The Interconnected World


Who cares about the fight between Saudi Arabia and Qatar? Why should we care about what seems like a small difference of opinion among former friends? Well, there are a few reasons to care. Aside from concern that this is yet another destabilizing factor in the region, and that the United States has a major military base located in Qatar which now makes things a bit awkward, this situation illustrates the interconnectedness of the world. What might have been a disagreement simply between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, increasingly draws in other countries. United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain, and a few other states, support Saudi Arabia, and Turkey and Iran have supported Qatar. This is worrisome enough, but that’s not the extent of it. The dispute also has growing implications in the Horn of Africa, affecting Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia and Sudan.

Relations between Eritrea and Djibouti have been strained because of a dispute over an island in the Red Sea. Qatar had provided peacekeepers and the situation was stable, but it withdrew the peacekeepers because Eritrea and Djibouti lean toward Saudi Arabia in the dispute with Qatar. Eritrea quickly sent military forces to take the island. In response, Djibouti called on Ethiopia for support – and Ethiopia is an arch enemy of Eritrea. As Ethiopia becomes involved, Eritrea talks to Egypt, which has supported the Saudis. Ethiopia and Egypt have a longstanding rivalry and simmering tensions because of concerns about water use.

Sudan receives funding from both sides of the Saudi/Qatar dispute, and is under considerable pressure to pick a side – which it is trying to resist doing. Somalia is also drawn into the dispute as it receives funding from Saudi Arabia and is under pressure to join the Saudi side of the dispute with Qatar. Now Qatar is using its vast funds to aid Somalia, but channelling the funds through opposition politicians and sub-state groups who also receive funding from Turkey. And so it goes – this is not even to mention that China has offered help (and to move troops to its new military base in Djibouti), or the ongoing mess in Yemen.

But why would this be important to navies? In addition to the problems on land, the dispute between Saudi Arabia and Qatar affects two strategic chokepoints through which a tremendous amount of oil passes. Need I say more? For more on this, see a very interesting report from the International Crisis Group, “A Dangerous Gulf in the Horn: How the Inter-Arab Crisis is Fuelling Regional Tensions,” available at https://www.crisisgroup.org/middle-east-north-africa/gulf-and-arabian-peninsula/dangerous-gulf-horn-how-inter-arab-crisis-fuelling-regional-tensions

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