Foreign policy and defense
Yemen is a nation in Western Asia. Its capital city is Sanaa. Following the terrorist attacks in the United States in 2001, Yemen joined the Americans’ war on terrorism. Cooperation to fight militant groups in Yemen is a sensitive issue among Yemenis. The United States has also been critical of what the Yemeni government’s reluctance towards extremist groups is. Neighbors’ incursions into Yemen’s civil war can also be viewed in the light of concerns that Yemen’s internal problems will spread.
Yemen lacks functioning state power and the country is in several parallel civil wars. There are a number of armed groups in the country in addition to the regular army. Some are affiliated with the “government army”, others fight it.
- Countryaah: Overview of business holidays and various national observances in Yemen for years of 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025.
One reason for the widespread violence is that Yemen is one of the world’s most densely armed countries. Most adult residents have access to modern handguns. Some groups, including clan militia, also carry heavier weapons such as anti-tank robots, anti-aircraft guns and lighter artillery. Even when Yemen has been at its most stable, it has been possible for the government to govern without, in various ways, appeasing and negotiating with clan leaders and other local rulers. This has made it easy for foreign states to interfere, by financing or concluding agreements with local leaders themselves. This is particularly true of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Iran, which are fighting each other for influence in Yemen, and the United States, which is both involved in the Yemeni power struggles and has attacked al-Qaeda-linked groups inside Yemen.
Following al-Qaeda’s terrorist attacks in the United States in 2001, Yemen joined the US “war on terrorism”. The two countries’ cooperation to fight militant groups has been a sensitive issue for many Yemenis, who are critical of US influence in the Middle East. Since 2011, the United States has been a regular supporter of suspected supporters of terrorism. Hundreds of people have been killed by cruise robots and drones and the attacks have sparked protests in Yemen. The government had secretly approved them, even though it did not openly admit it.
Relations with Saudi Arabia have often been tense. The conflicts partly go back to the civil war in North Yemen in the 1960s, when Saudi Arabia actively supported the royalists. Yemen’s unification in 1990 meant that the new country gained almost as much population as Saudi Arabia, which was seen with the disapproval of Saudi rulers. Saudi Arabia also reacted negatively to Yemen’s support for Iraq in the Kuwait War 1990-1991 and the neighboring country attempted to weaken the Saleh regime, among other things, by supporting the south side in the 1994 civil war.
Clear boundaries between Saudi Arabia and Yemen in the al-Rub al-Khali desert area have been a constant source of conflict. A border agreement was concluded in 1934 and the countries agreed on another agreement in 1995, but new border conflicts were flared up. In 2000, an agreement was made that established how the border goes in the northwest. The settlement resulted in a political thunderstorm. Saudi Arabia increased its financial assistance and opened its labor market for Yemeni guest workers.
The difficulties in guarding the border have continued to create contradictions. From Saudi Arabia, consumer goods are smuggled into Yemen while weapons and refugees go the opposite way. The Saudis are also worried about militant groups coming in. In 2004, the Saudis started building a wall along the border. The building was halted, following protests from Yemen, but Saudi Arabia quietly continued to construct barriers and surveillance systems. The work gained momentum when the Shiite riots revolted in the border areas in 2004. Saudi Arabia supported the Yemeni government’s attempt to defeat the rebels, including through direct military intervention around the turn of the year 2009/2010. In 2011, Saudi Arabia decided to resume building the wall. Saudi unrest escalated from the rise of the Hutians in 2014–2015 as it was considered to strengthen Iran’s influence.
Iran probably played no major role in the skin movement in its earliest years, other than as an ideological source of inspiration. Over time, Iranian support seems to have grown. Since 2011, the conflict between the Houthis and Saudi-backed groups (such as the clan militia of the Islamist Party and the Ahmar family) has largely evolved into a war through agents – at least it seems to be perceived by both Saudi Arabia and Iran.
The Hutians’ advancement prompted the Saudis and a number of neighboring countries to form an alliance that has carried out air strikes against the rebels since 2015. The warring countries have received sharp criticism for not caring about the suffering of civilian Yemenites. Therefore, after several years of devastating wars, Saudi Arabia 2018 launched a development program for Yemen to try to counter popular bitterness. Investments in schools, health centers and desalination have been announced.
In November 2017, Yemeni rebels fired a robot that reached far into Saudi Arabia, and the Saudis increasingly accused Iran of arming the Shiites. The conflict between the region’s great powers had also intensified by supporting opposite sides in the Syrian war, where Iran’s allies gradually strengthened their positions. In Yemen, the bombings and blockades continued to areas held by the huhirebells and sale hangers. From that point, Saleh came to the negotiating stage for the country’s internationally recognized government and its Saudi backers, but Saleh was instead killed in mutual fighting between the opposition forces. After Saleh’s death, the power play in and around Yemen has increasingly developed into a power metric between Sunni states led by Saudi Arabia and Shi’a forces with Iran in the back.
Yemen has not been allowed to join the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), but since 2001, the country has been a member of GCC institutions that handle issues such as health care and education. Yemen wants to join in order to be able to receive financial support and investment from the rich oil states, but the GCC countries have been afraid of being drawn into Yemen’s crises.
Increasing violence in Somalia from 2006 has led to increased refugee flows to Yemen. Traffic over the Red Sea also includes smuggling, including weapons, and the Aden Bay has become notorious for pirate acts emanating from ports in Somalia. There are also fears that Somali militant groups will associate with Yemen’s Islamist phalanxes.
The military service is voluntary, but those who join must serve for at least two years. The defense forces are relatively large when it comes to manpower, but the equipment is outdated and maintenance is neglected. In 2011, the military was divided between supporters of various political leaders, including then President Saleh and his son Ahmed, Vice President Hadi and General Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar. The government also recruited militias to strengthen the army in the fight against al-Qaeda’s Aqap depositor in southern Yemen. Throughout Hadi’s time as president (2012–2015; he has subsequently led an exile government), attempts to seek control over military units that were not loyal to him became an ongoing sequel.
After Ali Abdullah Saleh was forced to resign, Ahmed Saleh sought to secure continued influence for his father via the Republic Guard. In 2012, therefore, newly-incumbent President Hadi reorganized the military’s military structure to marginalize the influence of Saleh and his family. Since then, the armed forces consist of five branches: the army, the air force, the navy (including the coastal defense), the border troops and the strategic reserve forces. At the heart of the reform was the transformation of the Republic Guard into strategic reserve forces, which were divided into special forces, missile defenses and the President’s protection corps.
Both military units and – to a greater extent – irregular militias and clan groups have recruited child soldiers. In 2011, a Yemeni children’s rights organization claimed that about half of those who took part in the fighting between the government army and the Houthi rebels in Saada province that year were under 18 (this included both government soldiers and rebels). A 2014 UN report accused all investigated parties (the Houthis, Aqap, government forces, Islah and government-friendly militia) of using children as soldiers.
In 2017 alone, 842 children were recruited as soldiers, according to a UN report 2018 which stated that there was documentation showing that 76 of the children had participated in combat.
FACTS – DEFENSE
Army: 60,000 men (2015)
The air Force: 3,000 men (2015)
The fleet: 1 700 men (2015)
Military expenditure’s share of GDP: 5.0 percent (2014)
Military spending’s share of the state budget: 14.3 percent (2014)