Yemen Peace Talks Could Save Gulf States From Themselves

Yemen Peace Talks Could Save Gulf States From Themselves
An Emirati soldier watches for enemy fire from the rear of a UAE Chinook military helicopter flying over Yemen, Sept. 17, 2015 (AP photo by Adam Schreck).

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates—The encouraging news that a seven-day cease-fire took effect in Yemen today as peace talks to end the country’s civil war got underway in Switzerland will bring relief to Yemenis, but also to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The Saudi-led coalition fighting on behalf of the country’s president, Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, has had mixed results at best. And a prolonged military engagement there would not enhance regional security, while making it harder to coordinate policies on Syria. But the Gulf states hold diverse views about how to move forward on the other acute problems in the region, none of which seem close to any sort of lasting resolution.

As welcome as the news of a cease-fire in the Yemen war and of new talks between Hadi’s government and the Houthi rebels are, recent experience suggests that a quick path to peace and reconciliation is unlikely. Exhaustion and a stalemate on the battlefield, rather than a meaningful commitment to new power-sharing arrangements, have opened the door to talks. The underlying political issues in Yemen are deep and not easily resolved; a restoration of the status quo ante that does not take into account the geographic splits and tribal dynamics will not suffice to achieve lasting stability. Whatever the motivations that are bringing the parties to the table, both the United Nations negotiator, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, and the regional powers pledged to help Yemen restore order will have their hands full.

For the countries of the Saudi-led coalition, however, there is some urgency to bring the war to an end. The military picture is mixed, with both the rebels and the pro-government air campaign led by Saudi Arabia having enjoyed recent successes. But for the coalition partners—particularly the United Arab Emirates, which has now endured dozens of killed and wounded soldiers and airmen—the war has been costly and could even generate concerns about domestic stability, though open unrest may be preventable in the strong security states of the GCC. Ending the fighting will relieve the growing domestic misgivings about casualties, and will avoid any lasting rifts in the GCC over military strategies that were not always well-considered.

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