Asymmetric alliances and high polarity: evaluating regional security complexes in the Middle East and Horn of Africa

Brendon J. Cannon, Federico Donelli

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    23 Scopus citations


    The Middle East and the Horn of Africa exist in two distinct regional security complexes (RSCs), groupings of states exhibiting intense security interdependence within a distinct region, but rarely between regions. Recent geopolitical changes and related analyses, however, point to either a subsuming or a joining of the two RSCs, potentially leading to a high degree of uncertainty in two conflict-prone regions. Given the importance of such developments, we question this theory of RSC expansion by offering a concise review of recent security interactions between the two RSCs as well as quantitatively and qualitatively measuring the material power capabilities of relevant states. Borrowing from and contributing to RSC theory, we also identify and analyse concepts and indicators such as threat perception and sub-regional alliances. Our findings demonstrate the Middle East RSC is not expanding to include that of the Horn of Africa. The two remain distinct and under internal consolidation, despite the current discourse. Rather, high polarity in the Middle East coupled with often-congruent interests in Horn of Africa states best explains the current pattern of their interaction, particularly as Middle East states pursue strategies that further their own security interests at the expense of rival states within their own RSC.

    Original languageBritish English
    Pages (from-to)505-524
    Number of pages20
    JournalThird World Quarterly
    Issue number3
    StatePublished - 3 Mar 2020


    • Arab Gulf States
    • Horn of Africa
    • Middle East
    • polarity
    • Regional security complex theory
    • security interdependence
    • threat perception


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