Writing at Harvard University’s “Iran Matters” website, Saudi analyst and government advisor Nawaf Obaid offers his take on the recent deal reached between Iran and the “5+1 group. In sum, while the Kingdom is always interested in international agreements that tend toward peaceful resolution of issues, it is wary about Iran’s expansionist foreign policy and the likelihood of its acquiring nuclear weapons.
The Iran deal: a view from Saudi Arabia
The fundamentals of Saudi foreign policy stem from its role as the cradle of Islam, the world’s central banker of energy and the Middle East’s economic and financial engine. As the birthplace of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) and the location of the religion’s two holiest sites, the Saudi Kingdom is in a unique standing vis-a-vis the more than 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide. This situation makes it incumbent on the Kingdom to remain extremely conservative at its core and outlook. This reality is enhanced by the Kingdom’s role as the world’s largest crude exporter. This has made Saudi Arabia the largest economy by far in the Middle East-North Africa region and the world’s third largest holder of foreign exchange reserves and is giving it the firepower to expend formidable financial and economic resources in assisting other nations in dire straits to maintain stability. The Kingdom’s enhanced role has generated an ever expanding foreign policy assertiveness that is being transformed from a primarily reactive based doctrine to a proactive one. The implications are that the Saudis will amalgamate political and financial incentives with an ever-growing military capability to sustain a forceful diplomacy to pursue vital national security imperatives.
Saudi Gazette runs a story from Reuters noting that Saudi Arabia is not concerned about a huge increase in US oil production. It believes global demand will continue to grow at such a pace that Saudi oil production can continue at it current rate and still be very profitable. Rather than seeing a smaller piece of the global petroleum pie, Saudi Arabia will be taking a piece of a much bigger pie.
(Reuters) DUBAI – Saudi Arabia remains unconcerned by surging US shale output, which threatens to eat into OPEC’s market share, and sees no need to cut production to support prices, Deputy Oil Minister Prince Abdulaziz Bin Salman Bin Abdulaziz told a conference in Dubai on Wednesday.
“We need to make sure that the world economy comes out decisively on a growth pattern and, if that can be established, I think that the world economic growth will be sufficient to handle growth from all sorts – shale oil, shale gas, tight oil and including renewable,” he said.
“The world economy over the long term will need every contribution of every source of energy available,” he said. “The kingdom welcomes new resources of energy supplies, as they are needed.”
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries expects global demand for its crude to fall in the next five years because of increasing supplies outside the 12-member group from the boom in shale energy and other sources, according to its annual World Oil Outlook.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed offers commentary on the current idea that Saudi Arabia will obtain nuclear weapons from Pakistan if Iran produces its own.
He notes that Iran cannot claim self-defense as a motive for nuclear weapons acquisition, but Saudi Arabia most certainly can. Iranian weapons directly threaten the Kingdom. Saudi Arabia will either have to obtain its own or have treaties with partners whom it can trust to reply to a nuclear attack on the Kingdom. Given that Saudi Arabia does not trust the US to act in the Saudi interest these days, that strongly implies that Saudi Arabia will acquire its own bombs.
Saudi Arabia’s nuclear bomb
There has been recent talk of Saudi Arabia’s supposed determination to buy a nuclear bomb from Pakistan. Firstly, is this even possible in light of the international agreements signed by both countries forbidding the owner of a nuclear weapon to transfer or sell it? This question is especially pertinent as Saudi Arabia is not allowed to manufacture such a weapon for military purposes. Secondly, would such nuclear weapon add any value to Saudi Arabia’s defense systems?
After buying Chinese missiles and after news of the secret deal was leaked, it was said that Saudi Arabia might use these missiles to carry nuclear warheads. However, in 1988 the kingdom signed a treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons aimed at limiting the spread of nuclear weapons technology. Saudi Arabia now abides to that treaty, along with 190 other countries. There have always been stories and skeptical media campaigns stating that Saudi Arabia intends to become a nuclear power. Such stories were supported by claims made by an employee who defected from the Saudi embassy in New York. He said that Saudi Arabia is building a nuclear bomb to support Iraq. Before that, a U.S. intelligence analyst had said that Saudi Arabia supported Pakistan’s nuclear project with an investment of $2 billion.
From Foreign Policy magazine, a piece discussing how Saudi Arabia — finding that the US is not a useful partner at the moment — is looking for their own solutions to what they consider serious international problems.
Saudi Arabia’s Shadow War
The Kingdom is turning to Pakistan to train Syria’s rebels. It’s a partnership that once went very wrong in Afghanistan. Will history repeat itself?
BEIRUT — Saudi Arabia, having largely abandoned hope that the United States will spearhead international efforts to topple the Assad regime, is embarking on a major new effort to train Syrian rebel forces. And according to three sources with knowledge of the program, Riyadh has enlisted the help of Pakistani instructors to do it.
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, along with the CIA, also supported the Afghan rebels against the Soviet-backed government during the 1980s. That collaboration contains a cautionary note for the current day: The fractured Afghan rebels were unable to govern after the old regime fell, paving the way for chaos and the rise of the Taliban. Some of the insurgents, meanwhile, transformed into al Qaeda and eventually turned their weapons against their former patrons.
While the risk of blowback has been discussed in Riyadh, Saudis with knowledge of the training program describe it as an antidote to extremism, not a potential cause of it. They have described the kingdom’s effort as having two goals — toppling the Assad regime, and weakening al Qaeda-linked groups in the country. Prince Turki, the former Saudi intelligence chief and envoy to Washington, said in a recent interview that the mainstream opposition must be strengthened so that it could protect itself “these extremists who are coming from all over the place” to impose their own ideologies on Syria.
Marc Lynch, professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University has a good piece in Foreign Policy magazine.
In it he notes the cynical, political use to which sectarian differences are used as a matter of identify politics rather than actual, theological differences. It’s worth a read.
The thrust of his piece is about the often-contrived conflict between Sunni and Shi’a populations. He mentions the tensions between Muslims and Christian Copts in Egypt. He might have expanded it to include the visceral, but unfounded hatred of Jews. Or, for that matter, the sense of some American fundamentalist Christians that Islam is the problem.
The Entrepreneurs of Cynical Sectarianism
A group of Syrian-Americans arrived at an academic conference at Lehigh University last week in Bashar al-Assad T-shirts and draped in Syrian flags adorned with Assad’s face. They repeatedly heckled and interrupted speakers, and one told an opposition figure that he deserved a bullet in the head. When a speaker showed a slide picturing dead Syrian children, they burst into loud applause. When another speaker cynically predicted that Bashar would win a 2014 presidential vote, they cheered. In the final session, they aggressively interrupted and denounced a Lebanese journalist, with one ultimately throwing his shoe at the stage. The panel degenerated into a screaming match, until police arrived to clear the room.
This spectacle might seem notable in that it unfolded at an American university, but otherwise it would pass for an alarmingly normal day at the office in today’s toxically polarized Middle East. Such intense mutual hostility, irreconcilable narratives, and public denunciations are typical of any number of highly polarized political arenas across the region. A similar scene between supporters and opponents of Egypt’s military coup is all too easily imagined — just add bullets. That’s why the disproportionate focus on sectarian conflict as the defining feature of the emerging Middle East seems dangerously misplaced. Sunni-Shiite tensions are only one manifestation of how a number of deeper trends have come together in recent years to give frightening new power to identity politics writ large.
Writing at pan-Arab Al-Hayat (here translated by Al Arabiya TV) Abdullah Hamidaddin goes after the ultra-facile ‘analysis’ of CNN commentator Fareed Zakaria. Zakaria, in my view, gets some things right in his global analyses. At other times, he gets them very wrong. His latest piece on Saudi Arabia and US-Saudi relations, alas, falls in the latter camp and Hamidaddin calls him on it.
Ranting or analyzing? Fareed Zakaria and Saudi foreign policy
Fareed Zakaria is a very influential media figure, but his understanding of the region is somewhat limited, and his approach to foreign policy analysis is quite immature. Both qualities featured in his recent Time Magazine article: “Zakaria: The Saudis Are Mad? Tough! Why we shouldn’t care that the world’s most irresponsible country is displeased at the U.S.”
Criticizing the foreign policies of any State is absolutely necessary. The one who benefits most is the target of the critique. But it is one thing to offer political critique and another to offer political ranting; which is what Zakaria did in his article. But the problem is not his rant, rather, the problem is that it would be taken as a serious political analysis. Saudi Arabia is stereotyped. And as a result people are allowed to think about it in certain ways, regardless of the facts. Worse still, people are allowed to analyze it nonsensically and still be taken seriously. This is a fundamental problem. If the logic which Zakaria used in his article was applied in an analysis of German or Russian foreign policy, it would become a laughing matter. But applying that logic to Saudi Arabia made it a political analysis.
He starts by saying: “America’s Middle East policies are failing, we are told, and the best evidence is that Saudi Arabia is furious.” And then he sarcastically says: “Surely the last measure of American foreign policy should be how it is received by the House of Saud.”
Over the last decade — and increasingly — there have been suppositions that, push come to shove, Saudi Arabia would be able to request nuclear weapons from Pakistan. The reasoning usually starts with the idea that Saudi Arabia provided much of the funding for Pakistan’s nuclear program. The fact that Saudi Arabia has publicly stated that it is not going to accept a nuclear Iran with equanimity adds to the equation.
Below is a link to an article from a security blog, Stratrisks, that explores the issue, based on the BBC’s “Newsnight” program.
Saudi Arabia has invested in Pakistani nuclear weapons projects, and believes it could obtain atomic bombs at will, a variety of sources have told BBC Newsnight.
While the kingdom’s quest has often been set in the context of countering Iran’s atomic programme, it is now possible that the Saudis might be able to deploy such devices more quickly than the Islamic republic.
Earlier this year, a senior Nato decision maker told me that he had seen intelligence reporting that nuclear weapons made in Pakistan on behalf of Saudi Arabia are now sitting ready for delivery.
Last month Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israeli military intelligence, told a conference in Sweden that if Iran got the bomb, “the Saudis will not wait one month. They already paid for the bomb, they will go to Pakistan and bring what they need to bring.”
Since 2009, when King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia warned visiting US special envoy to the Middle East Dennis Ross that if Iran crossed the threshold, “we will get nuclear weapons”, the kingdom has sent the Americans numerous signals of its intentions.
Al Arabiya TV runs an Associated Press report saying the Pres. Obama intends to nominate Joseph Wesphal as ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Westphal, currently Under Secretary of the Army, is a consummate Washington insider. He has an academic background as well as a range of experience with both the legislative and executive branches of the US government. He is not, however, a Middle East expert.
The publishing of the announcement suggests that the US government has already received agrément from the Saudis and that, following Senate confirmation, he will be the next ambassador in Riyadh.
Obama picks ambassadors to Saudi Arabia, Hungary
Associated Press, Washington
President Barack Obama is nominating a top Defense Department official to become the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia.
The White House announcement Wednesday comes as tensions mount between the two countries over Obama administration policy toward Syria, Iran and Egypt.
Obama says he intends to nominate Joseph William Westphal to fill the critical Middle Eastern diplomatic post. Westphal has been undersecretary of the Army since 2009.
Writing at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Anthony Cordesman says that the recent flaps concerning US-Saudi relations and Saudi Arabia’s renunciation of a seat on the UNSC are perfectly understandable and should have been expected.
Saudi Arabia, he argues, is acting rationally in the face of manifold threats, both foreign and, given Saudi demographics, internal. It sees itself endangered by discord in many of the countries surrounding it as well as by an aggressive Iranian foreign policy. At the same time, it must deal with the fact that as more young Saudis — female as well as male — enter the job market, there must be jobs.
There is no doubt, however, that the Saudi government sees American reaction to the threats as insufficient, if not utterly naive.
The whole, brief piece is worth reading.
Saudi Arabia and the Arab “Frontline” States
Anthony H Cordesman
The United States needs to rethink its attitudes and polices towards Saudi Arabia and the Arab “frontline” states. The “Arab spring” has not become some sudden window to democratic reform. It has instead unleashed a broad pattern of regional instability in an area already deeply destabilized by extremism and terrorism, growing religious struggles between Sunni and other sects as well as between Sunni extremists and moderates, the U.S. invasion of Iraq and its removal as a military counterbalance to Iran, a growing Iranian set of threats at every level, and massive demographic pressures on weak structures of governance and economic development.
The day may come some years in the future where the resulting convulsions in states like Egypt, Libya, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen produce the conditions for effective reform: political parties capable of producing effective leaders and governance, politics based on compromise rather than a history of conspiracy and winner’s take all, elections that produce national rather than ethnic and sectarian tensions, and a rule of law rather than winner takes all and repression. Today, however, upheavals mean political instability and violence, massive new economic problems, power struggles, repression and refugees. The issue is not democracy and the more ideal human rights, it is the most basic set of human rights: security and the ability to lead a safe and secure life.
Saudi Arabia is again warning young men away from going to Syria to take part in jihad. This time, it’s the Grand Mufti, Sheikh Abdulaziz Al-Asheikh who’s doing the lecturing. His target are clerics who are not only theologically wrong, in his view, but also hypocrites, urging young men to go off to fight, but not their own sons. As far as the Saudi government is concerned, a call to legitimate jihad can come only from the government; it is not an individual decision or duty. Since Saudi Arabia has not declared for jihad in Syria, going there to fight is illegitimate, with no room to quibble.
RIYADH – Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al-Asheikh has urged youths to refrain from fighting in Syria.
“This is all wrong, it’s not obligatory,” he said, in reference to Saudi men joining a civil war that is now into its third year, Al-Hayat Arabic daily reported.
Delivering a lecture on “Deviation among the youth: Causes and ways to address them” at Imam Turki Bin Abdullah Mosque in Riyadh on Saturday, the Grand Mufti warned preachers against encouraging young men to fight in Syria during their sermons.
He criticized some preachers who encourage and lure youths to wage holy war (jihad) but prevent their sons from doing the same.
“Muslim should be fearful of God and not deceive young Muslims and exploit their weakness and lack of insight and push them to an abyss. I ask them (preachers) to advise (young people) as they would advise their sons,”
Asheikh said, adding that it is not good to incite others to do evil and at the same prevent their sons from doing it.
The Washington Post picks up on a Reuter’s news story about a rift in US-Saudi relations. The Post article notes six factors that serve to push the two countries apart, starting with Egypt, Syria, and Iran, but also including oil markets, Afghanistan, and Iraq (plus two that draw them together). The Saudis see the US as trying to treat the events in Syria and the US seeking rapprochement with Iran as two separate issues where the Saudis believe them to be one and the same: Iran’s extension of its power in the region.
Still, the US and Saudi Arabia have very much the same interest when it comes to terrorism and the fight against it. Both will continue to cooperate, whether in Afghanistan or Yemen, in Syria or the greater Arab world to quash the influence of Al-Qaeda.
Ever since the United States and Saudi Arabia fell into something of an alliance in the late 1970s, the world’s most unlikely partnership has had lots of down moments. Another big one came this weekend, when Saudi intelligence chief Bandar Bin Sultan Al-Saud told European diplomats that his country would step back from cooperating with the United States on Syria, according to the Wall Street Journal and Reuters. Bandar said that his country’s recent decision to refuse a seat at the U.N. Security Council was meant as a show of public protest against the U.S.
This very public Saudi jab at the U.S. is the latest in a series of increasingly frequent disputes between the longtime allies. They are probably not on the verge of breaking up, as observers have been predicting since 1990, when the kingdom was roiled by popular outrage against the alliance. But many of the mutual interests that have brought the two countries together seem to be falling apart.
Here’s a partial list of those interests and how they’re changing in ways that could turn the two countries against one another, very roughly ranked from the biggest disagreement to the smallest. The first six are bad news for the relationship, the last two are good news:
Writing for Asharq Alawsat, Amir Taheri offers his analysis of Saudi Arabia’s startling rejection of an invitation to join the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member. His parsing of the rejection accords with the official Saudi statement: The UNSC has become dysfunctional and can no longer fulfill its role in seeking global peace and security; to join it would be to lend Saudi support and the Saudi voice to a nullity.
Saudi Arabia apparently believes that it has a greater ability to influence events outside the council than it would within it, where it would be encouraged, if not forced, to go along with positions it finds both distasteful and ineffective. Relying on its support outside the council, it can better argue its positions.
London, Asharq AL-Awsat—Call it diplomatic jujitsu, if you like. But what Saudi Arabia did with regards to its non-consummated membership of the United Nation’s Security Council, is a classic example of reversing a move to surprise an adversary.
Well, let’s begin with a brief account of what happened.
Although one of the founders of the United Nations, Saudi Arabia has always shied away from seeking a non-permanent seat on the Security Council. The council is the UN’s chief policy-making body and the two-year rotating membership could have given Saudi Arabia an opportunity to inject a new tone in the international debate on several key issues.
On at least four previous occasions, the Saudis were pressed by regional allies to seek a seat but declined, preferring to nurture a low-profile cautious approach to international affairs.
As a member, the Kingdom would have had several obvious advantages, most notably due to its close—or at least good—relations with all five permanent Security Council members. This could have served as a great help in allowing one’s voice to be heard in the Security Council.
However, Saudi Arabia decided to decline membership in order to register a strong protest against the dysfunctionality of the Security Council with special reference to the Syrian tragedy. In a statement, the Saudi Foreign Ministry said the council had failed in its duties on Syria and other world conflicts.
“Work mechanisms and double standard on the Security Council prevent it from carrying out its duties and assuming its responsibilities in keeping world peace,” the statement said. “Therefore, Saudi Arabia has no other option but to turn down Security Council membership until it is reformed and given the means to accomplish its duties and assume its responsibilities in preserving world peace and security.”