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Western Complicity in Yemen: Sponsoring a Humanitarian Crisis

Almost six years on, at the time of writing, and the war in Yemen continues to ravage through the country. What started off as a civil war has plunged Yemen into sheer brutality since regional and international powers entered the picture in 2015. Quantifying the human cost of the war has earned Yemen the badge of ‘the world’s worst humanitarian crisis’. By late 2019, the conflict’s death toll surpassed 100,000, of which 12,000 were civilians targeted in direct attacks. The true number is likely to be alarmingly higher given the inability to accurately track casualties in war. Although these figures are enough to paint a bleak picture in Yemen, it doesn’t even come close to capturing the scale of the devastation.

Tens of thousands have also died from preventable causes like malnutrition and disease as a direct result of purposely decimated civilian infrastructure. An estimated 85,000 children lost their lives to malnutrition from 2015 to 2018 and roughly 17 million people are on the brink of famine — clear indicators of the use of starvation as a weapon of war. Furthermore, almost 4 million have been displaced and about 24 million (80% of the whole population) are in need of humanitarian assistance as they lack access to basic necessities like water and sanitation. How exactly have the dire scenes in Yemen lasted this long? In short, Western countries are essentially sponsoring the death and destruction of Yemenis and their country with absolute impunity.

A short introduction to the war

To understand how Yemen became a battleground for the benefit of foreign interests at the expense of Yemenis — overwhelmingly children — an overview of recent history is needed. Admittedly, the complexities of the conflict are impossible to condense into a few paragraphs, and understanding them definitely merits further reading. This is merely an introductory explanation in hopes of fostering a basic grasp on the background of the man-made humanitarian crisis. In 2011, the ‘Arab Spring’ uprisings swept across countries in North Africa and the Middle East in a bid for better governance and Yemen wasn’t exempt. Yemenis, who have a long history of resisting foreign influence, took to the streets to demand an end to the three-decade rule of President Saleh, a close ally of the United States and Saudi Arabia. 

Saleh was eventually overthrown, only for him to be replaced — with US and Saudi support — by his vice president, Hadi. Hadi, naturally, would continue Saleh’s legacy and the people’s indignation only grew stronger. By late 2014, Houthis — decade-long opponents of the government — had stormed the presidential palace, seized control of the capital and, by early 2015, ousted Hadi and forced him into exile in neighbouring Saudi Arabia. This began one of the deadliest crusades of the century that continues to plunge Yemen into unspeakable calamity today: the birth of the Western-backed, Saudi-led Coalition committed to quashing Houthi influence and reinstating the Saudi-friendly — and, by extension, US-friendly — Hadi government.

A billion dollar industry at the expense of human lives

When we say ‘war is profitable’, we mean there are literal billions to be made from the perishing of innocent men, women and children abroad. The global arms trade had an estimated value of at least 95 billion US dollars in 2017. Meanwhile, the top 100 arms suppliers made almost a staggering 400 billion US dollars worth of sales in the same year. Marillyn Hewson, CEO of the arms and defence corporation Lockheed Martin, has previously stated that the Middle East and Asia were ‘growth areas’ for the company. Hewson continued to state that ‘volatility’ in these regions would continue to bear opportunities for Lockheed Martin to ‘bring [their] capabilities to them’. In other words, the more war, instability and death, the more profits there are to be yielded.

‘War is a racket. […] It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.’

― Smedley Butler, US Marine, in War is a Racket.

Indeed, the Middle East is by far Western arms corporations’ most precious customer. Between 2009–13 and 2014–18, the total amount of arms funnelled to the Middle East increased by 87%, with more than half of US’ and UK’s total exports ending up in the region. Within the Middle East, Saudi Arabia is the top client: between 2014 and 2018 ― coinciding with the Saudi-led Coalition’s bombing campaign in Yemen ― Saudi Arabia emerged as the world’s largest arms importer.

CAAT – Infographic showcasing the billions worth of arms exports to the Saudi-led Coalition.

The UK government has previously admitted to being conscious that their own weapons were being used in Yemen, with mounting evidence of those weapons being used on innocent civilians and more than 500 recorded breaches of international law perpetrated by Saudi forces. More than 80 UK companies supply the regime with weapons. Among them are BAE Systems ― the biggest beneficiary of the billion-pound contracts ―, MBDA, Ratheon ― whose bombs have been used against civilian infrastructure ―, Lockheed Martin, Rolls Royce, Boeing and many more. On top of supplying the country with fighter-jets, bombs and missiles, the UK provides training to the Kingdom’s military. The Saudi-led Coalition has seen itself intentionally bomb hospitals, clinics, factories, farms, agricultural land, schools and sewage systems. All of these are war crimes aided and abetted by Western countries ― including and especially by the UK ― that have fabricated in Yemen the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

End the criminal arms trade

Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst and counter-terrorism expert, said in 2016 that ‘if the United States of America and the United Kingdom, tonight, told King Salman that this war has to end, it would end tomorrow because the Royal Saudi Air force cannot operate without American and British support’. Britain and the US are clearly not oblivious to this. Rather, they have no interest in putting an end to the war in Yemen. The continued support for the decimation of Yemenis is a source of enormous profit for the parties involved in the arms trade, and the longer it lasts, the more they cash in.

It’s crucial to remember the umbilical relationship between the UK and other Western nations like the US, France and Germany in the conscious, calculated and criminal destruction of what was already the poorest MENA country before the conflict escalated. All war crimes committed by the Saudi-led Coalition are unequivocally British, US, French and German crimes. It is British weapons that are killing civilians and demolishing infrastructure and it is British military training that helps Saudi soldiers execute unabridged violence. Western powers could singlehandedly help bring an end to the morally bankrupt war in Yemen ― instead, they wilfully choose to prolong it for profit and it’s, as always, innocent men, women and children who bear the brunt.

For incredibly detailed information on the impact of the international arms trade on human rights and how to get involved in stopping the sale of UK weapons to Saudi Arabia, visit

By Elisa Emch

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