A U.S. drone. Extremism in Yemen should be addressed through development, not drone strikes, experts wrote in a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama. Photo by: Julianne Showalter / CC BY

The United States should address extremism through development, not drone strikes, Yemen experts argued in a letter sent to President Barack Obama on June 25.

Coordinated by the Hariri Center for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council, the letter was a joint effort by 27 professors, lawyers, program directors and other experts who felt the terrorism-focused approach to Yemen was misguided. These experts called for a “fundamental shift” toward investing in the country’s social, economic and political development.

Specific recommendations included increasing funding and technical assistance for international and local organizations working on democracy and rule of law, and building government capacity to deliver food, water, health care, education and electricity.

The letter also called for immediate cash assistance to address emergency food security needs. It referenced the “catastrophic proportions” of Yemen’s current food situation, with more than 10 million people going hungry daily.

The release of the letter came days after U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah returned from a trip to Yemen. An agency representative said one goal of the trip was to show the U.S. government’s “holistic relationship” with the Yemeni people and the importance it placed on humanitarian and development assistance.

The experts acknowledged that millions of dollars had been spent on development and governance projects, but said the singular focus on pursuing al-Qaida made clear that short-term security goals dominated the agenda. They called for a rebalancing of foreign assistance that would send more money to economic and governance assistance, and less to military support.

The authors conceded the burden of providing assistance in a place where corruption is rampant and deeply ingrained, but said the United States “must take responsibility for the ways the international community contributes to this abuse of power” by making sure aid is properly channeled.

Other areas the experts said were key were democratic transition with corresponding rule of law and respect for human rights, military restructuring and internal security, and economic growth and job creation.

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About the author

  • Jennifer Brookland

    Jennifer Brookland is a former Devex global development reporter based in Washington, D.C. She has worked as a humanitarian reporter for the United Nations and as an investigative journalist for News21. Jennifer holds a bachelor's in foreign service from Georgetown University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University and in international law and diplomacy from the Fletcher School. She also served for four years as an Air Force officer.