In early 2016, China began construction on its first major overseas military base.

Perhaps surprisingly, the location was Djibouti - a tiny nation on the horn of Africa. Although
the move was somewhat unexpected, it wasn’t unprecedented, as a number of world powers,
including the United States, France and Japan, already have outposts in the country.
So, of all places, why Djibouti?

Well, when it comes to places for a military base, Djibouti is prime real estate.
The country is in close proximity to hotbeds in Africa and the Middle East, including Somalia, Sudan
and Yemen.
That means security forces in Djibouti are just minutes away from a number of conflict zones, and yet they don’t need to be based there. This was demonstrated in 2012, when US Navy Seals stationed in Djibouti rescued two aid workers from Somalia, a mission, experts say would have been close to impossible had they been stationed elsewhere.
The US’ Djiboutian military base, Camp Lemonnier, is crucial to maintaining its interests in the Middle East, including the war on terror in Syria and Iraq.
In 2013, it was estimated that Camp Lemonnier deploys and lands up to 16 drones to the region each day.

Djibouti is also convenient to the Suez Canal, which is one of the world’s busiest and most valuable shipping routes. With nearly a billion tons of goods passing through every year, the waterway is a target for pirates, most of whom come from neighboring Somalia. This put Djibouti at the center of the international effort to protect security in the region.

On top of this, Djibouti is a relatively peaceful country, and their leaders are very welcoming to foreign military bases. In fact, France, Spain and Japan all built outposts in Djibouti under direct invitation from the government. It’s not difficult to imagine why Djibouti is so welcoming, as foreign military bases serve an economic lifeblood to the otherwise impoverished country. The US reportedly pays Djibouti $70 million dollars per year in rent, and China is slated to pay upwards of $100 million. That’s big money for a country with a GDP of just one-and-a-half billion.

So in many ways, Djibouti’s military bases are a win-win situation: Djibouti makes money, and world powers have a safe-haven among war-torn regions. But some have criticized this cozy relationship, saying that it leads to Western apathy in the face of Djibouti’s assaults on free press and democracy. Djibouti’s current president has amended the country’s constitution to extend his reign despite public opposition, and has been called a dictator by much of the international media. But world powers like China and Saudi Arabia are still planning outposts in the country, and the US is nowhere near the end of its two-decade lease. As a result, Djibouti will likely remain a gem in the eyes of the West.

The U.S. military has hundreds of bases in almost 150 nations, but are they all as welcoming as Djibouti?