South Yemen Has A Crucial Significance For Gulf Of Aden-Red Sea Security


Tue, 03-08-2021 01:59 PM, Aden

Andrew Korybko | South24 

The Gulf of Aden-Red Sea (GARS) region is among the most strategic in the world so it therefore follows that South Yemen is correspondingly one of the world's most strategic political entities. Although it's still internationally recognized as part of the Republic of Yemen, the Southern Transitional Council (STC) that unquestionably exerts the most influence on the ground there aspires to restore its former independence. The plan is to do so peacefully in line with the UN Charter's right to self-determination. The problem is that the Yemeni Civil War is still raging with no end in sight, which complicates its efforts. 

It's difficult to predict the exact course that the STC's independence campaign will take, but it could certainly be aided by a political settlement to end the Yemeni Civil War. Such an agreement would have to realistically respect South Yemen's separate identity and newly restored de facto political administration, perhaps through an interim confederal model inspired by the Bosnian one prior to a referendum being held on its final political status. It should also provide broad autonomy for the region's diplomatic and military affairs. The greatest challenge to this vision is the Ansarullah/Houthis and the internationally recognized Hadi Administration. 

Both of those rivals curiously share the same goal of retaining the unity that was forced upon South after the end of the brief 1994 civil war. South had earlier agreed to unite with the North but quickly realized that it had inadvertently subjugated its people to its counterpart's hegemony. Southern businesses were taken over by Northerners and the latter's somewhat different culture was imposed upon the locals. Human rights abuses also became common. This understandably bred resentment which exploded into the failed 1994 attempt to secede. Since then, Southerners have been living as second-class citizens in their own country.

The Ansarullah's/Houthis' blitzkrieg from late-2014 to early 2015 sought to complete its conquest of the entire country, which the group portrays as a revolution. Its goals were deeply unpopular in South, whose people feared an even worse subjugation than before. The Saudi-led coalition decisively intervened around that time in order to push the Northerners back and reinstall the Hadi Administration in Aden for the time being. Nevertheless, after having tasted the closest thing to freedom that they've felt since disastrously uniting with the North several decades prior, Southerners came together to advance their long-held independence dreams. 

In the event that they're successful in safeguarding their present de facto autonomy, and perhaps even taking it further towards the proposed interim confederal model prior to holding a UN-backed referendum in accordance with the organization's Charter, the rest of the world will have to acknowledge the reality of South Yemen's return to the map. This recently revived policy has a crucial role to play in ensuring security in the GARS region. Even without formal recognition of its independence, others can still prospectively cooperate with it in order to boost its anti-piracy and -terrorist capabilities in the interests of regional peace. 

Read also: The Gulf Of Aden-Red Sea (GARS) Region Is Among The World's Most Strategic

The devil would be in the details of any political deal between the “Two Yemens”, of course, which in turn could complicate the international community's official support of South Yemen prior to the restoration of its independence. Without the UN-recognized government's formal recognition of South Yemen's right to conduct its own diplomatic and military relations, other countries' options will be quite limited lest they risk provoking the Hadi Administration's public wrath and potentially being accused of violating international norms by going against the central government's back to clinch official agreements of a sensitive nature with that region. 

That's why no tangible progress can be expected until the details of any proposed deal are revealed and finally sealed by the relevant parties. There's no time frame for expecting that outcome though which means that South Yemen's pertinent security considerations will likely remain the responsibility of the Saudi-led coalition and especially that region's privileged Emirati partner. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but South Yemen might understandably want to diversify its foreign partnerships the further along it moves towards independence in order to avoid any perceived disproportionate dependence on any single partner like the UAE. 

Considering the privileged nature of South Yemeni-Emirati natures, however, Aden would also be somewhat limited in its list of potential partners – particularly security ones – in order to avoid inadvertently complicating relations with Abu Dhabi. With this in mind, the most logical one for it to reach out when the domestic political conditions (i.e. the proposed interim confederal deal between the “Two Yemens”) enable this is Russia, which previously hosted the STC for consultations as recently as this February. Russia's predecessor state of the Soviet Union had close ties with formerly independent South Yemen and still enjoys a lot of goodwill in that region. 

Most importantly, Russia nowadays has excellent ties with the UAE as well and is also planning to open up a naval base in nearby Sudan. The best-case scenario would be if Abu Dhabi tacitly approved of Moscow militarily cooperating with Aden throughout the course of the latter's path to independence (pending the earlier proposed confederal deal with the Hadi Administration) in order to further improve South Yemen's anti-piracy and -terrorist capabilities. This might even take the form of re-establishing the Soviet-era base or even just obtaining privileged access to Aden's facilities for logistical purposes, which could serve a similar function. 

South Yemen, the UAE, and Russia all have shared anti-piracy and -terrorist interests. They're responsible security actors in the GARS and each enjoy excellent ties with one another. It's therefore natural for them to expand their cooperation and even consider potentially institutionalizing it through a trilateral format once the domestic political conditions enable this. They also have extensive anti-terrorist experiences as of late too with respect to South Yemen's Security Belt forces, the UAE's decisive military intervention in the Yemeni Civil War, and Russia's own similar such intervention in the Syrian conflict. 

These two pairs of partners (South Yemen-UAE and Russia) would do well to share their experiences with one another and join forces in ensuring the GARS' security. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) still threatens some of the coastal and hinterland regions of the former South Yemen, and piracy is an ever-present threat that might never go away. It'll of course take time to implement this vision, but work should be started on it right away, beginning with the STC using its established channels to share these ideas with Russia. Then it should consider floating the idea for an interim confederal deal and regularly updating Russia on its progress. 

Andrew Korybko

Moscow-based American political analyst specializing in the relationship between the US strategy in Afro-Eurasia, China's Belt & Road Initiative, and Hybrid Warfare.
Photo: Map extracted from a report by Al Jazeera