THE BLOG

The UK is Complicit in the Destruction of Yemen

29/05/2015 13:53 BST | Updated 29/05/2016 10:59 BST

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UK produced Eurofighter. Photo by Constando Estrelas.

Following the deadliest day of air strikes and with the death toll approaching 2000, the humanitarian situation in Yemen is only getting worse. Like in all wars it is civilians that are on the receiving end, with the World Health Organisation stressing that 8.6 million are in 'urgent need of medical aid'. Lives, livelihoods and infrastructure are being destroyed, peace talks are failing and aid is failing to reach those in need.

The bombing has been led by Saudi Arabia, with the state owned Al-Aribiya network claiming it has provided 100 fighter jets and 150,000 soldiers for the military campaign. This is more than the other countries that form the war coalition put together.

The bombardment has been supported by the US and the UK, with both governments giving political and military support to the Saudi regime. The bombing is being done with war planes from both countries; with US made F-15s and UK produced Typhoons being used throughout. On top of that the Obama administration has provided logistical support and intelligence, while, in the UK, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond pledged to "support the Saudis in every practical way short of engaging in combat."

Unfortunately this isn't the first time UK aircraft have been used against Yemen. Research from Amnesty International shows that UK weapons were very likely to have been used by Saudi Arabia in the 2009 bombing too.

One factor that has driven support for the Saudi bombing is the close political and military relationship that both countries enjoys with the regime. Saudi Arabia is the biggest buyer of UK weapons; with the Coalition government alone having licensed £3.9 billion of arms to the Kingdom. In fact, recent reports show that Saudi Arabia has twice as many UK-made war planes available as the RAF.

Saudi Arabia has already used UK weapons in Bahrain to suppress protest, but the character of the regime is also evident in its appalling human rights record. This week it has been advertising to find eight new executioners, with state killings doubling this year alone.

There are greater internal threats to the Saudi regime than in the past. The recent bombing of a Shi'ite mosque indicates that ISIS has gained a foothold in the Kingdom. The attack, which killed 21 people, followed months of increasing tensions.

It is unknown how the regime will respond, but if past form is anything to go by then it is likely to increase the repression. The House of Saud is one of the most authoritarian in the world and has a long history of centralising power. Last March saw the introduction of a new 'terrorism' law that treats all atheists and political dissidents as enemies of the state.

In contrast to the splendour of Saudi palaces, Yemen is one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world, with over half of all Yemenis living in poverty. The destruction on the ground has exacerbated the ongoing civil war and created a power vacuum that has allowed the expansion of AL-Qaeda and ISIS. Countries like the UK should be calling for a peaceful and negotiated solution and working with the rest of the international community to ensure aid reaches those in need.

The position of the UN is precarious, with the envoy to Yemen having resigned following criticism of his role in handling the conflict. The Security Council took further action by voting to support an arms embargo on the Houthi rebels, which was definitely welcome, but it allowed the air strikes to continue. If the violence is to stop then there has to be an embargo and ceasefire that applies to both sides.

Weapons fuel conflict, exacerbate tensions and are impossible to control when they enter a war zone; only a few months ago the Pentagon lost large quantities of weapons to the Houthis. Further than that, there cannot be a military solution to the conflict, there can only be a political one, and that becomes more distant with every bullet that is fired or bomb that is dropped.

A number of commentators have characterised the conflict as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, with the Iraqi Prime Minister warning that it could spark a wider sectarian war in the region. This point is underlined by the presence of US air craft carriers in Yemeni waters and demands for Iranian provided aid to be delivered to Djibouti rather than Yemen.

The bottom line is that as long as the Saudi campaign has the political and military support of some of the most powerful Western nations then the destruction will continue. The activities of governments like the UK are only making the chances of peace, especially long-term peace, even more remote, and as the violence continues it is Yemeni citizens who will continue to pay the price.

Andrew Smith is a spokesperson for Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). You can follow CAAT at @CAATuk.