By: Marielle Dewicki
Yemen is a failed state. The country is divided among many factions, two of the most prominent being the Houthis in the North and the anti-Houthis, allied with the Western and Gulf Cooperation Corporation (GCC) at the behest of President Abdo Robo Mansour Hadi, in the South. The Houthi coalition is continuously advancing on GCC/ anti-Houthi territory, prompting the country closer to war. The South itself is split into many factions, depending on religious motivations and separatist ideals. The Islamic State (IS) and Al-Qaeda control some territory in southern Yemen and continue to expand their territories because of state failure. Separatist groups, suspicious of both the Houthis and Hadi (a proponent of the idea of a united Yemen) also hold some control. The various coalitions in Yemen appear to lack negotiation skills and the ability to find common ground, and thus the country continuously draws closer to war. And international actors, regardless of their intentions, facilitate such discourse. Saudi Arabi views the Houthis as Iranian allies, and thus aligns itself with President Hadi to terminate the Houthis’ power. The Houthis themselves want to collaborate with Iran to overthrow President Hadi and to retain their power base. While the UN tried to mediate these conflicts through dialogue and strategy implementation, its efforts appear futile (Yemen at War). In the case of Yemen, United Nations peace negotiators (from neutral countries) should commence by engaging third party actors in discussion before negotiating with internal coalitions, phasing out terrorist organizations, and implementing a mutually satisfying peacetime government with international involvement. These steps will follow a combination of spoiler management solutions, cross-cutting principles, and indigenous peace-building techniques.
The economic and military support of the Saudi Arabians and the Iranians perpetuates the conflict between the Houthis and Hadi supporters by providing both sides with an abundance of resources that they likely would not possess on their own. In the eyes of both the Saudi Arabian and Iranian governments, the disputes in Yemen are nothing more than an outside source in which to continue their own disagreements. The two countries could easily leave both main Yemeni factions in ruins at any moment, causing a major humanitarian crisis. While the partisan support from Saudi Arabia and Iran is not the most pressing challenge facing Yemen, because these neighboring countries play a crucial role in the conflict in Yemen, the first step to reduce the state of conflict should be the prevention of external anti-peace interference by Saudi Arabia and Iran through private discussions with both countries, facilitated by neutral United Nations moderators. The two countries should be induced, or promised benefits, in peace negotiations to ensure success (Stedman 1997).
The second step towards mitigating the conflict in Yemen involves the engagement of all the internal warring coalitions in peaceful negotiations. Violence between factions in the country is the most critical issue, thus it must be redressed through a multi-faceted approach. To prevent potential violence between groups involved in peace-building discussions, rules of engagement or “socialization” must set the precedent before negotiations (Stedman 1997). During negotiations, all factions should be present to ensure that they have equal input in solutions and that their concerns are addressed in the best manner possible. While the separatist groups will not be completely appeased, as unification is the ideal option for government construction, some of their other goals could perhaps be met initially through negotiations and later through a pseudo-indigenous democratic government. The initial government of Yemen will need to include aspects of both democracy and traditional practices to ensure a smoother transition (Mac Ginty 2008). A free-market economy should develop in tandem with the government that includes little regulation other than insured wages for labor.
The influence of extremist religious groups in Yemen is another of the most pressing issues, as it is a major global security issue as well as a Yemeni issue. The solution to the problem of terrorist organizations, such as the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda, has a more paradoxical solution. These groups must be eliminated or reduced in Yemen to secure peace, but they cannot be thwarted by force and cannot be mitigated swiftly. The best solution to the terrorist problem is one that the US and the UN have evaded for years: the validation and inclusion of terrorist organizations at a global level (Stedman 1997). In the case of Yemen, inclusion in peace-building negotiations (provided that the groups follow a prescribed set of rules) and concessions that do not threaten human lives are enough to delegitimize violence actions by such organizations and to eventually sway public opinion away from their restrictive and violent beliefs (Stedman 1997). Once citizens in Yemen turn from terrorist organizations, their power base will significantly shrink, as will their threat level. With the support of the United Nations from initial negotiations to the end of the initial transitional process (around fifteen years in total), these policy proposals have a high potential for success.
The most likely outcome of the proposed policies for peace in Yemen is not an immediate solution to the crises facing the country, and the time from initial negotiations to the end of basic democratization will be around fifteen years. Convincing the warring coalitions and the citizens themselves will be challenging, especially since third-party moderators (UN negotiators) will ideally include representatives from some Western countries that have different cultural, economic, and political values than those of Yemen. Building the trust of Yemeni factions through the inclusion of neighboring countries with similar value systems in the peace discussions will likely facilitate easier dialogue in negotiations and help to persuade Yemen to instill democratic and capitalistic principles. Once the coalitions are instructed on the benefits of basic democracy and capitalism and are ensured that neither system will be forced upon them by the international community, they will agree to some of the basic principles of both systems, possibly adding more factors in the years to follow.
While previously warring factions will likely continue to dispute for various reasons, their ability to freely express their ideas and goals in a governmental setting will reduce, if not end, instances of violence. Through elections and multiple political parties, citizens will be exposed to a variety of viewpoints from which they can form their own. Over time some of the factions will diminish or disband as citizens’ opinions change, and new ones will form. Terrorist organizations, such as the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda, will see a reduction in their Yemeni support bases as citizens and other factions begin to realize that their extremist views hold little opportunity for alternative viewpoints and personal freedoms. By the end of the initial democratization process, these groups will be mostly absent from Yemen. At this point Yemeni citizens can either choose to preserve their new governmental and economic structures or to further develop and Westernize them. In the long term, this policy proposal based on negotiations and compromise will generate more peaceful and fruitful results than the United Nations Security Council’s proposal based on military force and international control.
Mac Ginty, Roger. “Indigenous Peace-Making Versus the Liberal Peace.” Cooperation and Conflict, vol. 43, no. 2, 2008, pp. 139–163., doi:10.1177/0010836708089080.
Stedman, Stephen John. “Spoiler Problems in Peace Processes.” International Security, vol. 22, no. 2, 1997, p. 5., doi:10.2307/2539366.
“Yemen at War.” Crisis Group, 23 Aug. 2016, http://www.crisisgroup.org/middle-east-north-africa/gulf-and-arabian-peninsula/yemen/yemen-war.