Fact Sheet

Yemen Overview

Yemen Overview

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This page is part of Yemen’s Country Profile.

Yemen is not known to have biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons and has been a member in good standing of many major treaties and organizations governing their acquisition and use. However, Yemen possesses Scud and Scud-variant ballistic missiles, the latter of which it purchased from North Korea. Additionally, Yemen’s ongoing civil war renders its current and future status vis-a-vis the nonproliferation regime ambiguous.

Situated in an important strategic location on the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen’s political stability has frequently been undermined by Islamist terror organizations and civil wars, which have been further aggravated by the direct military involvement of neighbors such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt. 1 The country has been embroiled in its most recent political crisis since 2011, with civil war erupting in 2015. 2 Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh was forced to resign and go into exile following mass protests against his leadership in 2012. 3 Saleh’s vice president, Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, held the presidency until 2015, when Houthi forces took the capital, Sana’a. 4 A coalition of Gulf Arab states led by Saudi Arabia began bombing the Houthi militias in 2015.

As of mid-2016, territorial control of Yemen is divided, with the country split into areas controlled by the Houthis, the Hadi-led government, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and the Islamic State. The Houthis, also referred to as Ansar Allah, have set up a transitional revolutionary council led by Mohammad Ali al-Houthi. 5 Former president Hadi has established a temporary capital in Aden with the support of Saudi Arabia and loyalist forces. The United Nations, the United States, and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) do not recognize the Houthi leadership in Yemen. 6 Yemen’s failed state status, which has given safe havens to several Islamist terror organizations, poses grave proliferation and terrorism concerns.


Yemen is a non-nuclear weapon state party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), and is not known to be pursuing nuclear weapons. It has signed, but not ratified, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). 7 Although past governments expressed an interest in nuclear power, Yemen does not have nuclear reactors and lacks other significant civil nuclear capabilities. The National Atomic Energy Commission of Yemen collaborated with the IAEA in creating a first draft of a comprehensive nuclear law relating to a civil nuclear program in 2007. However, due to the deteriorating security situation in Yemen at that time, the IAEA and Yemen were not able to progress further with the draft law. 8


Yemen does not possess biological weapons, and is not known to have pursued them. The country is a party to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Conventions (BTWC). 9


Yemen possesses an unknown number of Soviet-origin Scud ballistic missiles and North Korean Scud-variants (Hwasong ballistic missiles), most of which are believed to be under Houthi control. Yemen recently used these missiles against Israel on November 14th, 2023, under Houthi command. 10 By December 18th, 2023, the Houthi commanded missiles had also been used to attack vessels transiting the Red Sea, prompting international responses to secure trade lanes in the region. 11  When the ongoing civil war began in 2015, Yemen was believed to possess approximately 300 Scud missiles, but a Saudi-led coalition bombardment reportedly destroyed approximately 80% of these missiles. 12 13

Before Yemen was united in May 1990, the Yemen Arab Republic, or North Yemen, purchased Soviet-made SS-21 missiles. The SS-21, or Scarab, is a short-range ballistic missile that can travel up to 70 kilometers. Reports indicate North Yemen may have purchased up to 80 Scarabs. During the same period, the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, also known as South Yemen, acquired Frog-7 and Scud-B missiles from the Soviet Union, as well as six Scud launchers. 14 The Frog-7 is the much less accurate predecessor to the Soviet SS-21 Scarab with similar payload and range capabilities. The Scud-B is a short-range ballistic missile that can travel up to 950 kilometers, but is highly inaccurate, at times landing up to 900 meters from its target. 15 16

Yemen began purchasing Scud missiles from North Korea in the 1990s. 17 In 2003 the Sosan, a North Korean ship, was intercepted and discovered to be carrying 15 Hwasong ballistic missiles, which are a variant of the Scud-B possessing a longer range and reduced payload capacity, destined for Yemen. Yemen claimed the purchase was legal and the shipment was permitted to proceed. Although Yemen was threatened with sanctions by the United States for its involvement with missile proliferation, no sanctions were levied due to Yemen’s cooperation with the United States in combating terrorism. No further missile shipments have been interdicted since 2003. 18

Various Yemeni forces have utilized the Scud missiles since their acquisition. During the Yemeni Civil War of 1994, South Yemeni forces launched Scud missiles at Sana’a while the North launched Scuds at Aden. 19 During the current Yemeni Civil War, Houthi rebels have employed Scud missiles against Saudi Arabia on multiple occasions. 20 In a UNSC report made public in January 2016, the UN Panel of Experts on Yemen state there have been numerous missile attacks, originating from Yemen, launched at cities in southwest Saudi Arabia. Technical characteristics indicate they were Hwasong 6 (also known as Scud-C) ballistic missiles acquired from the DPRK. Yemen allegedly purchased a total of 45 of these missiles. In the same report the Saudi government claims that it has shot down more than 40 percent of all missiles launched against its territory. 21

Although the pre-civil war government of Yemen claimed the Scud missiles were for self-defense and would not be transferred to a third-party, the ongoing civil war has rendered their current and future chain-of-custody problematic, raising significant proliferation and terrorism concerns.


Yemen does not possess chemical weapons, nor is it known to have ever pursued a chemical weapons program. The country is a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). 22

During the North Yemen Civil War (1962-1970), Egyptian forces launched a chemical warfare campaign from 1963 to 1967, killing hundreds of Yemeni civilians. 23 The civil war was between royalists from the incumbent regime and revolutionary republican forces, who established the Yemen Arab Republic in 1962. 24 Foreign entities became involved in the conflict, with Egypt providing troops and supplies to the revolutionaries and Saudi Arabia and Jordan supporting the royalists. 25 The conflict intensified in 1963, with all foreign forces increasing the number of deployed troops in Yemen. Even though Egypt is a signatory to the Geneva Convention, it repeatedly deployed mustard gas against royalist villages from 1963 through 1967. 26

In 2014, the Yemeni Ministry of Legal Affairs published a law titled “On the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling, and Use of Chemical Weapons” in an effort to ensure domestic legislation was aligned with Yemen’s international legal commitments. 27

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Biological weapon (BW)
Biological weapons use microorganisms and natural toxins to produce disease in humans, animals, or plants.  Biological weapons can be derived from: bacteria (anthrax, plague, tularemia); viruses (smallpox, viral hemorrhagic fevers); rickettsia (Q fever and epidemic typhus); biological toxins (botulinum toxin, staphylococcus enterotoxin B); and fungi (San Joaquin Valley fever, mycotoxins). These agents can be deployed as biological weapons when paired with a delivery system, such as a missile or aerosol device.
Chemical Weapon (CW)
The CW: The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons defines a chemical weapon as any of the following: 1) a toxic chemical or its precursors; 2) a munition specifically designed to deliver a toxic chemical; or 3) any equipment specifically designed for use with toxic chemicals or munitions. Toxic chemical agents are gaseous, liquid, or solid chemical substances that use their toxic properties to cause death or severe harm to humans, animals, and/or plants. Chemical weapons include blister, nerve, choking, and blood agents, as well as non-lethal incapacitating agents and riot-control agents. Historically, chemical weapons have been the most widely used and widely proliferated weapon of mass destruction.
Nuclear weapon
Nuclear weapon: A device that releases nuclear energy in an explosive manner as the result of nuclear chain reactions involving fission, or fission and fusion, of atomic nuclei. Such weapons are also sometimes referred to as atomic bombs (a fission-based weapon); or boosted fission weapons (a fission-based weapon deriving a slightly higher yield from a small fusion reaction); or hydrogen bombs/thermonuclear weapons (a weapon deriving a significant portion of its energy from fusion reactions).
Scud is the designation for a series of short-range ballistic missiles developed by the Soviet Union in the 1950s and transferred to many other countries. Most theater ballistic missiles developed and deployed in countries of proliferation concern, for example Iran and North Korea, are based on the Scud design.
Ballistic missile
A delivery vehicle powered by a liquid or solid fueled rocket that primarily travels in a ballistic (free-fall) trajectory.  The flight of a ballistic missile includes three phases: 1) boost phase, where the rocket generates thrust to launch the missile into flight; 2) midcourse phase, where the missile coasts in an arc under the influence of gravity; and 3) terminal phase, in which the missile descends towards its target.  Ballistic missiles can be characterized by three key parameters - range, payload, and Circular Error Probable (CEP), or targeting precision.  Ballistic missiles are primarily intended for use against ground targets.
Nonproliferation: Measures to prevent the spread of biological, chemical, and/or nuclear weapons and their delivery systems. See entry for Proliferation.
Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT)
The NPT: Signed in 1968, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) is the most widely adhered-to international security agreement. The “three pillars” of the NPT are nuclear disarmament, nonproliferation, and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Article VI of the NPT commits states possessing nuclear weapons to negotiate in good faith toward halting the arms race and the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. The Treaty stipulates that non-nuclear-weapon states will not seek to acquire nuclear weapons, and will accept International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards on their nuclear activities, while nuclear weapon states commit not to transfer nuclear weapons to other states. All states have a right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and should assist one another in its development. The NPT provides for conferences of member states to review treaty implementation at five-year intervals. Initially of a 25-year duration, the NPT was extended indefinitely in 1995. For additional information, see the NPT.
Ratification: The implementation of the formal process established by a country to legally bind its government to a treaty, such as approval by a parliament. In the United States, treaty ratification requires approval by the president after he or she has received the advice and consent of two-thirds of the Senate. Following ratification, a country submits the requisite legal instrument to the treaty’s depository governments Procedures to ratify a treaty follow its signature.

See entries for Entry into force and Signature.
Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT)
The CTBT: Opened for signature in 1996 at the UN General Assembly, the CTBT prohibits all nuclear testing if it enters into force. The treaty establishes the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) to ensure the implementation of its provisions and verify compliance through a global monitoring system upon entry into force. Pending the treaty’s entry into force, the Preparatory Commission of the CTBTO is charged with establishing the International Monitoring System (IMS) and promoting treaty ratifications. CTBT entry into force is contingent on ratification by 44 Annex II states. For additional information, see the CTBT.
Nuclear reactor
Nuclear reactor: A vessel in which nuclear fission may be sustained and controlled in a chain nuclear reaction. The varieties are many, but all incorporate certain features, including: fissionable or fissile fuel; a moderating material (unless the reactor is operated on fast neutrons); a reflector to conserve escaping neutrons; provisions of removal of heat; measuring and controlling instruments; and protective devices.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
IAEA: Founded in 1957 and based in Vienna, Austria, the IAEA is an autonomous international organization in the United Nations system. The Agency’s mandate is the promotion of peaceful uses of nuclear energy, technical assistance in this area, and verification that nuclear materials and technology stay in peaceful use. Article III of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) requires non-nuclear weapon states party to the NPT to accept safeguards administered by the IAEA. The IAEA consists of three principal organs: the General Conference (of member states); the Board of Governors; and the Secretariat. For additional information, see the IAEA.
Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC)
The BTWC: The Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction (BTWC) prohibits the development, production, or stockpiling of bacteriological and toxin weapons. Countries must destroy or divert to peaceful purposes all agents, toxins, weapons, equipment, and means of delivery within nine months after the entry into force of the convention. The BTWC was opened for signature on April 10, 1972, and entered into force on March 26, 1975. In 1994, the BTWC member states created the Ad Hoc Group to negotiate a legally binding BTWC Protocol that would help deter violations of the BTWC. The draft protocol outlines a monitoring regime that would require declarations of dual-use activities and facilities, routine visits to declared facilities, and short-notice challenge investigations. For additional information, see the BTWC.
Punitive measures, for example economic in nature, implemented in response to a state's violation of its international obligations.
Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC)
The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) requires each state party to declare and destroy all the chemical weapons (CW) and CW production facilities it possesses, or that are located in any place under its jurisdiction or control, as well as any CW it abandoned on the territory of another state. The CWC was opened for signature on 13 January 1993, and entered into force on 29 April 1997. For additional information, see the CWC.
The positioning of military forces – conventional and/or nuclear – in conjunction with military planning.
Geneva Protocol
Geneva Protocol: Formally known as the Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare, this protocol prohibits the use in war of asphyxiating, poisonous, or other gases, and bans bacteriological warfare. It was opened for signature on 17 June 1925. For additional information, see the Geneva Protocol.
Mustard (HD)
Mustard is a blister agent, or vesicant. The term mustard gas typically refers to sulfur mustard (HD), despite HD being neither a mustard nor a gas. Sulfur mustard gained notoriety during World War I for causing more casualties than all of the other chemical agents combined. Victims develop painful blisters on their skin, as well as lung and eye irritation leading to potential pulmonary edema and blindness. However, mustard exposure is usually not fatal. A liquid at room temperature, sulfur mustard has been delivered using artillery shells and aerial bombs. HD is closely related to the nitrogen mustards (HN-1, HN-2, HN—3).


  1. Gardner, Frank, “Yemen Crisis: An Iranian-Saudi Battleground?” BBC, 25 March 2015, www.bbc.com.
  2. Gardner, Frank. “Torn in Two: Yemen Divided,” BBC, 24 December 2015, www.bbc.com.
  3. Kasinof, Laura, “Yemen’s President Cedes Authority with Election, but Hopes to Retain Influence,” The New York Times, 20 February 2012.
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  10. “Yemen’s Houthis Say They Fired Ballistic Missiles towards Israel,” Al Jazeera, November 14, 2023.
  11. “Yemen’s Houthis say they attacked two more vessels in the Red Sea,” Al Jazeera, December 18, 2023.
  12. Al-Shihri, Abdullah, “Houthi Rebels Fire Scud Missile from Yemen into Saudi Arabia,” The Washington Post, 6 June 2015.
  13. “Letter Dated 22 January 2016 from the Panel of Experts on Yemen Established Pursuant to Security Council Resolution 2140 (2014) Addressed to the President of the Security Council,” United Nations, 26 January 2016.
  14. Platt, Alan, Arms Control and Confidence Building in the Middle East, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Institute of Peace, 1992.
  15. “R-11 / SS-1B SCUD-A R-300 9K72 Elbrus / SS-1C SCUD-B.” R-11 / SS-1B SCUD-B, accessed 16 June 2016, http://fas.org.
  16. “FROG-7A (3R-11, 9K21, 9M21, R-65) FROG-7B (9K52, 9M52, R-70), Luna-M,” FROG-7A (3R-11, 9K21, 9M21, R-65), FROG-7B (9K52, 9M52, R-70), Luna-M, accessed 16 June 2016, http://fas.org.
  17. Kerr, Paul, “U.S. Stops, Then Releases Shipment of N. Korean Missiles,” Arms Control Today 33, no. 1 (January 2003): 25.
  18. “Letter Dated 22 January 2016 from the Panel of Experts on Yemen Established Pursuant to Security Council Resolution 2140 (2014) Addressed to the President of the Security Council,” United Nations, 26 January 2016, www.securitycouncilreport.org.
  19. “Letter Dated 22 January 2016 from the Panel of Experts on Yemen Established Pursuant to Security Council Resolution 2140 (2014) Addressed to the President of the Security Council,” United Nations, 26 January 2016, www.securitycouncilreport.org.
  20. “Saudis ‘intercept’ Scud Missile Fired from Yemen,” Al Jazeera, 27 December 2015.
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  23. Orkaby, Asher, “Forgotten Gas Attacks in Yemen Haunt Syria Crisis,” Bloomberg View, 15 September 2013, www.bloombergview.com.
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  26. Orkaby, Asher, “Forgotten Gas Attacks in Yemen Haunt Syria Crisis,” Bloomberg View, 15 September 2013, www.bloombergview.com.
  27. “Strengthening Chemical Weapons Convention Compliance in Yemen through National Legislation,” CRDF Global, 3 December 2014, www.crdfglobal.org.


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