Yemen: UK diplomat says ‘no military solution’ - after UK arms industry made billions supplying arms

The UK has provided an estimated £20bn+ in arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition, which has killed thousands of civilians in Yemen since 2015

A top-ranking British diplomat has said there is “no military solution” to the war in Yemen, despite the UK making billions from arms sales to combatants in the conflict, who are accused of serious human rights violations.

Barbara Woodward, the UK’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York, failed to mention the UK’s significant role in the conflict while making a statement to the UN security council yesterday.

What is going on in Yemen?

A coalition led by Saudi Arabia has been engaged in a major bombing operation in Yemen since 2015.

The conflict began due to fears among Sunni Muslim states like Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates (UAE) about the influence of Iran, a Shia Muslim state, over a rebel group known as the Houthis, who were attempting to overthrow the then-regime.

Various aid agencies including Unicef have described the situation in Yemen as one of the largest humanitarian crises in the world.

Around 21 million people are thought to be in need of humanitarian assistance, including more than 11 million children.

Unicef notes that more than 10,000 children have been killed or maimed since the beginning of the conflict.

The ongoing conflict has caused massive infrastructural problems in the country, resulting in food shortages and famine, plus economic devastation which has only been compounded by Covid.

Yemen, as one of the region’s poorest countries, is widely considered to be vastly outmatched by the combined might of the Saudi-led coalition, which includes most of the wealthiest states in the region.

The vast majority of casualties - civilian and military - have been on the Yemeni side of the conflict, but there have been sporadic recent drone and missile attacks against cities in Saudi Arabia and UAE.

According to the Yemen Data Project, January was the most violent month in the air war in over five years.

They say 139 civilians were killed and 287 injured in airstrikes in January, taking the civilian casualty toll in Saudi-led bombings to over 19,000 since 2015.

The Saudi-led coalition is heavily reliant on equipment, training and ongoing support from both the United States and the UK.

How has the UK arms industry been involved in Yemen?

Addressing the UN Security Council in New York on Wednesday, Woodward condemned “reprehensible Houthi cross-border attacks” on Saudi and UAE which killed three people and injured 12 across both countries.

She said: “The UK condemns in the strongest terms the Houthis’ repeated terror attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure, against Yemenis and Yemen’s neighbours.”

She added: “There remains no military solution to this conflict.”

This has not stopped the UK arms industry from making billions from the conflict in recent years.

Since 2015, the published value of UK arms export licenses to Saudi Arabia, for equipment including the aircraft and bombs used to atttack Yemen, is £7 billion, or £8.4 billion including to other countries in the coalition.

However, the Campaign Against the Arms Trade estimates that the real value of sales to the Coalition since the beginning of the war is over £22 billion.

This is partly because many arms export licences are published without financial information, and also because the ongoing costs of maintenance and training are not included in this figure.

In July, the UK government resumed issuing licences for arms sales to Saudi Arabia, reversing a 2019 decision. At the time, the government said “there is not a clear risk that the export of arms and military equipment to Saudi Arabia might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law”.

UK government must ‘stop enabling’ war

Sam Perlo-Freeman of the Campaign Against Arms Trade said: “Ambassador Woodward is right to say that there is no military solution to the conflict in Yemen. Yet, her government continues to supply billions of pounds worth of arms, maintenance, training, and support each year to the Saudi military to enable it to continue its brutal and futile quest for just such a military solution.

“The war in Yemen has gone on for over 7 years and claimed over 377,000 lives. Last month, the Saudi coalition bombed a prison killing over 80 civilians, without a word of condemnation from the UK government.

“It’s high time for the UK government to stop enabling this war, end arms sales, and make serious efforts to bring the war to an end and promote accountability for atrocities committed by all sides”