Navy graffiti lines the walls of the dock. British, Japanese, German, US and other naval artists have left their mark, many of them en route to conflict in the Gulf. At the end of the dock lies a French destroyer.
To the rear, three fast US navy patrol boats speed off, veering towards Yemen as they leave the dock. Beyond the dock is a shimmering city on a hill.
This is Djibouti - formerly French Somaliland - a tiny state in the Horn of Africa.
Djibouti is dry, hot and barren. It is also very poor. Only 1 per cent of its land is arable. Outside the capital city the way of life is largely nomadic pastoralism.
This is an authoritarian state with a life expectancy of 49, high levels of infant mortality and tuberculosis, a literacy rate of less than 20 per cent and poor water, sanitation and housing.
Two-thirds of the population live in the capital city, the centre of which is surrounded by a huge and growing squatter slum. The population is divided into two main ethnic groups - Afars from Ethiopia who make up 38 per cent and Issa Somalis who make up 52 per cent.
Ninety per cent of Djibouti's food and virtually all its consumer goods are imported from France, Kenya and Ethiopia.
Most of Djibouti's income comes from its strategic location. It is the main deep water port in the region and has a relatively good transport infrastructure - roads and a railway connect Djibouti city to Addis Ababa carrying much of the imports and exports for its large land-locked neighbour.
It earns cash from refuelling, re-supply and harbour fees from passing merchant ships as well as transit fees for imported goods.
But its main geo-strategic importance comes from its position in the Horn of Africa. The nearby Bab el-Mandeb - the southern entrance to the Red Sea - is only 20 miles wide. Through it pass a large proportion of world trade and over 3.5 million barrels of oil every day, much of it bound for Europe.
Djibouti is France's biggest overseas military base and hosts several thousand French troops including the 13th Half Brigade of the Foreign Legion.
France also has a naval base in the port. And increasingly the port is used by US naval vessels for refuelling and as a forward staging base for military operations.
But today, the real importance of Djibouti is to be found in a little-known base south-east of the capital city.
Camp Lemonnier is the United States' main military base in Africa.
Described as an "expeditionary" air base, it is now heavily involved in a secret drone war against Yemen and Somalia.
Over the past two years it has been transformed into the "busiest Predator drone base outside the Afghan war zone," according to a recent article in the Washington Post.
Sixteen drones and four fighter jets fly missions from Djibouti every day - a number that is expected to increase as new investment of $1.4 billion will provide accommodation for over a thousand special forces at the camp. Already the base hosts 3,200 US military personnel.
From this base the United States military dispenses summary justice based on secret evidence which never has to be tested in a court of law.
Extra-judicial killing, which only a few years ago was condemned by the US and British governments, has become the modus operandi of the Obama administration and justified as a necessary part of the "war on terror."
And the drones who dispense this deadly "justice" are flown by pilots sitting at consoles in air-conditioned premises thousands of miles away in Nevada and New Mexico.
Only two countries in the world - the US and Israel - reserve to themselves the right to execute anyone they want, anywhere they want, regardless of the civilian casualties.
These are acts of international piracy which are in clear breach of international law. And they are profoundly counter-productive.
Every child bereaved because of a drone strike will grow up with a deep hatred of the US and determined to retaliate by any means possible. It gives new meaning to the term "rogue nation."
Camp Lemonnier is an example of how the Pentagon would like to see the future face of US warfare - a highly secretive low-impact base which gathers intelligence, carries out targeted assassinations, launches special forces operations and trains the armed forces of regional states to act as proxy armies.
In this new scheme the huge city-size bases such as those in Germany and Japan are out. So also are invasions and occupations on the scale of those which failed so spectacularly in Iraq and Afghanistan.
US hegemony will be sustained by building and strengthening alliances which seek to bind other countries into US foreign policy.
A key part of this evolving strategy will be last year's publicly announced "pivot" to Asia where the US will now make the Asia-Pacific area the centre of gravity of its political and military activity.
In part this is about trying to do more with less in a rapidly changing world. But most of all it is about containing China as its major economic rival. That is why it is consolidating its power at the choke points of world trade such as the Bab el-Mandeb.
Ours is a world in rapid transition. There is a grave danger that a US, crippled by debt and stagnation at home and crumbling influence abroad, will attempt to use its huge war machine to stamp its authority on the world. That's why, now more than ever, we need a peace movement.