Accepting New Realities In The Global War On Terror - Yemen

19 January 2010

By Norman Amidu

As Yemen turns into the frontline in the U.S.-led 'War on Terror' it is becoming clear that there is no exit strategy in the war against terrorism. It is a war that will persist and there is unlikely to be a decisive battle. Accordingly, Yemen is likely to receive substantial Western military and intelligence assistance intended to bolster the state's military and coercive powers. It is disappointing, however, that yet again the main facet of Western efforts in the war on terror are largely aimed at beefing up the executive and the security sector (at the expense of political reform).

In Yemen the U.S. has decided to implement a strategy of developing local counter-terrorism capabilities, consisting essentially of rebuilding and upgrading Yemeni military and security organisations. However, the contention here is that this strategy, one that emphasizes military and security solutions up and above social and political processes, is neither consistent nor far sighted, nor free from crises and contradictions. After all Yemen's security crisis is essentially a result of political failure and thus requires a thinking that puts (genuine) political reform and social and economic development together with security in a single, all-encompassing strategy.

The human, social and political costs of the 'War on Terror' are all but obvious. Since the war began in 2001 there has been a growing failure by the both sides to protect innocent civilians and non combatants from abuse and unnecessary suffering. More damaging, however, is the seemingly unrelenting assault on civil liberties and a deliberate disregard of international law. Under the cover of the 'War on Terror' the security services have been arresting and rendering terror suspects to violent, lawless countries for interrogation, where suspects are routinely tortured. They have created a “chain of shadowy detention camps that includes Abu Ghraib in Iraq, the military prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and other secret locations run by the intelligence agencies” which are “part of a tightly linked global detention system with no accountability in law”.

The problem is that the 'War on Terror' is defined by US politicians as a threat to be countered with war, alternatives to which are usually dismissed as much for reasons of principle as for the prospect of reshaping international order. This broadens the motivation towards the use of military force in international politics, thus making specific types of intervention and military responses inevitable. Most of these interventions, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen are premised on the assumption that states deemed weak, thus viewed as a breeding ground for terrorist organizations, are tantamount to a direct threat to international security. This situation grants the executive and security services huge amounts of power over their own legislatures, which in turn allows them to not only define the threat and the methods of engaging that threat but also the terms of peace. That is, the world in now functioning in a situation in which top political executives and warriors are selling and fighting wars whilst at the same time masquerading as peace makers and peace builders.

There is no disguising that there is a contradiction between the mainly military goals of the 'War on Terror' including regime change and the political and social goals of state-building. This was laid bare in Iraq where it became clear that the mainly US security services operating there, left to their own devices, were incapable of negotiating a workable peaceful solution with the insurgency and thus incapable of state building. They lacked the patience and subtlety required for such an endeavor. The military, it seems, spends most of its time preparing, planning and fighting wars. And has very little interest in 'local' issues (those outside the war economy) and shows a lack of understanding of the needs and grievances of ordinary civilians and thus has very little knowledge of the functioning of 'local low level bread and butter' politics. In short, the military has shown to posses very little capacity for genuine and long term peace building.

A recent report by the US military describes its own military planners as, “ignorant of local economics and landowners, hazy about who the powerbrokers are and how they might be influenced, incurious about the correlations between various development projects and the levels of co-operation among villagers”. This was true of Iraq two year ago but it is continuing in Afghanistan where an 'unpopular' and politically incompetent government is being kept in power through a war economy that is perpetuating a “military-tribal complex”. It is also happening in Pakistan (albeit in a different context) where the reliance on military solutions have made the country far much more unstable and. It happened in Somalia where Ethiopia's military intervention failed to stabilize the country but only succeeded in inflaming sentiment.

Given the fact that after more than 8 years of the 'smash and grab' tactics so favored by the military, war still rages and terrorism is still alive. And by its own admittance, the military has very little capacity for peace building. Isn't it time that the world accept these new realities and have its security goals supplemented and where possible, preceded by other tried and tested methods? Methods such as (genuine) political reform, social and economic development and 'equitable' distribution of resources.

-- Norman Amidu



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