Preventing Interstate Conflict Between Djibouti And Eritrea

Preventing Interstate Conflict Between Djibouti And Eritrea

Year(s): 2008 – 2011.

Location: Djibouti/Eritrea International Border.

UN Regional Group: Africa.

Type of Conflict: Risk of an Interstate Conflict.

Type of Initiative: Mediation of a peace agreement and a peacekeeping mission.

Main Implementing Organisation(s): The Government of Qatar.

Impact: Lasting.

Summary: A low-intensity interstate conflict between Djibouti and Eritrea was prevented from escalating into a major war thanks to the mediation efforts of the Government of Qatar and the deployment of a Qatari peacekeeping mission.

Description of Case 

The 110km border between Djibouti and Eritrea was ill-defined in the colonial treaties between France and Italy that established the territory of each state. When Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in the early 1990s, consolidating the country’s borders became a priority for the new administration. Djibouti and Eritrea almost went to war in 1996 over a territorial dispute, and relations worsened further during the 1998 – 2000 War between Eritrea and Ethiopia.[1] In February 2008, the Eritrean military began building up its forces along the disputed border and fortifying positions. The Djiboutian armed forces responded in kind, while the Government of France dispatched reinforcements to bases already established in Djibouti in support of the government there.[2] Tensions rose even further when the Government of Ethiopia pledged to use any means necessary to maintain its access to the Port of Djibouti.[3] In June, the desertion of some Eritrean soldiers, frequent skirmishing, and the destruction of an Eritrean gunboat marked further escalations of the conflict.[4] Thus, the dispute over a relatively minor peace of territory stood ready to spark an armed conflict between the huge Eritrean military and the Djiboutian armed forces (backed by France), with the Government of Ethiopia seemingly ready to join the fray.

Faced with a growing crisis, the Arab League dispatched a fact-finding mission in May 2008. The Government of Eritrea refused to cooperate, rejecting African Union and UN delegations in June as well.[5] The situation remained deadlocked for the rest of the year, prompting the UN Security Council to demand that the Eritrean military withdraw its forces from the disputed area in January 2009. Ongoing Eritrean recalcitrance kept tensions high until, in June 2010, the Government of Qatar succeeded in facilitating and mediating talks between the belligerents after prolonged shuttle diplomacy.[6] The talks concluded with the signing of an agreement which ended the conflict and established the Government of Qatar as the formal arbiter of the territorial dispute.[7] A boundary commission, led by the Qatari prime minister, was mandated to investigate and issue a verdict while 700 Qatari peacekeepers monitored compliance with the ceasefire and the withdrawal of troops from the disputed area.[8] The efforts of the Government of Qatar succeeded in preventing an interstate conflict and calmed a tense situation which threatened regional stability.

[1] UCDP. Djibouti – Eritrea. (UCDP, 2020) Available at: (Accessed 07/12/2020)

[2] Kevin Frank. “Ripeness and the 2008 Djibouti-Eritrea Border Dispute.” Northeast African Studies, Vol. 15, No. 1. (2015) pp.122-4

[3] Berouk Mesfin. “The Eritrea-Djibouti border dispute.” Institute for Security Studies Situation Report. (2008) p.7

[4] UCDP. Djibouti – Eritrea.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Frank. “Ripeness and the 2008 Djibouti-Eritrea Border Dispute.” pp.125-6

[7] Agreement between the State of Eritrea and the Republic of Djibouti, 2011. Available at: (Accessed 07/12/2020)

[8] Somalilandpress. “Qatar to deploy troops to Djibouti and Eritrea.” Defence Web. (2010) Available at: (Accessed 07/12/2020)