The Geopolitics of Insecurity in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula
Summer 2011, Volume XVIII, Number 2Accelerating processes of globalization and cross-border flows of information, communication, militants, money and matériel are reconfiguring the geopolitics of insecurity in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Domestic and external drivers of conflict are increasingly intermeshed as problems transcend national boundaries and can no longer be contained within states. Issues have become transnationalized as supra- and sub-state networks of exchange bypass state controls and erode what little remains of Cold War-era distinctions between the internal and external domains. Previously localized conflicts have developed regional and transregional dimensions, knitting together the zones of instability, while the growth of powerful and violent non-state actors poses a profound challenge to existing security arrangements and the international order. In turn, new mechanisms of collaborative and multilateral approaches have emerged to tackle these issues. However, they have largely failed to address the underlying problems generated by the erosion of local carrying capacities, governing capabilities and a crisis of political legitimacy and authority in the two regions.
These subregional conflicts constitute an unstable zone of cross-border insecurity and informal networks that link the two largely distinct security complexes in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. The growth of multibillion-dollar shadow business networks spanning the Gulf of Aden complicates conventional counterterrorism and counterpiracy strategies and defies attempts to contain the threat of the spread of radicalization at its source. This has profound implications for the future stability of the oil-rich Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states and for the security of the commercial shipping lanes that transit the Gulf of Aden and the Bab al-Mandab. International actors' attention has, however, focused more narrowly on the threat posed by the reconstitution of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen in 2009 (and, to a lesser degree, Al-Shabaab in Somalia), and a succession of high-profile attempted attacks that have attracted global attention.
Following years of comparative neglect, the focus of the international community needs to shift to the interconnected sociopolitical, economic and transnational challenges confronting Yemen, Somalia and their regional environs. Yemen and Somalia face parallel challenges from insurgency, terrorism, economic hardship and ineffective governments that are perceived to lack legitimacy. Viewed through a narrow terror-centric prism, the region has become a dangerous node of international terrorism, as evinced in MI5 director-general Jonathan Evans' very public warning in September 2010 of the terrorist threat to the United Kingdom from militants training in Yemen and Somalia. This, he said, "shows many of the characteristics that made Afghanistan so dangerous a seedbed for terrorism in the period before the fall of the Taliban."1 Western engagement in each country has been based on a state-building framework involving diplomacy, development and defense; yet, the priority attached to secu rity-sector intervention has undermined the balance of political and economic action needed for this approach to succeed or be sustainable in the longer term.2 Such an approach risks exacerbating a dangerous misalignment between the short-term security-centric priorities of the international community and the longer-term measures and comprehensive reforms necessary to recreate a base level of political legitimacy, social cohesion and economic sustainability.