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A peculiar United Nations resolution on Yemen

The Yemen crisis has all the makings to go from bad to much worse

Manuel Almeida

Published: Updated:

A clear and powerful message to all parties, especially to Ansarullah (the Houthis), and a demand for a return to the political roadmap. These were the positions of the US and the UK permanent representatives to the U.N. on the unanimous adoption on Sunday of Security Council resolution 2201 on the crisis in Yemen.

For anyone who has been following Yemen’s downward spiral, now with a rudimentary version of Hezbollah dominated by its more radical wing calling the shots in the capital while keeping the president (who resigned) under house arrest, this resolution should be striking for its peculiar combination of lack of teeth and over-ambition.

There is also a brewing civil war that promises to be more complicated and include more factions than Lebanon’s fifteen-year long civil war, collapsed state institutions, a massive humanitarian disaster in the making, southern separatist ambitions, and Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. No wonder the GCC states, who called on the U.N. Security Council to intervene, are very worried.

Feebleness of this resolution

There are indications that the feebleness of this resolution is partially due to a Russian touch, which ditched GCC expectations that it would be passed under Chapter VII of the charter. This would allow enforcement measures such as further sanctions or even military force. The cunning Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov explained the Russian position before the vote: “We believe the ratcheting up of external pressure on the parties to the political process, including through sanctions, is counterproductive.”

This crisis has similar regional and international dimensions to the Syrian conflict

Manuel Almeida

Resolution 2201 demanded Ansarullah to give up power. It called on all Yemenis and especially the revivalist Zaydi movement to abide by the GCC Initiative, the outcomes of the National Dialogue Conference, and the Peace and National Partnership Agreement signed by all factions after Ansarullha’s take-over of Sanaa in September. More important, at least in theory, it urged all parties to complete the constitutional consultation process, hold a referendum on the constitution and conduct long overdue elections.

Although it recalled resolution 2140 from February last year that defined the situation in Yemen as a threat to international peace and security, resolution 2201 made no reference to enforcement measures under Chapter VII of the charter. It simply declared a “readiness to take further steps in case of non-implementation.”

Impossible to achieve

It should be obvious by now that, in the present climate, what Sunday’s resolution calls for is almost impossible to achieve. Ansarullah did not feel the international pressure as they should have. This was clear in the movement’s clumsy declaration that dismissed the resolution as part of a foreign conspiracy against the “Revolutionary Committee”, before praising Russia and China’s positive attitude in the process.

Equally worrying is that this crisis has similar regional and international dimensions to the Syrian conflict.

Russia’s and China’s conservative vote on the Security Council resolution could be explained by its natural tendency to defend the inviolability of sovereign statehood in similar situations. Russia is also wary of opening a precedent that could one day be used as a further element of pressure over Assad in Syria. Yet Russia, with old ties to Yemen, has its own agenda there.

More problematic is the Iranian-Russian cooperation. Western and GCC embassies in Sanaa have closed, but there are reports that Iran and Russia’s are more active than ever.

Aligning interests

Their interests are now aligned in a number of key regional issues and in sharp opposition to those of the GCC states, a situation which applies to Yemen as well. Russia seems to be playing a double game of trying to assume a key diplomatic role while collaborating with Iran in pinching Saudi Arabia, a key U.S. ally, thus overlooking the potentially disastrous consequences of an all-out civil war in Yemen.

Iran and Russia are highly dependent on oil revenues. They have grown deeply resentful of the Saudi oil policy of not cutting back production in the face of the declining prices to maintain market share, which from a Saudi economic perspective makes perfect sense.

Bolstering the position of pro-Iranian Ansarullah in the north of Yemen bordering Saudi Arabia seems, especially in the Iranian perspective, a suitable revenge. The big difference is that a collapsing Yemeni state is no bother for the Iranians but a major concern for Saudi Arabia and neighbouring Oman.

Saudi Arabia and Egypt, once adversaries in the north Yemen civil war in the 1960s, are surely reluctant to intervene directly. But there are already rumours the two countries are preparing a joint military response to a potential disruption of the key shipping lanes in Bab el-Mandeb strait that leads to the Suez Canal via Red Sea.

On Monday, GCC foreign ministers issued a statement warning that if the talks between the Houthis and the opposition fail, their countries would intervene “to maintain their vital interests in the security and stability of Yemen.” Most likely the GCC will find ways to counter the Houthis by working with local allies, aware of the level of opposition they would find in case of a direct involvement in Yemen. However, that will depend on the gravity of the situation on the ground.

Another issue is the U.S.’s hesitance to openly acknowledge all the implicit and explicit signs of the Iranian-Ansarullah links. Coupled with its appeasement policy toward Iran, regardless of the behaviour of the militias Iran supports across the Arab world, it only increases the sense of insecurity of the Arab Gulf states. It is also the perfect recruitment tool for al-Qaeda.

If the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council do not properly address the legitimate worries of the GCC (including about Iran’s ideological and material support to Ansarullah in the form of weapons, finance and training) or Egypt’s, the Yemen crisis has all the makings to go from bad to much worse.

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Manuel Almeida is a writer, researcher and consultant on the Middle East. He holds a PhD in International Relations from the London of Economics and Political Science and was an editor at Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper. He can be reached on @_ManuelAlmeida on Twitter.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.