Blown back: Lessons from counter-terror, stabilisation and statebuilding in Yemen

Since serious terror threats emerged in Yemen in 2000, the West has invested significantly in counter-terror and stabilisation. Alongside direct military action to assassinate key militants (by the US), Western actors backed the Government of Yemen to fight, prosecute or punish terrorists, and gave capacity-building support to institutions, hoping to address the weakness of a willing but fragile state. The Western approach reflects a domestic discourse in the West in which Yemen has been defined primarily as a ‘threat’ – an unstable context that plays host to al-Qaeda and other dangerous groups, which must be defeated by backing the state at all costs.

This report analyses external actors’ approaches to Yemen and their impacts on its conflict dynamics from a peacebuilding perspective. It argues that counter-terror, stabilisation and statebuilding efforts have had significant negative impacts, and based on this identifies lessons and recommendations for the future.

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This report on Yemen is accompanied by two other reports on Afghanistan and Somalia. Together, they explore the issues identified in the initial discussion paper through detailed examination of specific country contexts from a peacebuilding perspective – in order to stimulate further debate on the lessons learnt.

An accompanying policy brief introduces the issues and contexts explored in the three reports from a peacebuilding perspective.

“Western actors failed to prioritise the grievances of Yemen’s people over counter-terror imperatives, and thus provided not only perverse incentives against reform – but even the practical means for elites to resist pressure to reform.”

Larry Attree