Arc of Instability

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The Arc of Instability is a proposed, interconnected chain of politically unstable nation states in the Asia-Pacific region. The term came into vogue in the late 1990s, proving especially popular with Australian politicians and journalists. The Arc is also sometimes to referred to as balkanisation in a modern, Asia-Pacific context.[1]

The phrase "Arc of Instability" has separately also been used by the National Intelligence Council to describe "a great arc of instability stretching from Sub-Saharan Africa through North Africa, into the Middle East, the Balkans, the Caucasus, and South and Central Asia, and parts of Southeast Asia."[2]

Definition and member states[edit]

The term is used to suggest that the members of the Arc are interconnected to the point that destabilisation within one country can have major political, military and economic repercussions in neighbouring countries. For example, Australian media and politicians claimed the destabilisation of Solomon Islands was the result of a copycat or domino effect of the 2000 Fijian coup d'état.

In August 2006 Australian Defence Minister Brendan Nelson gave a speech to parliament on the topic of the Arc. Along with dropping Indonesia from the list of states in the Arc, he said:

We cannot afford to have failing states in our region. The so-called 'arc of instability', which basically goes from East Timor through to the south-west Pacific states, means that not only does Australia have a responsibility in preventing and indeed assisting with humanitarian and disaster relief, but also that we cannot allow any of these countries to become havens for transnational crime, nor indeed havens for terrorism.[3]

There is no official list of member states in the Arc, however it has traditionally been accepted to include South-East Asian and Oceanic nations such as Papua New Guinea, The Solomon Islands, East Timor, Indonesia and Fiji.

In his 2016 study of the the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, Ben Rawlence argues that the Horn of Africa has been at the epicentre of the Arc of Instability (which for Rawlence spreads from Mali in the west to Pakistan in the east) since 2008, when al-Shabaab took control of most of Somalia.[4]

Events in an Arc[edit]

This is a partial list of some events within an Arc which have typically been seen as contributing to the region's instability:


  1. ^ Moore, Clive (2004). Happy Isles in Crisis. Canberra: Asia Pacific Press. p. 9.
  2. ^ Global Trends 2025 - Director of National Intelligence
  3. ^ Dobell, Graeme (2006-08-20). "The Pacific 'arc of instability'". Correspondent's Report.
  4. ^ Rawlence, Ben (2016). City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World's Largest Refugee Camp. Portobello Books. p. 1.