Why is the West involved in Yemen?

27 Aug 2016

 

The Yemeni Civil War has caused a prodigious amount of economic and infrastructural damage with losses totalling over 14 billion USD. More than half the population are suffering from malnutrition due to shortages of fuel, seeds and fertilisers that has crippled crop production across the country. The war has received little media attention despite the West’s heavy involvement in the region. France supplies the Saudi-led coalition against the Houthi insurgency with logistical support whilst the U.K. and U.S. provide intelligence, weapons and naval blockades.

 

The geographical location of Yemen is what makes the outcome of the war all the more important. Its southern tip forms part of the Bab-el-Mandeb strait, linking the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden with an estimated 3.8 million barrels of oil passing through each day. Saudi Arabia and Egypt both share concerns that if the Bab-el Mandeb falls into the hands of the Houthi then the free passage of oil might be crippled. Iran, Saudi Arabia’s main adversary, has been accused of funding the Houthis and with its influence growing in the region; the Saudis need the United States more than ever. Saudi Arabia and the U.S. have always had a “special relationship”; one that has endured events such as OPEC declaring an oil embargo against the United States in 1973 and the September 11 attacks where 15 of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia.

 

In early 2015, then US Army General Lloyd Austin told the Senate that the US forces would work “in conjunction with our GCC partners [including Saudi Arabia] to ensure that those straits remain open” and that it was “one of our core interests”. The straits he was denoting were both the Bab-el-Mandeb and the Strait of Hormuz, another strategic chokepoint which, in 2011, oversaw the movement of roughly 20% of the world’s petroleum with 6.3 million barrels a day belonging to Saudi Arabia. Here we can see the United States getting behind Saudi Arabia because if Iran closes the Strait of Hormuz, the only sea route which links the Persian Gulf to the open ocean, then it would spell disaster for Saudi Arabia.

 

There are both positive and negative effects of having a Western presence. On one side, they can watch over the entire Saudi operation to guarantee that the rules of war are being sustained to protect civilian lives. However, according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, air strikes were the main cause of civilian casualties; "Looking at the figures, it would seem that the coalition is responsible for twice as many civilian casualties as all other forces put together, virtually all as a result of air strikes". In this case it seems that the West is out to protect the interests of Saudi Arabia, as well as their own, rather than promote democracy and person liberty.

 

The civil war in Yemen has also been very profitable for the United Kingdom. Saudi Arabia is now the UK’s largest arms market after the UK licensed £3.3 billion worth of military hardware sales to them since the war started 2015.  The United States has also profited immensely after approving deals involving $5.4 billion worth of air defence missiles in September 2015, four littoral combat ships worth $11.25 billion in October, $1.29 billion worth of bombs. More recently, the US State Department approved a deal involving $1.15 billion worth of tanks, heavy weaponry, ammunition and other military equipment; although Congress has 30 days to block or modify the sale, due to the ongoing summer recess, Congress will have little time to consider the sale.

 

In September last year, Pope Francis was invited to address a joint session of Congress, it was there he presented an ethical rhetoric: “Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society?” He went on to say, “Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood". In this context, the blood is that of the Yemeni people…

 

In short, the most influential sector in the Western world is the defence industry. When a country goes to war it must increase its military spending in order to facilitate weapon manufacture; military spending and weapon manufacturer profits are directly proportional. Unfortunately, as long as the mainstream media fail to bring corporate greed into the limelight and show the public what destruction propagates from it, there will be no tension for Western leaders to release their grip on Middle Eastern politics.

 

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