Now that Yemen is front and center in the minds of U.S. national security experts and the American public alike, it’s time for a serious reassessment of our military and development assistance to the poorest nation in the Middle East. U.S. assistance strategy in Yemen should take into consideration the wide range of factors that threaten Yemen’s already tenuous political and economic stability.
In an article for the Center for American Progress, I argue that to avoid further deterioration, the right government and civil institutions must be in place to ensure a process where the rights of citizens are respected and the building blocks for a better economic future are clearly being put in place. The U.S. and the international community need to develop a more comprehensive approach to stabilizing Yemen that would include increasing assistance to the following three sectors: local governance, anti-corruption, and economic reform. This kind of integrated approach to development is the only sustainable way forward in Yemen. And this perspective echoes President Barack Obama’s global vision—as stated in his Cairo and Accra speeches—to connect and coordinate efforts to stem security threats, foster economic growth, and create resilient political institutions around the world.
Of course, foreign assistance is just one side of the equation. The other side is the Yemeni leadership—or more specifically—what Yemeni leaders can deliver. Change from the inside—among leaders in the government, the private sector, civil society, and the media—is imperative to demonstrate real commitment and stem the downward spiral. There are reformists in each of these sectors that command respect in their communities and are finding ways to push for change where openings exist. While U.S. military engagement may take on a more public face in Yemen, our task is to find ways to support these new leaders without undercutting their legitimacy. Ultimately, the responsibility rests not with the U.S. and the international community, but rather with the Yemenis themselves.