By Rene Wadlow
On 13 November, the US House of Representatives passed a resolution, 366 to 30 opposed, on the armed conflict in Yemen expressing the urgent need for a political solution and denouncing “ the conduct of activities in Yemen and areas affected by the conflict that are, directly or indirectly inconsistent with the law of armed conflict including the deliberate targeting of civilian populations or the use of civilians as human shields.” The violations of the laws of war, now usually called humanitarian law, have been so wide-spread and numerous as to be considered a deliberate policy which now includes the systematic destruction of medical facilities and imposing starvation. Jamie McGoldrick, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Yemen reports that seven million people are in famine-like conditions, and many more depend on imported food aid. The aggression against Yemen has created a moral vacuum, an area devoid of the most basic human values both within Yemen and in the countries attacking it.
Among the 30 in Congress who opposed the resolution there were some who wanted a stronger resolution calling for an end to US support which includes intelligence and logistic support, air refueling and the sale of weapons including rockets and cluster munitions, of the Saudi-led attacks. However, even the Congressmen who proposed the resolution, Rep. Ro Khanna of California and Jim McGovern of Massachusetts recognized that a stronger resolution demanding a US cutoff to the Saudis would have met strong opposition from within the Administration.
The impact of the resolution will be felt most strongly outside of Washington. The resolution is a strong message to the governments in the Saudi-led coalition: United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco, that the wind is changing directions in Washington. Although the Gulf States leading the aggression have unlimited money for arms, they do not have broad political support of other countries of influence beyond the USA and Great Britain. Thus the resolution, although very general, will get a message across to States such as Egypt, Jordan and Morocco which depend on US support for both domestic power and influence on other foreign policy issues. Qatar which had originally been a member of the coalition withdrew in June 2017 as part of a conflict on other issues with Saudi Arabia.
When the Saudi-led coalition began its bombing of Yemen on 15 March 2015, they expected a short war and called its attack “Operation Decisive Storm.” As the war dragged on the name was changed to “Operation Restoring Hope”, but hope has given way to resignation. Countries in the Saudi coalition see less and less their national interest in participating. While they may not follow Qatar and officially leave the coalition, their participation is likely to lessen.
There is wide agreement in U.N. circles and among conflict-resolution NGOs that Yemen is in a quagmire with a free-fall of its economic and social infrastructure. The country is on the eve of a new division between the north and south of the country. The country’s present shape dates from 1990 when what had been the British colony of Aden, then the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen was integrated into north Yemen. However, the country remains highly fractured on tribal, sectarian and ideological lines, with the tribal structures being the most important.
Negotiations among the multitude of factions in Yemen will be difficult. The most likely pattern will be for the country to split into two again with each half having a number of relatively autonomous regions. In the best of worlds, one could envisage a federal Yemen with a rule of law and a unity government focused on raising the standard of living and dealing with ecological issues with a priority on water supply.
The immediate need is for a ceasefire ending all foreign military attacks. Continued fighting serves the interest of none and has not changed the power configurations within the country nor within the wider Middle East region. The United States serves no national interest by its continued support of the Saudi-led attacks.
The resolution in Congress will offer some support to the U.N. mediator Ould Cheikh Ahmed and especially will lead to discussions among the Saudi-led coalition members who may also be wondering if this Saudi-led war in Yemen is really necessary.