The states on the western side of the Red Sea to the south of Egypt and the Arab states from the east of Egypt through the Arabian Gulf have long been considered distinct regions. This is increasingly a distinction without a difference, however, as these states now operate more as a common political, security, and economic zone.
As Middle Eastern states are playing an increasingly assertive role in the Horn of Africa, a new geopolitical paradigm is emerging in that long-volatile region: Historic—and fragile—transitions are underway in Ethiopia and Sudan and a nascent rapprochement has taken hold between Ethiopia and Eritrea, among other developments, portending the most significant political shifts in the region in a generation.
The jostling for dominance in the Horn among the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, on the one hand, and Turkey and Qatar on the other is in some cases, such as Somalia, fueling instability and insecurity in an already fractious region where the United States has a number of core interests, from counter-terrorism to the security of vital trade routes. Competition over the use of the Nile between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia, while temporarily dormant, remains unresolved. Significant armed conflicts persist in Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Yemen, in which states on both sides of the Red Sea are engaged. Overlaying these rivalries among Middle Eastern actors is the Trump Administration’s elevation of U.S. strategic competition with China and Russia as the top national security priority as both are deepening their engagement in the Horn of Africa.
One of USIP’s comparative advantages is its ability to see over the horizon in order to anticipate the risks of violent conflict and to explore opportunities for addressing those challenges. To that end, USIP has launched a Red Sea initiative which aims to:
- Bridge the gap in analyzing the interconnected trans-regional dynamics between the Middle East and the Horn of Africa.
- Leverage USIP’s convening authority to work with policymakers in the United States, Europe, and Asia to overcome the institutional divides that often impede strategy for a region that traverses traditional geographic divides within bureaucracies and ident
- Explore opportunities for new multilateral formats to prevent, mitigate, and resolve conflict in the Red Sea region.
A Fraying Seam of World Order: Political & Security Dynamics in the Horn of Africa and Red Sea Region
January 18, 2018
This panel discussion explored the rapidly evolving geopolitical landscape in the Horn of Africa, including the cross-cutting political and security dynamics among the states of the Horn, the Arabian Gulf and the broader Red Sea region. Understanding of these developments is often obscured by the institutional divisions in government and the policy community between the Middle East and East Africa. The discussion aimed to bridge this divide and to identify opportunities for constructive U.S. diplomatic engagement in a challenging environment where the United States has a number of core interests.
The Gulf states increased assertiveness in the Horn of Africa has garnered substantial attention of late, particularly the proliferation of military installations and ports and the increase in military and economic aid. Less attention has been paid, however, to the role Middle Eastern countries have played in attempting to resolve some of the Horn’s most intractable conflicts, efforts that in some cases pre-date the more recent security and economic engagements.
USIP’s Susan Stigant and Payton Knopf discuss what led Ethiopia and Eritrea to sign a peace deal, how it can improve the economic and humanitarian conditions in both countries, and the broader strategic and regional implications for the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea.
Both the eastern and western shores of the Red Sea increasingly function as a common political and security arena in which the U.S. has significant interests, including the free flow of $700 billion in commerce and competition for influence from external powers like China and Iran. Addressing the region’s interlinked challenges requires a comprehensive U.S. strategy, says Payton Knopf.
This Special Report surveys the region’s various interstate hostilities and intrastate conflicts and suggests ways the United States can reassert its influence to begin contributing meaningfully to the resolution of South Sudan’s civil war and conflicts in the greater Red Sea region.
As the Horn of Africa and Arabian Gulf become increasingly interconnected, the U.S. needs an integrated regional political strategy.
On November 7, 2018, the U.S. Department of State announced long-awaited plans outlining a path to better relations with Sudan, “designed to expand our bilateral cooperation, facilitate meaningful reforms to enhance stability in Sudan, and achieve further progress in a number of areas of longstanding concern.” USIP’s Aly Verjee and Payton Knopf discuss the initiative, and identify where broader U.S. regional objectives could cohere, including in the war in Yemen.
David Shinn, a former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia and Burkina Faso, examines how great and regional power competition is impacting political and security dynamics in the Horn of Africa and complicating U.S. interests in the region.