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A Spotlight on Yemen’s path to peace (Part 1)

Brick wall painted in red, white and black horizontal stripes

Yemen’s pathway to peace will involve a focus upon human security issues, inclusive of halting violence, alleviating poverty and unemployment. Through a two-part blog, I demonstrate how this pathway is inextricably linked with issues of the ADF’s security posture and partnership with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Australia’s support to UN-led humanitarian initiatives. Even though the ADF has not been actively involved in the growing humanitarian crisis in Yemen, Australia’s trade interests in the Middle East means that monitoring the security environment in Yemen is vital.

Australia has maintained a distant yet positive bilateral relationship with Yemen founded on collaboration through associations like the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA).  Australia has provided $40.25 million to Yemen in humanitarian assistance since 2015 which has funded food, shelter, water, sanitation, health care and protection to people affected by violence. According to a 2017 World Food Program Yemen Country Brief, 6.8 million Yemeni nationals were severely food insecure with the Famine Early Warning System Network report detailing that 15 million Yemeni’s required emergency food assistance each month.

Trade with Yemen remains limited, mostly consisting of Australian wheat exports. This is a contrast to Australia’s rapidly expanding two-way trade with the UAE. The UAE remains the hub of Australian commercial, financial, diplomatic and military activities in the Middle East, but it also actively disrupts the success of peace processes in Yemen while attempting to weaken and divide the Yemeni Government with minimal criticism from the international community, in particular from the United States (US).

Yemen is a state that is failing, both in its day-to-day functioning, and in terms of providing its population with a sense of control, and measures to ensure their physical security. Yemen’s tumultuous history illuminates the many issues still visible in the Middle East Region, including the continuation of Cold War rivalries, the rise of Islamic extremism post-9/11, and the changing face of warfare with modern-era drone strikes. Its geopolitical arrangement on the Arabian Peninsula sees historical links to the region through culture, religion and trade. Yemen is predominantly a Muslim country, with a rich history stemming from a large number of influences that are principally grounded on Arabic culture.

The complex dynamics of contemporary conflict demand active political discussion and inclusive approaches to conflict resolution. The crisis in Yemen is an example of how the challenges to peacebuilding are entrenched in the multitude of factors that see a state move from a traditional tribal society to a melting-pot of hostile revolutions and foreign involvement. Yemen faces three key challenges to building peace, being the absence of a stable and trusted government, regional and international influence, and ineffective peace processes that only account for and provision certain groups in the conflict. For peacebuilding to commence in war torn countries like Yemen, there first needs to be an end to the violence and the root causes that could reignite the conflict.

Yemen’s present conflict is a continuance of revolutions as a pretext to civil war in the 1960’s, to unification and pockets of peace in the 1990’s (bringing poverty, terrorism and corruption) then to up-risings in 2011 which eventually saw former President Ali Abdallah Salih’s fall from power. The current civil war began in early 2015, and has seen over five devastating years of conflict between the Houthi Movement (known formally as Ansar Allah, or the Houthi Rebels) supported by forces loyal to Salih, and the Yemeni Government who remain supported by Saudi-led forces and internationally recognised on the world stage. On 28 December 2018 these warring parties signed to the Stockholm Agreement which consisted of the Hodeidah Agreement, the Taïz Understanding which saw the formation of a committee to negotiate terms pertaining to the city of Taiz, and a prisoner swap agreement. With the eyes of the world focused on Yemen’s looming mass famine, the Houthis and the Yemeni President, Abed Rabbo Mansour, signed the Stockholm Agreement, which has proved to be a fruitless and token gesture.

With continued uncertainty, the Yemeni Government’s path to legitimacy remains greatly challenged by its dissolved parliament and the interim legislative measures that are in place during the crisis. Yemen’s parliamentary system is dominated by one political party with the head of the government appointed by the President. The system is prone to interference, as well as weak direct state control and undermining from internal, autonomous sub-state actors. According to The Economist’s, EIU Democracy Index 2019, Yemen is categorised as an authoritarian regime, ranking 158 out of 167 states in the index. When measuring civil liberties and political culture, Yemen sits alongside other non-democracies and, accordingly, is characterised by innate risks to peacebuilding and de-stabilisation. The increased risk of conflict, famine and political unrest present in non-democratic states is a key barrier to peacebuilding.

Legitimacy is arguably the single most important resource for governments recovering from civil war to demonstrate lawfulness and authenticity around the idea of providing for, and protecting their people and resources. The first step in rebuilding state institutions and achieving long-lasting peace is for the Yemeni Government to gain legitimacy and hold a stronger presence in liberated areas of the country. All past attempts to end the conflict have not been holistic or worked to address the root causes of these barriers to peacebuilding – being the failure of the Yemeni Government to resolve the country’s rising political marginalisation, state mismanagement, economic subjugation, and state corruptions with weak institutions. Part 2 of this blog post will examine these implications of state fragility to human security and the impediments to Yemen’s path to peace.

The views expressed in this article and subsequent comments are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

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