GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Title of Paper:
Drivers of Balanced (In)stability and Internal War in Yemen
Paper Proposal Text :
Introduction and Statement of the Problem

Yemen’s strategic location at the mouth of the Red Sea, its proximity to Saudi Arabia, perceived regional instability, and internal fragmentation have made it vulnerable to external influence and pressures associated with regional and international competition, contributing to periods of balanced (in)stability and internal war in the Yemen. Since the end of the 1962 civil war between the Yemeni republicans – supported by Egypt – and the Yemeni royalists – supported by Saudi Arabia, Great Britain and the U.S. – an unstable balance maintained by an informal system of patronage politics has stood as the primary obstacle to internal war in the northern Yemen Arab Republic (YAR) and later unified Republic of Yemen (RoY). During his 33 years in power, Ali Abdullah Saleh compared his role in maintaining this unstable balance and governing Yemen as “dancing on the heads of snakes.” From the establishment of the YAR this balance has been under constant pressure, not only from internal stresses associated with the deep-seated divisions and shifting allegiances that have long defined Yemeni society, but also by external actors seeking to advance their interests within an informal patronage system dominated by a complex game of elite bargaining. This combination of internal factionalization, patronage politics and external interference have stood in the way of meaningful reform, contributing instead to a seemingly endless cycle of balanced (in)stability and internal war in Yemen.

Utilizing Harry Eckstein “On the Etiology of Internal War” as a framework to compare four periods (1970-1979, 1980-1989, 1990-2000, and 2001-present), this paper examines the internal and external factors that have contributed to a cycle of balanced (in)stability and internal war in the Yemen since 1962, highlighting the role that the policies of external actors play in the calculations of incumbents (elites within the system) and insurgents (elites excluded from or opposed to the system), and the challenges that a combination of the internal factionalization, patronage politics and external interference pose to ongoing state-building and counterterrorism efforts.

Eckstein’s Framework and Study of Internal War in Yemen
Harry Eckstein defines “internal war” as “any resort to violence within a political order to change its constitution, rulers, or policies” (Eckstein 1965, 133). Eckstein’s definition is useful in this study as his definition is a generic term, or as he describes it a “genus” of which other “more commonly used terms, such as revolution, civil war, revolt, rebellion, uprising, guerilla warfare, mutiny, jacquerie, coup d’état, terrorism, or insurrection” are a species (Eckstein 1965, 133). Eckstein’s definition of the concept of internal wars and the framework he proposes is especially useful in drawing points of comparison of different “species” of internal war in the Yemen since 1962.

Using this definition of internal war as a foundation, Eckstein proceeds to lay out preliminary framework for the study of the internal war writing that one of the most important distinctions to make when comparing cases of internal war is between “preconditions” – “circumstances which make it possible for the precipitants to bring about political violence” – and “precipitants” – “an event that actually starts the war” (Eckstein 1965, 140). Distinguishing between preconditions and precipitants in a comparative study of internal war in Yemen is particularly useful in examining the role that external actors have played, and continue to play, in shifting Yemen’s internal balance and moving Yemen from a state of balanced (in)stability to internal war.

Eckstein goes on to state that a “crucial choice that needs to be made is whether to put emphasis upon the characteristics of the insurgents or incumbents, upon the side that rebels or on the side that is rebelled against” (Eckstein 1965, 145). At the time of his writing Eckstein asserts that “the existing literature concentrates very largely on the rebels, treating internal war as due to mainly to changes in the non-elite strata of society to which no adequate adjustment is made by the elite” (Eckstein 1965, 145). In the case of Yemen, many of the changes in the characteristic of the insurgents, or rebels, have come not only in reaction to changes in the characteristic of the incumbent, but also due to changes in external patronage relations driven by short term threat perception and mitigation policies.