BRICS+ versus Pax Americana in the Red Sea Shatter Zone

Cover of paper, BRICS-Plus versus Pax Americana in the Red Sea Arena.
Cover of paper, BRICS-Plus versus Pax Americana in the Red Sea Arena, by Alex de Waal (2024).

In a paper published today, “BRICS-Plus versus Pax Americana in the Red Sea Arena,” I frame the crisis in Red Sea Arena as the point of impact of contending war economies. The newly-expanded club of the BRICS, now including Red Sea Arena Middle Powers (RAMPs), are challenging the Pax Americana and its allies, but are also in contest with one another. Intersecting fractures are splitting the globe, but also creating a shatter zone of the fragile countries in the southern Red Sea Arena—Yemen and the Horn of Africa.

Contest among outside powers has long defined the Red Sea and its environs. Without special effort to ensure peace and security the danger of relapse is ever present. That’s happening today on both shores and both ends of the Red Sea.

The Pax Americana is a faded Leviathan. Its saving grace was its commitment to liberal multilateralism—but that is seriously damaged by Israel’s war in Gaza and hostilities against Yemen’s Ansar Allah, known as the Houthis.

The BRICS-RAMP club wants to rewrite the rules of the global economy and multilateral politics, from an illiberal codebook. If offers no solutions to the crises of conflict and hunger.

The contending powers, regional and global, do not even have an agreed agenda for emergency food security.

This paper explains the concept of the ‘Red Sea Arena’. It examines how the arena is the cockpit for the contest between BRICS-RAMP and the Pax Americana, as well as the rivalries and conflicts among BRICS-RAMP countries, and how these can be seen as a scramble to secure resources for war economies. It outlines the emaciated, illiberal multilateralism that emerges and concludes with the prospects for permanent emergency in the poorer countries of the Red Sea Arena.

Alex de Waal is a Research Professor at The Fletcher School, Tufts University, and leads the WPF research programs on African Peacemaking and Mass Starvation.

Considered one of the foremost experts on the Horn of Africa, his scholarly work and practice has also probed humanitarian crisis and response, human rights, pandemic disease, and conflict and peace-building. His latest book is New Pandemics, Old Politics: Two Hundred Years of War on Disease and its Alternatives. He is also author of Mass Starvation: The History and Future of Famine and The Real Politics of the Horn of Africa (Polity Press, 2015) Following a fellowship with the Global Equity Initiative at Harvard (2004-06), he worked with the Social Science Research Council as Director of the program on HIV/AIDS and Social Transformation, and led projects on conflict and humanitarian crises in Africa (2006-09). During 2005-06, de Waal was seconded to the African Union mediation team for Darfur and from 2009-11 served as senior adviser to the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel for Sudan. He was on the list of Foreign Policy’s 100 most influential public intellectuals in 2008 and Atlantic Monthly’s 27 “brave thinkers” in 2009 and is the winner of the 2024 Huxley Award of the Royal Anthropological Institute. Professor de Waal regularly teaches a course on Conflict in Africa at the Fletcher School, Tufts University.  During this course, students should gain a deeper understanding of the nature of contemporary violent conflict in Africa. Students will be expected to master the key theoretical approaches to violence in Africa, and to become familiar with a number of important case studies. The focus is on the origins and nature of violence, rather than policy responses and solutions. The course is inter-disciplinary and involves readings in political science, international relations, and social anthropology, while also touching on economics, environmental studies, and history. 

Stay Connected