The US and Yemen: Why the US Shouldn’t be Involved

By Daria Berstell

In the past few months, the United States has become increasingly entangled in Yemen’s conflict. Since March of 2015, the U.S. has been providing a Saudi-led and largely Sunni-supported military coalition with aid through arms sales and American intelligence. This coalition has been fighting Yemen’s Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, who ousted Yemen’s government in January of 2015. The Houthi rebels seized the presidential palace and several important military installations, resulting in the dissolution of parliament and forcing the president, Abed Mansour Hadi, to flee to Saudi Arabia. The war has now killed an estimated 10,000 people, nearly half of them civilians, according to the United Nations.

Last week, the U.S. went from being tangentially involved in the conflict to being directly involved. On October 13th, an American warship stationed off the coast of Yemen fired cruise missiles at radar installations that American intelligence believed were used by Houthi rebels to target another American warship in two missile attacks the previous week. The Pentagon has characterized the strikes as “self-defense strikes” which were conducted to protect American personnel and freedom of navigation for American ships. This situation has the potential to draw the U.S. into another protracted conflict in the Middle East.

Already, the civil war in Yemen has caused a humanitarian catastrophe and fueled extremism among the country’s citizens. With the U.S. being a vital part of the coalition fighting the rebels, the U.S. bears partial responsibility for the terror and death caused by the Saudi-led coalition. Thousands of civilians have died during their involvement in Yemen’s civil war, with a recent incident being the bombing of the funeral of a prominent rebel leader that killed almost 150 civilians. Human Rights Watch called it an “apparent war crime.” Previously, the coalition also bombed a hospital served by Doctors Without Borders, killing 15 people and destroying the Emergency department of the hospital.

The coalition either does not know how to hit their targets successfully or does not care about killing civilians. Either option is unconscionable. Despite Saudi Arabia’s disregard for human rights, one assumes that they would not intentionally target civilians, meaning that they are killing thousands of civilians accidentally. If the coalition cannot avoid killing thousands of civilians even with the help of American intelligence, the coalition should cease airstrikes immediately. A recent UN report blames 60% of Yemeni children’s death and injuries on bombings and military action taken by the coalition.

In a region so unstable and so prone to fueling extremism, the worst possibility for the U.S. would be to continue to be entangled in a never-ending conflict. Saudi Arabia and the U.S. went into Yemen in hopes of getting the country back after the rebels took over, however, at this point Yemen is near total collapse with 80% of the country in need of some sort of humanitarian aid and extremist groups becoming more radicalized and gaining more followers. This war was started to help the people of Yemen, however, the longer it goes on, the harder it will be to finish it.

The U.S. should not be complicit in these atrocities and should not implicitly condone them by continuing to support Saudi Arabia’s efforts. Arms sales should be stopped until Saudi Arabia is able to wage war without killing civilians and until they commit to negotiating peace  in Yemen. Those arms sales make the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen possible, however, they also provide firepower for other military actions Saudi Arabia takes. For a country with such a terrible human rights record, it does not make sense for the U.S. to be supporting them with military power and intelligence. The United States should not support a nation which does not share our values regarding the value of human life and basic rights.

The conflict in Yemen is difficult and becomes more complicated by the day as more bombs are dropped and more citizens become radicalized. This is especially true with the development of US involvement, which began with Houthi rebels firing on American warships and the Americans responding destroying three radar installations. While retaliatory and justifiable, the US Navy’s response was still the first direct action taken by the U.S. military in this conflict. In addition, becoming further entangled in this conflict in the Middle East runs the risk of forcing the U.S. into several more decades of direct military engagement in the Middle East, just as the U.S. military is slowly beginning to be pulled out.

With a rising civilian death toll and deteriorating living conditions in Yemen, some would say it is logical that the United States should intervene more than it has. But it would be foolish for the United States to become involved directly in a war in Yemen and, following a lengthy and unpopular conflict in Iraq, there would not be support for it among the American people. Given rising extremism and unstable conditions created by the humanitarian crisis, it would be risky for the US to get entangled in yet another conflict in the Middle East. If provided U.S. intelligence made it possible for the coalition to successfully combat the rebels, then that support should be continued, however, even with that intelligence, civilian targets continue to be hit. The U.S.’s involvement has not helped the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen and it is time the administration ceased its support to Saudi Arabia and considered other options.

The Ugly Alliance: Can we justify US/Saudi relations?

By Javan Latson 

For 70 years, our country has maintained an alliance with Saudi Arabia built on oil and security, but is that enough to justify our relationship? It has often been said that Saudi Arabia is one of our few friends in the Middle East and that they are a key partner in the war on terror, however, we need to reduce the support we give them, and stop supplying them with so much political and military aid. We can’t continue to support a regime that exports radical ideologies, oppresses their citizens, and works against our interests in the region.

The U.S has placed several nations under economic sanctions because of human rights violations. Cuba, North Korea, and Burma are all countries that are currently paying the price for their discriminatory domestic policies. One must wonder why Saudi Arabia isn’t also reprimanded by the U.S. for how they treat their citizens. The kingdom of Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy that is governed by a strict interpretation of Sharia law. There are no formal democratic institutions in the country since political parties are forbidden, and until last year women weren’t allowed to vote. Torture and arbitrary arrests are common and many people are held in custody for long periods of time before trial. This is a country where one can be beheaded for homosexuality, apostasy, armed robbery, adultery, and even sorcery. Stoning and death by firing squad are other means of execution, and most are held in public. It’s entirely hypocritical for the U.S. to keep turning a blind eye to this barbarism when other countries are punished for the same behavior.

Despite horrid domestic laws, Saudi Arabia’s foreign policies are no better, and we suffer because of many of their policy decisions. The Saudis spend millions of dollars on the creation of religious schools in order to spread fundamentalist Wahhabi Islam throughout the world. These schools tend to be vehemently anti-western/anti-American and many of their graduates become recruits for radical Islamic terror groups. Organizations like Al-Haramain and Al Waqf Al-Islami are examples of Saudi “charities” which finance the spread of radical Islam and support imams that preach this strict interpretation of Islam. The effect of these schools can especially be seen in traditionally moderate Kosovo, which has become a pipeline for jihadists following a large influx of Saudi funded mosques and imams.  Many EU countries have made the connection between the spread of Wahhabism with extremism yet our government has made no efforts to pressure the Saudis to reconsider their missionary work.

Furthermore, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital, has not been a valuable asset in the current conflict against ISIS and has actually done much to destabilize the region. The U.S. and the Saudis agree that President Assad must step down in order to for Syria to transition towards peace. However, we have different goals and objectives in the region. Our main priority is defeating the Islamic State through an aerial campaign and by supporting “moderate” rebels with training and weaponry. Although ISIS is seen as a threat by many western nations including the U.S., one would think that the Saudis would contribute more to the campaign due to their geographic proximity. The Saudis have a defense budget of about 46 billion dollars and are the top buyer of U.S. weaponry, meaning they are equipped to be a key partner in the coalition. Despite this, they have contributed virtually nothing in the air campaign. On the ground, Saudi Arabia finances a great deal of the training programs for rebel groups, but they also support Islamist groups like Al-Nusra who we deem terrorists. While we are conducting the majority of combat operations against ISIS, Saudi Arabia is currently engaged in Yemen against Houthi Rebels. This intervention has not produced any positive results but has destabilized the region and created a foothold for Al-Qaeda. To make matters worse it hurts our nation’s reputation abroad when someone is indiscriminately bombing civilians with American hardware. All this does is fuel the fire for a community already resentful of the United States and helps provide the propaganda extremists thrive on, that America is a tyrant that supports oppressive regimes.

There is a lot of money to be made from our alliance with the Saudis, as they are the number one importer of American weapons, providing an economic angle to the partnership. Though a Saudi U.S. alliance is certainly profitable, can we continue to justify our support for them purely because it’s good for business? Our nation has supported some very questionable governments but it’s time for us to reevaluate our strategies for the region and whether or not the Saudis should play a role in our policies in the Middle East. Instead of being a symbiotic and positive relationship, ours is a parasitic one with Saudi Arabia. We don’t need to maintain a close partnership with the Saudis when can work with other states in the area such as Egypt, the UAE, Qatar, and Israel. These states may not all be ideal western democracies, but they are in strategic locations and for the most part work well with U.S. interests. Three of these states are Sunni, and all buy large amounts of American weaponry, which serves in the interests of those in the defense industry. Also, current trends in the oil market have lowered the price of crude oil to the point that we no longer need to depend on Saudi Arabia for energy. We can attempt to develop or improve relationships with the other members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (especially those in Latin America) and free ourselves from the potential entanglements of Saudi energy dependency. It’s time for our nation to reevaluate who we consider our friends and not allow the past to dictate how we handle future and present events in this ever changing world.

The Kashmir Problem: Why India & Pakistan May Go To War & Why It Matters

By Aalok Joshi 

 

For as long as the nations of India and Pakistan have existed, the region of Kashmir has been the flashpoint of their ongoing international conflict. Both nuclear powers have claimed to be the sole legitimate government of Kashmir and both countries claim Jammu & Kashmir, the full name of the region, to be an integral part of their territory. These nations have fought several wars since 1947 over control of the region, and to this day a final border or solution has not been found. Instead, the balance of the region hangs at the LOC or Line of Control – the de facto border between the two neighbors. Skirmishes between the Pakistani and Indian forces are common and both countries invest large portions of their military budgets in maintaining a large presence in Kashmir and the Siachen glacier.

However, recent events have changed the seemingly never ending deadlock in Kashmir. On September 18th, 2016, four armed terrorists conducted a pre-dawn ambush on an Indian military camp in the border town of Uri. This attack killed 18 Indian soldiers and instantly escalated the situation in Kashmir which has been the center of unrest and killings of protesters since the beginning of this summer.

The Indian response so far has been mixed. Leaders from India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have called for a declaration of war and swift justice. The BJP’s Secretary General Ram Madhav posted on Facebook, “For one tooth, the complete jaw”, while Rajnath Singh, India’s home minister tweeted, “Pakistan is a terrorist state and should be identified and isolated as such”. However, to the shock of Indians and Pakistanis alike, India’s firebrand Prime Minister Narendra Modi, of the Bharatiya Janata Party, has not made any such rash statements. Instead, he has shifted the focus back to development saying, “I want to tell the people of Pakistan, India is ready to fight you. If you have the strength, come forward to fight against poverty. Let’s see who wins. Let’s see who is able to defeat poverty and illiteracy first, Pakistan or India”. Though such rhetoric is a reprieve from war mongering on both sides at best and innocuous at worst, Modi is hinting at certain actions which could have severe consequences for Pakistan. Shortly after the attack, Modi claimed, “Blood and Water cannot flow simultaneously”, referring to the highly contested and vital Indus Water Treaty. This 56 year old agreement allows for water sharing between Pakistan and India as most of Pakistan’s rivers flow through India first. Modi and other BJP leaders have hinted at scrapping the deal altogether as a measure to place sanctions on Pakistan. Voiding the pact would mean that India would resume dam building activities on portions of the Indus and Jhelum rivers, thus crippling Pakistan’s agricultural hub of Punjab. This escalation of water war would no doubt result in the hoarding of water on both sides. Such a move would be extreme and would only heighten tensions between the giants, however, the political climate in India is very conducive to such a move.

The Pakistani response has been less focused on the attack and more focused on the civil unrest in Indian administered Kashmir. Since the killing of Kashmiri militant leader, Burhan Wahi, by the Indian military, the region has witnessed constant civil unrest which has led to the imposition of a week’s long curfew and the death of more than 85 civilians. Leaders of the majority Muslim League party in Pakistan, such as Rohail Dar, have said, “Pakistan is not supporting terrorism, it is rather a victim.” Pakistani political commentators, such as Mosharraf Zaidi, and the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, have both denied Pakistan’s involvement in the Uri attack . Meanwhile, Sartaj Aziz, one of PM Sharif’s closest foreign policy advisors, has made it clear that Pakistan will take India to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) if it violates the Indus River Treaty. Pakistan is justified in its plan of escalation to the ICJ because it’s mainly agricultural economy would be decimated by a chokehold on a vital input like water. Additionally, Pakistan has mobilized its military and reports of F-16s buzzing throughout the night over Islamabad have made leaders on both sides of the Line of Control even more worried.

Why It Matters…

India and Pakistan have the third and sixth largest standing militaries. Both countries have at least 100 nuclear warheads and the large populations of both nations’ means that any war between them would directly affect 1.5 billion people. The majority of these people coexist peacefully, do not live in Kashmir, and have very little to do directly with this conflict. However, because of a rising tide of Hindu and Muslim nationalism, desperation for control over resources, and underlying socioeconomic consequences, Pew data shows that many people on the subcontinent are ready for war – even nuclear war.

The Kashmir situation has not developed in a vacuum. Major world powers have been positioning themselves for a conflict like this, and since the attack in Uri states like the U.S., China, Russia, and Israel have amplified their rhetoric and action. The recent developments in Kashmir have made Russia’s position in the subcontinent even more complex than it has been. India and Russia have been longtime allies since the Cold War and Russia has been India’s largest military supplier and one of its largest trade partners. However, India’s recent shift toward the United States – seen through Obama’s multiple state visits to India and Modi becoming the first Indian Prime Minister to address a joint session of the U.S. Congress, has been alarming to Russia. Since then, Russia has agreed to begin selling military equipment, like helicopters and jets, to Pakistan. Additionally, as a part of Putin’s realpolitik strategy, Russia has agreed to construct a major natural gas pipeline from Karachi to Lahore. On September 23rd, just five days after the Uri attack, Pakistan and Russia conducted their first joint military drill. In the U.S. the shift from Pakistan to India has been marked not only by increased diplomatic and international cooperation between the two democracies, but also by new legislation in the U.S. Congress which would designate Pakistan as a terrorist state and cut off military aid.

As Russia and the U.S. reverse roles with their longtime allies, others like China and Israel remain entrenched in support of their subcontinental horse. China is currently pursuing its China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a $45 billion project which would give the Chinese direct access to the Arabian Sea. As recently as late September, Beijing has kept its neutral stance on the Kashmir issue, however, due to the strained Indo-Chinese dynamic over economic policies, border disputes, and disagreement on India’s bid for a permanent Security Council seat, it’s safe to say China would like to keep its trump card, Pakistan, close. Following the Uri attack, another nation, Israel, has also made its stance on the Kashmir issue clear. Israeli ambassador to India, David Carmon, suggested after the attack that India adopt a grid based, technology focused plan to secure its border. Israel has since offered its support in developing a system with India that would mimic Israel’s own tight borders.

The Bottom Line….

With Pakistani PM Sharif’s hour long tirade against India at the UN General Assembly  and India pulling out of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit on September 28th, it seems that a quick de-escalation of this conflict is unlikely, however, total war can and should still be avoided. If tensions do rise and one nation declares war on the other – this time it wouldn’t just be the two neighbors squabbling, it could involve other powers like Israel, Russia, China, and the United States in a war which would have globally catastrophic consequences.