In the military domain, Ethiopia and France reached a major breakthrough by signing a new military cooperation agreement that includes France’s assistance on the landlocked country’s aspiration to build up a new naval force, which could deepen the relations between the two countries to a new level. Ethiopia disbanded its navy in 1991 as it lost its only coastline to the Red Sea to Eritrea’s secession. However, Addis Ababa seems determined to reconstitute its navy as the security and strategic environment of the region is evolving. Ethiopia, which is currently landlocked is seeking to “unite the Horn of Africa economically” by creating an economic bloc as a former Ethiopian diplomat, Birhanemeskel Abebe, told the BBC last June. So a new navy could play a central role in this economic integration. But as Addis Ababa expressed its willingness, it would take a long time for Ethiopia to have a fully integrated and well-equipped naval force, although it is not yet clear to the extent to which Ethiopia is prepared to become a naval power. French help on this front would be helpful. Even though the details have not been disclosed, this new agreement cover areas including training and assistance, capacity building, air cooperation, joint operations, new opportunities for defense purchases and strategic level exchanges.
France is the only European power that is currently in the game, and willing to play an active role in the security, economic, geostrategic realms in the Horn of Africa, but this could be played both as an opportunity, as well as a laggard. If the strategic goal of France is to counter China’s muscular posture in the region, then a broad coalition of European countries would be needed – not just France alone. Nevertheless, as U.S. policy towards the region seems unclear, aside from the counter-terrorism missions in Somalia, there is a lack of a common European strategy toward the region and France will be the only country that is ready to play its cards in the region, although it will struggle to compete with China’s economic influence.
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