“Unfortunately, the international community is part of the problem not the solution. The UK and the US back the Saudis as evidenced by the large arm sales by the UK and the US to Saudi Arabia during the current war in Yemen…,” Professor Charles Schmitz told IQNA.
Dr. Charles Schmitz is a professor of geography at Towson University in Baltimore, Maryland where he has taught since 1999. Dr. Schmitz is a specialist on the Middle East and Yemen. He began his academic career as a Fulbright Scholar and American Institute for Yemeni Studies fellow in Yemen in the early 1990s. Dr. Schmitz's current research interests include the political economy of development in Yemen, international law and the counter terror policy, international governance and failing states, and the sociology of contemporary Yemeni society. Currently, he is vice president of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies and a member of the board of the Council of American Overseas Research Centers.
Following is the full text of the interview.
IQNA: Thousands of people have so far been killed in the Saudi-led war on Yemen. Human Rights Watch has documented “the Saudi-led coalition using six types of widely banned cluster munitions, including those produced in the US and Brazil, in attacks that targeted populated areas”. What is your take on the report by the HRW as well as the war on the impoverished Arab country?
Schmitz: The war is a disaster that puts the lives of millions of Yemenis at risk. But the Saudis are not alone in responsibility for the disaster. In addition to the quotation above, HRW also says “Houthi-Saleh forces have fired artillery indiscriminately into cities such as Taizz and Aden, killing civilians, and launched rockets into southern Saudi Arabia,” and “Houthi-Saleh forces have used antipersonnel landmines—both weapons are banned by international treaties” (https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2018/country-chapters/yemen). The problem is that the Houthi, the Hadi government, the Emiratis, and the Saudis have little regard for the harm they are inflicting on the people of Yemen. Their own interests are more important than those of the Yemeni people.
IQNA: “Yemen is the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with at least 8 million people on the brink of famine and nearly 1 million suspected to be infected with cholera. This crisis is linked directly to the ongoing armed conflict,” according to the report. What’s your idea about the ongoing humanitarian crisis there as the Saudi-led coalition’s restrictions on imports have reportedly worsened the dire humanitarian situation there?
Schmitz: …the blockade has not prevented the Houthi from resupplying and most markets in Yemen are full of goods. Prices are higher, but not that much higher. Yemenis smuggling is effective and many people in positions of authority on both sides of the conflict are benefitting from the black market trade. The real source of harm for most Yemenis is the collapse of the economy. Nobody has income because the state has ceased to pay most salaries, and oil is no longer exported in large quantities. The economic collapse is the biggest source of danger for most Yemenis.
IQNA: How can the international community help stop the war on the Arab country?
Schmitz: Unfortunately, the international community is part of the problem not the solution. The UK and the US back the Saudis as evidenced by the large arm sales by the UK and the US to Saudi Arabia during the current war in Yemen. The US and the UK agree, at least in public, with Saudi efforts to limit Iranian influence in the region, though in Yemen the Saudi war is not effective and mostly destructive. There is some pressure for a political solution, but thus far the Saudis, Emiratis, and Houthis have not shown interest in a real solution. All seem to benefit from the current stalemate.
IQNA: What are the Saudis’ objectives in their war in Yemen? Why has the war continued longer than the Saudis had planned?
Schmitz: The Saudi objectives in the war were many. Generally, the objectives were to roll back the Houthi military advance, reinstall the government of Hadi, and to restart the transitional process initiated by the (P) GCC agreement. The Saudis played a central role in the (P) GCC agreement, and they thought that the (P) GCC process—the National Dialogue Conference, a new federal system for Yemen’s government, and elections—best guaranteed Saudi interests in Yemen. The war also showed the new military capabilities of the Saudis, and new Saudi willingness to use military force to secure political objectives in the region. The Saudis and Emiratis felt that they could no longer leave security concerns to the Americans alone. The immediate military objectives of the war were to destroy Houthi ability to launch attacks into Saudi Arabia and to force the Houthi to give up their weapons and submit to the political process led by the Hadi government.
The war continued longer because the Saudis badly miscalculated Houthi capabilities. The Saudis thought the air campaign and blockade would destroy Houthi militias and force the Houthi to submit to the reinstallation of the Hadi government. Instead, the Houthi now have the capacity to launch missiles deep into Saudi territory, a much greater threat, and the Houthi have consolidated their grip on the north of the country. The Hadi government has shown itself to be incompetent and incapable of governing. The Saudi war has greatly exacerbated Yemen’s economic challenges. Rebuilding Yemen will require far more resources that the Saudis are willing to devote to Yemen, so instead of addressing Saudi security concerns, Yemen’s destruction has created a far greater threat to Saudi security.