Source: The Wall Street Journal , By GEORGE GRANT
(Yemen on the Brink
Military intervention by the West may be the only way to prevent a descent into chaos)
Yemen is a country on the brink. It is confronted by two unremitting insurgencies, and that's even before you take into account al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the organization allegedly responsible for last month's failed bomb attempts.
The country faces a food crisis, a water crisis and a poverty crisis, problems that are all compounded by the influx of thousands of refugees fleeing war-torn Somalia each year from across the Gulf of Aden. The government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh is unpopular and weak. Its limited resources and still more limited competencies are further compromised by rampant corruption, with Transparency International ranking Yemen 146th out of 178 in its most recent corruption-perceptions index.
This cocktail of insecurity, underdevelopment and poor governance provides fertile ground for extremist organizations such as AQAP.
Like their co-ideologues in Somalia, Afghanistan and elsewhere, AQAP would like the world to believe that all of its members are driven by pure conviction. However, analyses by experts based inside and outside Yemen, and my own work on Islamism in underdeveloped conflict zones, strongly suggest that though an ideological hardcore does exist, it is poverty, insecurity, and resentment of the extant authorities that drive so many ordinary Muslims to support AQAP. These circumstances have allowed Islamists in countries such as Yemen to persuade large numbers of their co-religionists that their brutal and utterly retrograde Quranic interpretation offers a plausible solution for their failing societies.
The reality as envisaged by Islamists is of course quite different, and involves stoning women, punishing even the most trivial offense with mutilation, and murdering anyone—whether Muslim or not—who tries to stand in their way. Having actually endured an Islamist government between 1994 and 2001, the people of Afghanistan know this only too well. This is why—contrary to popular misperception—some 90% of Afghans would prefer their current government to a return to Taliban rule, according to a recent BBC poll.
What enables AQAP to proliferate is not so much the desirability of its message, but the profound undesirability of the status quo, and a belief in large swathes of Yemeni society that the government is incapable of ameliorating their country's problems.
If Britain and its international partners are serious about helping Yemen to deal with its AQAP threat, then it is to the fields of governance, security and development that they must turn their attention. But their focus thus far has been almost exclusively on more stringent controls on flights out of Yemen, as well as hunting down terrorists within Yemen itself. Though necessary in the short term, this approach on its own will not solve the problem, since it deals only with the symptom and not the cause.
The British government's new National Security Strategy explicitly acknowledges the interrelationship between poor governance, underdevelopment and insecurity, and how these three malaises feed into support for extremism. The strategy also rightly recognizes that pre-emption is a far more desirable and cost-effective way of dealing with a problem than the more traditional British strategy, which is to wait until a crisis has reached such endemic proportions that action becomes unavoidable.
There is every possibility that, if left to its own devices, Yemen could be just such a catastrophe: another failed state in a region already riddled with poverty, insecurity and extremism.
Britain has learned the hard way in Afghanistan that any attempt to deal with terrorism that does not address these underlying factors will fail. The course of operations between 2001 and 2005, which focused almost exclusively on the elimination of terrorists without seeking to eliminate the conditions that gave rise to and sustained them in the first place, was a textbook example of how not to deal with this issue. Thankfully, the strategy now in place is quite different and does, for the first time, seem to be yielding genuine progress.
For now, Britain and its international partners need to focus on helping Yemen's leaders improve the quality of their governance, as well as lending a hand in developing the country's economic and security infrastructure. Financial assistance alone will not be enough; in a country bereft of professional expertise, Yemen also requires significant technical support.
However, if the Yemeni authorities prove incapable of delivering in these areas due to the country's instability, then the international community cannot rule out military intervention in a stabilization capacity, with the aim of giving the government space to develop its capabilities and deal with these problems independently.
The reality is that poor governance, underdevelopment and insecurity are interrelated. If progress in one of these areas is absent, then progress in the other two becomes immeasurably more difficult. In Yemen's case, the security dimension is particularly severe, and it is not unlikely that the Yemeni government will be incapable of dealing with it without some form of international assistance.
General David Richards, the head of Britain's armed forces, warned this month that the U.K. could not rule out military intervention in Yemen as a last resort—a highly unpalatable prospect given Britain's present financial and strategic climate. That it was unpalatable, however, did not stop it from being correct.
Mr. Grant is the Global Security and Terrorism director at London's Henry Jackson Society, and the author of "Succeeding in Afghanistan," a report published this year by the Society.