Yemen’s civil war has been labeled one of the worst modern-day humanitarian crises. In 2014 the Houthi tribal group in Yemen rebelled, the government of Yemen disintegrated, and Yemen, with no functioning government or effective rule of law, became a failed state. Saudi Arabia and Iran have intervened in the Yemen conflict, which has led to a prolonged war. This study seeks to examine why foreign states intervene in failed states and what effects foreign intervention has. I gathered and analyzed data on the history of the conflict, geopolitical and societal trends of each actor, empirical military, domestic, and economic data, and the beliefs and the rhetoric of each actor toward Yemen. I found that intervention in failed states, specifically Yemen, yields three potential opportunities for actors: the Opportunity for Security, in which foreign actors may perceive failed states to be security threats to their inhabitants and to neighboring countries; the Opportunity for Amplifying Power, in which actors who intervene can amplify their regional power by securing a swift victory at a low cost; and the Opportunity for Influence, in which foreign actors perceive intervention as low-risk and seek to influence the restructuring of the government in their favor. Given the opportunities, the incentive to intervene in a failed state is a powerful one. Results suggest that Saudi Arabia appears to be pursuing the Opportunity for Amplification, whereas Iran seems to be pursuing the Opportunity for Influence. By intervening in Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Iran may have exacerbated the conflict and plunged the failed state of Yemen into further instability.

Publication Date

Spring 2022

Journal Title

Inquiry Journal


Elizabeth Carter


Durham, NH: Hamel Center for Undergraduate Research, University of New Hampshire

Document Type