Over at Wired, Spencer Ackerman points to a WSJ report that the Pentagon is contemplating a five year, $1.4 billion military aid package to Yemen. That would be on top of a $155 million military aid package Yemen received earlier in the year, which, according to Ackerman includes such goodies as:
Yemeni Special Operations Forces get $34.5 million for 50 new Humvees, personal radios, light weapons, ammo and other stuff to improve their “tactical effectiveness and operational reach,” according to Pentagon budget documents.
Yemen’s Air Force get nearly $83 million for new Huey helicopters, Russian-designed Mi-17 “Hip” copters, and spare parts and maintenance gear. “This program will allow the Yemen Air Force to transport small units to participate in day- or night-time operations at high altitude,” the department says in a funding submission to Congress.
Finally, there’s another $38 million to get the Yemenis CN-235s, a transit plane that just so happens to double as a spy plane.
Even in these times of economic hardship, there is plenty of money for this kind of military assistance. Meanwhile, in November 2009, the UN released a $187 million Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan “to respond to a series of acute and chronic humanitarian needs which have been triggered, or in some cases exacerbated, by the armed conflict that escalated in August 2009 between the Government and Al Houthi rebels in the north of the country, and which expanded to include tribal and international actors.” To date, international donors have given $79 million, or about 42% of what the UN says is required to keep many thousands of Yemenis fed, sheltered, and inoculated. That funding shorfall has had real consequences. In May, the World Food Program had to cut its food rations in half for 1.5 million people dependent on WFP food aid.
To its credit, the United States is the largest funder of the Yemen humanitarian relief plan. Of the $79 million received, $30 million has come from the United States. Still, this means that the United States’ military to humanitarian spending for Yemen is about 5 to 1. Should that $1.5 billion aid package go through, the ratio would jump to 50 to 1. There is nothing wrong with providing bi-lateral military assistance to an ally. But, as they say, a budget is the truest reflection of a country’s priorities. What Washington is telling the Yemenis (and the world) is that it cares exponentially more about arming Yemen’s military than helping to feed its people.