The hidden war …

British involvement in the war in the Yemen

News programmes and newspapers generally are currently filled with arguments over Brexit, the American primaries, Syria and immigration.  Only occasionally does the war in Yemen and our involvement in it get a mention.  An exception was an interview by Frank Gardner [FG], the BBC’s Security correspondent, with Michael Fallon [MF] the Defence Secretary on Wednesday 2 March on the BBC’s Today programme.  It is worth reproducing most of it as it lays bare the thinness of the arguments deployed by Mr Fallon and also its inconsistencies.

Gardner introduces the piece by referring to the ‘unseen war’ which has waged for 5 years and the involvement by western powers in supplying the munitions to enable it to be carried on.  Indeed, Mr Cameron recently backed what he termed the ‘brilliant’ arms sales to Saudi Arabia only a matter of hours after the European Union voted to ban further supplies.  More arms firms are cashing in on the Yemen conflict and sales have surged to £2.8bn since the conflict began.

Michael Fallon said ‘British officers are offering training and advice to the Saudi armed forces, they are not involved in advising selection or the approval of targets in the war in Yemen.  On the contrary [they] are there to support the equipment we have supplied.’

FG: ‘You must be feeling a bit uneasy that some of that equipment, or the aircraft used to deliver it, is the Saudis have admitted, hitting hospitals and civilian targets?’

MF: We have some of the strictest arms control criteria in the world.  Before we supply equipment to anyone including obviously our key allies such as Saudi Arabia, we insist that they not only comply with international humanitarian law and the law of armed conflict …’ [interview ends]

FG said that he had spoken to a senior Saudi spokesman who denied that civilian targets were being bombed.  He then spoke to a Yemeni researcher about what ordinary Yemeni’s think of western, and in particular US and UK involvement, in this war.  She said that people on the ground are definitely aware of the involvement of the US and UK in the bombing.  What, asked Gardner, was the likely long-term effects of this?  She said:

The long-term effect is not only civilians dying and that the country is at a standstill, [but] what we are seeing is youth joining al-Qaeda in the Arabian peninsular and the Islamic State.

Gardner wound up by saying that the longer this war goes on without a result and the continued absence of the rule of law then the greater the risks that terrorist groups will profit from the chaos and build a ‘mini-state.’


There is no doubt that we are helping to fuel this conflict.  If our service personnel are there to ‘support the equipment we have supplied’ why was it all kept a secret until blurted out by a Saudi spokesman?  And what does ‘supporting equipment we have supplied’ mean anyway?  If weapons are being used to kill civilians does our ‘support’ make it better or worse?  The statement is meaningless.

But the big political error is to be involved at all and it could be laying the foundation stones of the next stage of ISIS’s development.  His statement that we have some of the ‘strictest arms control criteria in the world’ verges on the bizarre if the criteria are not being applied.

Our passion for arms sales has blinded politicians to the risks being run.  It’s all very well for the Prime Minister to be praising aircraft builders for their ‘brilliant’ achievements but if those planes are used to kill civilians, where does it take us?

In 2011, the then Foreign Secretary William Hague made a speech on human rights in which he said:

and how we are seen to uphold our values is a crucial component of our influence in the world.

He went on to say:

If change can be achieved peacefully in the Middle East it will be the biggest advance of democratic freedoms since the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe.  If it cannot, we are likely to see turmoil and unrest which sets hack the cause of democracy and human rights

It would seem these ideas have been forgotten.

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