The seminar hosts a group of experts specialized in Yemen and Africa to discuss the impacts of the ongoing conflicts in the coastal states of the Red Sea on the region’s security.
During the seminar Yahia Amer, a Somali academician and researcher said “The Red Sea must be viewed from three dimensions; transport, military and economic. The location of this area is very important because it links together the Indian Ocean, Africa, and Europe.”
“The Gulf States want to transport the oil to the World; they invest in Ethiopia, Djibouti, Sudan, and other areas in the region. It is obvious that the relationship between the Gulf States and the Horn of Africa is grown. Therefore, there is a need for security in the area of the Red Sea and the Horn of Africa,” he added.
In addition, Khalid Musa Dafalla, former ambassador and an expert on regional security and international affairs, confirms that the Red Sea is the most viable mean for cooperation. “The region is navigating through very complicated and very complex regional dynamics at the Red Sea and Yemen as well. It is facing interconnected problems. The security vacuum is the core problem in the Red Sea.”
Shaky international actors
Dr. Stig Jarle Hansen, an associate professor at the Norwegian University of Life Science, author of the acclaimed "Al Shabaab” in Somalia focused on the contextual security of the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.
Hansen believes that “The Americans concerns on the region are China and war on terror. But China is not a strong actor in the region that can be trusted to get a strong military support. And the Somaliland rapprochement with Taiwan is a kind of trap for both the United States and China.”
“If the U.S internal problems continues, US is likely to become a weaker actor in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, which will creates a kind of vacuum in the region that cannot be filled with China that is refocusing on its own internal interests,” he noted.
Furthermore, Russia never really affords a strong influence in any of the countries in the Horn of Africa and Yemen. “Russia is still a weak actor. Thus, we have seen these large-scale global players basically scaling down or not being that interested in taking a heavy responsibility in the region that is experiencing many shifts of the regional dynamics.”
Similarly, Dafalla confirms that the EU perceives the Red Sea as a very important sea in the World. It proposed that all states around the Red Sea to sign a comprehensive cooperative agreement to enhance their cooperation towards better political, security and economic conditions.
“China does not have any interest for military intervention, but since the Red Sea plays a key role in its Silk Road project, it is looking for more stability and growing economics in the region, which will enhance its interests in the international trade,” he added.
Hansen thinks that president-elect Biden might implement a new policy in the region. “Americans would be more politically engaged to appoint a special envoy to the region that report directly to Congress and the president. They may try to modify their humanitarian models in the region from humanitarian assistance to development projects to support good governments in all states in the Horn of Africa.”
Rival regional actors
Hansen says “There are three playing parties in the Middle East; Turkey- Qatar, Saudi Arabia- UAE, and the Iran-Syria coalitions. UAE has a relationship with secessionists in Somaliland and Yemen, but Saudis are more pragmatic. On the other side, Turkey plays different roles around the Red Sea. It does not have a strong engagement in Yemen, but it has close ties with Somalia’s government.
Amer confirms that “the Gulf States have their competing policies in the region. For example, Qatar supports the Somali government but the UAE supports the oppositions.”
Dafalla believes that Saudis like to have their own power in the Red Sea as “it hosted a very important meeting trying to form a new alliance between the states sharing the coast of the Red Sea together to enhance cooperation.”
However, countries on the western side of the Red Sea are more concerned about the regional economic integration not the militarization of the Red Sea as others want. So, without having a comprehensive approach among the international and regional players, we would not have any kind of stability in the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea,” he emphasized.
Nabil Albukairi, a Yemeni researcher and writer, stressed on the danger of the Iran-back Houthi movement as an armed group to the Red Sea security. “The Iranian threat in the region, especially after the outbreak of the conflict in Yemen, has become very dangerous.”
“The military approach failed to protect the region, because the regional power did not address the roots of the problem. But the US designation of Houthi rebels as a Foreign Terrorist Organization may protect the security and stability in the Red Sea,” he added.
Moreover, Amer says “There is no any problem between the Yemenis and Somalis, however, international players try to create problems between them. Yemen and Somalia are always friends through a long history. They might be separated by the ocean, but they are the same nation.”
Dafalla thinks that Iran is trying to reposition itself in Yemen and the Red Sea as well to contain and constrain any kind of threat from the Gulf States and the new alliance that has been led by the US. “Security Vacuum in the region is the weakest point in the regional structure.”
Militarization of the Red Sea
Militarization of the Red Sea is a key factor in the Red Sea security. Dafalla says “It is a well-known fact that the Red Sea is hosting around 13 different military bases. This shifts the dynamics from economic integration to military and political competition. The competition between the Gulf States moved to the Red Sea due to achieving geopolitical interests.”
“We are witnessing a reshaping process of the Red Sea. The significance of the Red Sea is an integral part of three interlinked kinds of security systems in the region; Middle East, the Pacific and the Mediterranean. The Red Sea is an international corridor of international trade which makes up to 700 billion dollars a year,” he emphasized.
Dafalla agrees with Amer and Hansen on the destructive role of the Gulf States in the Horn of Africa. “Gulf States created a negative competition in the region and added more dimensions to the militarization of the Red Sea as they have some military bases in Eretria, in addition to some military presence in the region. Without revising the role of the Gulf States in the region, they will continue to play a negative role in the area.”
Red Sea security has become more dependent on many shifts between regional and international players. Withdrawal of some of the strong international powers may open up a vacuum that might be covered by some of the regional powers.
The seminar was moderated by Aida Bari, an expert on Yemeni affairs at the ORSAM Center.