After US and UK attacks on Yemen, are we on the verge of walking into yet another war?

It seems a dreadful irony that instead of writing about this coming weekend’s Peace Sunday, we’re all having to reflect on pivotal events of the past 24 hours that have driven the UK to the brink of war. Indeed many are saying it has already been declared.

The overnight air strikes on some 16 Houthi positions in Yemen have been hailed as largely successful, with a minimum of civilian casualties expected. Command centres, munitions depots and air defence installations were among the targets that were hit by US and UK war planes in a bid to hamper the Houthis’ ability to harass commercial shipping passing through the critically-important Bab al-Mandab Strait and the Red Sea. With the threat of Houthi attacks hanging over them, global container ships have already started re-routing around the Cape of Good Hope in recent weeks, adding an extra 3,500 miles, eight days and significant extra costs to the journey that a vast range of goods and resources are having to make to reach their European markets.

The options to prevent this random threat to the free flow of international commerce were always going to be limited, especially with Western economies unwilling to take any kind of hit to their prices and supply chain logistics at a time when fiscal recovery is already faltering badly.

If one looks at the sequence of events of the past few weeks – random but increasing frequent Houthi attacks, the deployment of US and British sea forces, threats and counter threats, and then the inevitable military action – one sees a depressingly familiar scenario being acted out. It’s as if legislators and diplomats are incapable of formulating and enacting strategies that lead anywhere except to war as the sole solution for resolving human differences.

The public presentation of such scenarios are also depressingly familiar – the gradual or sudden emergence of an uncontrollable and irrational group of foreigners allegedly intent on completely irrational destruction, the efforts and inevitable failure of reason and ‘civilised’ diplomacy, and the then seemingly reluctant resort to killing as the only route to sanity and the restoration of the status quo. It’s a strategy based on the false premise that ‘our way of life’ and our ordering the world is not only somehow superior to other narratives, but is the only permissible route to living a civilised and peaceful life. Whilst democratic Westernism may seem perfectly reasonable and logical to us, things (and human aspirations) look very different when viewed from other global perspectives, and our failure to recognise this has been the root cause of the most modern conflicts we’ve dragged ourselves into.

In the case of the Houthis – who are currently tagged as a terrorist organisation by the US – the movement developed in opposition to the dubious regime of Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and very much a reaction to foreign, and especially Western, intervention in the running of Yemen and in its fractious relations to other middle eastern states.

Yemen is a country of some 14 million people and fully half its population have been on the brink of starvation. In its early days the Houthi movement embraced a range of constructive ideologies and ambitions for building a better future for the people of Yemen, and members participated actively in the democratic and political structures of their country, but sustained oppression and marginalisation have driven the Houthis to radicalisation, entrenchment and a heavily militaristic outlook. Sadly it’s an ideological journey familiar to most counter-cultural and nationalist movements when they come into conflict with deeply entrenched Western attitudes to the conduct of international relations and the recognition of the differing human rights of others.

Subsequent to all the failures of diplomacy, accommodation and recognition that others have a right to see and construct their worlds differently, we have arrived at the tired old situation where a group of people who’ve been driven to acts of terrorism must be stopped, and the only mechanism we seem to possess to de-escalate the situation is to escalate our own dependence on militarism.

This makes conflict inevitable, and the process is becoming increasingly protracted and inconclusive – with ever greater collateral damage and civilian tragedies – as Putin has discovered in Ukraine, and the Israelis are starting to discover in Gaza.

Listening to the bullish comments this morning from some MPs in response to last night’s air strikes one can’t help feeling that there’s a dreadful sense of inevitability about the weeks and months ahead. Having issued threats of action if Houthi attacks continued, it was inevitable that mettle would be tested, and it was equally unavoidable that a threat means nothing if you’re not prepared to prosecute it. Inevitably this morning the UK has been plunged into a bitter and wearily familiar exchange of accusation and counter-accusations, threats and counter-threats, which could turn easily and quickly into a sustained and tragic conflict – and one which the UK has neither the physical resources nor the strategic maturity to engage with.

Of particular concern is the fact that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak gave the go ahead for last night’s attacks without first consulting parliament. Whilst this is not a requirement it is a recognised practice and would have been sensible given that there was no imperative for a rapid response to ongoing Houthi actions. As it happens Mr Sunak was in Ukraine last night, signing off on an agreement to provide a further £2.5bn of military aid over the coming year, Britain’s largest commitment since Putin’s invasion; the package will include long range missiles, air defence and artillery shells and £200m worth of UK-made drone. Just £18m was committed in terms of humanitarian aid.

I am here today with one message,” said Mr Sunak. “The UK will also not falter. We will stand with Ukraine in their darkest hours and in better times to come.”

“Today we are … increasing our military aid, delivering thousands of cutting-edge drones and signing a historic new security agreement to provide Ukraine with the assurances it needs for the long term.”

Long term indeed; and not a few MPs and others are starting to become increasingly nervous about our enthusiasm and commitment to what is becoming a deeply entrenched and protracted war. And if the Putin/ Ukraine conflict seems bogged down in carnage and lack of resolution, it’s likely nothing to the misadventure in violence that taking on the Houthis on the ground could prove to be. The immensely powerful, wealthy and well-equiped Saudis have been trying to anhiliate the Houthis since 2015 and, if anything, Houthi resolve and military abilities have only increased. Across the region of conflict the altercations have left 21.6 million people in desperate need of aid, including 11 million children and more than 4.5 milion are displaced.

After last night’s UK and US attacks, the Houthis have pledged significant reprisals, leaving the world to hold its breath over what might happen next, especially as most nations do not want another war breaking out with the potential of the whole region going up in flames.

Prime Minister Sunak is due to give a statement to parliament on Monday seeking to reassure MPs that UK involvement was ‘proportionate and legal’ and that the UK is not seeking to further escalate tensions in the region. One can’t help but feel that it’s a wee bit too late for that.

Back in 2003 similarly flawed thinking led the US and the UK to go charging in to Iraq (in response to the 9/11 attacks), in the belief that an attack would eliminate the al-Qaeda network and bring a stable state of democracy to the country. Instead a bloody civil war was unleashed that terrorised the region for years and cost hundreds of thousands of innocent lives, far more than even the most ardent of pacifists had predicted.

At the time Pope John Paul II made an impassioned plea for reason to prevail. In an address to membrs of the diplomatic corps at the Vatican on 13th January 2003, His Holiness said:

“NO TO WAR! War is not always inevitable. It is always a defeat for humanity. International law, honest dialogue, solidarity between States, the noble exercise of diplomacy: these are methods worthy of individuals and nations in resolving their differences.”

Two decades on those who claim to represent the best interests of the human family have still to learn this fundamental truth, that war is the result of a basic failure of human beings to talk out their differences, and to find peaceful ways to live together.

As a spokesperson for the Catholic peace organisation Pax Christi posted on X this morning: “Rishi Sunak is today pledging more arms to Ukraine. Our bombs have been dropped on Yemen. Are we sleep-walking to a world war?

“If the PM wants to enhance his political reputation, he’d seek peace through dialogue, not this futile aggression.”

It would be comforting to think that some lessons have been learnt about conflict resolution since the disaster of 2003, but unfortunately it really doesn’t look like it. In the words of the song:

“The sorrow, the suffering, the glory, the pain
The killing and dying were all done in vain, for … it all happened again
And again and again and again and again.”

(For information and to download resources for this Sunday – Peace Sunday – go to:

Joseph Kelly is a Catholic writer and thrologian