Leading article: The world must tread carefully in Yemen

What is required is a broad regional counter-terrorism strategy

Share
Related Topics

The global struggle against Islamist terror has a new front. Thanks to a failed attack on an airliner landing in Detroit on Christmas Day, the international spotlight has switched to Yemen, where the would-be bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, is said to have been trained.

At the weekend, the top American commander in the region, David Petraeus, announced plans to double US counter-terrorism aid during a visit to the country. Our own Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has called for an international conference on the terror threat posed by Yemen to be held later this month.

There can be little doubt that Yemen is a genuine source of danger. Al-Qa'ida has steadily increased its presence in the country since the suicide bomb attack on the USS Cole in the port of Aden a decade ago. Foreign tourists have been targeted in recent years, as has the US embassy on several occasions. Many of the suicide bombers that have wreaked havoc in Iraq are believed to have hailed from Yemen. And the failed Detroit aircraft bombing confirms that Yemen has joined Pakistan as a base for the orchestration of international terror attacks.

But foreign powers must tread carefully as they attempt to neutralise this threat. Before intervening, they need to understand the nature of this mountainous country at the tip of the Arabian Peninsula. Yemen, like Afghanistan, has a strong tribal system. And the authority of the central government is just as limited as Hamid Karzai's regime in Kabul. The northern and southern regions were only unified two decades ago. And as Yemen's oil revenues dwindle, the so does the power of the central government.

Outsiders need to work with the grain of Yemeni society. If they alienate the tribes, or are seen to be taking sides in the country's overlapping ethnic and religious disputes, foreign intervention designed to snuff out terror groups could easily prove counterproductive.

Ultimately, only a counter-terrorism strategy framed around the problems of the broader region makes sense. Yemeni's religious extremism is in large part an import from Saudi Arabia. The country has become a safe haven for religious fanatics from its northern neighbour. And Somalia, on the southern coast of the Gulf of Aden, is even more chaotic than Yemen and itself a serious potential source of global terror.

The international concern over Yemen is natural given the recent pattern of terror activity and the Detroit bombing attempt. And financial assistance to the Yemeni security forces to help the country defeat its internal fanatics is justified. But a foreign response which demands instant results, which turns a blind eye to the destabilising influence of Saudi Arabia, which fails to tackle the anarchy in Somalia, is destined to fail. Most of all, loose talk in Western capitals of pre-emptive military action against Yemen's Islamist militants needs to be ditched. Such threats not only lack credibility given the manifest overstretch of Nato forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, they unhelpfully raise the political temperature in the region.

The world cannot – and should not – ignore the terror threat posed by militant groups operating from within Yemen. But equally, the international community needs to ensure that, before anything else, it does not make matters worse.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£13000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to be part of a ...

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Technical Support Engineer

£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

Recruitment Genius: Developer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
An investor looks at an electronic board showing stock information at a brokerage house in Shanghai  

China has exposed the fatal flaws in our liberal economic order

Ann Pettifor
Jeremy Corbyn addresses over a thousand supporters at Middlesbrough Town Hall on August 18, 2015  

Thank God we have the right-wing press to tell us what a disaster Jeremy Corbyn as PM would be

Mark Steel
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future