Yemen's Importance to Saudi Arabia

By Charles Schmitz

Charles Schmitz is professor of Geography at Towson University in Baltimore, Maryland where he has taught since 1999.  Dr. Schmitz is a specialist on the Middle East and Yemen.  He began his academic career as a Fulbright Scholar and American Institute for Yemeni Studies Fellow in Yemen in the early 1990s.

For Saudi Arabia, Yemen is a vital security interest. The Saudis have long claimed a dominant role in shaping Yemen’s domestic politics. Yemen’s desert border with Saudi Arabia is a source of anxiety for the Kingdom’s leaders. Yemenis are poor, Yemen’s large population is still growing, and the Yemeni state has not been able to manage its economy successfully. Saudis fear that Yemen will implode, and Yemen’s problems will spill across the border into the Kingdom.

Much as NAFTA was designed to improve the Mexican economy and lessen the incentive to cross into the United States, Saudi Arabia’s desire to control Yemen is rooted in the belief that Saudi Arabian influence and support will prevent Yemen’s poverty from spilling into the Kingdom. The Saudis also fear that Yemen’s inability to police its territory allows hostile groups to threaten the Kingdom; al Qaeda launched several attacks on officials in the Kingdom from Yemen, and Saudi intelligence plays a critical role in fighting al Qaeda in Yemen.

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