Can bombing ease tensions in the Red Sea?
Published: Mar 02, 2024 01:50 PM
Photo: CFP

Photo: CFP

The Red Sea, one of the busiest shipping routes for global trade, has been churning since the end of last year. In November 2023, in a show of support for the Palestinians, the Houthis in Yemen launched attacks on ships "linked to Israel" passing through the Red Sea. In the following months, the US and the UK carried out large-scale airstrikes on military targets and infrastructure in Yemen, further escalating tensions in the region. 

The impact of tensions in the Red Sea is not limited to this region, but has been felt across the world, as the Red Sea-Suez Canal route is crucial for the international shipping of goods and energy - more than 20,000 big cargo vessels take this route annually. Harassment of civilian ships by the Houthis and violent response from the US and the UK have seriously jeopardized the security of shipping lanes and hence destabilized global production and supply chains. ING statistics show that in early January 2024, 90 percent of the container ships on this route were forced to change course, causing several weeks of delays in ocean-going supplies and a sharp rise in freight rates. Unsurprisingly, when a main shipping artery "malfunctions," the global market suffers from a stroke, if not a long-time paralysis.

Harassing civilian vessels on international waters is wrong. But it is also a gross violation of international law to bomb a sovereign country without authorization from the UN Security Council. The attacks by the US and the UK run counter to the spirit of "exercising prudence and restraint" manifested in numerous UN Security Council resolutions on international and regional conflicts. The status of the US already being a party to the conflict with the Houthis also deprives it of the excuse of "self-defense." But still, the US resorted to its typical way of conflict resolution - violence.

Any reasonable person would know that reckless military action never helps protect the safety of commercial vessels, freedom of navigation or human rights. Military strikes that test the other side's red line never bring peace or prosperity, but only cause more civilian casualties and worsen the security dilemma. Using violence may be cruel, but it is efficient in international relations, in the eyes of cynical US politicians. Maybe from the US perspective, the world is one big jungle and "elephants" can reach for fruit however they see fit, even if by stamping on countless "ants."

If you review the overseas operations of the US carefully, you will find that unilateral bombing is a habitual US reaction to the "troubles" it encountered. In March 1999, more than 2,000 innocent civilians were killed and nearly 1 million displaced as a result of NATO bombings in the Balkans, which were conducted without a UN mandate. Over 31,000 depleted uranium bombs were dropped, causing a surge in cancer and leukemia in the region. 

From 2016 to 2019, 3,833 civilians in Syria were killed directly by bombings of the US-led coalition, and half of the victims were women and children. According to the US Public Broadcasting Service, the so-called "most accurate air strikes in history" on the city of Raqqa alone resulted in the deaths of 1,600 Syrian civilians. Ironically, all those efforts to "prevent humanitarian crises from happening" ended up creating humanitarian disasters. The New York Times, citing more than 1,300 classified Pentagon documents, said that a large portion of airstrikes launched by the US since 2014 had "serious intelligence flaws," such as sloppy and hasty reconnaissance, unclear targets and deaths of countless innocent civilians, including children. 

Do we have a way out of this vicious cycle? Yes, if we discard the US way and get back on the right track.

First, address the root cause of tension. Deescalate the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by advancing the two-state solution and effectively implementing relevant UN resolutions.

Second, he who tied the knot should untie it. Parties directly involved, namely Israel, Hamas and the Houthis need to exercise restraint and think rationally. Displacing the Palestinian people and forcing them to migrate is morally wrong, and endless strategic blackmail will only drag the situation into an abyss.

Third, major powers should play a responsible role. Countries like the US need to change their mindset and strive to shift the global agenda from "war and peace" to "development and prosperity," rather than taking advantage of chaos out of self-interest. 

In fact, it is not so difficult for the US to contribute - it only needs to put aside its greed and obsession, and translate its rhetoric about protecting human rights and so on into action.

The author is a commentator on international affairs, writing regularly for Xinhua News, CGTN, China Daily, Global Times, etc. He can be reached at xinping604@gmail.com.