The Red Sea has fast become an arena of new geopolitical intrigue, as engagement between Gulf and African states challenges old assumptions and erases boundaries. Expanding economic and strategic interests are driving unprecedented activity on both shores, while great powers pay increasing attention to the Bab al Mandab, a strategic chokepoint and gateway to one of the world’s most heavily-trafficked trade waterways: the Red Sea. The emergence of the Red Sea as a common political and economic arena offers opportunities for development and integration, but it also poses considerable risks. As Gulf countries seek to expand their influence in the Horn of Africa, they risk exporting Middle Eastern rivalries to a region that has plenty of its own; and they aren’t the only outside powers now paying attention. China recently established its first-ever overseas military base in Djibouti, just six miles from the only U.S. base in Africa. Amid historic changes in the Horn and a rapidly-changing landscape in the Red Sea, states with different cultures, models of government, and styles of diplomacy are shaping a new frontier where the rules of the game are yet to be written.
On April 18, The Brookings Institution will host an event on this issue, framed by Brookings’ new Red Sea web interactive and Brookings Doha Center Fellow Zach Vertin’s Foreign Affairs article titled “Red Sea Rivalries.” This event will unpack the changing geopolitics of the Red Sea and consider the role of the United States and other foreign actors in this emerging theater. Questions from the audience will follow the panelists’ conversation.