The Role of Western Powers in the Yemen Crisis



Firstly, let us be clear that both US and UK made weapons are being used in the war in Yemen. This has recently been corroborated by a report published in 2019 by Mwatana for Human Rights, University for Human Rights and Pax, which examined 27 unlawful Coalition led attacks in Yemen. The report has found that out of the 27 attacks, remnants of US- made weapons were found in 25 of the cases and remnants of UK- made weapons were discovered in five of the cases. It must be noted that alone in 2018, Mwatana found that there were 128 unlawful Coalition airstrikes, however, researchers could only collate enough evidence for the 27 cases, as access in Yemen is limited.

Secondly, the weapons that are being sold to the Coalition and its partners are being used in an unjust war, which is in violation of international law.  The criteria for a war to be just are: a just cause, right intention, last resort, proportionality, prospect of success, legitimate authority. The Coalition led attacks have not been proportioned and military success has not been considered in relation to cost of civilian life (Mwatana for Human Rights et al. 2019: 105). Additionally, Coalition led attacks have been unlawful, unjust and indiscriminate, aimed at non-existent military targets, instead attacking civilians and civilian infrastructure and the prospect of success is limited as the war in Yemen has rendered into a disastrous stalemate (Mwatana for Human Rights et al. 2019: 105).  

In addition, the Coalitions attacks in Yemen are in violation of Common article 3 of the Geneva convention, which limits the targets and means used in conflict, meaning that states have to actively train their forces in how to limit harm to citizens and citizen infrastructure, something that is currently not being properly or sufficiently enforced. (Mwatana for Human Rights et al. 2019: 110)

Thirdly, unsurprisingly, the US and UK are culpable in their complacent continuation of arms sales to the Coalition, which is quite simply illegal and in violation of international laws and treaties. The UK is signed up to the Arms Trade Treaty, which regulates the conditions for arms transfer; a state cannot authorise or transfer arms if it is aware that the arms are going to be used in attacks against civilian objects, crimes against humanity etc. The UK is currently not abiding to its obligation or commitment to the Arms Trade Treaty. The US, impressively, is not only in violation of international law but also until recently in violation of its domestic law. It has been involved in Yemen without Congressional approval, which is against the War Powers Resolution (1973) and it is in violation of the Arms Export Control, which prevents the sale of arms in illegitimate attacks.

I believe, we can all quite easily agree that this air of uncertainty with regards to the USA’s and UK’s support of the war in Yemen, needs to be eliminated. This cloud of doubt is simply unacceptable, especially as both nations have exploitative histories and shying away from responsibility will most definitely do more harm than good.  

However, there is promise. Sections of US and UK government, more significantly in the US, have started to pose a challenge by questioning the innocent bystander image, both countries have carefully crafted. For example, in February of this year, the US House of Representatives (HOR) voted to repeal the USA’s military support for the campaign in Yemen. This has been further supported by the US Senate’s vote in March of this year, to end the US’s support to the Saudi and UAE led coalition war in Yemen. On the 4th of April this year, the resolution was put back to the HOR, where the bipartisan resolution was passed, officially stopping US military involvement in the Coalitions war in Yemen.

Two separate, nonetheless important points arise from this resolution: it was a bipartisan resolution, meaning it had cross-party support, which in the current political climate in the US is rare and secondly, it challenged executive power, - Trump- and the ability to wage war without congressional approval by invoking the War Powers Resolution (1973), which poses a limit to the president’s power to initiate or escalate military action. I would add that this resolution really gained traction and support in October 2018, after the murder of Saudi Arabian dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul. Khashoggi underwent self- imposed exile to the US and was living there at the time of his murder (Abu- Nasr, 2018) The inadequate response by Trump and parts of his administrations and their continual support for the Saudi government, triggered a movement to reconsider the US’s position and relationship with Saudi Arabia. These two points I feel really highlight how tragic and critical the situation is- bipartisan support is so unusual, yet this resolution had cross-party support, and again the War Powers Resolution (1973) is very rarely invoked, highlighting the gravity of the US’s role in Yemen.

In addition, the UK’s House of Lords International Relations Committee in March 2019 published a report stating that it believes that due to the amount and type of arms that the UK is exporting to Saudi Arabia, it is most likely to be causing civilian casualties. Furthermore, the Committee has called for the Government to suspend some of the Coalitions licences and to properly address the humanitarian crises in Yemen rather than just simply mitigate it. The Committee published a further report on the 1st of April 2019, regarding British arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which similarly to the preceding one, states that the arms export licences should be more carefully reviewed and that this in turn would pressure Saudi Arabia and UAE to end the war.

Of course, the language is vague, weak and avoids one of the main recommendations of the Mwatana 2019 report- to immediately stop the shipping and sales of arms. Instead, the Committee’s report recommends to tighten control over the licences.

For context since 2015, the UK has sold to Saudi Arabia around £4.7 billion in arms sales and £ 585 million to the UAE- these figures exclude sales to other coalition partners, which include: Egypt, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Senegal and Sudan. It is hard to know whether these numbers are even remotely accurate due to fact that the weapons have been sold under open licences, which allow the sale of an uncapped number of items to a country over the period of five years and as it stands the British government is under no obligation to publish the actual figures of the licences. The Committee’s report asks for tighter controls with regards to these licences. However, that is not enough and in all honesty the UK should stop the sales of arms immediately, start adhering to its obligation under the Arms Trade Treaty and most importantly demand an investigation into the international humanitarian law violations, especially the violations that it, the USA and the European Union have been complicit in.
I have to say; the UK government has not come to terms with its involvement, complicacy and its urgent need to take responsibility; it ignores and denies the evidence and the very people who are meant to be stopping the sale of arms, are simply advising to take greater control of the licences, a weak and cowardly move.  

Finally, I would ask that you sign the petition, telling the Foreign Secretary to stop the arms sales and stop the war in Yemen. The petition can be found on the Campaign Against Arms Trade website.  

Loa Pm