By Niels van de Ven

The war in Yemen between the internationally recognized and Saudi-backed Yemeni government and northern Yemeni Houthi-rebels has been raging since March 2015. However, in the West only relatively little attention has been paid to the conflict. In the words of UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen Jamie McGoldrick: “It’s probably one of the biggest crises in the world, but it’s like a silent crisis, a silent situation and a forgotten war.” [1] However, there are several reasons why increased attention in Western public and policy elites would be justified.

A first and important reason would be that several Western countries have, to some extent, been involved in the conflict. Western governments and arms companies have provided intelligence, logistical support and mid-air refueling to the Saudi-led coalition. [2] It is unlikely that the support will halt anytime soon, since US president Trump recently approved an arms deal with the Arab kingdom worth 110 billion dollars. [3] The United Kingdom and France have signed similar arms deals, though much smaller. [4]

The Western involvement is of importance, because trough these direct and indirect help, Western states make themselves complicit to the devastating results of the conflict on Yemen and its people. Yemen is struck by a humanitarian crisis that is unprecedented almost anywhere in the world. Both sides of the conflict have engaged in several humanitarian laws violating actions, such as (possible) crimes against humanity and war crimes. According to several UN Expert Panel reports on Yemen, the internationally recognized Yemeni government and its Saudi-Arabian associates have, with their indiscriminate bombardments, made themselves guilty of grave violations of the principle of distinction, proportionality and precaution, sometimes in a widespread and systematic way. In addition, according to the reports they have attacked humanitarian aid workers, delayed humanitarian aid and used child soldiers. [5] Furthermore, the war has several indirect humanitarian effects. As of September 29th, the number of suspected cholera cases in Yemen has exceeded 750.000, [6] and Yemen is suffering from a famine and a collapse of the healthcare system as a result of the conflict. [7]

Next to that, several other factions have terrorized Yemen and its inhabitants, such as Islamic State (IS) and Al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Both these parties have significantly profited from the war. [8] Parties like ISIS and AQAP also form a threat to the international community. During the past couple of years, ISIS has proved itself capable of attacks in Europe and the Middle-East, and while its Yemeni branch is smaller, it can still pose a threat, both inside and outside Yemen. While the Yemeni ISIS branch might be weaker than its foreign counterparts, the Yemenite Al-Qaeda group is seen as its strongest branch in the world. [9] They have not only had an impact on the war in Yemen, gaining influence over a substantial part of the country, [10] but have also succeeded in carrying out a shocking attack , in the West, on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. [11] It is unlikely that this is the last we heard about AQAP, since their prime objective arguably remains destroying the West. [12] Thus, limiting the faction’s operating space In Yemen is of direct importance to Western countries.

However, there is an even bigger threat looming as a direct result of the conflict. Not only is the Yemeni government supported by a coalition which is led by Saudi-Arabia, several sources also state that the Houthi-rebels are (to some extent) supported by Iran. While there is disagreement about the degree to which Iran supports the Houthi’s, it seems certain that the conflict and its eventual outcome can further increase the already tense relations between the two countries. [13] Due to the close relationship several western states have with Saudi-Arabia, this could also affect relations on a global level.

The Yemeni war has had and can have devastating effects, both inside and outside Yemen. Due to the western ethical culpability, the emanating threat from “irregular” factions such as AQAP; and geopolitical instability, paying more attention to the subject in Western public and policy elites seems only right. From an ethical as well as a strategic viewpoint, the West simply cannot afford to ignore Yemen and its people.


[1] http://edition.cnn.com/2016/10…

[2] https://www.economist.com/news…

[3] http://www.aljazeera.com/news/…

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/wo… and https://news.vice.com/article/if-the-us-wont-sell-you-weapons-france-might-still-hook-you-up

[5] https://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/2015/125http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/2016/73

[6 http://uk.reuters.com/article/us-yemen-security-redcross/yemen-cholera-cases-could-hit-1-million-by-year-end-red-cross-idUKKCN1C41WA

[7] http://www1.wfp.org/yemen-emergency and http://www.who.int/bulletin/vo…

[8] https://cdn.mashreghnews.ir/ol…

[9] https://cdn.mashreghnews.ir/ol…

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