The Gulf Arab states’ engagement with the countries of the Horn of Africa dates back at least to the postcolonial era of the 1950s and 60s. Over recent decades, however, the Horn of Africa has become a region of increasing geostrategic and economic importance, as the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have sought to establish a long-term military and commercial presence on both sides of the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea, in an effort to cement their status as regional powers.
Even as the Gulf Arab states are deepening their engagement in the region, the Red Sea basin has also re-emerged at the heart of global geostrategic competition among China, Europe, the United States, and Russia. This intense interest has given far greater leverage to Horn of Africa leaders to bargain for better deals or play patrons off one another.
The UAE and Saudi Arabia recently demonstrated they could leverage relationships to play a positive role, brokering a historic rapprochement between bitter rivals Ethiopia and Eritrea that could be transformational for the region in terms of economics, security, and stability. But at the same time, the Saudi and Emirati rivalry with Turkey and Qatar has spilled over, exacerbating pre-existing divisions and raising questions about whether the Gulf Arab states are more of a destabilizing force in the region. The long-term implications of a growing Gulf presence in the region and what this means for local political dynamics is unclear. What is evident, however, is that as Gulf Arab states exert greater influence in the Horn of Africa, the region’s future is being reimagined.
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The AGSIW Gulf Rising Series
This paper was developed as part of AGSIW’s Gulf Rising series analyzing the energized role of the Gulf Arab states in the international system. The series looks beyond Gulf Arab relations with the United States to examine ties with other key countries and regions. Additionally, it investigates motivations behind Gulf Arab states’ foreign policy choices and evaluates the implications for U.S. foreign policy toward the Gulf Arab states and the region.