From the point of view of small countries like Finland, military racing equipment on the trade route is bad news.
In the old in the will, Moses divided the Red Sea. Today it is shared by the great powers.
Russia announced a week ago on Monday that it would set up a naval base off the coast of Sudan in Port Sudan. The announcement was not surprising in the sense that Russia has been negotiating the establishment of bases for a long time with other states in the region.
Russia is just the newest entrant on the coastline, with bases from different countries located right next to each other in places.
South of Port Sudan, the port of Suakin, also in Sudan, is owned by Turkey and its ally Qatar. Turkey is suspected of developing a base from the port, but Turkey has not confirmed this. Further south in Somalia, however, Turkey has a large military base.
At the “Gate of Tears,” or Bab el Mandeb Strait, the small state off the coast of Djibouti has purchased a base from six countries: the United States, France, Italy, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and most recently China in 2017.
There would be more newcomers. Saudi Arabia is planning to set up a military base in Djibouti, as is Egypt.
Read more: Why is Djibouti important, and what did Macron do there? Everyone now wants a foothold in a small state
What all those soldiers do on the same beaches?
The pattern is complex, but to simplify, a lot of money and resources are crystallizing around the Red Sea and the Horn of Africa, soon perhaps many more, says the Foreign Ministry’s Development Policy Adviser. Olli Ruohomäki.
Billions of goods pass through Bab el Mandeb: consumer goods, oil, food. The Red Sea connects the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean via the Suez Canal. Products sold from Asia to Europe as well as oil sold from the Middle East pass through it. Red Sea shore bases are also used to secure the Gulf oil trade.
The region is also a convenient gateway to East Africa, whose growing markets and significant natural resources have been taken over by many great powers. Ruohomäki thinks that the growing commercial importance of East Africa has also attracted Russia to the brink, in addition to which it wants to show its power.
“Russia wants to be a respected gambler in Africa.”
In addition to its base in Djiboutin, China has invested in major trade and construction projects in neighboring Ethiopia. Saudi Arabia and China are also growing more and more food in African fields. Turkey, for its part, has concluded agreements, especially in Somalia, whose coastal waters contain at least fish and possibly oil.
Trade overseen by soldiers, because in an unstable and fragmented area, ordinary contracts do not apply. There is an old-fashioned law of the strongest, the politics of power.
“Gentleman negotiations do not work in the Red Sea,” Ruohomäki describes.
“Instead of building fences and saying that this isn’t going to get over, we’re taking this. A bit like the Alaskan gold rush. ”
On the African coast, Sudan, Eritrea and Somalia are all fragile states, and on the opposite shore of the strait, Yemen is the epitome of war. States argue with each other and make agreements with whoever foreign power.
Fast-growing countries need foreign investment money, projects and jobs. Ethiopia alone is already home to more than a hundred million people, and that number is projected to rise by tens of millions in a decade. In return for investment, African leaders offer, for example, low-cost trade agreements or the right to set up a military base.
On top of each other thus accumulating conflicting tensions: of the players in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates are pulling in one direction, Turkey and Qatar in the other. The world’s superpower region used to be dominated mainly by the United States, but now China and Russia are also improving their positions. The pirates are still confusing the pack.
“The United States has been really significant and has secured shipping on the Asia Pacific side. [Presidentti Donald] Trumpin However, the United States has withdrawn and other players are taking over. “
“Gentlemen’s negotiations do not work in the Red Sea.”
The EU is an important trading partner for many players, but in a game that requires brute force, the Union has little weight.
“These are already very different actors in principle, and international tensions are now being copied on it,” says Ruohomäki.
“There are a lot of armed actors in a small area with tense gaps that can flare up.”
Foreign policy senior researcher at the institute Marco Siddin according to non-Western actors in particular, have increased their influence in the Red Sea region.
The Djibouti base is China’s first actual military base abroad, although it has funded a wide range of construction and port projects. Similarly, Russia has so far had a naval base outside its borders only in Syria, although mercenaries from the Russian company Wagner have already been used in East Africa in the past.
China and Russia have a growing motivation to secure their position because they need more resources, Siddi speculates.
“The United States still has a significant role to play, but it is no longer as dependent on Middle Eastern oil,” Siddi says.
“China, on the other hand, is completely dependent on it. Likewise, the base planned by Russia is strategically important to it because of oil. In this way, Russia also promotes the image of a multipolar world order in which it is one of the poles. ”
Agreements and battles are fought between leaders and armies, but according to Ruohomäki, the easiest victims are civilians on the African coast, whose interests are not necessarily taken care of by anyone.
Small states like Finland also suffer when things are decided by force, Ruohomäki reminds. Goods and energy also pass through the Red Sea. Noiseless passage is to our advantage.
“Instability is reflected with a delay here. After all, we have also received refugees from Somalia and Eritrea, ”he says.
“There is always a treaty-based world order in the interests of a small state like Finland. ”