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Yemen and Stability in the Persian Gulf: Confronting the Threat from Within

Authored by Dr. Stephen C. Pelletiere.

May 22, 1996

44 Pages

Brief Synopsis

Yemen is one of the oldest societies in the Middle East. It sits athwart one of the world's most strategic waterways, and hence, throughout the Cold War, the United States and Soviet Union contended for influence over it. With the end of the Cold War, Yemen's fortunes sank. Soviet support vanished, and the United States saw little need to cultivate Sana'a, particularly in light of Yemen's actions preceding the Gulf War.

This study argues that Yemen should not be abandoned. It is part of the vital Persian Gulf system, which the United States has pledged to uphold. That whole system could be destabilized by conflicts that currently simmer on Yemen's borders. The study suggests ways in which Yemen could be assisted economically, and also how tensions between it and its most important neighbor, Saudi Arabia, could be attenuated.

The study focuses attention on a problem of growing importance for U.S. policymakers--that of the so-called failed state. It rarely happens, the author declares, that states can be allowed to fail without undermining regional stability. And sometimes--as looms in the case with Yemen--the damage could be considerable.


This study looks at Yemen, a small state which over the course of centuries has played a minor--but nonetheless important--part in the history of the Middle East. Yemen's importance derived from its strategic location. At various times great powers wishing to control the Red Sea/Indian Ocean area tried to take over Yemen.

Now that the Soviet Union is no more and the United States alone is a superpower, Yemen's strategic value seemingly is at an end; U.S. policymakers apparently believe that, with Moscow out of the picture, the importance of Yemen has declined.

At the same time, however, tensions between Yemen and its neighbors have recently disturbed relations in the crucial Persian Gulf region. This study argues that, unless these tensions are resolved, the whole Persian Gulf system could be destablized, and thus U.S. policymakers must rethink relations with Sana'a. The study tracks how the current disputes over Yemen developed, and then describes how they are likely to affect Gulf stability, which America has pledged to uphold.

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