Prospects for peace talks in Yemen remain uncertain

China Military Online
Huang Panyue

By Wen Shaobiao

The parties involved in the conflict in Yemen are expected to hold peace talks in Sweden in early December to discuss how to end the current conflict as soon as possible, said US Secretary of Defense James Mattis at a press conference in Pentagon recently.

The Yemeni government and the Houthi armed group may participate in the talks. The possibility of the peace talks is great, but the prospects are not clear.

First, the Saudi-led coalition forces have stopped attacking the Red Sea port city of Hodeida to foster a positive atmosphere for the peace talks.

Hodeida is the base of the Houthi armed force and an important channel for international humanitarian aid materials to enter Yemen. Coalition forces suspended their attacks against the region and eased their military pressure on the Houthi armed force. This also helps ease the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and create a good atmosphere for the peace talks.

Second, the battlefield situation is deadlocked, making peace talks an acceptable expedient.

The Yemeni government and the Houthi armed force have been in conflict for three years with the support of Saudi Arabia and Iran respectively. The parties have been fighting over the control of Yemen. However, the cost of such war of attrition is extremely high, and the effectiveness of armed conflicts over the years is not significant. Therefore, it is getting more and more difficult to obtain Yemeni people’s support.

The escalation of the humanitarian crisis caused by the armed conflict has attracted great concern and condemnation from the international community, which has put tremendous pressure on the parties involved in the conflict in Yemen. Accepting peace talks is a rational choice when dominance on the battlefield can’t be easily obtained.

Third, the Bangui government’s willingness to talk may reflect the international pressure facing its supporter Saudi Arabia over the journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s killing incident.

The Saudi-led Arab coalition forces have certain advantages in the Yemeni battlefield. Their willingness to suspend attack and accept peace talks indicates that they may be subject to heavy external pressure. The Khashoggi incident has exposed Saudi Arabia to serious criticism and has severely affected its international image. In this knotty situation, Saudi Arabia should not be too radical on the Yemen issue. It is Saudi Arabia’s priority to choose strategic restraint in response to external pressure.

Fourth, the on-going conflict in Yemen impedes regional counter-terrorism operations.

The conflict between the Yemeni government forces and the Houthi armed force has led to a power vacuum in some areas, which provides opportunities for terrorist organizations to expand. In the current chaos of Yemen, the biggest beneficiaries are Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Islamic State (IS), and other extremist organizations. If the conflict in Yemen does not end as soon as possible, it will pose a huge challenge to regional anti-terrorism operations.

Although the background and motives for peace talks already exist, the situation in Yemen remains very complicated. In terms of regional interests, there is almost no room for compromise between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which will be reflected in the situation in Yemen.

The position of the US on the Yemen issue has shifted from supporting Saudi-led coalition operations to gradually increasing uncertainty. Whether the US will increase its involvement in the Yemeni civil war is still unclear, making the prospects of the peace talks remain uncertain.

(Disclaimer: The author is associated to the School of International Relations and Public Affairs of Fudan University. The article is translated from Chinese into English and edited by China Military online. The information, ideas or opinions appearing in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same. If the article carries photographs or images, we do not vouch for their authenticity.)


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