Yemen is Ripe for an Explosive Civil War

By PATRICK WOOD

Yemen is a relatively new country. Only in 1990 did North Yemen and South Yemen unite to form the Republic of Yemen. With rising unemployment and poverty (more than 40% of the population earns less than $2 a day), the Yemeni people have many reasons to be angry. It’s only going to get worse.

If a country relies on a single export for 25% or more of its GDP, an explosive civil war is likely to emerge. Not only is Yemen an oil export-driven economy, but Yemen’s oil fields are expected to run dry by 2025. When this happens, knowing what the country’s new primary export will be difficult. Only 3% of the country’s land is arable, making it a poor candidate for agriculture.

A longtime hotbed for terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda, turbulence and terrorism already threaten Yemen’s stability. While Yemen has not yet reached a full-on civil war, current conditions suggest it is only a matter of time.

First, the religious composition of the country makes bloodshed more likely. Sectarian conflict has emerged between two insurgent groups –Sunnis in the south aligned with President Hadi and the Shia Houthi insurgents in the north (see Shia insurgency in Yemen). Over 10 years, this conflict has already cost 16,200 lives, 10,000 of which were civilians. Thousands more have been wounded or displaced from their homes.

Second, the current government has been ineffective at lifting the population out of poverty. It has not kept its people safe from terrorist attacks and drones from the West. It maintains an authoritarian regime under the façade of democracy and rebellions and coup attempts are to be expected.

However, the exhaustion of Yemen’s oil fields will very likely catalyze civil war. In this case, Yemen virtually becomes a failed state and possibly even a collapsed state. Exceedingly rare, Somalia and Afghanistan formerly met this definition as both lacked any effective central authority.

The implications of a collapsed state in the 2020s would be enormous, requiring increasingly likely international intervention. Terrorist organizations take advantage of failed or collapsed states; Al Shabaab maintains a strong presence in Somalia, and Al Qaeda and its allies controlled half of Mali up to just four years ago.

There are so many indicators of an impending explosive civil war in Yemen that if such an event does not happen, we must admit that much of our understanding of political science and international relations is false. Leading authorities on failed states and civil war, such as Paul Collier, may face harsh scrutiny or complete discredit.

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