Yemen’s Military-Security Reform: Seeds of a New Conflict?, the latest report from the International Crisis Group, analyses the corruption, impunity, tribal divisions and vested interests that have plagued Yemen’s security forces and now threaten the transition process in a country that is also engaged in an armed struggle with al-Qaeda-linked Islamist extremists. Restructuring the security forces must be accompanied by a larger effort to produce an inclusive political consensus – without which Yemen’s major security stakeholders are unlikely to accept critical reforms.
The report’s major findings and recommendations are:
Fault lines within the security forces persist from the popular protest movement of 2011, when General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar threw his support behind protesters, while other commanders, mostly hailing from the family of then-president Saleh, remained loyal to the government.
Since Saleh’s resignation, his successor, President Abdo Robo Mansour Hadi, has loosened the grip of the old regime, ordering a personnel shake-up and eliminating controversial military organisations commanded by General Mohsen and Saleh’s son. However, implementation is nascent, and reforms must go deeper than reshuffling individual positions.
President Hadi must not ignore deeper issues, such as enforcing non-partisan rules regarding the management of personnel, integrating tribesmen into security forces and ensuring civilian oversight. Changes on this scale require an inclusive political consensus, without which major stakeholders are unlikely to relinquish their independent powers.
Such a political consensus should result from the national dialogue that began on 18 March. However, this process must genuinely include two major constituencies that have been essentially excluded in the past: the Huthis – a primarily northern movement unhappy with the central government – and southern separatists. These groups are unlikely to support restructuring of the security forces without broad agreement on the parameters of the future Yemeni state.
“President Hadi must avoid ruling simply by decree, or making security appointments that smack of his own brand of partisanship”, says April Longley Alley, Crisis Group’s Senior Yemen Analyst. “To that end, he should communicate to stakeholders and the public the rationale behind new appointments”.
“The national dialogue’s goal is to generate a virtuous cycle in which security restructuring and the national dialogue reinforce one another”, says Robert Malley, Crisis Group’s Middle East and North Africa Program Director. “That’s a tall order, and international actors can and should lend a hand. But Yemenis themselves will have to get the sequence and timing right”.