Gulf of Guinea grows. At 80 years of age, President Teodoro Obiang, who took power from his uncle in a coup in 1979, is currently Africa’s longest-serving president. During his decades in power, he has consolidated his control over every aspect of government, including those institutions that theoretically could serve as a check on executive power. His placement of family members in key government positions, such as the Ministry of Mines and Hydrocarbons, has given him and his allies almost unfettered access to the country’s resources and income, enabling him to award government contracts to allies and to use national resources at his personal discretion without oversight. Most importantly for maritime security, the government has essentially made the security services’ mission to serve the Obiang family and ensure they stay in power rather than to protect the national good. Indeed, the security services are often used to silence the opposition, with little regard for human rights. Given President Obiang’s age, however, there are rising concerns about a near-term potential leadership transition and its impact on the country and the region.
The government’s use of state institutions to ensure that the Obiang family stays in power has shaped its approach to maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea, the new hotspot for piracy. At its peak, acts of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea—including kidnapping, assassination of crew members, vessel boarding, and armed attacks—accounted for 43 percent of global piracy events and 95 percent of kidnappings at sea. Experts note that instances of piracy have declined between 2020 and 2021, but some anticipate a renewed surge as global commerce recovers from the pandemic years and demands for oil from this region increases. The shift of piracy deeper into the gulf and further out of these states’ limited reach has added a new challenge and layer of complexity to the response of any individual country or of the region as a whole. However, according to an academic study, piracy has not impacted Equatorial Guinea as directly as it has impacted as some of its neighbors—a trend that diminishes this security threat as a priority for the regime. Furthermore, some maritime analysts point to the transnational organized crime element of piracy in this region and its possible tolerance by corrupt and opaque regimes, which allows civil servants to collaborate with groups engaging more easily and discreetly in piracy—a trend that Equatorial Guinea would be vulnerable to, given the high concentration of power in the Obiang family and the lack of government oversight. Equatorial Guinea also stands placed to contribute to maritime criminal networks as result of its economic policies that tend to concentrate wealth among the elites at the expense of the general population. International financial institutions estimate that as of 2020, the poverty rate in Equatorial Guinea was roughly 67 percent and the national unemployment rate about 9 percent, a trend that worsened among women and youth, leaving this demographic more vulnerable to recruitment into organized crime and piracy.
Equatorial Guinea’s location at the center of the Gulf of Guinea makes it an important actor in combating maritime insecurity, but the weak incentives for sustained commitment to combating the risk of piracy reduce the effectiveness of bilateral maritime security initiatives. U.S.-led multinational exercises have transferred some learning to Guinean partners, however, and some experts credit this with helping the country counter Chinese illegal fishing, as well as oil bunkering from Nigeria. Nonetheless, the number of people with this training is far less than required to effectively monitor maritime security activities—particularly as the threat moves into deeper waters—and is occurring outside any integrated national strategy to combat maritime crimes.
Mozambique: Insurgency and Crime Heighten Human Insecurity
The declining security environment in the Cabo Delgado Province of northern Mozambique illustrates the close relationship between maritime security and land-based conflicts. Active since 2017, the Islamic State affiliate in Mozambique—al Shabaab, as the locals refer to it—is rooted in long-standing political and economic grievances, primarily among the Mweni people who dominate the coastal region of this province. Al Shabaab initially focused on attacking isolated civilians working in fields and gaining control over the primary paved road linking the northern and southern regions of the province. As the group grew stronger, it shifted its focus even closer to the coast, attacking fishermen and launching small-scale incursions against coastal towns. These trial attacks in 2020 culminated in the group capturing Mocímboa da Praia in August 2021, a port town essential to local commerce and to the resupply of government forces operating in Cabo Delgado. The group used its presence in Mocímboa da Praia to expand its maritime presence, launching attacks against a string of islands off the coast as both a show of force and an opportunity to gain supplies and recruits. Mocímboa da Praia also served as a convenient base from which to bring in new fighters by sea from neighboring Nampula Province, helping to strengthen the group further. Al Shabaab’s maritime presence peaked in March 2021 when it launched an assault against Palma, a coastal town farther north that had been a base for foreign workers and companies engaging in gas exploration in that area. This attack, with its direct impact on foreign nationals, proved to be a strategic error over the long run, as international pressure on Maputo to allow foreign troops to intervene against this armed group reached its crescendo. The eventual deployment of Rwandan Defense Forces (RDF) and the Southern African Development Community Mission to Mozambique (SAMIM) in July and August 2021 has helped reduce al Shabaab’s presence in these coastal areas, but the group has nonetheless demonstrated an intent to carry on with its fight, leaving this maritime space vulnerable.
Compounding the threat to human security in the Mozambique channel is the presence of criminal networks trafficking illicit drugs, timber, gems, animal products, and humans. Al Shabaab is unlikely directly participating the illicit economy, according to academic studies of the group’s operations; in fact, the eruption of violence in Cabo Delgado has likely forced traffickers to shift operations further south to more secure environments. However, the shift in geographic location has not diminished the pace or value of these trades. For example, experts estimate 10 to 20 tons of heroin traverses Mozambique yearly, valued at USD 20 million per ton, making it one of Mozambique’s largest exports. Illegal logging exports, the vast majority of which are sent to China, cost the country at least USD 500 million yearly, according to a Mozambican official.
Mozambique is another illustration of how poor governance and corruption can not only impede an effective response to maritime security challenges but at times worsen the problem. With a coastline of over 4,000 kilometers, Mozambique has only 12 patrol and attack boats to monitor this vast area, making it one of the least prepared African countries for defending its coast and protecting its exclusive economic zone. However, it has invested little in correcting course. Indeed, one of the most notorious corruption scandals in Mozambican history centered on a loan scheme, ostensibly to permit the Mozambican government to purchase maritime policing boats, finance shipyard improvements, and build its tuna fleet. However, the portion of the loan that has been disbursed largely went to line official pockets, and what few patrol boats were purchased have been left rusting in a Mozambican port.
The government’s approach to the conflict in northern Mozambique has also influenced the ability of partner nations to help address the maritime component of this conflict. Mozambican officials tend to argue that this insurgency has been fomented externally by unnamed groups and individuals seeking to disrupt the liquified natural gas project, giving little attention to the fundamental economic and political grievances that lie at the heart of this conflict. Indeed, the lack of economic opportunities in Mozambique not only aids in al Shabaab’s recruitment of youth seeking gainful employment, but feeds into the illicit economy in this part of the country. More recently, the government has focused on security surrounding Palma and Mocímboa da Praia as a way of showing the international community and foreign investors that the area is now secure enough for work to resume. To the extent that the government remains focused on security in this limited area and the international community accepts its argument that the area is secure, the incentive to invest more in the navy and coast guard will be reduced.
U.S. and Portuguese military trainers have focused much of their assistance on the Mozambican marines in recognition of the maritime component to this conflict, but absent greater investment in the equipment that they need to be fully operational and integration into a broader strategy, this training will likely have limited impact. Similarly, maritime deployments as part of Rwanda’s military approach to the region have been nominal and have not had significant impact on the course of the conflict.
Climate change is one area that has not received adequate attention in foreign engagement and domestic policy in Mozambique. Due to its location, the country is particularly vulnerable to droughts, floods, and cyclones, which happen frequently; these increasingly affect human security and fuel the population’s grievances. One cannot ignore this crucial element, which is bound to exacerbate the conflict.
Djibouti: Relying on Geostrategic Importance to Drive International Partnerships
For the Djiboutian government, led since 1999 by President Ismail Omar Guelleh, the security of the country’s ports and the safe passage of vessels through the Gulf of Aden is a national security priority, but one that the government has largely outsourced to foreign partners. Djibouti City and its port are at the heart of the Djiboutian economy. France established Djibouti City in 1888 to expressly serve as a port to serve French interests in the Horn of Africa, a role that it has continued, acting as a major hub since independence. Roughly 21,000 ships cross the Gulf of Aden annually, making the Djiboutian ports an important resource for bunkering and refueling. Djibouti’s port is also an important transit point for its landlocked neighbors. For example, before the conflict in Tigray dampened Ethiopian economic activity, roughly 95 percent of Ethiopian trade traversed this port, bringing in as much as USD 1.5 billion in port fees. The importance of the port to the Djiboutian economy is a function of the country’s limited and dwindling resources. What little farming has taken place in the countryside has been severely reduced by successive droughts, driving 75 percent of the population to the capital and contributing to a national unemployment rate of 50 percent. Furthermore, high levels of corruption and opaque licensing practices have deterred foreign investment, increasing the strategic economic importance of the nation’s ports.
Djibouti’s geostrategic importance has allowed it to outsource its maritime security to the international community who seek to preserve and protect maritime trade in this area. The rise of piracy in the region during the past 20 years, including high-profile assassinations and hijackings of U.S. and Chinese vessels, drove a surge in international interest in the Gulf of Aden, which culminated in a UN Security Council authorization to India, the United States, and others to deploy warships to protect commercial vessels. Over time, 33 nations joined this Bahrain-based coalition dedicated to security in the Gulf of Aden, giving Djibouti ample support in securing the maritime space. Djibouti’s geostrategic location also drew foreign interest in basing rights, a project that has added an estimated USD 125 million annually to government coffers. Djibouti is currently home to eight foreign military bases, including China’s first African base and the only permanent U.S. military presence on the continent.
Opportunities for Collaboration between the United States and South Korea
Partnership between the United States and South Korea provides an opportunity for both countries to more efficiently leverage their expertise and resources to engage with African governments on these issues. Collaboration in support of maritime security initiatives should take a comprehensive approach to the maritime security problem, looking at those terrestrial drivers most relevant to IUU fishing, piracy, and human security.
Raise awareness of personal impact of maritime insecurity. Perhaps the most significant and difficult stumbling block to improving maritime security is the lack of political will to address the problem. Experts have noted that many African governments will pay lip service to maritime security but have not truly bought into the idea that securing their territorial waters is an absolute necessity, on par with protecting the capital or the presidential palace. Diplomatic initiatives designed to increase awareness of the true threat that unregulated waters may pose to a regime will be an important first step to gaining greater commitment from African partners. Furthermore, South Korean and U.S. diplomats can work together to identify those individuals or institutions within partner governments and civil society who are committed to improving maritime security and give them a greater voice in developing and implementing a maritime security policy. This type of internal advocacy played an important role in helping Senegal become more independent and engaged in the broader maritime security problem.
Build detection and monitor capacity. African governments often do not have the resources to directly acquire the necessary actionable strategic or tactical intelligence about their maritime spaces that will allow them to develop a more comprehensive and detailed understanding of the threat they face. The costs of maintaining an effective naval or coast guard force far outpace those associated with an infantry-based army. Furthermore, the prioritization of other, more directly pressing security matters often diverts resources from the maritime space when they are available. Third-party providers and partners can fill in this gap to a degree, but at the potential risk of disinformation and misinformation. The United States and South Korea could provide an important service to African partners in collaborating on building this capacity through the provision of equipment, training on how to use and maintain these resources, and training to allow analysts to provide their government with better assessments of the maritime threat.
Invigorate preexisting coordination mechanisms. The resource-intense responses required to counter IUU fishing and piracy and to protect human security in the maritime space exceed the capacity of any single country, leading to regional and multilateral approaches to protecting the seas. Initiatives like the Yaoundé Code of Conduct and the Djibouti Code of Conduct have allowed regional groupings, in conjunction with non-African partners, to develop legal frameworks to better define the rules of engagement of regional navies and coast guards and to create mechanisms for greater information sharing and collaboration. Where these projects fall short, however, is in sustaining investment and focus over the long term in light of competing demands on participant governments, including international partners. Dividing the cost and personnel required to support the implementation of these mechanisms between South Korean and U.S. partners would facilitate long-term engagement at a reduced cost for both. Furthermore, the dedication of liaison officers who will work closely with African partners over the long term would signal U.S. and ROK commitment to seeing these mechanisms work.
Collaborate on economic development programs. South Korea’s ongoing work in support of African youth and entrepreneurship dovetails nicely with the Biden administration’s new Africa policy, which contains provisions for supporting economic growth and preventing youth marginalization. Coordinating programs to provide greater economic opportunities for youth would help reduce their vulnerability to recruitment into criminal activity, including in the maritime space. More importantly, collaboration on programs that integrate the maritime space into broader economic development goals would help elevate the profile and value of the seas in capitals across Africa, potentially helping to generate greater interest and will to invest in protecting these spaces.
More importantly, collaboration on programs that integrate the maritime space into broader economic development goals would help elevate the profile and value of the seas in capitals across Africa, potentially helping to generate greater interest and will to invest in protecting these spaces.
Continue joint maritime exercises. The United States and South Korea already engage in joint exercises in Asia, and the United States regularly carries out exercises with African partners in both the Gulf of Guinea and the Indian Ocean. Including South Korea in these exercises would be an excellent opportunity for South Korea to share its own experiences in combatting maritime insecurity. Including African counterparts to in U.S.-ROK exercises in Asia would serve as another means of signaling commitment and true partnership in supporting African maritime security initiatives.
U.S.-Japanese Security Partnership in Africa
U.S. collaboration with Japan on areas of mutual security interest in Africa provides a useful illustration of the benefits of coordinated, multilateral approaches to these difficult security matters. Japan had been an important provider of development aid in Africa since the 1990s, focusing its efforts continent-wide on combating poverty and encouraging economic growth with an eye toward increasing Japanese business opportunities and access to resources. This economic and development focus began to shift in 2009 when piracy in the Gulf of Aden threatened Japanese maritime commerce, prompting Japan to take the unprecedented measure of deploying Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) assets to the region to join the broader anti-piracy coalition underway.
Japan’s participation in these multilateral counterpiracy efforts laid the groundwork for greater bilateral collaboration between Japan and the United States. Indeed, Japan’s initial deployment to the region was under the auspices of the U.S. global war on terror, before the UN Security Council resolutions on piracy paved the way for Japanese legislators to modify laws allowing their forces to expand their mission into counterpiracy operations. Japanese laws prior to 2009 restricted the types of activities the MSDF could carry out, which opened the door to a greater division of labor between the participating countries. From a practical standpoint, Japan lacked the logistical facilities on the ground to support its deployment, leading to Japan sharing U.S. Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti until its own base was completed in 2011, just one mile away from Lemonnier. This period of shared physical space likely allowed long-term personal relationships to form between both militaries’ leadership and rank-and-file that would help institutionalize cooperation in the security space.
In the years since, the two countries have continued to grow in their partnership. While the United States has extensive history in the region and more operational freedom than Japan, which it can bring to bear on the security environment, Japan’s soft power and “outsider” status perhaps give it better entrée in some areas than its U.S. partners. U.S. and Japanese forces participating in the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) regularly engage in joint exercises, training activities, operations, and civic outreach programs. The two countries continue to explore new areas of collaboration, conducting a Tactical Combat Casualty Care knowledge exchange for the first time in May 2022.
Emilia Columbo is a senior associate (non-resident) with the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
This report is made possible by the generous support of South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
This report is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is non-partisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).
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