U.S. policy toward Yemen has focused almost exclusively on terrorism, counter-terrorism, and al-Qaeda. In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Christopher Boucek warns that in addition to kinetic operations, Washington must do more to address the underlying sources of instability—a collapsing economy, rampant corruption, unemployment, and resource depletion—if Yemen is to avoid becoming a failed state and a breeding ground for terror.

U.S. Policy Recommendations:

  • Improve the legal system: The United States should support Yemeni efforts to draft effective counter-terror legislation so that terrorism suspects are charged and prosecuted; train judges to improve conviction rates; and professionalize the prison service so that convicted terrorists remain behind bars.
  • Support land reform: Disputes over land and access to water represent a major source of conflict within Yemen. The United States should support programs to consolidate land registries and clearly establish lawful ownership.
  • Build state capacity: Currently the Yemeni government lacks the ability to deliver basic services throughout the country. The United States should urge the central government to empower local officials to share revenues with the governorates to fund local development.

Boucek concludes, “A terrorism-centric U.S. policy may generate short-term gain in the struggle against violent extremism, but it also risks creating greater problems down the road.”