- Toward a Comprehensive Solution? Yemen’s Two-Year Peace Process
In the two years since Yemeni president ‘Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi called on the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to intervene against the expanding threat of the Huthi insurgency in March 2015, the conflict in Yemen has left more than 7,500 killed and another 18.8 million in need of humanitarian aid.1 The GCC-led intervention is only the latest phase of conflict in Yemen, which in the last 15 years has witnessed a string of armed rebellions in the north from 2004 to 2010, experienced a southern insurgency after 2009, and been the theater of American drone strikes on suspected al-Qa‘ida affiliates since 2002. Indeed, the complexity of the Yemeni conflict indicates the series of challenges faced by peace-builders and mediators in an ever-changing conflict environment.
The stated aim of the GCC-led Arab coalition intervention was to reinstate the GCC-backed government of President Hadi.2 Formerly vice president under ‘Ali ‘Abdullah Salih, Yemen’s ousted former ruler, Hadi assumed office after winning the 2012 election mandated by the GCC initiative of November 2011. However, in September 2014, Hadi was forced out of the capital, Sana‘a, following the military expansion of the Zaydi Shi‘i revivalist militia Ansar Allah (“the supporters of God”), better known as the Huthis after its founder, Husayn Badr al-Din al-Huthi, from their stronghold in the northern governorate of Sa‘da. Suspected at the time, it later became clear that the rise of Ansar Allah hinged on support from ousted President Salih and the military factions that remained loyal to him.3
In addition to the GCC, Hadi also called on the United Nations Security Council to issue a resolution in support of the intervention. After 20 days of arguing, the Security Council issued Resolution 2216, demanding that Ansar Allah withdraw from captured cities, relinquish their arms, and cease any role in governance. The resolution, which also demanded that peace talks be held, has since become the primary framework for three rounds of peace talks held in Geneva in June and December 2015, as well as in Kuwait City from April to August 2016. [End Page 479]
Deciding on the Principles and Process of Negotiations
In the Yemeni peace process, Resolution 2216 perpetuates a fundamental tension between the warring factions and between them and third parties. Conflicts are dynamic processes wherein a previous political settlement is disrupted and renegotiated through violence. In this context, peace processes and the agreements that emerge from them can be seen as milestones in an attempt to outline a new political settlement. When one of the parties refuses to adhere to an agreement, the conflict cycle continues until another agreement is brokered or one side achieves military victory, an outcome that has become less common in intrastate conflicts.4
Negotiations usually take place within a framework that outlines agreed-upon principles and the process of upcoming talks. Such parameters are often decided on during pre-negotiation talks between belligerents, with mediator support. However, in the case of Yemen, Resolution 2216 — drafted by the GCC and submitted to the Security Council by Jordan — dictated the framework.5 Cases in which processes and principles are decided unilaterally or by a third party are not necessarily doomed to fail. Even so, UNSCR 2216 perpetuates strategic obstacles that will continue to hinder the progress of negotiations — namely, commitment problems, key stakeholder exclusion, and security dilemmas.
Some of these difficulties stem from the fact that the Resolution 2216 framework was written with the interests of Saudi Arabia, the GCC, and the UN in mind. The resolution’s drafters ignored potential future constraints that might have inhibited the peace process if the Yemeni government failed to secure a military victory in the short term. Moreover, the process and principles of talks will be difficult to renegotiate due to the binding nature of Security Council resolutions under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, as well as the barriers inherent in renegotiating them given the complexity of intra–Security Council compromises.6