Yemen’s uncertain path to peace

In the short term, Biden’s diplomatic approach in Yemen may not be enough to leverage peace

Earlier this month, the Biden administration took considerable steps to reverse U.S. policy on the war in Yemen, instigated under Obama and continued throughout Trump’s presidency.

It notably put a hold on its support to the Saudi-led coalition, revoked the terrorist designation of the Houthi movement, and appointed veteran diplomat, Timothy Lenderking, as special envoy to the conflict.

What began in 2014, when the Iran-backed Houthi movement overthrew president Hadi’s unpopular government, has since turned into the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. As of 2015, neighbouring Saudi Arabia has spearheaded a coalition, while mobilizing a substantial part of its GDP, to back the Hadi government and wage a war against the Houthis and their allies – so far, unsuccessfully.

According to the United Nations, 233,000 people have been killed in the war and more than 20 million are left in dire need of humanitarian aid. In a briefing to the Security Council last week, UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock warned the country is “speeding towards the worst famine the world has seen in decades,” adding that “something like 400,000 children under the age of five are severely malnourished across the country.”

“This war has to end,” Biden said earlier this month, of the conflict that has reached a stalemate since the latest attempts at peace talks failed in 2018.

For the population, peace is long overdue. As reported by Newlines Magazine, many have welcomed efforts to reignite the peace process, but remain pessimistic about the prospect of a political solution in the near future.

The U.S.’ shift towards a diplomatic approach or even a hypothetical withdrawal of regional actors, like Saudi Arabia, would not necessarily result in the end of the civil war, warns Elena Delozier from the Washington Institute. In an interview on the Conversation Six podcast, she stressed that this conflict was and remains one mostly animated by local actors – the Houthis and the Yemeni government.

“If we had an arrangement for peace talks tomorrow, neither of them have the political will right now to go to the table,” she said. “The question for the United States is how can it get the Hadi government, the Houthis, or how can it help the U.N. get, those two parties to come to peace talks.”

In recent weeks, the Houthi movement has made advances on the government’s last stronghold of Marib – the fall of which experts say will bring about further displacement and humanitarian consequences.

Last September, a UN group of experts designated Canada as one of the countries responsible for “perpetuating the conflict” by selling arms, including sniper rifles and light armoured vehicles, to Saudi Arabia. The ongoing arms deal currently amounts to $14 billion.

The New Democratic Party reiterated this criticism earlier this month in the House of Commons. Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau assured, “Human rights considerations are now at the centre of our export regime,” adding that he “will deny any permit application where there is a risk of human rights violations.”

In addition to the U.S.’ dwindling support, the declassification last Friday of a report that found Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salam responsible for approving the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, puts Ryadh in an increasingly defensive position. 

But while it may reduce its military spending in Yemen, Saudi Arabia is expected to further its presence through local undercover fighters, according to Ahmed Nagi, a fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Institute.

Meanwhile, for the Houthis, the “priority today is to make more gains, not to engage in power-sharing deals,” said Nagi, indicating that under such conditions, a viable path to peace remains nothing but precarious.


Graphic by James Fay


Renegotiating the ins and outs of NAFTA

Panelists discuss how recent trade negotiations may potentially affect Canada

“What we need is for our Canadian government to be standing up far more strongly than what we have seen so far,” said former New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair at a panel hosted by the Concordia School of Community and Public Affairs on March 6.

The focus of the discussion, moderated by Daniel Salée, a political science and public affairs professor at Concordia, was the ongoing renegotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

“[Canada has] every right to be adamant in opposing that type of purely discretionary imposition of an absolutely illegal tariff,” said Mulcair in reference to President Donald Trump’s controversial announcement on March 1 that the United States would be imposing a 25 per cent tariff on steel imports and a 10 per cent tariff on aluminum imports. “It would affect a lot of jobs in Canada.”

Although the tariffs are set to take effect before the end of the month, it has since been announced that Canada and Mexico will be exempt, pending a new agreement on NAFTA, reported The Washington Post.

“I don’t believe that we should be bullied into a bad agreement. We must make sure that an agreement is a win-win situation,” said panelist Michel Vincent, the Quebec Forest Industry Council’s director of economics, markets and international trade.

For Vincent, the most important element of NAFTA to be renegotiated is Chapter 19, which currently allows Canada to bypass the court system and instead create a binational panel of arbitrators to review the merit of any antidumping or countervailing duties on Canadian products imported into the United States, according to Maclean’s.

“It will be the most difficult point to achieve with the United States,” Vincent said, because in the last 25 years, the United States has lost 173 of the 180 cases in which Chapter 19 was invoked. If this section of the agreement is not strengthened or at least maintained, he added, “NAFTA is not worth a lot to Canadians.”

However, Vincent pointed out that, despite the current administration’s objections, most Americans still share the same values as their northern neighbours. “We should not get misled with the Trump rhetoric,” he said. “I think we have to wait him out.”

In the opinion of panelist Ian Lee, an associate professor at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business, Trump has a particular agenda when it comes to NAFTA.

“It’s really clear; he wants to make it really cheap to do business in the United States to encourage businesses around the world to relocate to the U.S.,” he said.

Lee added that there are many urban legends about international trade. “The common belief that trading leads to poverty,” he said, “is empirically inaccurate.”

“Trump has the tendency to view things from only one side, which is his own,” Mulcair added. “In international trade, you have to look at how it works both ways.”

According to the former NDP leader, the president’s rhetoric takes the focus off more serious issues, like improving the United States’ farm and food trade systems. Although the Canadian supply management system for poultry, dairy and eggs works well and “provides stability to our farming families,” Mulcair said, this kind of support for farmers “is severely lacking in the United States.”

Mulcair said he strongly believes that a failure to renegotiate NAFTA will have a negative impact on both Canadians and Americans. “There are things that can be an improvement to NAFTA. […] There’s a way to make it a better agreement. But the idea that the Americans would walk away from something that important for their own economy, I think that is really difficult to conceive of,” he said. “But you never know with Donald Trump.”

Photo by Mackenzie Lad


Mulcair caught between a rock and a French place

Image via Flickr

Political greatness, be it in Canada or anywhere else, is not something that’s easily achievable. It requires a mix of intention and charisma, the kind of persona that will make you a memorable figure.

Ask Thomas Mulcair: he’s clearly striving to establish himself, occupying his position as the predictable yet precarious choice of leader to follow in Jack Layton’s footsteps as the head of the New Democratic Party. Mulcair has been left to contend with the delicate balance that now exists in the party that took Quebec by storm during the 2011 federal elections.

This past week he’s also been extremely “media friendly.”

For what it’s worth, having the spotlight shone on him was somewhat inevitable: he is leading a party that’s between a rock and a hard place. On one hand he finds himself defending the Quebecers that helped put him in office and his patria, taking their side with understanding, attempting to underline their uniqueness. On the other hand he’s also contending with the rest of Canada, attempting to secure his party’s position as the official opposition in the face of Stephen Harper’s Conservative party.

As Thomas Walkom underlined in his column on the topic in The Toronto Star, the NDP’s stance on Quebec has been “friendlier” since 2005, when Mr. Layton decided to take a position against the Clarity Act. This act essentially stipulates that, in the case of any referendum held inside Quebec on the topic of sovereignty, the House of Commons has the right to decide whether the question that is being asked is deemed “clear enough.” It also warrants that it has the right to consider whether or not the result of such a referendum represents the vote of a “clear majority.”

Needless to say, the Clarity Act is not very popular amongst separatist Quebecers, and federal politicians have done their best not to remind us of its existence.

So this week, when Mr. Mulcair brought the subject up (with Marois abroad in Scotland), there was some notable controversy. Why not just let it be? After all, if it wants to maintain its positions, the NDP must strive to become “Canada friendly,” appealing to that considerable portion of Canadian voters that believe that Quebec should not be granted any preferential political visibility or treatment. In fact, in an editorial published by Conrad Black in the Jan. 26 edition of the National Post, Mulcair was framed as promoting an “odious species of federalism,” which encourages a vision of a fragmented Canada. In reality, the leader of the New Democrats is simply looking out for his electorate, which is exactly what a politician should be doing.

The bottom line, it seems, is that Canada will forever be a land of compromise so long as Quebec is part of it. Normally, the leader of the opposition would be expected to just deal with it. The optimist in us, however, secretly hopes that Mulcair will take the opportunity to stray from the path, supporting the people who elected him and disregarding the notion of politicians being pleasers. After all, he does have the home turf advantage, be it if for a short while. So why not use it to make himself memorable?

Exit mobile version