December 13, 2022

Ending US Support to the Saudi-led Coalition Will Not End the War in Yemen

Originally published in AEIdeas
In May, Congress introduced a war powers resolution that aims to end the war in Yemen by blocking US support to the Saudi-led coalition. This resolution, which Sen. Bernie Sanders may bring to a vote this week, will not change Saudi behavior in Yemen nor end the war in Yemen, though it will negatively affect the US-Saudi relationship. The resolution’s supporters argue it will “pressure” the Saudis into renewing Yemen’s truce. Instead, the reality is that this resolution, or any effort focused on punishing or pressuring Saudi Arabia, will fail to make a significant difference in Yemen’s trajectory. Such a resolution may even be counterproductive by emboldening the Houthi movement and incentivizing it to resume violence, ending Yemen’s fragile calm.

The resolution would stop all support for Saudi offensive military operations in Yemen, including intelligence sharing to enable airstrikes and the provision of aircraft maintenance and spare parts. This change is unlikely to have a significant effect because US support for Saudi operations is already minimal at this stage in the conflict. If anything, it risks harming Saudi Arabia’s use of these aircraft for homeland defense efforts to intercept Houthi attacks against Saudi civilian targets.

The resolution’s backers hope it will keep Saudi Arabia at the negotiating table, but the Houthis are the bigger threat to Yemen’s peace process. A UN-negotiated truce between the Houthi movement, which seized power in Yemen in September 2014, and the internationally recognized Yemeni government, backed by the Saudi-led coalition, ended in October 2022. The UN Envoy to Yemen said the Houthis introduced additional truce demands, blocking the truce’s extension in October. The US Envoy to Yemen echoed the UN Envoy’s statements, adding that Saudi Arabia has taken proactive steps to extend the truce.

The Houthis are endangering the fragile post-truce calm that has lasted since October despite small-scale clashes along the frontlines. The group is targeting civilian Yemeni infrastructure with drones and threatening to resume drone and missile strikes against international shipping and Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The Houthis are also preparing for renewed conflict by deploying reinforcementsdrones, and missiles to key fronts and coastal areas where they may threaten international shipping.

The Houthis’ behavior does not excuse the well-documented violations committed by the Saudi-led coalition, including its cavalierness toward civilian casualties especially early in the war, and the United States should address these. But the Houthis’ human rights violations are intentional and systematic. The Houthis are recruiting child soldiers to resume the conflict, despite the movement’s promises to the UN that it ceased this practice. The group is indoctrinating and training children as young as 10 years old. Other Houthi violations include executions of minorschild marriage, and torture. Removing US support for Saudi Arabia will not end the war, and could increase violence by triggering an opportunistic Houthi escalation against Saudi Arabia.

An end to US support to Saudi Arabia as envisioned by this war powers resolution will not be effective, and may trigger increased fighting in Yemen. The United States should continue working with the UN and Oman to keep the Houthis at the negotiating table, while working with Saudi Arabia and the UAE to provide defensive systems to protect civilian infrastructure from Houthi attack. Saudi Arabia is committed to peace in Yemen according to both UN and US officials. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and the Yemeni government have demonstrated their commitment repeatedly by conceding to Houthi demands. US disengagement from Saudi Arabia and the UAE will not end the war in Yemen, but it will damage US relations with Saudi Arabia and the UAE.