New Proxy Wars in the Horn of Africa

Horn of Africa map
 It is a war fought indirectly between superpowers with the aid of Third World nations. During the Cold War, the United States and Soviet Union allied with many smaller nations as a way to fight these wars. Third World nations were not allowed to remain neutral during cold war era, they were forced to routinely engage wars and fought on their behalf.
In 1969, when the United States was defeated in the Vietnam war, the USA decided to shift from its old political dogma in carrying out full scale attacks against their enemies, instead they preferred to empower militarily by a third party to indirectly involve in the conflict.
President Richard Nixon, who was the 37th President of the USA, from 1969 to 1974, had introduced the doctrine known as a “NIXON DOCTRINE,” or “GUAM DOCTRINE.” The major elements of this doctrine were purely based on three important agendas:
  • First, the United States will keep all of its treaty commitments.
  • Second, we shall provide a shield if a nuclear power threatens the freedom of a nation allied with us or of a nation whose survival we consider vital to our security
  • Third, in cases involving other types of aggression, we shall furnish military and economic assistance when requested in accordance with our treaty commitments. But we shall look to the nation directly threatened to assume the primary responsibility of providing the manpower for its


In the years after the Vietnam War, Americans used to wage this type of an indirect involvement. The wars in Afghanistan and Angola in 1980s were perfect examples of proxy wars in the bygone century. Politically, the cold war era had gone through different stages, with each stage having its own “carrot-and-stick” games. However, the theoreticians in the Realism literature believe that the world was more stable and balanced than when it was a “bipolar.” With the demise of communism in 1989, the world turned into “unipolarity,” thereby losing the balance of power.
In recent years, the proxy wars reemerged as a symbolic of provocative war. Russia, with an accelerating booming economy has now made a major comeback in world politics. The earlier cold war in the last century was “ideological politics,” however; today’s modern cold war is an “economic based war,” and the availability of new markets for the supply of goods and services.
China with the second largest economy in the world is playing its dominant role in world politics, and desires to fully exercise its hegemonic powers in the north hemisphere countries and beyond. The two-year old Gulf crisis has expanded to the Horn of Africa, potentially fuelling simmering regional conflicts that could place massive Chinese investment at risk in a part of the world that is home to the People’s Republic’s first overseas military base.
Anxieties about the stand-off in the Horn – a region pockmarked by foreign military bases that straddles key Indian Ocean trade routes and 4,000km of coastline – deepened  a year ago when Sudan granted Turkey the right to rebuild a decaying port city and construct a naval dock to maintain civilian and military vessels on its Red Sea coast.
The Horn, at the intersection of key maritime passages which include Bab-el-Mandeb and the Gulf of Aden, is vital for the flow of oil as well as Chinese exports. But nations such as Somalia and South Sudan are wracked by political violence, and Yemen, where a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran rages, is nearby. Nevertheless, Beijing understands the region’s geopolitical importance and has made it the focal point of its initial foreign military operations.
China initially joined an international anti-piracy naval force and more recently established its first overseas military base in Djibouti, a country that already hosts US, French, Saudi and Japanese military facilities. The US$650 million Sudanese-Turkish agreement, which enables Turkey to have a military presence in the Red Sea to help fight terrorism, threatens to exacerbate confrontations. Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, toured six West African nations at the beginning of this year to shore up support for his country in its dispute with other Gulf States. Africa is not only a Gulf battlefield but also a theatre for the fierce rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran, a sectarian struggle between Sunni and Shiite Muslims.  UAE entered into contract with Somaliland to expand and construct the port of Berbera, and also demanded the concession of military base in Berbera.
The Sudanese-Turkish agreement suggested the rivalry may come to play an increasingly influential role in the Horn’s geopolitics. Both Saudi Arabia and UAE worry about Turkish military expansion because of its close relations with Iran and support for Qatar. Turkey has a military base in the Gulf state and intends to expand its presence to 3,000 troops in coming months. Turkey also has a training facility in Somalia and is discussing the establishment of a base in Djibouti.
Post-Arab Spring … activism may unsurprisingly contribute to the militarization of the Horn of Africa and, even more dangerously, alter the existing balance of power in this conflict-ridden region,” warned Patrick Ferras, director of the Horn of Africa Observatory.
Abdulqadir Omer Jama
Tel. 252 63 4424183


The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Horndiplomat editorial policy.
Horndiplomat will only consider articles sent exclusively. If you want to submit an opinion piece or an analysis please email it to

Leave a Reply