If someone has to test the thesis regarding the Coming Anarchy propounded by Robert Kaplan 20 years ago, Yemen is the right place to go. For those who are not familiar with this, a brief backgrounder will be in order.
In every epoch of history there are one or more visionary intellectuals who after assessing the situation in accordance with their respective knowledge, experience and bent of mind, define the situation and make plausible predictions. This definition of the situation and likely future scenario is instrumental in shaping the perceptions of the opinion makers and policy formulators in the dominant world powers. Once formulated these perceptions become the perspectives for these decision makers to make decisions. Actions taken under these set of ideas then shape the world events which again changes the constants and variables, providing justification for next generation of intellectuals to come up with new thesis to understand the reality, predict the likely course of events and prescribe a set of actions and so on.
USA fought the Cold War in accordance with theoretical framework postulated by George Kennan in his highly influential article “Sources of Soviet Conduct”, published in Foreign Affairs in its June edition of 1947. Kennan advocated the superiority of the Western way of life over the collective ideals of Soviet Communists which needed to be countered by force and contained by anti-Soviet Union alliances. His ideas provided the framework within which American foreign policy was conducted which shaped the world politics during the era before the fall of the Soviet Union.
After the fall of USSR in 1989 fundamental changes in the objective realities necessitated a new paradigm for the academia and policy makers for understanding international relations. Consequently several ideas started competing to find acceptance with the intellectuals of the world. One such idea was the End of History thesis, given by Francis Fukuyama in 1989, two years before the collapse of the Soviet Union. He argued that after the reform in the Soviet Union, the decline in communism, and the emergence of democracy, the humankind had reached an end point in ideological evolution with the triumph of the western ideals of liberal democracy and market mechanism as universally accepted ideological forces. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, he maintained, the world would be dominated by liberal democracies led by the United States. These democracies would be less inclined to go to war with each other and more interested in cooperation to maintain peace in the world.
This view was challenged by the Clash of Civilizations thesis by Mr. Samuel P. Huntington. Contrary to Fukuyama’s image of the post-Cold War world as a place marked by “perpetual peace” among liberal democracies, Huntington anticipated a world characterized by the clash of civilizations in which the Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu Slavic-Orthodox, Latin American, and ‘possibly the African cultures would be the potential sources of the “battle lines of the future” at both micro and macro levels.
At the same time came the above mentioned thesis of The Coming Anarchy of Robert Kaplan. According to this view, end of the Cold War would result in the growing crisis of governability born of the disintegration occurring within several existing states with the escalation of armed violence among the ethnic factions, ethno-nationalist movements, religious radicals, criminal organizations and terrorists. Under the combined effects of such factors as “overpopulation, resource scarcity, crime and disease”, he believed, the world was inexorably moving towards a situation of total chaos.
Similar to above but with more emphasis on issue of sustainability was the Paul Kennedy’s theory of Neo-Malthusianism. Projecting an ominous post-cold war era, he maintained that Malthus’s pessimism might not had been correct in the nineteenth century, but could become so in the twenty-first century when population would outrun food supply, raw materials become scarce and water sources degradation forcing people to move elsewhere. Under these circumstances, he warned, land would again become the most highly valued factor of population, and competition for land could return the world to the wars of the seventeenth century.
Is Yemen the classical example of the Coming Anarchy?
Although recent crises in Yemen were prompted by the decision of the government to reverse the fuel subsidies in September 2014, the crises were in the making for a long time due to structural imbalances in the political economy of the country aggravated by the mismanagement by an authoritarian regime. GCC brokered constitutional agreement was a good starting point for administrative reengineering and political governance of a new Yemini federal state with fairly equitable participation by all the rival stake holders. However, Houthis, nominally Shia tribe of the north took advantage of the popular uprising against the above mentioned widely unpopular decision of the government and started marching towards the state capital for ensuring greater political space in the future setup. Rest is history.
Despite all the conflicting narratives about the Yemini crises ranging from alleged implementation of Saudi Arabia’s Monroe Doctrine to machinations of Iran to bleed her arch rival for the supremacy of the Middle East and leadership of the Islamic world (la Afghanistan style), Yemen’s crises are basically symptomatic of severe economic and ecological crises brewing in the country. One of the poorest countries in the Arab world with a per capita income of 1330 US $, Yemen has one of the highest growth rates of population with 54% people living below the poverty line and approximately 40 percent are severely food insecure. More than one third of the labor force is unemployed with youth unemployment reaching 40%. Due to these socioeconomic deficiencies, Yemen is placed by the UNO in the lowest rung in the Human Development Index.
If the above facts and figures were not enough, Yemen is rapidly running out of water. Although the Middle East as a whole is not in an enviable position in terms of availability of water with a per capita average of 1000 m3/yr, as compared to the internationally defined threshold of 1700 cubic meters per year, the average Yemeni has access to only 140 cubic meters of water per year for all uses. Her underground water tables have dropped severely from 30 meters below surface in the 1970s to 1200 meters below surface in the capital Sanaa which might have to be evacuated due to this looming threat of water scarcity. Situation is not much better in other cities either. Yemen is feared to be the first country to run out of water.
However the irony is that in a severely water scarce and food insecure country, more than 50% of water is used not to grow food but khat, a narcotic that most Yemenis chew. This water insecurity has aggravated the ethnic conflicts and sectarian strife for which Middle East is notorious. According to social scientists 70% to 80% of conflicts in the country’s rural regions are water and land-related resulting in the death of 40,000 people a year. Some water disputes survive two generations.
In such conditions, what is happening was bound to happen-call it vindication of Coming Anarchy thesis or not. However before Yemen becomes another Somalia, Libya or another failed state, UNO should intervene more forcefully by bringing together all the stakeholders-global, regional and local-to the following five point agenda:
- Immediate ceasefire and end of hostilities including aerial bombardment by the Saudi led Arab force.
- Agreement by all the regional powers not to interfere in the domestic issues of Yemen with guarantees for genuine Saudi security concerns
- Implementation of the GCC brokered political and constitutional settlement for ensuring her peaceful democratic development
- World Bank-led Marshall Plan for economic growth which is sustainable ,inclusive and equitable
- Mainstreaming of Yemen with the global economic and trading system.
Tall order ? Yes but we have no other choice.