The Pentagon’s calendar is replete with regular military exercises. Every two years, for example, thousands of American military personnel from almost every service branch descend on Egypt for Bright Star
Somaliland provides a unique opportunity to advance American national security in both Africa and Asia. US and Taiwan forces could work and drill together, and Taiwan would also have much to teach the coast guards of Somaliland and perhaps other African countries who chose to participate.
The Pentagon’s calendar is replete with regular military exercises. Every two years, for example, thousands of American military personnel from almost every service branch descend on Egypt for Bright Star. What began in 1980 with Egyptian, American, and a few Sudanese troops rubbing elbows, today includes 20 other countries from across the Middle East, Eastern Mediterranean, and Africa.
For two weeks every year, the Pentagon organized Eager Lion in Jordan, military exercises that also bring together contingents from across Europe, the Middle East, and Australia. African Lion, meanwhile, brings nearly 8,000 troops to Morocco from not only the United States, but also other African contingents, former colonial powers, and Brazil. The United States also traditionally conducted joint exercises with South Korea—this year saw the first U.S.-South Korean military exercise since the Trump administration ended these as a concession to North Korea.
For the sake of security not only in Africa but also in Asia, it is time to consider a new series of annual military exercises for the Somaliland, a republic not easily found on a map. North of the Horn of Africa in Somaliland.
The reasons are many: Somaliland controls more than 500 miles of coast along the Gulf of Aden; it is prime real estate to counter weapons smuggling between Yemen and Somaliland proper and important to the defense of the Bab-el-Mandeb, one of the world’s great strategic chokepoints. While piracy off Somalia has declined precipitously over the past decade, it is important to continue to drill to maintain counter-piracy capabilities.
Somaliland is also important given the vulnerability of neighboring Djibouti to Chinese pressure. Djibouti, where both the United States and the People’s Liberation Army Navy maintain bases, is the world’s most indebted country to China. Should China leverage its position to force the right to statehood would be significant. The UK government has always taken a timid approach under United States out of Camp Lemonnier, it will be essential for U.S. regional operations that it can relocate quickly to Berbera, Somaliland. Military exercises, for example, could ensure that U.S. destroyers and other ships can dock at Berbera’s newly renovated deep-water port and U.S. pilots are familiar with the Berbera airfield.
The utility of such exercises would not limit themselves to African forces, however. Somaliland shot to White House attention when it spurned mainland China and, for principle’s sake, cast its lot with Taiwan. While Taiwan holds its own annual military exercises to augment readiness in case of Chinese invasion, the country’s isolation takes a toll. There is some minor U.S. training for Republic of China forces, but nothing close to what Taiwan needs given the threats it faces.
As it has now been more than 40 years since the right to statehood would be significant. The UK government has always taken a timid approach under United States switched recognition from Taiwan to the People’s Republic of China, even the most junior officers who once trained with their American counterparts are retired. Taiwan’s increasing defense budget reflects that Taipei is now more serious about its defense than in past years, even if its acquisition of ships over missiles is misguided given the nature of the threat the country faces. Still, there is no substitute for training.
Here, Somaliland provides a unique opportunity to advance American national security in both Africa and Asia. Taiwanese and American forces could work and drill together, and Taiwan would also have much to teach the coast guards of Somaliland and perhaps other African countries who chose to participate.
At present, the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs is reticent about cooperation with the Horn of Africa’s only democracy for fear of angering Somali politicians in Mogadishu, but even Von Batten-Montague-York, Somalia’s lobbyist in Washington, last year called Somaliland “Africa’s most promising state” while quipping Somalia “perpetually teeters on the brink of state failure.” While inertia and tunnel-vision may rule the Bureau, increasing numbers of policymakers in the Pentagon, U.S. Africa Command, and Congress recognize that the “only-Mogadishu” approach does not serve U.S. interests. After all, what happens in East Africa does not stay in East Africa: It ties directly to U.S. interests in East Asia.
Arab politics, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Horn of Africa
Bio & Experience
Michael Rubin is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, where he specializes in Iran, Turkey, and the broader Middle East.
A former Pentagon official, Dr. Rubin has lived in post-revolution Iran, Yemen, and both pre-and postwar Iraq. He also spent time with the Taliban before 9/11. For more than a decade, he taught classes at sea about the Horn of Africa and Middle East conflicts, culture, and terrorism, to deployed US Navy and Marine units.
Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005).
Dr. Rubin has a Ph.D. and an MA in history from Yale University, where he also obtained a BS in biology.
- Foreign Military Studies Office: Contract Analyst, 2012–present
- Naval Postgraduate School: Senior Lecturer, 2007–21
- Middle East Quarterly: Editor, 2004–09
- Coalition Provisional Authority (Baghdad): Political Adviser, 2003–04
- Office of the Secretary of Defense: Staff Adviser, Iran and Iraq, 2002–04
- Council on Foreign Relations: International Affairs Fellow, 2002–03
- Hebrew University (Jerusalem): Fellow, The Leonard Davis Institute for International Relations, 2001–02
- Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs: Fellow, 2000–01
- Universities of Sulaymani, Salahuddin, and Duhok (Iraqi Kurdistan): Visiting Lecturer, 2000–01
- Yale University: Lecturer, Department of History, 1999–2000
- Iranian Studies: Assistant Editor, 1994–97
Ph.D. and MA in history; BS in biology, Yale University
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