When we talk about the end of the Cold War, we definitely recall the fall of the Berlin Wall, the dissolving of the Warsaw Pact, the disintegration of the Soviet Union or the German reunification; however, we often forget to mention the unification of the south and north of Yemen. We all remembered this unification when there was a suicide bombing at a military parade rehearsal in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, this week. The military parade was meant to mark Yemeni unification in 1990.
Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed almost 100 soldiers. The terrorist attack, which symbolizes a significant step up in the country’s troubles, was not planned to protest the unification; it was mainly aimed at destabilizing the country’s new government and weakening the security forces loyal to that government.
Since longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh reluctantly stepped down, the new Yemeni president has been trying to position his country as a Western ally and is counting on neighboring Saudi Arabia’s “brotherly” help on this matter. As a matter of fact, the West has no intention of abandoning the country and leaving it to anti-Western currents.
Yemen’s geographical position may explain why Western powers are so worried about the country’s future. Yemen is situated across the gulf from Somalia, which is infamous for its Islamist pirates. The basin around Yemen and Somalia is too important to be left on its own as it is strategically important for international maritime traffic and is also a gateway to Africa. This gateway is naturally more useful to “Eastern” powers than to the Westerners and it is not too difficult to identify these Eastern powers as Russia and China.
The recent terrorist attack will boost the country’s political instability in addition to rumors about a possible humanitarian catastrophe due to famine. This state of affairs causes two particular perceptions in the Western world about Yemen. First, this country is about to fall into the hands of Islamist militants, so one has to intervene in order to prevent this from happening. Or, the country has already become a nest for al-Qaeda terrorists, which means it is already a failed state like Afghanistan, so one has to intervene in order to put an end to this intolerable situation. In other words, this terrorist attack can be seen as an invitation to call Western powers to the country to help the Yemeni government in its fight against Islamist terrorists.
However, the Western powers, or, let’s say, NATO, cannot decide unilaterally to intervene in this country and a UN Security Council resolution is necessary to legitimize such an operation. One, of course, needs Russian and Chinese support to get such a resolution. Perhaps the “Islamist terrorism” threat will be enough to convince those powers. However, they would probably prefer a UN force in Yemen rather than a NATO operation. Nonetheless, an international military operation, regardless of whether it is commanded by NATO or the UN, would mean that Yemen and Somalia would be under strict control from then on.
The terrorist carnage in Yemen occurred when Western powers were already thinking of ways to block or at least to limit the involvement of Eastern powers on the African continent. It is obvious that from now on those countries that were using the Yemeni-Somali gateway to access Africa will no longer be able to use this gateway as freely as they are used to.