Let’s Abandon False Dichotomy of “Offensive vs. Defensive” Support for Yemen War

On the evening December 7, 2021, a Senate resolution was defeated to stop the sale of a package of air-to-air missiles and missile rail launchers to Saudi Arabia. In the weeks leading up to the vote, bombs rained down on the city of Sana’a, Yemen’s capital. In November 2015, civilian casualties in Yemen reached a staggering 20,000. 16-month high. Bombing rates from Saudi Arabia were 41 percent higherMore than the monthly average for this year. Ten months have passed since President Biden ended “offensive” support to the Saudi coalition that has been waging war on Yemen since 2015. Biden had promised to find a political resolution to the conflict but the situation on ground has only gotten worse.

The sale of the package of weapons was announced by the White House in November for $650 million in air-to-air missiles — primarily produced by Raytheon Technologies. These weapons were not intended to be used in Yemen. They were meant to protect the Saudi people against retaliatory attacks by its enemies in Yemen, namely the Houthis. The sale was then subject to a 30 day challenge by Congress. The biggest debate in the Senate centered on whether the weapons were “offensive” or “defensive” in nature.

In a statement released hours before the Senate vote on the resolution to stop the sale, argued that the sale was for “defensive” support to Saudi Arabia and the weapons being sold could not be used offensively. The same rhetoric was repeated by senators who voted for the sale. However, that characterization is ridiculous when discussing the Saudi-led war on Yemen because Saudi Arabia is aggressively violating another nation’s sovereignty by waging war on Yemen in the first place.

The nature of Saudi Arabia’s involvement in Yemen is entirely offensive. The United States’ support of any type of war sends a message of impunity to Saudi Arabia. It states that even if Saudi Arabia bombs or blocks another country, the U.S. is there to help.

The Senate failed to consider this sale in the larger context of Saudi Arabia’s imposition of a land, sea and air blockade on Yemen. Yemenis have not been able to access their land crossings, sea ports, and airports since 2015. Since the beginning, the Saudi coalition has used the blockade as a consistent strategy. This collective punishment has led to the starvation of thousands of Yemenis and will continue to have a negative impact on the lives of future generations. The pandemic has also been exacerbated due to the blockade. The blockade has caused fuel shortages in hospitals that treat COVID19 patients. Patients who are unable to leave the country to receive treatment may also cause power cuts. It is a war crime. It is an act war.

Saudi Arabia has been trying to defeat the Houthis for six year and failed, despite having been backed and armed in large part by the United States, which is the most militarized nation in the world. Now, the Saudi government is using Yemen’s blockade to negotiate peace. The weapons that are a part of this new sale give Saudi Arabia the ability to prolong and enforce their air blockade — a crucial part of Saudi Arabia’s war strategy. The White House can state that Saudi Arabia will not be allowed to use the weapons for defense of its people, but the United States. is handing over weapons capable of shooting down other aircraftSaudi Arabia claims it will maintain control over Yemen’s airspace.

It has been almost a year since President Biden ended “offensive” support for the war in Yemen and promised to find a lasting political solution. After the announcement, Yemen advocates in the United States and around the world were wondering what ending “offensive support” really means. Ten months later, the situation on ground has only gotten worse. Worst-case estimations suggest that a Yemeni child is starving to death every 75 seconds. The Saudi government and the Houthis are nowhere close to a peace agreement because the blockade continues to be used as a political tool by Saudi leaders and because the U.S. continues to support Saudi Arabia, simply now calling the support “defensive.” It is clear that President Biden’s strategy of ending “offensive” support for the war is disingenuous. This false dichotomy of offensive and defensive has only allowed the Saudi military to continue their brutal assault on the Yemeni people. It’s time that members of Congress and activists who are serious about ending U.S. support for the Saudi-led war on Yemen abandon that rhetoric completely.

Across political parties, 64 percent of likely voters oppose the newest sale, even though it has been defined as “defensive.” Members of Congress across party lines opposed the deal. This dichotomy is eroding and peace activists should be happy about it. If the “defensive vs. offensive” rhetoric continues to be embraced, the Biden administration and Congress will only continue to postpone the day when Saudi Arabia realizes the futility of its intervention and leaves the Yemeni people to determine their own future.