This impoverished country claims that the SCUDs are for defensive purposes, but what enemies and what targets exist within the 840-mile range of the SCUD D (North Korean "No Dong") missile? The Yemeni SCUDs are either a threat to American interests, a threat to America's enemies, being funneled out the back door to a third party or simply another card for President Selah to tuck away (which would cover the first and second choices).
As long as Selah's government retains control of these SCUDs, there seems to be little threat to American interests or allies. Selah owes a huge debt to the Americans from the 1994 who, after some initial dithering, swung decisively in favor of unity and told the Saudis to stop interfering. Yemen's neighbor Saudi Arabia may be a source of funding for the Islamic militants that threaten Selah's government, so it would behoove Yemen's president to protect himself against regional enemies without appearing to be an American puppet.
It helps to remember what sort of targets SCUDs are used against - large, immovable objects, like cities and military bases. The Yemeni Socialist Party [YSP], which used to rule south Yemen, had six SCUD B launchers as early as 1989. Saana inherited these SCUDs from South Yemen, after it united with the pro-Western North in 1990. During the 1994 Yemeni Civil War, the southern rebels volleyed SCUDs into northern cities several times and racked up a few score civilian casualties. The SCUD missiles seized on 10 December 2002 were allegedly part of that old deal that the YSP had signed with North Korea in 1994. After the YSP defeat, the central government in Sanaa tried to recoup the YSP funds paid on several of their arms deals, but were unsuccessful with the North Koreans.
Using conventional High Explosive warheads, SCUDs would have a limited impact against Yemen's most-dangerous enemies. Sure, they'll hurt infrastructure and scare the daylights out of civilians, but it's not an Apocalyptic "bolt from the blue" unless the warhead is chemical, biological or nuclear. Yemen has no known capability or access to biological or nuclear weapons, and while there were rebel accusations of chemical weapons use in the 1994 Civil War, Yemen has no confirmed CW program and any stocks they might have are thought to be no longer effective.
Only Eritrea and the American base in Djibouti are within range of the SCUD-Bs. Israel's cities are out of range of the SCUD-Ds and so is the vast majority of Egypt (who used mustard and phosgene on Yemeni tribesmen in 1963-1967), while all of Ethiopia and the oil-rich eastern half of Sudan are covered. If moved to the northeastern most corner of Yemen, the SCUD D's could reach southern Kuwait and all of the other Gulf states south to the Strait of Hormuz. They could also cover 80 percent of Saudi Arabia.
According to a dubious 1998 Congressional task force on terrorism report, Iraq originally transferred some of its SCUDs to Sudan in 1990 -1991. The Sudan also has it's own SCUDs, part of a 1996 $200 million arms deal with China. In September 1997, the former Sudanese Embassy Administrative Attache in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia wrote that 60 SCUDs were acquired with the aim of striking Asmara, the regimes stated justification being that Eritrea harbored Sudanese opposition groups. He also claimed that the Sudanese government had previously obtained sophisticated chemical weapons from Iran, with the assistance of Iraqi experts, to be used in striking Sudan Alliance Forces (SAF) in eastern Sudan and the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA) in the South, following the massive defeats of the NIF militias that are defending the Khartoum regime.
In October 1999, the North Koreans offered the Sudan a SCUD missile assembly (or repair/rebuild) plant. Iraq may have paid as much as $400 million to construct this plant, the funds coming from the $1 billion a year Iraq earns by smuggling oil through the Persian Gulf. The Sudan may get as much as half of the Iraqi money as fees for letting the plant be built in their country. The facility near Khartoum would enable Iraq to refurbish the old missiles stored in Sudan, and to build new longer-range missiles. The North Koreans would build, staff, and operate the plant, and the assembled SCUDs were to be held in Sudan for Iraq's future use. This would not necessarily prohibit their use by Sudan.
While Yemen and Sudan have been in bed together on some recent arms deals, alliances in that part of the world can swing back and forth with the wind. Selah's SCUDs can serve as a prudent counterbalance to the Sudan's.
Could Yemen be acting as a 'straw man' purchaser, for either Libya or Iraq? This would certainly explain the secrecy of the last two shipments. The Tokyo Koydo news service speculated that some of Yemen's SCUD purchases might be going out the back door to Libya, since a UN resolution limited arms exports to Libya. In 1987, Libya launched two SCUD-Bs at a US Navy base on the Italian island of Lampedusa. SCUD-Cs could reach targets in Sicily and southern Greece, while SCUD-D's could reach American bases in Italy. With peripheral threats like these in the region, where Selah's SCUDs warrants close attention. - Adam Geibel
Additional readings, online:
Overview of Weapons of Mass Destruction Capabilities in the Middle East and South Asia
Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Middle East: Yemen
According to Jane's Defense Weekly, Yemen currently has 18 SCUD-B surface to surface missiles in their arsenal. American spy satellite images suggest ships that carried SCUD missile containers and fuel tanks left North Korea in 1999 and 2000, docking in Yemen (which Jane's claims were SCUD-C shipments). With the November and December boatloads of missiles, Yemen may have as many as 60 different SCUDs. This stockpiling begs the question "what do they need them for?" and "why hide the last two shipments?".