60 Second Expert: The U.S. in Yemen

Much attention has recently been focused on the poverty-stricken country of Yemen. The planning of the Christmas Day bombing of a Northwest Airlines flight by al-Qaeda members in Yemen and other incidents have revealed that al-Qaeda cells in Yemen represents a genuine threat. However, if the U.S. yet seeks a military solution to a complex political, social and economic situation, however, it could prove disastrous to both Yemen and U.S. security interests.

Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the world. Forty percent of Yemenis are unemployed and live on a per capita income of $600 per year. As a result, though there is much need for sustainable economic development in the country, most U.S. aid has been military particularly since the growing prominence of al-Qaeda in the country.

As Washington contemplates whether or not to increase its military role in Yemen, it must keep in mind that Yemen is one of the most complex societies in the world with considerable tribal divisions and political rivalries, including two other major insurgencies unrelated to al-Qaeda. Thus, sending U.S. forces or increasing the number of U.S. drone strikes carries serious risks. Such actions could result in the expansion of armed resistance, and the strengthening of Islamist militants and anti-American sentiment.

Any military action against al-Qaeda and Islamists should be Yemeni-led. Washington should also press Yemen’s increasingly autocratic government to become more democratic and less corrupt. There should also be a significant increase in development aid for the poorest rural communities that have essentially served as havens for radical Islamists and the growth of al -Qaeda’s presence in Yemen.