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  • Writer's pictureRed Line Producer

Episode 04. The Yemeni Civil War (A War for Chokepoints)

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Yemen is currently the home to the worst humanitarian crisis of our time, with a civil war that has dragged in countries from all around the globe. This small desert country is now the 5-way battleground for the world's powers, with the world's oil routes at stake.



Helen Lackner

  • Writer, academic and researcher widely known for her analysis on Yemen and the wider Middle East.

  • Author of Yemen in Crisis

Laura Kasinof

  • Freelance journalist working primarily for The New York Times, with work also appearing in The Economist and the Washington Monthly

  • Author of Don't Be Afraid of the Bullets: An Accidental War Correspondent in Yemen

Thomas Small

  • Author of Path of Blood: The Story of Al Qaeda's War on the House of Saud

  • BAFTA Award-winning documentary filmmaker


Part 1: A Country Built on Quicksand (01:15)

  • Lackner breaks down the key aspects of Yemeni history and geography that need to be understand for a proper grasp on the geopolitics of the country.

  • We trace Yemen's colonial history as a British Colony through to its socialist history, several wars and governmental changes, its very recent unification and the precipitating conflict and the Arab Spring, and how this history plays into the current civil conflict that majorly erupted in 2014.

  • We also look at the key actors involved over Yemen's history, particularly Saudi Arabia who has long been attempting to engineer a Yemen that is "strong enough not to be a threat and weak enough not to be a threat".

  • Geographically Yemen's key population centres border the Red Sea and the many towns that sprung up around historical caravanserais. We look at the economic implications of this and of Yemen's population being 70% rural.


Part 2: Islands in the Desert (19:47)

  • Kasinof helps us go into depth about the current Yemeni Conflict. We break down the many important players both internally and externally. We look at their histories and conflicts with each other, and what international groups support them, whether those relationships be explicit or covert.

  • We analyse the US interests and goals in the conflict, looking at their collaboration and difficulties with Saudi Arabia, and as part of an overall mission of limiting Iranian influence.

  • The control of territory not only has militaristic and popular implications, but economic ones. Yemen's position on the Red Sea, on the corridor through the Suez to all of Asia makes security and operation of ports a key priority for many. We look at the extent to which warfare has been impacted by and focused on economic targets.

  • Finally we round out to the abysmal humanitarian crisis that has emerged because of this conflict. Widespread starvation, disease, economic collapse, and fuel unavailability are all playing parts in one of the worst humanitarian crises of our times.


Part 3: Where Water is Thicker Than Oil (34:23)

  • We contextualise the Houthis as a group, looking at similarities to organisations such as Hezbollah and al-Qaeda.

  • We go into detail about the so-called Saudi Arabian-Iranian cold war, and whether it should be called a hot war. With various proxy conflicts throughout the region, whose attempts to increase power and influence have been more successful, and where?

  • Small helps us understand the specifics of what arms are being used in what capacity, and what the implications are of newly introduced weapons like Scud missiles.

  • Finally Small gives us his analysis on the specifics of the roles of the United States and the UN, the peace talks in Jeddah and the likely next events in the conflict.


The Red Line's Yemen Reading List:

We’ve put together some further reading for those of you looking for more resources to help you get across the geopolitics of Yemen.


Yemen in Crisis: Autocracy, Neo-Liberalism and the Disintegration of a State Helen Lackner

Don't Be Afraid of the Bullets: An Accidental War Correspondent in Yemen

Book by Laura Kasinof

America's War for the Greater Middle East

Andrew Bacevich



For episode transcripts, monthly geopolitics Q&A’s, member-only videos and to support the show, check out our Patreon here:

This episode is dedicated to Patreon member Gokul Sahni.


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