NDAA Section 1290 conditions further United States refueling assistance to the Saudi-led coalition’s air raids in Yemen on whether the Secretary of State can certify to Congress that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are undertaking specific steps to support a peace process and reduce civilian harm in Yemen. Drawing from the language of Section 1290, we briefly analyze the extent to which Saudi Arabia and the UAE have undertaken these measures and provide a recommendation for further congressional action.
In Yemen: National Chaos, Local Order, Chatham House's Peter Salisbury identifies Yemen as a “chaos state” characterized as “a nominal entity that exists largely as lines on a map and as a concept in newspaper reports and policymaker briefings" (p. 45). The traditional solution to restoring order in a “chaos state” is creating a centralized government that dictates legitimacy from the top down. According to Salisbury’s analysis, this approach is unlikely to work in Yemen. Yemen is not purely a contest for power between the Houthis and the government of President Hadi, or purely a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, but rather “a region of mini-states at varying degrees of war with one another, and beset by their own complex internal politics and conflicts.”
Just Security published an op-ed today by YPP executive director Will Picard, warning of the dangers of a deal currently being negotiated in secret that could return former president Ali Abdullah Saleh to power. Saleh was ousted in late 2011, after a lengthy popular uprising and a schism within the regime. In 2014 he allied himself with the Houthi movement to orchestrate a coup, sparking the ongoing civil war in Yemen. While the UN-led peace process has stalled, it appears that that the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are negotiating with Saleh's party to form a new government and end the Gulf states' military intervention. The new government would reportedly include Saleh's son and other members of the pro-Saleh branch of Yemen's ruling GPC party.
In an article in Just Security over the weekend, Stephen Seche and Eric Pelofsky provided recommendations to US policymakers regarding efforts to restart the peace process in Yemen, based on their meetings this month with Yemeni and Saudi officials in Riyadh. Stephen Seche, a former US ambassador to Yemen and the executive vice president of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, and Eric Pelofsky, a visiting fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a former special assistant to the president and senior director for North Africa and Yemen at the National Security Council, warned that “today, there appears to be no viable path to peace in Yemen.” They pointed out several challenges, including internal tension between actors on both major sides of the conflict and Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s refusal to endorse the UN Roadmap for Yemen as a basis for negotiation
Last week, UN Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed announced the details of a plan to effectively remove the governorate of al-Hudaydah from the Yemeni civil war. The plan does far more than propose a ceasefire for the vital port city; it also includes the payment of salaries to civil servants, and spells out the role of the international community. If implemented, the “al-Hudaydah Plan” could serve as a model for a nation-wide peace agreement. The Government of President Hadi and the Government of Egypt have reportedly announced their support for the plan, it is not yet clear whether any of the other warring parties will agree to the plan. Below is the YPP’s English translation of the plan, as presented by the UN Special Envoy to the Arab League.
The YPP, along with 40 other national and local organizations, sent the below letter urging Congress to vote in support of S.J.Res.42 to block the pending $510 million arms sale of precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia. Recently, bipartisan members of both the Senate and the House of Representatives introduced joint resolutions of disapproval to block the sale of these weapons due to their repeated use against civilians and civilian infrastructure in Yemen.
Yesterday the Yemen Peace Project and 21 other NGOs sent a letter to all members of the UN Security Council calling on them to take immediate action to advance peace negotiations and address the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen. The Council will meet to discuss the situation and hear an update from the UN Special Envoy on May 30. The full text of the letter is below.
UN Security Council must act to end man-made humanitarian crisis in Yemen
We the undersigned organisations call upon UN Security Council members to take action to bring about an immediate ceasefire in Yemen, end the humanitarian crisis and support the UN Special Envoy's efforts towards an inclusive political solution to the conflict.
Monday, March 21Talks in San’a on Sunday between Houthi rebels and UN Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed resulted in an agreement on a ceasefire prior to upcoming talks in Kuwait. Later on in the week it was revealed that the ceasefire is set to begin on April 10 while negotiations will commence on April 18.
Nineteen Yemeni Jews were airlifted to Israel from Raydah and San’a over the weekend in an operation organized by the Jewish Agency, which has brought approximately 200 Yemeni Jews to Israel in recent years. Approximately 50 Jews remain in Yemen, many of whom live in a compound close to the US embassy in San’a. The new arrivals in Israel brought with them a Torah scroll believed to be between 500 and 600 years old.
Human Rights Watch released a statement on Monday urging all countries, especially the US, the UK, and France, to suspend all weapons sales to Saudi Arabia until it ceases carrying out unlawful airstrikes in Yemen, which have led to the deaths of hundreds of civilians. HRW also demands that Saudi Arabia conduct credible investigations into these repeated violations of international humanitarian law. https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/03/21/yemen-embargo-arms-saudi-arabia
Tuesday, March 22 At least 50 alleged al-Qaeda militants were killed in a US drone strike on their training camp west of al-Mukalla. The mass-casualty strike was announced by the Pentagon, and later confirmed by local medics and a Yemeni official who reported that those killed were members of al-Qaeda.
Wednesday, March 23 The UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, confirmed on Wednesday that all parties to the Yemen conflict have agreed to a cessation of hostilities set to begin on midnight on April 10, preceding peace talks in Kuwait on April 18.
Ould Cheikh Ahmed said that the talks will be carried out “under the umbrella of three pillars: the GCC initiative, the National Dialogue, and UN resolution 2216” and will work towards ”reaching a comprehensive agreement, which will end the conflict and allow the resumption of inclusive political dialogue in accordance with resolution 2216 and other relevant UN resolutions.”
Friday, March 25 Three suicide bombings killed 26 people in Aden on Friday. IS claimed responsibility for the attacks, which targeted military checkpoints, two of which were near a coalition base.
Saturday, March 26 Saturday marked the one-year anniversary of the Saudi-led coalition’s military intervention in Yemen. Mass demonstrations, which former president Saleh called for in a speech on March 23, were held in San’a to protest the coalition’s ongoing war in Yemen. Mareb Press, however, reported that celebrations in Aden and Ma’rib celebrated the one year anniversary.
Sunday, March 27 The Independent reported on Sunday that the UAE fighter jet which crashed into a mountainside near Aden on March 14 was in fact shot down by al-Qaeda using a Russian-made surface-to-air missile. This contradicts earlier reports that claim the jet experienced a technical malfunction, leading to the crash which killed both pilots aboard.
US airstrikes killed 14 suspected al-Qaeda militants on Sunday in Abyan province, according to local medics and residents. The aircraft reportedly bombed buildings used by al-Qaeda and destroyed a government intelligence headquarters in the provincial capital Zinjibar that the militants had captured and were using as a base.
The United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, announced on March 23 that all parties to the Yemen conflict have agreed to a cessation of hostilities set to begin on midnight on April 10, preceding peace talks that are scheduled to take place in Kuwait on April 18. According to Ahmed, the talks will be carried out “under the umbrella of three pillars: the GCC initiative, the National Dialogue, and UN resolution 2216” and will work towards ”reaching a comprehensive agreement, which will end the conflict and allow the resumption of inclusive political dialogue in accordance with resolution 2216 and other relevant UN resolutions.”
The envoy further explained that the talks will focus on five main areas; he has asked the parties to present concept papers on each of them by 3 April.
- the withdrawal of militias and armed groups
- the handover of heavy weapons to the State
- interim security arrangements
- the restoration of state institutions and the resumption of inclusive political dialogue
- the creation of a special committee for prisoners and detainees
Ahmed has said that “only a political solution and inclusive peace process will ensure a future of reconciliation and peace in the country,” but many analysts remain skeptical that the upcoming negotiations in Kuwait will accomplish any of the above goals, citing previous UN-brokered talks on Yemen that have failed to reach any agreement.
The UN envoy, however, says that there are signs of hope that this round of talks will be different, such as recent humanitarian breakthroughs in Ta’iz and successful tribal-mediated negotiations that led to a Houthi-Saudi prisoner exchange and temporary border calm earlier this month. He also added that the parties “are closer than ever [to a peace agreement] and we have the conviction that if we fail this time this is probably one of our last chances to get an end to this war.”
A video of Special Envoy Ahmed's press conference can be found here.
International Crisis Group has issued a report summarizing the steps that need to be taken by all players in the war in Yemen to achieve a general ceasefire and improve the chances of a durable political settlement. Even before Saudi Arabia launched its military campaign in Yemen, the country was deeply divided: “the intervention has layered a multidimensional, thus more intractable, regional conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran onto an already complex civil war, significantly complicating prospects for peace.” The result is an increasingly entrenched conflict with no end in sight, according to ICG.
Each side’s commitment to UN-led peace talks is lukewarm. Neither is defeated or exhausted; both believe they can make additional military gains; and neither has been willing to make the compromises required to end the violence.
International Crisis Group makes a number of recommendations for each party to ensure a general ceasefire and a durable political settlement. These recommendations include participation by the government of Yemen, the Houthis, and Saleh’s GPC--without delay or preconditions--in UN-brokered negotiations. The Saudi-led coalition must encourage government support for the UN special envoy’s negotiating agenda and suspend military action in San’a as a show of goodwill prior to negotiations.
The UN Security Council permanent members, especially the U.S., UK, and France, must back the UN special envoy and condition the supply of weapons and ammunition to Saudi-led coalition members on their support for an immediate ceasefire and inclusive political negotiations.
Crisis Group also recommends that negotiations be expanded to include additional Yemeni stakeholders, such as the Sunni Islamist Islah party, Salafi groups, and the Southern Resistance. These negotiations should include regional security concerns and Yemen’s economic reconstruction.
December’s peace talks in Switzerland failed to generate a solution to the war in Yemen, a war that is driven both by regional geopolitical rivalries and by factional conflicts within Yemen itself. In an op-ed for Al Jazeera, analyst Farea al-Muslimi argues that this failure is rooted in the interest of all parties involved to remain at war. According to al-Muslimi, one of the founders of the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, Yemen “needs a dealer who can ‘redistribute the cards’ and convince the various players to invest in peace.”
The latest round of peace talks failed because many of those involved do not know what they want out of the UN-mediated process, and because they do not believe it is in their immediate interests to have peace. After nearly a year of war in Yemen, the cycle of business, economy and power now revolves around one main thing: war. Should the fighting suddenly end, many players from both sides would stand to lose.
The Houthis appear to be most comfortable on the battlefield, and if the conflict were to end, they would have to face the undesirable reality of negotiations and power sharing. Meanwhile, former president Saleh, whose agenda differs from that of the Houthis, relies on a state of war to convince those around him that he is indispensable. The Islamist militant organizations that have made notable gains in Yemen certainly have no interest in seeing an end to the conflict that has provided them with the chaos and instability that is so easy to exploit.
Hadi is also a clear loser in any successful peace process as all parties to the conflict would need him to step aside. The Saudi-led coalition, which did not make any attempts at diplomacy prior to waging war, must understand that it will not win by military means. Finally, the West cannot believably call for peace in Yemen while also profiting from weapons sales that are bringing such destruction to the country.