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This international relations study investigates the underlying causes of the Yemen crisis by analyzing the interactions of global, regional, and local actors. At all phases, GCC member states played a key role, from political negotiations amidst street protests in 2011 to formation of an international military coalition in 2015. Using a multi-actor model, the book shows that various actors, whether state or non-state, foreign or domestic, combined to create a disastrous armed conflict and humanitarian crisis. Yemen’s tragedy is often blamed on Saudi Arabia and its rivalry with Iran, which is usually defined in sectarian “Sunni-Shia” terms, yet the book presents a more complex picture of what happened due to involvement by many other foreign actors, such as the UAE, UN, UK, US, EU, Russia, China, Turkey, Oman, Qatar, and African states of the Red Sea and Horn of Africa.

Table of Contents

Frontmatter

Chapter 1. Introduction

Abstract
The origin and purpose of the edited collection are described in the Introduction along with the general research methodology of the book. The methodology comes from an elementary concept in the study of international relations: governments operate on the basis of motives derived from various interests that shape their actions. In simple interactions between two or perhaps three governments, it is possible for decision-makers to have greater clarity to know what actions best serve their interests. But as the number of actors increases, motives become increasingly opaque, and amid resulting confusion, decisions become more irrational. This explains how Yemen became trapped in a highly destructive war with complex patterns of violence. The book is a work of contemporary history told from the perspective of different global, regional, and local actors in Yemen. Contributors analyze the country’s political transition between 2011 and 2014, the circumstances surrounding the collapse of its interim government between September 2014 and January 2015, the causes leading to war in March 2015, and the factors perpetuating warfare between 2016 and 2019. The book’s greatest merit is its development of a comprehensive analysis of Yemen’s political crisis and war by presenting different interpretations of the same events.
Stephen W. Day

Global Dynamics

Frontmatter

Chapter 2. The Role of the United Nations in the Yemen Crisis

Abstract
This chapter examines the political role of the United Nations in the Yemen crisis between 2011 and 2019, focusing on the Security Council, the Secretary General’s Special Envoys, and the Department of Political Affairs. There were two phases, the first between 2011 and the outbreak of the internationalized war in 2015 when the UN was deeply involved in the country’s domestic politics during the Gulf Cooperation Council-sponsored transitional regime: then, it could have performed better by taking a broader view of the country’s major problems but, instead, focused on the National Dialogue Conference, failing to address other major developments. In the second phase, during the war, the unwillingness of the warring parties to seek peace prevented the UN from playing an effective mediating role. As elsewhere, the UN structure and its lack of enforcement tools prevented it from playing the supra-national role which would enable it to solve problems in the interests of populations at large.
Helen Lackner

Chapter 3. The British Role in the Yemen Crisis

Abstract
With a long history of involvement in Yemen, Britain played a leading role in managing the post-2011 transition, using its diplomatic skills to coordinate the actions of G-10 ambassadors, the UN Special Envoy, President Hadi’s regime, and participants in the National Dialogue Conference. Throughout the process the UK remained concerned about the threat posed by al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula and the capacity of local security services to fight it. London realized that the Houthis should have been given a more central role in the transition but, like other G-10 states, it woke up too late to the threat they posed. While the UK supported the Saudi-led coalition politically, diplomatically, and militarily in March 2015, it became alarmed at growing public concern about the conduct of the war. In response it gave the strongest support to the peace process, led from 2018 by a UN envoy from Britain, and has been a leading provider of humanitarian assistance.
Noel Brehony

Chapter 4. America’s Role in the Yemen Crisis

Abstract
In 2011 the US government strongly supported the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) diplomatic initiative in Yemen. Afterward President Barack Obama became an outspoken champion of the country’s political transition plan. Between 2012 and 2014, he and his staff often referred to Yemen’s version of the “Arab Spring” as an ideal model because it stood in sharp contrast to simultaneous events in Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, and Syria. The GCC initiative was a major reason why Obama eagerly embraced the Yemen model. It suited his foreign policy preference of encouraging foreign allies to play more active roles, “leading from behind” as he once stated in a poor choice of words. This was especially true of his orientation toward allies in regional organizations like the GCC. Once Yemen’s transition collapsed in early 2015, and Saudi Arabia led a coalition to war, President Obama found himself in the awkward position of participating in a foreign agenda he neither chose nor supported. After President Trump entered the White House in January 2017, US policy became far more supportive of the coalition’s war effort. Trump accelerated the process of approving arms sales to the GCC coalition, including authorization of some weapon systems that Obama previously blocked.
Stephen W. Day

Chapter 5. The European Union’s Role in the Yemen Crisis

Abstract
Analyzing the European Union’s perspective on the crisis in Yemen means two different things: on the one hand, looking into the separate policies of 28 member states (minus the United Kingdom since a separate chapter is dedicated to that country’s policies in the book); on the other hand, focusing on the singular diplomacy of European institutions, elaborated and implemented by EU civil servants, EU leaders of the Commission, and politicians affiliated with the European Parliament. Both of these issues are dealt with in the course of this chapter, showing how the Yemen crisis sheds interesting light on the limitations and opportunities of European foreign policies in the contemporary Middle East, and how their fragmentation among member states can also become a resource. Yet, it also highlights how Yemen has primarily been viewed as a marginal issue by European decision-makers. EU institutions and member states acted as if they lacked proper information and understanding of Yemen and have let other powers take initiatives, while only acting as a secondary player.
Laurent Bonnefoy

Chapter 6. The Russian Role in the Yemen Crisis

Abstract
In a period of increased Russian assertiveness in the Middle East, Russia’s non-aligned stance toward the Yemeni war stood out distinctly. Following the conflict’s inception in 2014, Russia maintained diplomatic relations with both the Houthis and Yemen’s UN-recognized government, while resolutely opposing the Saudi Arabia-led military intervention in 2015. Although these policies set Russia apart from the international consensus, Moscow cautiously avoided miring itself in a protracted war. This chapter explores the antecedents for Russia’s solitary abstention vote on UN Security Council Resolution 2216 in April 2015, by analyzing the Russia-Yemen bilateral relationship under former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and Russia’s handling of the 2011 Yemeni revolution that heralded Abdurabbo Mansour Hadi’s presidency. It then examines Russia’s reaction to the outbreak of war and shifting positions on conflict resolution within the context of Moscow’s strategic interests in Yemen and regional power projection ambitions.
Samuel Ramani

Chapter 7. The Chinese Perspective on the Yemen Crisis

Abstract
China played a low-key but supportive role in UN-led peace negotiations to mitigate the Yemeni civil war. Working alongside the United States, European states, Russia, and Arab Gulf countries, China followed the international consensus on Yemen that backs President Abdurabbo Mansour Hadi’s government as the legitimate government of Yemen, United Nations Security Council resolutions, and the Stockholm agreement. In striking a balance between regional rivals, Beijing tilts toward Saudi Arabia’s position in Yemen while concurrently endorsing the Iranian nuclear deal reached with world powers in 2015. Yemen is not a direct strategic interest for China, and Beijing lacks the willingness and capacity to take major initiatives to mitigate and resolve the mounting humanitarian crisis.
I-wei Jennifer Chang

Regional Dynamics

Frontmatter

Chapter 8. Saudi Arabia’s Role in the Yemen Crisis

Abstract
The Saudi war in Yemen is the signature policy initiative of the Kingdom’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The Saudis were alarmed by the rapid Houthi advances in 2015, fearing Iran was acquiring a proxy ally on their southern border. The reckless decision to intervene has created a humanitarian catastrophe for Yemenis and an expensive strategic quagmire for the Saudis. The Saudis have enjoyed the support of two American Presidents, which has protected them from potential international costs. The Crown Prince has stifled all dissent, including killing Jamal Khashoggi. The Congress is determined to limit US support for the war and a crisis in Saudi Arabia’s ties with Washington is coming.
Bruce Riedel

Chapter 9. The UAE’s Role in the Yemen Crisis

Abstract
This chapter analyzes the UAE’s aims in Yemen in the light of its relationships with major allies, drawing on conversations with British, US, Saudi, and UAE contacts. The UAE was an active participant in the transition following the 2011 uprising and brought its military skills, experience, and ability to improvise to the Saudi-led coalition to prevent Yemen coming under Houthi control and Iranian influence and to stop al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) from acquiring a safe haven. Its main focus was on the south, where it developed local security forces to provide security but lacked confidence in President Hadi and refused to work with Islah party leaders. In 2018, it took a leading role in plans to attack the Red Sea port of al-Hodeida, but in 2019 withdrew from the war in the north. Throughout, the UAE has worked closely with Saudi Arabia and its Western allies, whose objectives were not always identical, causing the UAE to make difficult choices. Despite the UAE’s military and security successes against AQAP, the Houthis have not been defeated and Iranian and Islah influences have grown. Southern separatists are now well organized and control powerful militias, which will complicate any post-war settlement.
Noel Brehony

Chapter 10. Iran’s Role in the Yemen Crisis

Abstract
In 2014, few people in Iran were familiar with the term “Houthis” or “Ansar Allah,” the official name of the group in Yemen. However, this militant political group, which Western media began describing as “Iranian-backed” or “Shia Houthis,” has since became an important pawn in Tehran’s multifaceted geopolitical struggle against one of its key regional adversaries, Saudi Arabia. And yet, the lack of historical ties and an exaggerated sense of the importance of sectarian bonds between Iran and the Houthis only underscore the reality that this has mostly been a marriage of convenience. The durability of the Iran-Houthi partnership continues to depend on the policy decisions of third-party actors, most notably the Saudis, Emiratis, and Americans, all of whom consider both Tehran and the Houthis to be malign actors. There is no doubt that Iran’s investments in Yemen increased as the Houthis were able to consolidate political and military power. That said, Tehran’s Yemeni project has largely not been an end in itself but an endeavor to provide the Iranians with a bargaining chip to use with its greatest regional rival, Saudi Arabia. On paper, the Houthis were the last addition to the Iran-led “Axis of Resistance,” but as a manifold movement, they have never been Tehran’s minions.
Alex Vatanka

Chapter 11. Omani and Qatari Roles in the Yemen Crisis

Abstract
The gradual armed takeover of Yemen, beginning with the capture of Sanaa, in September 2014 by Houthi rebels and supporters of ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh overthrew the internationally recognized government of President Hadi. On March 26, 2015 a Saudi-led coalition, including several regional countries, intervened militarily in “Operation Decisive Storm” to thwart the Iranian-backed Houthi expansion and restore Hadi to power. The coalition included all GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) states except Oman, which stayed out of the conflict for both domestic and foreign policy reasons, calling for a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Qatar took part in the coalition until it was excluded following the eruption of a diplomatic dispute with its immediate neighbors on June 5, 2017. Qatar joined Oman in seeking a peaceful settlement of the Yemeni dispute while extending diplomatic and humanitarian assistance, which was perceived by the Saudi-led coalition as interference in the conflict.
Abdullah Baabood, Ahmed Baabood

Chapter 12. Turkey and Egypt in the Yemen Crisis

Abstract
Turkey and Egypt both supported the Saudi-led military operation in Yemen in 2015. While both countries saw developments in Yemen as part of the Saudi-Iranian regional rivalry, the extent of their involvement and the reasons for their support of Operation Decisive Storm differed greatly. The 2013 ousting of the Morsi government in Cairo was a key turning point that affected their stances in regional politics. For Turkey, the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood regime was difficult to accept, but for Egypt, it was the beginning of the al-Sisi regime and the empowered alliances with Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Turkey’s decision to support the 2015 Saudi-led operation in Yemen was a result of its interpretation of regional politics but was overshadowed by the main priority of dealing with the Syrian crisis. For Egypt, its relations with Saudi Arabia and the UAE after 2013, as well as its security concerns over the Bab al-Mandab and the Red Sea, played an important role.
Özlem Tür

Chapter 13. The Horn of Africa and the Yemen Crisis

Abstract
The countries of the Horn of Africa (Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Sudan) have been dragged into the war in Yemen on account of their entanglement in the regional politics of the Middle East. This process began with the assertive regional security strategies of Saudi Arabia and the UAE from 2011 onward, in which rival Gulf states, plus Iran and Turkey, sought to extend their influence in the Horn of Africa. These efforts had soft power, economic, and security dimensions. Since 2015, the Saudi-Emirati coalition’s need for battle-ready ground forces (obtained from Sudan) and military bases on the western shore of the Red Sea (in Eritrea) has turned those African countries into belligerents. The deepening Middle Eastern engagement across the Red Sea is also reorienting political alignments in the Horn of Africa, notably in Sudan, and deepening monetized transactional politics.
Alex de Waal

Local Dynamics

Frontmatter

Chapter 14. The Role of “Legitimacy,” Hadi, and the Islah Party

Abstract
After President Saleh’s overthrow in 2011, a de facto alliance emerged between interim President Hadi and leaders of the Islah party: namely, sons of the late Sheikh Abdullah bin Hussain al-Ahmar and the unrelated General Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar. Until the early 2000s, these men had been key allies of former President Saleh. But in 2011, they were instrumental in pushing Saleh from power. As political tensions grew among them in 2012 and 2013, Hadi apparently decided that his de facto allies posed a challenge to his authority. In early 2014, he began using indirect means to weaken them by allowing Houthi rebels to attack their bases of power. In July 2014, Hadi failed to send military assistance when Houthi rebels assaulted a major army base under the control of General al-Ahmar’s key ally in Amran. This opened the door for Houthi rebels to stage a coup d’état with Saleh’s help in September, leading to Hadi’s resignation in January 2015. Despite deep fissures in their relationship, Hadi and Islah leaders reconstituted a fragile alliance after the Saudi-led war started in March 2015. Known as the “Legitimacy” group, they sustained their alliance during long years of warfare between 2015 and 2019 due to a shared dependency on Saudi Arabia, where President Hadi resided in exile, and a deep distrust of the roles played by the UN and Western governments.
Nadwa al-Dawsari, Summer Nasser

Chapter 15. The Role of “Coup Forces,” Saleh, and the Houthis

Abstract
From the onset of the Saada wars (2004–2010), the Houthis were described as an Iranian proxy and a security threat. Ali Abdullah Saleh long deployed this Iranian narrative to obtain budgetary and military support from his long-established international allies, the US and Saudi Arabia. Conversely, the Houthis—though admitting an Iranian influence on the ideological level—always denied receiving support from Tehran. The 2014 takeover of the capital Sanaa fundamentally reshaped the relationship between the Houthis and Saleh and their respective connections with international allies. The Houthis, on the one hand, managed to expand a previously negligible international network, establishing strong ties with regional Shia allies and opening channels of communication with the international community. Saleh, on the other hand, embarked on a risky alliance with the Houthis to weaken his internal rivals, but ended up losing his international allies and, eventually, his own life.
Luca Nevola, Baraa Shiban

Chapter 16. The Role of Hirak and the Southern Transitional Council

Abstract
During Yemen’s street protests of 2011, and later during the war between 2015 and 2019, developments in the south were largely distinct from events in the north. To begin with, the demands of southern protesters in 2011 were unlike demands in the north because at the time southerners had been holding continuous street protests since 2007, four years before the northern opposition imported the “Arab Spring” model from Tunis and Cairo. Between 2007 and 2011, mass street protests in the south were part of a popular movement called al-Hirak, “the Movement,” which drew hundreds of thousands of citizens to the streets. When warfare erupted in early 2015, combat on southern lands increasingly played out as a war within the war, separate from Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) coalition operations in the north against Houthi rebels and remnant loyalists of Saleh. The most significant wartime difference between the north and the south happened when the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council (STC) was announced in Aden on May 11, 2017. Just over two years later, the STC came to power in Aden after routing forces loyal to President Hadi during street battles in August 2019.
Stephen W. Day

Chapter 17. The Role of Muslim Brothers, Salafis, and Jihadis

Abstract
This chapter assesses multiple interactions between the various trends of Sunni Islamism in Yemen and the regional and international sphere, with an emphasis on the period since the Yemen war began in 2015. Drawing on a combination of primary and secondary sources, it analyzes how Yemen’s Muslim Brotherhood, Salafis, and Jihadis were influenced by and in turn influenced key regional and international actors, developments, and ideas. The global Jihadi movement, regional Salafi currents, and Muslim Brotherhood branches, all played relevant roles in shaping Yemen’s Sunni Islamism, together with regional powers such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, as well as global ones such as the US. The intended and unintended consequences of these interactions, coupled with the impact of the ever-evolving dynamics of Yemen’s tragic war, present greater challenges to classify Yemen’s Sunni Islamist trends according to conventional labels, for example, political/apolitical, peaceful/armed, local/national/global.
Manuel Almeida, Laurent Bonnefoy

Conclusion

Frontmatter

Chapter 18. Conclusion

Abstract
Before 2011, global powers wanted to eliminate the threat from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and secure freedom of navigation through the Bab al-Mandab but concluded they should work with regional powers, notably Saudi Arabia, which had greatest interest in a stable Yemen and some (declining) capacity to influence the country’s politics. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) deal of 2011 was seen by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as a continuation of the existing system without President Saleh in office, while the five permanent members of the UN Security Council saw it as a chance to build a stable reformed regime able to eliminate terrorism. Once the transition government collapsed and the war started in early 2015, external powers gave priority to their interests in Saudi Arabia and its coalition partner, the UAE, while trying to manage growing domestic opposition due to the war’s humanitarian consequences. Throughout the political crisis and war, global and regional powers had to work with Yemeni actors who prioritized their own interests, often frustrating the aims of external powers. The interplay of global, regional, and local dynamics brought catastrophe to a fragmenting Yemen—enabling Iran to increase its influence while creating the opportunity for a much-degraded, but still active AQAP to revive.
Noel Brehony

Backmatter

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