ABSTRACT

The campaign in South Arabia between 1962 and 1967 represented the most distinct turning point in the lineage of British counter-insurgency since Malaya. It caused a disjuncture in terms of how counter-insurgency was planned, executed and ultimately concluded. There are five discernable reasons as to why British military operations in South Arabia and the protectorate of Aden changed the rules of the asymmetric game. First, it marked for the first time in contemporary British counter-insurgency operations the complete supremacy of political priorities over military necessities, above and beyond the inherent politicised exigencies of counter-insurgency strategy. The political decision to publicly announce a withdrawal from South Arabia and Aden before the military objectives had been achieved denoted a seismic shift in the civil–military relationship over strategic planning in an asymmetric conflict environment. Second, counterinsurgency operations were politically motivated not solely by unfolding events on the ground, but were partially driven by unfulfilled vendettas and vengeful ploys for redemption emanating from Whitehall. The spectre of Suez provided a strategic straightjacket for operations in South Arabia. Britain's 1956 humbling by Colonel Nasser became a primary reference point for the political considerations surrounding the South Arabian campaign, for both hawks who saw Yemen as an opportunity to purge the memories of the humiliation of Suez, and for the doves who held Suez up as a cautionary tale of imperialist meddling in Arab affairs. Third, the British army had not hitherto fought an insurgent group with such an overt level of supplies and solidarity from an external source. The permeation of Nasser's influence, munitions and troops into Yemen sculpted the political and military nature of the conflict. Whereas in Malaya and Kenya the paucity of external funding and weaponry significantly hindered the longevity of the insurgency, in Yemen the constant stream of Egyptian arms ensured that a military victory for the British could not be guaranteed with the assurance it had in previous conflicts. Fourth, never before had the international political dimension played such a significant part in shaping British thinking. Pressure from the United States and the United Nations weighed heavily on the minds of those controlling policy in South Arabia, whilst the Six Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbours in June 1967 impacted upon Nasser's ability and willingness to divert Egyptian military resources to unsettling the British presence. Finally, 73South Arabia represented for the first time in the post-Second World War era an example of the British conducting a sizeable portion of their counter-insurgency operations covertly, with official political denial they were taking place. This was a by-product of both the delicate international situation and of the secretive Whitehall scheming to undermine Egyptian influence. This chapter will help unravel the significance of these intertwined themes and signify the relevance of the factors that impacted on the outcome of this one campaign to the broader sweep of British counter-insurgency experience.