The UK’s Involvement in Yemen: Blood on Britain’s Hands – Liberal Article
Right now, the world’s worst humanitarian disaster is happening in Yemen. And no, it was not caused by the coronavirus. The 2011 Arab Spring sparked a war which the country has still not emerged from.
So, what is going on in Yemen?
The country is divided between the Shia Houthi movement and President Hadi’s government’s forces. The Shias (a minority Muslim group in Yemen) gained former President Saleh’s support and joined forces with him to take over large parts of the country. Iran, a Shiite-Muslim country, has supported the Houthis, whilst a Saudi-Arabian led coalition supports President Hadi. ISIS and al-Qaeda are also active in the country.
But the real victims of this conflict are Yemen’s civilians. Already one of the poorest countries in the region, the conflict has made matters much, much worse. Already suffering from a cholera outbreak, Yemen also now has to handle the coronavirus’ spread. The total death toll is estimated at around 100,000 with the UN believing 80% of the country is in desperate need of humanitarian aid and protection. The UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs said this week that “This is the darkest moment I have ever seen”.
Britain’s government is involved, just not in the way we would hope. Along with the United States and France, the UK has been supporting Saudi Arabia’s blockade and airstrikes of the country.
The Saudis have been comprehensively reliant on Britain in this regard. BAE Systems, Britain’s largest defence company, was contracted by the government to produce bombs, assemble jets, train Saudi pilots and carry out maintenance for them.
The Saudis have targeted hospitals and other civilian infrastructure. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have both found multiple occasions when coalition airstrikes have been unlawful or constituted a war crime. Saudi airstrikes killed nearly 900 civilians between 2015 and 2017 alone.
It seems absurd that No.10 would continue to support the coalition considering these facts. But even after British arms sales to Saudi Arabia were ruled unlawful by the court of appeal, the government ignored the ruling and continued supplying the Saudis.
Just last month Britain pledged £160 million in aid to the country. But this is not enough. Recent efforts by the UN secured £1.1 billion in donations, half of what they said was needed to continue their work there.
£160 million is a drop in the ocean compared to the £6.4 billion worth of arms sold by the UK to the Saudi-led coalition. It is almost baffling that Britain’s involvement in the Yemen crisis has continued for so long without mass outcry.
The British government has blood on their hands over Yemen. This much is clear to see. Westminster is prioritising its good relationship with Saudi Arabia over the lives of Yemen’s civilian population and this is reflected in its attitude towards the situation.
Britain putting its interest in keeping the Saudis happy over the Yemeni’s lives is inexcusable. The government must withdraw from the coalition and contributes to the UN’s Yemen aid scheme properly, or they will be complicit in the preventable deaths of millions.
Written by Guest Liberal Writer, Fergus Harris
Point of Information
Everything needs consideration – a Conservative response
Naturally, what is happening in Yemen is awful. But several factors about British involvement need considering.
Saudi Arabia is a key Western ally in the Middle East. While effectively a dictatorship conducting very questionable acts, they act against other dictatorships like Iran, and their proxies, who hold Anti-Western positions. Saudi’s backing of the internationally recognised government of Yemen also gives it more legitimacy to its intervention.
Although reliant on our systems now, it would not take long for the Saudis to reduce said reliance, pursue contracts with Russia or China, or expand others with the US and France. This would do nothing for the crisis, just weaken our position in the Middle East. We would be removing our bargaining tool without any benefit for Yemen’s people, and significant downsides for us.
Let’s also consider the economic impact. The BAE Systems’ survival relies on the Al-Yamamah contract. Over 83,000 people are employed worldwide by BAE Systems would lose their job if the contract was stopped. During these times of economic uncertainty and unemployment, this would be a terrible decision. And this is only the impact on jobs. BAE Systems works for the UK military on projects like the F-35 Lightning Two. It would be a significant loss to UK national defence should they to go under.
While the deal doesn’t generate direct income, the Saudi’s have invested £93 billion in the UK economy. Saudi Arabia’s investment also helps to stabilise the pound. No doubt pulling the plug on this deal would have negative repercussions on both.
Arms exports are complicated. They have many moral questions, but also economic and geopolitical ones too. Ultimately, the government must put its citizens, companies, military, and economy first when making decisions.
Written by Junior Conservative Writer, Kieran Burt
The UK is not innocent – a Labour response
My Liberal colleague Fergus’ article is laudable and timely. However, Kieran’s conservative response left me speechless.
Let me say something: Saudi Arabia is not involved in some benevolent liberal intervention to aid a legitimate government. It is waging a war against Iranian-backed Shiite Houthis: Iran by proxy. The Saudis are using Yemen as a forum to advance their geopolitical objectives at the expense of Yemeni civilians. And in this, the UK is complicit.
The impotence Kieran ascribes to the UK in their participation here is also wrong. If he were to look at even the title of the articles he had linked –’They couldn’t do it without us: the UK’s true role in Yemen’s deadly war’– he would see just how wrong. As my Liberal colleague notes, the military contractor, BAE Systems, under British contracts, trains the Saudis to drop British bombs on Yemen and provide British maintenance on the Saudi aircrafts used to do it. The UK is not innocent. Our government has the power to stop this.
As uninformed and inhumane as Kieran’s response is, the sad truth is that it parrots the Tory line perfectly, albeit maybe with less guile. From a Tory government that promises sanctions one day and resumes arms sales to war criminals the next, putting money and influence before human rights and preventing mass murder, is to be expected.
Contrary to what Kieran says, Arms exports are not very complicated – to anyone with a moral compass that is.
Written by Guest Labour Writer, Marco Dryburgh
I am a second year student reading History and International Relations at the University of Exeter. After my degree, I am hoping to do a Journalism MA.
Hello, my name is Kieran Burt and I am going into second year at Nottingham Trent University studying Politics and International Relations. I first developed an interest in politics through reading the Dictator’s Handbook by Alastair Smith and Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, when I was 16, and have furthered my interest by studying politics at A level and now at university.
I’m a third-year History and Arabic student at the University of Manchester, and have just returned to London after an abortive year abroad learning Arabic in Jordan (thanks, Covid). Travelling and living abroad in a country and culture as different to ours as Jordan’s is without the obligatory reflection of your own values and priorities is impossible.