This week marks the third anniversary of the Saudi-led coalition’s involvement in the war in Yemen. The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman is also the country’s Defense Minister, acting as the Commander of the coalition operation in Yemen aptly named “Decisive Storm.” Despite the flagrant human rights violations taking place in Yemen, mostly at the hands of the Saudi coalition, the U.S. and Britain continue to supply military weapons and ammunition to the Saudi government, which have been used to indiscriminately target civilians, launching air strikes on schools, hospitals, markets, and mosques. In terms of numbers, the humanitarian crisis in Yemen has become the “largest humanitarian crisis in the world,” according to the United Nations. Currently, more than 22 million of Yemen’s 27 million population are in need of humanitarian assistance according to UN estimates. 1.8 million Yemeni children are malnourished, there are an estimated one million cases of cholera, and 8.4 million Yemenis are on the brink of famine.
With international attention pointed at the Saudis for the war crimes continuing to be committed in Yemen, why are the U.S. and Britain not diminishing their supply of military equipment to the Saudi government? U.S.-supplied munitions have been found at the sites of over 24 unlawful coalition attacks played out by Saudi Arabia in Yemen. The involvement of the U.S. in the Yemen conflict is nothing new. The U.S. has been supporting Saudi Arabia’s coalition over the past three years. Under the Obama administration, they provided intelligence, aerial refuelling for air attacks, and bombs despite the known fact that Saudi airstrikes were violating laws of war by indiscriminately attacking civilians. Under the Trump administration, during his first trip to Saudi Arabia, the current President of the U.S. announced the sale of the largest bundle of weapons to Saudi Arabia yet, seemingly in order to maintain strong strategic ties with the country.
Britain is also heavily complicit in the conflict, selling the Saudis $6.5 billion USD worth of military equipment in the past three years despite its own rules of not selling arms when they are likely to be used unlawfully. However, Britain denies its complicity in the conflict, stating that by cozying up to the Saudi government, they will be able to advise the military forces, according to the British Ministry of Defence, to lead them towards respecting the laws of war. Contradictory to their supply of military equipment, Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID) is the third largest funder of humanitarian relief efforts in Yemen. Evidently, with the current state of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen at its peak, Britain’s approach to offering private advice to influence Saudi actions has not been effective in reducing civilian suffering.
It is clear that the U.S. and Britain have helped fuel the fire that has resulted in the horrendous humanitarian crisis in Yemen, putting these countries in a complicit position. This may explain why Britain claims that it praises Saudi’s “continuing commitment [to conduct its military campaign] in accordance with humanitarian law” despite the blatantly erroneous assumption.
In order to begin to ease the civilian harm in Yemen, U.S. lawmakers have to clearly understand the human rights abuses taking place in Yemen and ensure that the U.S. does not add to the devastation. The U.S. has tremendous leverage on Saudi Arabia as a key partner and could capitalize on this relationship to stray the country’s coalition away from perpetuating the crisis in Yemen. Some hope is shining through with nearly half the U.S. Senate voting to block an arms sale last year. However, this is not enough pushback considering that an average of 65 people have been killed or injured every day since the conflict escalated according to OCHA’s Humanitarian Needs Overview. Britain also needs to reform its approach to Saudi Arabia and the conflict in Yemen as they have become complicit in war crimes by supplying military equipment. Also, by failing to denounce the illegal airstrikes and lives lost due to Saudi restrictions over key Yemeni ports, Britain’s humanitarian aid in the region is fundamentally discounted. This is the time to bring in U.S. and British diplomacy to the region instead of exacerbating the conflict.