The US – as well as
European powers like France and Germany – continue to sell arms and pour fuel
on the humanitarian disaster in Yemen.
Late last year, in the waning days of his administration,
Donald Trump made an unsurprising but nevertheless grotesque announcement: the
United States had agreed
to sell an incredible $23 billion worth of bombs, drones, and fighter jets to
the United Arab Emirates, despite – or perhaps, because of – their repeated use
of US weapons to commit unspeakable atrocities in Yemen.
Tragically, this was nothing new: one cannot speak of the
humanitarian disaster in Yemen without mentioning the complicity of the West.
Born out of a domestic contest for political control, the already brutal Yemeni
civil war has transformed into an unrelenting and unmitigated killing field at
the hands of foreign actors.
The United States has been an active and malign influence in
Yemen since well before the onset of war in 2014. Starting under the Bush
administration, and continuing without pause under Obama and Trump, the US
drone campaign killed somewhere between 1,020 and 1,389 people from 2004 to
February 2020 in Yemen alone.
It’s hard to believe that Saudi intervention was necessary
to avoid disaster in Yemen. It’s even harder to believe that the Obama
administration wasn’t fully aware of the disaster they would soon sponsor. As
former Obama administration official Robert Malley later acknowledged, the
United States at the time was worried that, after the Arab Spring, and with the
Iran nuclear deal negotiations ongoing, the “decades old relationship” with
Saudi Arabia was “at a breaking point.” According to Malley “nobody could
question” that massive suffering “was
a very, very likely outcome” — but keeping Saudi Arabia happy was more
These predictions of suffering would quickly come true. Both
the US and
the UK soon
began providing logistical, intelligence, and diplomatic support, while
they, Germany, France,
and more have all provided massive flows of weapons to the intervention
coalition. Backed by such overwhelming and unconditional support, the coalition
has had no qualms about repeatedly committing horrific crimes against the
civilian population, including using mass starvation as a weapon of war by
imposing a land, sea and air blockade on a country that already imported
more than 90% of its food before the war. Simply put, without the help
of the US and the UK,
many of these atrocities would never have been committed. Meanwhile, other
Western countries have provided decisive diplomatic support, partly by not
jeopardising business with the absolutist monarchies of the Gulf, and partly by
avoiding interfering with, or often actively promoting, the big business of
For the Yemeni population, this blank check for the
Coalition intervention has spelled disaster. After years of conflict, 24
million people now require some form of humanitarian assistance. According to
the famous report of the Pardee
Center for the United Nations Development Programme, since March 2015,
approximately 310,000 people have died in the conflict.
Last year, this already-dire humanitarian crisis
deteriorated even further. The intensification of fighting, environmental
catastrophe — floods have now displaced more than 300,000 — and the impact of the
Coronavirus in a country with little remaining healthcare system have all
played a deadly part. Against this background, United Nations aid programs have
become the only instrument that millions of people depend upon to survive.
The West, however, has not met the United Nations’ call. The
numbers speak for themselves: less than half of the humanitarian aid requested
by the United Nations has been delivered to Yemen. For a sense of scale,
compare the remainder — $1.7 billion — to the tens of billions of dollars that
the West sells in arms to the coalition each year.
In short, the West has not only poured gas on the Yemeni
conflagration — it has also cut off the fire hose’s water supply.
But all hope for Yemen is not lost. While Western
governments have supported the systematic murder of a generation, movements
across the world have mobilized in resistance. The Campaign Against Arms Trade
(CAAT) managed to temporarily
paralyze the United Kingdom’s sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia, despite
the British government’s best effort. Italian dockworkers have taken direct
action, refusing to load a ship with weapons bound for Saudi Arabia. And,
bowing to pressure following the murder
of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the conservative German government of Angela
Merkel declared an embargo on Saudi Arabia. (Merkel’s government still has no
qualms about selling weapons to the UAE, however).
One important piece of this battle is taking place in the
United States, where sustained grassroots pressure has managed to push back on
the entrenched powers of the weapons industry, the warmongering foreign policy
establishment, and the Saudi/Emirati lobbies to force the Democratic Party
toward a more progressive position than that under Obama. Over the course of
the Trump administration, the U.S. Congress voted multiple times to block
specific weapons sales to the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Though these were
ultimately vetoed, the incoming Biden administration provides a chance for
change, with “ending U.S. complicity in the war in Yemen” an explicit campaign
promise. Surely the establishment, corporate-friendly politics of a Biden
administration are not going to lead the way on their own, but the chances of a
total rethinking of U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia are higher than they’ve
been in years.
There are reasons to be optimistic, but also to be cautious.
Western elites will not confront the interests of the powerful
military-industrial complex on their own. Only mobilisation can force them to.
The time for such mobilisation is now: the people of Yemen can wait no longer.
*Isa Ferrero is a
Spanish energy engineer and activist specialising in western foreign
policy. This article was originally
published by Progressive International.