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The global impact of interconnected local conflicts

Feb 25,2024 - Last updated at Feb 25,2024

The European Union has officially launched its mission to protect maritime traffic in the Red Sea, which has been disrupted by Houthi rebel attacks, posing a threat to global commerce and navigation. The EU must recognise the conflict in the Red Sea as a potential danger not only to its ports in the Mediterranean, but also to broader international trade routes.

Several major EU countries are participating in the mission, known as "Aspides", which follows in the footsteps of the US-led multinational coalition military operation formed last December in response to Houthi-led attacks on shipping in the Red Sea, termed "Operation Prosperity Guardian".

Initially conceived as a defensive measure to safeguard navigation, the mission has gradually evolved into a more proactive approach, combining defensive and partially offensive strategies. While the EU mission is currently planned for one year, the designation of the Houthis as a terrorist group may necessitate a reassessment of strategies to contain and eliminate threats originating from Yemen.

The conflict in Yemen's Red Sea region presents a microcosm of broader geopolitical dynamics, echoing the trajectory of Gaza's conflict from localised unrest to global concern. Indeed, the interconnected nature of regional conflicts, from Iraq and Syria to Lebanon, Yemen and Gaza, poses a significant threat to ambitious trade, development and energy projects. The stability of critical arteries like the Red Sea and the Bab Al Mandeb Strait remains essential for realising grand economic corridors, such as the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor and safeguarding maritime trade and future energy sources along the Mediterranean's eastern shores.

The conflict in Gaza has demonstrated how localised disputes can have global repercussions. Furthermore, ongoing conflicts and the involvement of non-state actors may exacerbate existing psychological divisions and fuel calls for independence, reshaping the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East. This shift towards independence movements represents a geographical transformation, heralding the emergence of a "new Middle East".

This interconnectedness is emblematic of broader trends in the region, where conflicts in one area often have ripple effects across borders. The proliferation of non-state actors, militias and extremist groups has blurred traditional boundaries and exacerbated existing divisions. As these groups vie for power and influence, they exploit underlying grievances and exacerbate sectarian tensions, fueling calls for independence and autonomy among marginalised communities.

In the context of ongoing conflicts, such as those in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, these divisions are becoming increasingly pronounced. Non-state actors, including militias and armed groups, have emerged as influential players, not only disrupting critical trade and supply lines, but also challenging the authority of nation-states and further fragmenting the region along ethnic, sectarian and geographic lines.

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