Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.
In his most recent briefing to the UN Security Council the emergency relief coordinator compared his experience of reporting on the situation in Yemen to the film Groundhog Day due to the situation being fundamentally unchanged since the conflict began back in 2015.
The coordinator informed the council that the war and famine had killed a quarter of million people and that if the conflict continues until 2022 then according to their model twice that amount of people will die.
The conflict began in 2015 after the Houthi militia ousted Yemen’s dictatorial president, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. The Saudi-led coalition the UK government supports has since then been fighting to reimpose the previous regime. A breakthrough was reached when the Stockholm Agreement was signed late last year, where both parties had agreed to take their forces away from ports that were blocking humanitarian aid and exchange prisoners. Some progress has been made but according to the recent briefing at the UN the rate of deaths caused by the conflict has been constant and both parties have been hesitant to implement their promises from the agreement. The only effect that the agreement seems to have had is that it has brought to an end the conflict in Yemen being front page news as it was temporarily in the wake of the Jamal Khashoggi killing.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are both effectively Western colonies. At the start of the 20th century the Saud family signed a treaty with the British Empire which used its military and economic power to help establish control of the Arabian Peninsula. Much of the Saudi Royal family and the Sheikhs of the UAE have been educated in Western universities, the current leader of the UAE attended The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. An article from The Guardian gives the most authoritative account (that I have seen) of coalition dependency on Europe and America to be able to operate its military. 90% of private sector jobs are manned by foreign workers as native Saudis are not employed or educated to do skilled work. This level of dependency is still encouraged by the colonisers – the recent rearmament of Saudi Arabia was criticised by those who supported it broadly as it included measures that may have allowed it to construct its own weapons. All of this allows Jeremy Hunt to order Mohamed Bin Salman (below) to agree to the ceasefire previously mentioned and for the US and Britain to bring an end to the war.
Recent developments indicate that this outcome is unlikely to occur as the main backers for the Saudi-led coalition have made clear their willingness to continue the conflict. Washington has announced an emergency air lift of arms to Saudi Arabia, claiming to be responding to an imminent threat from Iran. Senators who have repeatedly voted to cease arms sales to the coalition have openly derided this claim however, saying that it’s merely a hoax for the war in Yemen to continue. Sources inside Washington also claim that the rearming is a response to desperate Saudi pleas to continue the war.
In the most recent parliamentary debate on Yemen many revealing exchanges took place. The Labour MP Keith Vaz who called the debate mentioned that the same UN coordinator for aid to Yemen had told him that of the £200 million in aid promised by the UK, only £30 million has been delivered. In the briefing mentioned earlier, the lack of funding for aid was cited as a cause for an increase in the number of deaths. In response to calls for an arms embargo the Minister for the Middle East Andrew Murrison listed a series of trite statements about the good work that British humanitarian aid was doing (he seemed to have already forgotten that the less than 20% of money pledged had not been delivered). Jeremy Hunt (above) has gone a step further by trying to impede other countries who have taken steps to end the war by pressuring Germany to continue selling arms to Saudi Arabia after it had made them illegal. Another and more likely to be successful candidate to be Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, is one of the most emphatic hawks in Britain when it comes to Yemen. During his time as Foreign Secretary he was clear in his willingness to continue supporting the coalition and even authorised the direct use of British special forces in Yemen. The European Parliament and many other countries in Europe have actually banned arms sales to the coalition. However, most still continue to do so despite their own laws making it illegal.
A court case was recently won by the anti-war group, Campaign Against the Arms Trade, the High Court ruling that UK arms sales to the coalition were unlawful. There is good reason to believe that this will not change the government’s behaviour. Officials defending the government’s position have made clear their intention to challenge the court’s decision, other countries have been able to ignore their own checks on authority and whoever becomes Prime Minister will most likely defend this approach.
The magnitude of deaths is now comparable to those caused by the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. A key difference between them is that these conflicts have now been characterised as a case of imperial overreach and aggressive stupidity, their aim was to establish subservient regimes and the death and suffering caused by them were not the intended consequences. The forces they unleashed that caused all this harm were not under their control, Yemen is another case, however. We hold it in our power to dramatically reduce the harm being caused there immediately. In The Guardian article mentioned previously, one Yemeni ex patriot explained how he thought this Groundhog Day cycle of violence would end:
Tomorrow you’re going to end up with a dead body called Yemen,” he told me. “And no one will want to clean or bury it – and the Saudis, the Houthis, the British will realise they are fighting for something that doesn’t exist.
Due to intransigence from leaders of the countries behind this war the only way this eventuality can be averted is with grassroots political action to get it into the public conscience. To keep up with Stop the War Southampton’s efforts to do so, like our Facebook page, come along to one of our events in September and sign our petition for the University to end its relationship with arms companies.