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U.S. Policy Approach to the War in Yemen

Big Picture


The ongoing multilateral Yemeni Civil War between the insurgent Houthis group and the Mansur Hadi-led government, backed by their international allies, has left more than 80% of Yemen’s total population (including children) in need of emergency humanitarian assistance. At the end of 2021, the total death toll from Yemen's civil war surpassed 377,000 including those killed from direct and indirect causes. Responsible American policy is necessary.


Graphics From: Peace Research Institute Oslo. “Humanitarian Biometrics in Yemen: The Complex Politics of Humanitarian Technology.” PRIO Blogs, 12 July 2021, https://blogs.prio.org/2021/07/humanitarian-biometrics-in-yemen-the-complex-politics-of-humanitarian-technology/.

This figure illustrates the severity of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Yemen. 


Operative Definitions


  1. Offensive Operations: An aggressive military operation seeking a specific end goal by using strategies and tactics against a particular opponent. 

  2. Defensive Operations: An aggressive military operation seeking to deter/neutralize/push back an enemy attack in order to defend a specific territory or critical assets/infrastructure. 

  3. Resolution 2216: A United Nations Security Council measure imposing sanctions on key figures undermining the stability of Yemen. 


Important Facts and Statistics


  1. Between March 2015 and July 2021, the Saudis launched a minimum of 23,251 airstrikes, which caused 18,616 casualties. On the other hand, it’s estimated more than 500 were killed on the Saudi side of the border. The numbers are increasing to this day.

  2. At least 15.6 million people in Yemen live in extreme poverty with more than 16.2 million people experiencing food and water shortage. With the current rate of malnutrition and disease outbreaks, it is projected that an estimated 1.3 million of the Yemen population will die.


Five-Point Plan


(1) All U.S. support for the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen, both materially and rhetorically, must end. 

The Saudi Kingdom seeks both material and rhetorical support from the U.S. in order to maintain the military capacity to wage the war and to legitimize bombarding and blockading Yemen. Without U.S. support, the Kingdom’s warplanes would be grounded and they would not be able to appeal to the U.S. as a supporter of their cause. Certainly, ending U.S. support will not end all the violence and war overnight, but it will pressure the Saudis to decrease and eventually stop bombing Yemen. Upon ending the Saudi bombings, the Houthis would have little reason to retaliate and challenge their powerful neighbor. 


(2) Halt all arms sales to Saudi Arabia until the bombardment campaign ends and a peace agreement is signed. 

The U.S. must halt all arms sales to the Kingdom to decrease its military capacity to continue waging the war. It is true that Saudi Arabia is a major security and business partner of the U.S. in the Middle East region, however, the U.S. must prioritize the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Yemen to preserve its credibility as a true guardian of human rights. Many would argue that halting arms sales to Saudi Arabia may destabilize U.S.-Saudi relations, but ultimately it is up to the U.S. policymakers to decide whether they can stand the Saudis using U.S. equipment to kill innocent civilians. 


(3) Utilize its leverage to pressure the Saudis to lift the blockade on Yemen.

Saudi Arabia's blockade on Yemen prevents oil and other imports to the country, essentially causing higher prices, low to no availability of basic survival goods, and pushing the Yemen economy to an absolute failure. Saudi Arabia is using this strategy in hopes of strangling the Houthis to death or at least encouraging those living under the Houthi rule to revolt and overthrow their rules. Apparently, this strategy has failed miserably. The U.S. must pressure the Saudi government to unconditionally and permanently lift the blockade on Yemen. 


(4) Push for a permanent ceasefire and pressure the Houthis and Saudi Arabia to accept the United Nation’s roadmap for peace.

The Houthis are the other half of the equation in this war and the U.S. must pressure the group to accept a ceasefire and negotiate with other parties involved in the war. Ending Saudi bombings and blockades can certainly act as a powerful incentive for the Houthis to negotiate rather than bearing heavy casualties. 


(5) Work together with the UN to come up with a new resolution to serve as a basis for the negotiations.

As long as Resolution 2216 serves as the basis of negotiations, the Houthis are not likely to engage. The U.S. must utilize its leverage to develop a new resolution that engages both the Saudis and Houthis and encourages them to negotiate. Upon increasing incentives, both sides will likely accept negotiations.


Why This Initiative Is Important


Despite ending the U.S. support for the offensive operations of Saudi Arabia in Yemen in early 2021, the U.S. is continuing to provide military aid to the Saudis through arms sales and maintenance services. This in turn increases the Kingdom’s military capacity to conduct more offensive operations and leads to greater retaliation from the Houthis. 


This situation only exacerbates the already worsening humanitarian crisis in Yemen. This initiative can be an effective solution to prevent further casualties in the Yemen Civil War and to put an end to the humanitarian crisis which has put millions of lives in danger. 


The United States must dramatically shift its policy towards the war in Yemen in order to preserve its international image as a true protector of human rights. Otherwise, the U.S. will continue to be deeply involved in this lose-lose situation where the U.S. will lose its credibility as a major international arbiter, Saudi Arabia will keep wasting resources while engaging in a war that has no real winner, and ultimately, there are the Yemeni civilians who suffer from the devastating effects of the ongoing war. 


Economic Impact (From Our Student Economist Team)


In 2021, missiles were sold by the Biden administration to Saudi Arabia for $650 million and funded the maintenance costs of the artillery which cost about $500 million. Since billions of dollars of funding are yet to be delivered, such generous funding could pose a threat to people in Yemen. Removing such funding could decrease military spending for the U.S. and could result in a peace treaty. 


The economic impacts of the economic blockade are huge in Yemen. Lack of fuel has triggered famine and hospitals have not been able to operate. Tending to be “the biggest famine in modern history,” inflation increases exponentially and people’s health and their nutrition will bear the brunt of the Civil War. 


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.


Sources


Al Jazeera. “Yemen War Deaths Will Reach 377,000 by End of the Year: UN.” United Nations News | Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 23 Nov. 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/11/23/un-yemen-recovery-possible-in-one-generation-if-war-stops-now.

Saudi Warplanes Carpet-Bomb Yemen with Us Help. This Must End | Bernie Sanders and Ro Khanna.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 3 Dec. 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/dec/03/saudi-warplanes-carpet-bomb-yemen-with-us-help-this-must-end.

“Security Council Demands End to Yemen Violence, Adopting Resolution 2216 (2015), with Russian Federation Abstaining | UN Press.” UN Press, 14 April 2015, https://press.un.org/en/2015/sc11859.doc.htm.

Sheline, Annelle R., and Bruce Riedel. “Biden's Broken Promise on Yemen.” Brookings, Brookings, 16 Sept. 2021, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2021/09/16/bidens-broken-promise-on-yemen.

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