|Volume 47 Number 3, February 25, 2017||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
This month the United Nations has issued a £1.7bn appeal to provide life-saving assistance to 12 million people in Yemen who face the prospect of famine. Some reports estimate that around 80% of the entire population are affected. According to UN agencies, at least 3.1 million people are internally displaced and over 10,000 have already been killed in conflict that has been dubbed by some sections of the media "Britain's forgotten war".
The famine is entirely the result of the ongoing conflict in that country, which although it is sometimes described as a civil war, involves at least eleven neighbouring countries, as well as other regional powers such as Iran. The instability in the country has also been exploited by the so-called al Qaeda and IS/Daesh, which have also seized territory in Yemen. Major external military intervention is being orchestrated by a Saudi-led coalition of mainly African and Gulf states including Egypt, Morocco, Sudan, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain, while Eritrea, Djibouti and Somali are said to have provided air space. This coalition is armed and supported by Britain, the US and France and there is much evidence that British troops and special forces are playing an active role in the conflict. It is widely reported that aerial bombing by the coalition has targeted hospitals, markets and other civilian targets but the government claims that hitherto it has been unable to find any evidence of such crimes despite a recent UN Panel of Experts Report which concluded that the coalition "conducted airstrikes targeting civilians and civilian objects, in violation of international humanitarian law".
The British government has taken the position that it is mainly engaged in humanitarian work in Yemen, a former British colony. In fact, it claims that it is the greatest supporter of such activities! As the UN launched its famine appeal, the International Development Secretary declared that the government would "continue to push donors and partners alike to step up their efforts and to keep pace with the UK response". She added: "It is imperative that all parties to the conflict ensure lifesaving assistance can get through and aid agencies get the unfettered access they require. At the same time, the international community must provide the UN with the funding it is calling for along with the political pressure to ensure aid reaches those who need it."
But in fact, the British government, which sheds crocodile tears about the suffering of the people of Yemen, is one of the main perpetrators of the conflict which is devastating the country with so much loss of life. Since the aerial bombing of the country began in 2015 the government has approved £3.3bn worth of arms to Saudi Arabia, including £2.2bn worth of aircraft, helicopters and drones. In short the big armaments monopolies have made nearly twice as much in profit as is required for famine relief in Yemen, a famine which arms sales have significantly contributed to creating.
The British government's military support for Saudi Arabia - it is estimated that in 2015 alone 83% of all arms sales went to that country - has recently been made the subject of a judicial review brought by those campaigning against the arms trade. What is being questioned is the use of British-made weapons in criminal acts which it is claimed violate international humanitarian law. This is one aspect of the government's intervention in Yemen. But the other issue is the wider geopolitical interests which are being pursued in the region. It is not by accident that the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, recently made a speech in Bahrain in which he arrogantly proclaimed that "Britain is back east of Suez".
The coast of Yemen, especially the Bab el-Mandeb/Gulf of Aden, is a major maritime artery of vital importance for linking the Mediterranean with the Red Sea and Indian Ocean. The region and this artery has long been contested by the great powers and especially by Russia and the US, that have both sought military and naval bases on islands in Yemen's territorial waters. In the current crisis Russia has taken a strong stand against the Saudi-coalition and its backers. However, as the Foreign Secretary made clear, the big monopolies and rulers of Britain have their own economic and geopolitical interests in the region. These include countering the influence of Russia and Iran as well as strengthening links with all the Gulf States as part of extending Britain's influence throughout Asia. At the present time, the government is strengthening its military presence in Oman and the United Arab Emirates as well as in Saudi Arabia. The Foreign Secretary went so far as to boast that there are now over 1,500 British troops based in the region as well as seven warships. He stated that the government will spend £3bn on military commitments in the region over the next ten years, nearly twice as much as is required to save the people of Yemen from famine. British monopolies' exports to the region are worth some £20bn a year, the second biggest non-EU export market after the US.
The British government is clearly engaged in criminal activity in Yemen in defiance of international law and is falsifying its role and activity as it has done in Syria and many other countries. Such activity must be exposed and condemned. It is evident that in the current period the government is trying to revitalise all its old colonial ties and the days of empire to counter-balance its new position in Europe. It must not come to pass. What is required is a new direction for Britain's relationship with the world, one that puts the interests of the majority in Britain, as well as the people of other countries in first place. It is ever more necessary to create the conditions to usher in an anti-war government in Britain, one that takes a stand which is resolutely opposed to military intervention, the profiteering of the arms manufacturers and all war preparations, and which takes the stand of opposition to the use of force to settle international relations and pursue dangerous, adventurist and criminal interventions.