Dr. Mason is lecturer in political science at the British University in Egypt. His most recent book is International Politics of the Arab Spring: Popular Unrest and Foreign Policy (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014). This research formed the foundation of a presentation given at the World Congress of Middle Eastern Studies at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara on August 22, 2014.
Over the past decade, formerly close U.S.-Saudi relations have been under immense political pressure, in private and increasingly in the public media, as the two governments have dealt with the consequences of the 9/11 attacks, the 2003 Iraq War and the Arab Spring. However, there are significant U.S. interests at stake in the Middle East that require Washington to maintain at least a working relationship with Riyadh:
• Guaranteeing Israeli national security through the implementation of the two-state solution
• Ensuring the security of petroleum exports from the Gulf, which still contribute to the stability and growth of the U.S. and global economies
• Maintaining and enhancing nonproliferation norms, and curtailing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) stockpiles in the Middle East and internationally
• Broadening and deepening counterterrorism cooperation, in particular with Saudi Arabia, a country through which most Muslims pass at least once in their lives for Hajj or Umra
• Projecting power beyond the region into new or existing theaters of operation
Still, the U.S.-Saudi relationship has accumulated a series of irritants that have increasingly challenged the national-security objectives of the Saudi ruling family:
• Regional insecurity during and following the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003
• The ouster of Al Saud ally President Mubarak in Egypt and the Obama administration's support for President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood (which King Abdullah regards as a terrorist organization1)
• The Obama administration's noninterventionist policies on Syria
• A possible P5+1 deal with Iran over its nuclear program, which could facilitate a U.S.-Iranian diplomatic rapprochement
• The lack of progress in the Middle East peace process and the specter of another intifada
Should the majority of the vital national interests of the United States and Saudi Arabia remain irreconcilable, the bilateral relationship is likely to remain focused on a limited number of defensive issues: missile defense with reference to Israel and Iran, but particularly in light of a mortar attack originating from Iraq in November 2013;2 air and maritime security; and cyber security.3 On other regional matters, it is easy to see how Saudi Arabia would address challenges during the Arab Spring by boosting relations between the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and fellow Sunni monarchies such as Morocco and Jordan. Although this would be no panacea for their respective concerns about domestic security, for Jordan at least there are significant economic benefits, such as improved access to the GCC labor market for migrants and to the Gulf civil nuclear-energy club — to obviate the reliance on financial aid.4
Saudi Arabia may be forced to internationalize its alliances, as it did in response to the pan-Arabism of Nasser's Egypt. Its logical contemporary partners are the major hydrocarbon importers of Asia. Whether such engagement would be reciprocated depends to some extent on the ability of the United States and regional adversaries such as Iran to sufficiently harmonize policies within the GCC; the inherent caution of many emerging powers such as India and China about extending their influence in the Middle East during the Arab Spring; and succession issues within the Saudi monarchy itself. This is a big if. It depends not only on the respective foreign policies of the United States and Saudi Arabia, but also on their preexisting ties.
ECONOMIC RELATIONS, ENERGY POLICIES
Saudi Arabia is America's largest trade partner in the MENA region. Total bilateral goods trade amounted to $71 billion in 2013; and, while Saudi exports earned $51.8 billion, U.S. exports only totaled $19 billion,5 creating a large trade deficit. This trade generally reflects the export of hydrocarbons from Saudi Arabia and the import of U.S. weapons, machinery and vehicles. However, the policy of the U.S. government over the last two decades has been to improve energy security and reduce imports. This has led to a slow, but discernable, reorientation away from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states in favor of more "local" options.
The United States now produces about 7 million barrels of oil per day, equal to around 40 percent of its total consumption.6 The leading exporters of petroleum to the United States in 2012 were Canada, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Russia.7 Although the United States imported just 15 percent of Saudi crude oil in January 2014, the kingdom was still the second-largest exporter of crude oil to the United States, at 1.3 million barrels per day (bpd).8 However, as output of shale oil and gas increases, the United States is expected to be self-sufficient in energy by 2035, according to BP.9 This would effectively halt Saudi energy exports to the United States and sever an important tie in the bilateral relationship. In July 2014, the United States had overtaken Saudi Arabia to become the world's leading oil producer.10
Saudi hydrocarbons have therefore reoriented away from the export market in the United States to the rising energy demands of Asia, which now accounts for half of all Saudi exports. In China, for example, imports of Saudi oil rose by 11 percent in 2013 to 1.17 million bpd.11 While China still lags behind the United States and Japan as Saudi Arabia's top export markets, the gap between Chinese and U.S. imports of Saudi oil is shrinking. Given that contract volumes have remained steady between Saudi Arabia and China, China is likely to overtake the United States and Japan within a very short period of time. Indeed, in October 2013, China became the world's largest importer of oil.12
Saudi Arabia aims to maintain a steady supply of oil to a range of energy export markets by reducing its own dependence on cheap hydrocarbons. It is attempting to do this through the implementation of a $100 billion civilian renewable and nuclear energy program.13 Projects in this area could represent significant commercial and investment opportunities for U.S. firms once the Saudi energy strategy has been confirmed and accepted by Congress. Arms sales are an important cornerstone of the U.S.-Saudi relationship and in the military-military relationship. In the period 2010-13, $86 billion worth of U.S. arms sales to the kingdom comprised various projects for the Saudi armed forces, including F-15 sales and associated weapons and training in 2010 to the Royal Saudi Air Force, and sales of TOW 2A and 2B RF missiles to the Saudi Arabian National Guard in December 2013.14 Defense and security cooperation, given its volume and strategic importance to both countries, is unlikely to alter, up to the medium term.
RELATIONS WITH EGYPT
The Arab Spring has crystallized a number of existing and new threats to the Saudi monarchy. These have included U.S. support for democratization in favor of Saudi allies such as President Mubarak in Egypt and U.S. support for political Islam (namely, the Muslim Brotherhood) in Egypt, which could still pose a direct threat to Al Saud rule. It is difficult to gauge the overall impact that these two changes had on the multidimensional U.S.-Saudi relationship.
Having to deal with a perceived proponent of political Islam in Egypt between 2011 and 2013 created tension between Saudi Arabia and the United States. Saudi Arabia was effectively sidelined in the U.S. response to the revolution in Egypt, and the United States was ambivalent to Gulf activities during the Morsi period in favor of its more pressing security interests in Libya and Syria. The outcome of the presidential elections in Egypt also created divisions in the GCC itself, between Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which viewed President Morsi with great suspicion, and Oman and Qatar, which were much more positive towards the Muslim Brotherhood.
Since President Morsi was arrested and a transitional government put in place, polarized responses from the United States and Saudi Arabia have again become evident. Whereas the Obama administration cut off $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt as a signal of disapproval over the alleged "coup," Saudi Arabia offered to step in to bridge the financial shortfall.15 Saudi aid in these cases is generally without strings attached, since any interference would quickly make the kingdom susceptible to accusations of double standards and could invite domestic instability.
Egypt remains a useful ally to the kingdom due to its large population and Sunni culture, its relevance in the Middle East peace process (MEPP), its geostrategic position adjacent to the kingdom on the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, and its function as a gateway to the growing internal markets in Africa. While the lack of reform and disregard for electoral due process in Egypt dismays the Obama administration, Saudi Arabia is far more forgiving. Riyadh and Cairo share a preoccupation with establishing and maintaining internal security interests at all costs.
RELATIONS WITH IRAQ
There was a clear and present danger to Saudi Arabia posed by Saddam Hussein in the lead-up to the 1991 Gulf War. This guaranteed Saudi financial support and cooperation with the U.S. military. However, in the lead-up to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, that rationale was largely absent. Indeed, Saudi Arabia was clear in expressing to the Bush administration its disapproval of the invasion plan, including the removal of the Iraqi military and Baath party. These institutions were seen to be pillars of the Iraqi state and essential to regional stability. Nevertheless, along with its warnings, Saudi Arabia did offer U.S. forces the use of some military bases and a command-and-control facility at the Prince Sultan Airbase.
Saudi reasoning was twofold: contain U.S. military aspirations in Iraq, and after the invasion was over, ensure the Iraqi government did not collapse, since any spillover would likely seep through the long border that they share. The Saudi approach has generally been cautious; even though there were some Saudi jihadists fighting in Iraq against the U.S. occupation, the kingdom has not interfered in Iraqi politics for fear of undermining that fragile state. Saudi Arabia's primary concerns were the unresolved sectarian tensions and the susceptibility of the Iraqi government to Iranian political overtures, including support to various political parties and the maintenance of an alleged network of informants.16 This is in addition to possible Iranian influence over Iraq's Shia population at the social and religious levels, such as support for armed groups and social-welfare benefits. Secondary Saudi concerns include Iraqi oil-production policy and the role of the Shia community in the country's political evolution. In 2004, Riyadh proposed an Arab role in the security of Iraq, quickly rejected by Washington.17 Still, Saudi Arabia has been able to influence U.S. policy through indirect methods, such as its 2005 pledge of $1 billion for reconstruction in Iraq.18
Riyadh has also prioritized closer relations with other Iraqi neighbors such as Turkey, the second largest economy in the MENA region and a low-key pivotal state for the United States. This provides innumerable benefits for Saudi Arabia and the other GCC states: diversification of GCC arms purchases to include Turkish weaponry; investment opportunities (Islamic finance and health services appear to be particularly attractive); and varying but generally common interests on geostrategic issues such as Iraq, Iran, Syria and Israel/Palestine that have been largely absent from the U.S.-Saudi relationship. Turkey also belongs to different international forums such as NATO, in which it could advance Saudi national-security interests.
After the U.S. withdrawal of forces from Iraq in December 2011, the United States might have found it difficult to pursue its interests in the Middle East without Saudi Arabia's questioning its motives, as the theater of conflict remains unresolved. There is clear evidence that the so-called Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) has been able to take advantage of the power deficit in Iraq since U.S. withdrawal, establishing a presence in Fallujah and Ramadi in Anbar province, just 25 miles from Baghdad International Airport.19 Increasingly, the instability, humanitarian crises and sectarian conflicts of Lebanon, Syria and Iraq are beginning to merge into a direct national-security threat to the kingdom. In response, Riyadh has facilitated payment of $1 billion to the Lebanese military to shore up its security while awaiting an arms package from the French.20 Also, in July 2014, Iraqi forces withdrew from part of the border with Saudi Arabia, forcing Riyadh to send 30,000 of its own soldiers plus thousands of Egyptian and Pakistani troops to guarantee security.21 Therefore, how the Saudi and U.S. governments react to the mounting insurgencies (especially in limiting the Islamic State's foothold in Iraq), build diplomatic, social and economic ties with Iraq, and address Iranian influence could be a basis for building stronger relations. However, as the United States was leading discussions in September 2014 to build an international coalition against ISIS, Saudi Arabia was still being accused by some U.S. diplomats of being more focused on issuing religious edicts than dealing with the crisis.22
RELATIONS WITH SYRIA
The divergent responses of the United States and Saudi Arabia to the Syrian civil war highlight the state of the bilateral relationship, with the Obama administration being perceived by Prince Turki al-Faisal, former Saudi ambassador to the United States, as having taken a step back from addressing serious Saudi national-security challenges. Prince Turki said publicly that U.S. policies, such as the withdrawal of non-lethal aid to the Free Syrian Army (FSA), were considered far more illustrative of a renegotiation of the American security commitment to the Gulf states than any possible U.S. "pivot to Asia" could communicate.23
A lack of progress in the UN Security Council on Syria and Russian support of President Assad have prolonged the dilemma of what form any U.S. engagement might take. This delay has enabled Iran to support Assad with troops and weapons and opened the door for an influx of radical Sunni Islamist fighters into Syria with their own competing agendas. Over 1,000 Saudis have gone to fight in Syria, some from prominent families, despite differences of opinion within the kingdom on this matter.24 Some sheikhs, such as Muhammad al-Arifi, have encouraged jihad, others, such as Salman al-Awda, have argued against it.25
Observers such as Fareed Zakaria consider Saudi policy irresponsible, more concerned about exporting Wahhabi religious tenets and combating Shia ideology than resolving the humanitarian crisis in Syria.26 Saudi Arabia, along with Qatar, is also believed to be supplying weapons to the rebel factions, while the United States resumed nonlethal aid and some limited shipments of small arms, possibly including other battlefield supplies, in January 2014.27 Saudi Arabia has gone some way to address the number of Saudi fighters in Syria by introducing a new law making it illegal to fight in any conflicts abroad; whether it will be strictly enforced remains to be seen. Saudi principled support for the FSA is unlikely to diminish; Syria has become the new popular Saudi social cause par excellence, like Palestine a decade ago. Such domestic pressure cannot be ignored during this period of Arab upheavals, when the Al Saud need to appear more responsive to their citizenry. However, rather than taking a zero-tolerance approach to Saudi fighters, Prince Turki countered critics, stating that neither the United States nor the EU was actively engaging in a diplomatic solution to Syria.28
Saudi Arabia has taken steps, through a royal decree, to discourage Saudi fighters going to Syria, hoping not only to limit support for violent Islamism but also to persuade President Obama to become more involved in the overthrow of President Assad.29 However, there are still concerns in Washington about the nature of the transition in a post-Assad Syria, including the avoidance of inadvertently arming al-Qaeda-affiliated groups.30 After the Islamic State managed to overrun parts of northern Iraq in July and August 2014, those concerns were made clear for Riyadh.
Prince Bandar, the former Saudi ambassador to the United States (1983-2005) and secretary-general of the National Security Council responsible for policy on Syria (until April 2014), had stated that, due to U.S. policy on Syria and the lack of U.S. support for Saudi Arabia during its intervention in Bahrain in 2011, he planned to limit Saudi interaction with the United States.31 Similarly, Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the UK, said that Saudi Arabia had already made it clear that it would "go it alone" if necessary.32 These statements have been somewhat modified by King Abdullah through his decision to remove Prince Bandar as head of intelligence and transferring Syrian policy making to Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, the interior minister.33 Nayef has been in close contact with the highest levels of the Obama administration, presumably on issues related to Syria (and al-Qaeda's growing role there) and Iran ever since.
Similar changes have occurred in the diplomatic track. The kingdom temporarily disengaged from the United Nations in 2013, turning down the offer of a nonpermanent seat on the Security Council, citing double standards over nonintervention in Syria as one of the primary reasons.34 Instead, the kingdom has taken more independent and assertive measures to effect change, including increasing defense spending by more than 30 percent in the last two years, partly tied to new and refitted F15 fighter jets, and donating $100 million to the UN Counterterrorism Center.35
Following the GCC Summit Conference in 2013, Saudi Arabia confirmed its intention to extend support to the FSA and build a 100,000-strong force with a central command in Riyadh.36 Although the joint command is U.S.-backed, it would unlikely be decisive in Syria, although it does signal a more muscular diplomatic approach from the GCC, and the Saudi capital, in particular. The outcome in Syria could not be more vital to Saudi strategic and security interests. Having lost a vital regional ally in President Mubarak and seeing the Muslim Brotherhood take a (temporarily) strong foothold in the region, Riyadh cannot afford to lose another proxy battle with Iran. If it does, as Gregory Gause notes, Iran will be perceived to have won this round for greater regional influence.37
RELATIONS WITH IRAN
Iranian aspirations to become a regional hegemon, based on its history of strong national and Islamic identity, have at times brought it into direct competition and confrontation with the Al Saud. Rivalry turned into a regional security crisis when President Ahmadinejad managed to combine explosive rhetoric about "wiping Israel off the face of the earth" with concrete steps in its civilian nuclear program that continues to be viewed with deep suspicion in both the West and the GCC.38
The GCC states saw the P5+1 deal with Iran in Geneva as an important first step in normalizing relations over the Iranian nuclear program, but they are effectively taking a wait-and-see approach. Prince Turki said that there is some anxiety among the Gulf states because they have not been included in the negotiations with Iran as important stakeholders.39 Beyond the immediate nuclear issue, it is conceivable that negotiations with Iran could be extended to include new partners and broadened to take up regional security topics such as nonproliferation. Indeed, Prince Turki recognizes, along with others in the West, that nuclear proliferation must be addressed through establishing a WMD-Free Zone in the Middle East.40 It is also vital that the United States continue to engage Iran in order to resolve persistent national and international security threats such as the Syrian conflict.
At a time when Saudi Arabia has lost confidence in U.S. Middle East policy, Washington can demonstrate to Saudi Arabia and the GCC that, through greater engagement with Iran and on the MEPP, it is serious about addressing persistent sources of insecurity in the Middle East. However, resolving Syria so as to restore a regional balance of power that was disrupted by the Arab Spring could be problematic. As the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran diminishes, regional insecurity will likely remain; sectarian grievances are still unresolved. Saudi Arabia could still feel compelled to balance with alternative allies and build stronger and more strategic relations with them.
After a period of U.S. military adventurism throughout the G.W. Bush administration in the 2000s, the Obama administration took a much more laissez faire approach to the Arab Spring. This posed a dilemma for the U.S. government. The United States responded better than many regional powers including Israel, Saudi Arabia and Iran, which have simply interpreted events through old security, stability and sectarian lenses.41 However, there is also a downside, which Saudi Arabia has highlighted on many occasions: the lack of active engagement in recent crises, of which Syria is the prime example, and the lack of security support for the nascent Iraqi government. The latter stands in stark contrast to the size of the U.S. military commitment in 2003. Reliance on a multilateral solution has simply allowed the humanitarian crisis in Syria to continue. This is not to say that a unilateral military response would be effective, but a closer partnership with regional states like Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran and Russia might have been, especially in stemming the tide of violent jihadists crossing porous borders.
The United States can more realistically achieve its Middle East policies if it is willing to reengage and enable local actors. For example, U.S. influence through investments, aid, trade and technology transfer could do more to address the underlying roots of extremism than any imposed political or military solution. There is, therefore, potential in engaging Saudi Arabia once again in a struggle to support a range of developing states in the Middle East and North Africa with packages aimed at undermining new threats from terrorism and civil unrest. They cooperated on repelling Soviet forces from Afghanistan in the 1980s with matching financial support and could do so again. However, the Arab Spring has highlighted the problems of divergent political systems and threat perception (e.g., Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood) in implementing such an approach.
The Saudi concern over Iran grew steadily between 2008 and 2011, spurring it to increase U.S. arms imports by a factor of nine compared to 2004-07.42 While U.S. deterrence is a priority in the Middle East as well as Asia despite budget cuts, it cannot be achieved without substantial effort toward bilateral and multilateral diplomatic relationships. Therefore, it is puzzling that the United States would not consult more closely with its Saudi partner on Syria and Iran and build a common agenda for the stability of Iraq and Lebanon. Many of the smaller states in the GCC, such as Oman and the UAE, now support more constructive relations with Iran and might be able to bridge some of the disputes that have undermined Iran-GCC cooperation.
Indeed, there are now even signs that there might be the beginnings of a Saudi-Iranian rapprochement, through a visit arranged at the foreign-minister level.43 Such a move is driven in part by improving U.S.-Iranian relations following the election of President Rouhani; in part by the U.S. policy for a "new equilibrium" in the Middle East between Saudi Arabia and Iran; in part by a deadlock on Syria; and perhaps even by a lack of progress on the MEPP. Any warming of relations could have repercussions for Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain and Yemen.
PIVOTS TO ASIA
The Obama administration first outlined its pivot to Asia as part of a simultaneous policy statement recognizing the emerging importance of rising powers in the international system (with particular reference to China), but it also reflects a rebalance in U.S. foreign policy after troop deployments in the Middle East.44 This rebalance has been interpreted variously as the Obama administration's abandoning vital Middle East issues it has yet to resolve, avoiding a commitment to the momentous events of the Arab Spring and needing to contain a more assertive China. If the United States is to avoid arousing suspicion in its China policy, it will become reliant on allies such as Saudi Arabia in order to add nuance and resolve. Furthermore, U.S. policy will be made more effective if Washington works closely with Riyadh and other allies once China breaks out of the South China Sea and starts deploying forces regularly in the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea.
Saudi economic relations with its main allies and oil importers in Asia (India, China, Malaysia and Pakistan) were prioritized just after King Abdullah ascended to the throne in 2005. During his four-nation tour, the Saudi king discussed energy and security issues with then-Chinese president, Hu Jintao, and again in India, which culminated in the Delhi Declaration (including a focus on counterterrorism cooperation) and an Indo-Saudi energy partnership.45 Whereas Saudi foreign policy had been premised on the support and soft-power influence of Islamic states and communities in Asia through substantial aid packages in the 1960s and 1970s, by 2006 these relationships had taken on a new dimension. Hydrocarbon imports were rising in many Asian states; China became the world's largest importer of Saudi oil in 2009. The new energy dimension and the high potential for cooperation between Saudi Aramco and Sinopec to build a 400,000-barrel refinery in Yanbu and another in China are just the beginning.46
Other areas of cooperation include Saudi imports of long-range missiles. This is part of the Saudi policy of reinsuring their relationship with the United States and gaining military hardware that the United States is not necessarily willing to provide. The missile contract addresses a number of concerns in Saudi strategic planning, ranging from persistent regional insecurity to the growth of Saudi exports in the world's largest oil market. Saudi Arabia could employ Chinese civilian nuclear expertise in the roll-out of civilian nuclear power plants in the kingdom. Saudi Arabia signed a nuclear cooperation pact with China in 2012 to enhance cooperation to develop and use atomic energy for peaceful purposes.47 Similar deals have been signed with France, Argentina and South Korea. However, Saudi Arabia remains fundamentally constrained by U.S. concerns about nuclear proliferation in the Middle East.
There might be potential for the United States and Saudi Arabia to conclude a so-called 123 agreement (based on section 123 of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act), which would require Riyadh to agree not to pursue sensitive fuel-cycle activities. The UAE did this in 2009, but a similar agreement between Washington and Riyadh is unlikely to progress before the P5+1 finalize a nuclear agreement with Iran. In the meantime, Riyadh must have also factored into its policy calculations that developing closer political relations with Beijing — busy forming strong alliances with neutral or anti-U.S. regional powers such as Iran, Syria and Turkey — could give it additional leverage in matters directly affecting its national-security interests. This would be useful for Riyadh and Washington, should the kingdom be willing to leverage part of its relationship with Beijing.
Apart from boosting energy and scientific connections, which could be construed as part of a broader Saudi policy aimed at economic diversification, relations with Pakistan, India and China have developed according to two other factors: counterterrorism cooperation and Saudi Arabia's cold war with Iran. Saudi counterterrorism cooperation with India has improved. India viewed unquestioning Saudi support for violent Islamist groups in Pakistan with disdain; reducing this irritant, Saudi Arabia is more likely to be successful in its attempts to isolate Iran regionally. India as a large oil market is important, but so too is its ability eventually to play a greater role in the region or substitute in areas where China is less willing to be involved. However, both India and China, like the United States, are taking a wait-and-see approach and engaging all the emerging regional powers (BRICs) in pursuit of their foreign-policy objectives in the Middle East. While neither state is interested in U.S. hegemony or further unsanctioned regime change without explicit UN Security Council approval, neither are they quite ready to implement a more muscular diplomacy in the MENA region at this point. Given time, this is likely to change, particularly with reference to securing energy imports, which would enhance Saudi openness towards key Asian states in its continual search for relative autonomy.
INSIDE THE GCC
Apart from working with Asian partners, Saudi Arabia and the GCC continue to explore the possibility of consolidating Sunni monarchical rule through a defense alliance with Jordan, Morocco and, potentially, Egypt. However, many members of the GCC are less interested in further integration; there are still major obstacles to increasing cooperation with Qatar, which continues to support the Muslim Brotherhood.48 Such issues do not translate into a solid partnership with the United States, but a further attempt by U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to reassure its Gulf partners in May 2014 should be enough to overcome internal political differences, at least when their common defense is at stake.
Saudi Arabia remains dependent on the United States for the removal of President Assad in Syria. This has had a significant impact on its policy stance, from overt intervention in arming rebels and allowing Saudis to fight there, to attempts at controlling the situation through the introduction of alternative legislative and diplomatic tools. The kingdom may have few alliance choices at present. In the words of Gregory Gause, "...they [Saudi Arabia] have no other place to go."49 However, with the economic and political power of the BRICs growing every year and relative U.S. power diminishing, coupled with dwindling oil imports from the kingdom, it may not be long before Saudi Arabia finds more "reliable" allies with a similar threat perception. While China may become one of these, Pakistan also remains available to help counter immediate or unconventional security threats, and the introduction of Morocco and Jordan into a military framework will also help boost efforts to develop a common standing army. However, no factor will be more significant to the U.S.-Saudi relationship than a rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Should that happen, even at a low level, it will give both states more scope to pursue their common foreign policies across the region and be less reliant on the United States, which seeks to equalize their power.
Saudi Arabia will remain dependent on Washington for its security in the short to medium term. This will give both sides time to formulate a redefinition of their relationship and allow the United States to support the kingdom's efforts to develop a national-defense doctrine. Substantial societal ties between the two states are likely to remain. For example, Prince Turki says that there are 100,000 Saudis studying in the United States and many U.S. expatriates living and working across the kingdom, a number that rarely fluctuates.50
The strongest ties, however, will remain investment, arms and possibly nuclear-energy cooperation. Their diplomatic cooperation will continually be aimed at resolving what have become some of the most intractable international crises. It should be noted that, after the oil embargo in 1973, Saudi Arabia and the United States quickly managed to regain positive relations in the face of adversity. Nevertheless, bilateral relations will continue to rely on the assessment in each capital that their national and foreign interests can best be served through a partnership, or at least the maintenance of friendly and cooperative relations. Continued failure to combine efforts to resolve their differences will only add to Saudi foreign-policy assertiveness, so long as the price of oil remains relatively high.
1 BBC News, "Saudi Arabia Declares Muslim Brotherhood ‘Terrorist Group," March 7, 2014, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-26487092, accessed March 9, 2014.
2 Fahad Nazer, "Saudi Arabia Threatened by ISIS Advance in Iraq," Al Monitor, June 23, 2014, http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/06/saudi-arabia-sunni-isis-threat-iraq-shiite-maliki-setbacks.html, accessed July 7, 2014.
3 Richard LeBaron, "Hagel's Meeting with GCC Defense Ministers: How to Measure Results," Atlantic Council, May 14, 2014, http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/menasource/hagel-s-meeting-with-gcc-defense-ministers-how-to-measure-results, accessed May 24, 2014.
4 Neil Partrick, Saudi Arabia and Jordan: Friends in Adversity, Research Paper, Kuwait Programme on Development, Governance and Globalisation in the Gulf States, July 2013, no. 31, 14.
5 Office of the United States Trade Representative, "U.S.-Saudi Arabia Trade Facts," http://www.ustr.gov/countries-regions/europe-middle-east/middle-east/north-africa/saudi-arabia, accessed November 14, 2014.
6 U.S. Energy Information Administration, "U.S. Crude Oil Production Tops 7 Million Barrels Per Day, Highest since December 1992," February 28, 2013, available at http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=10171, accessed May 2014.
7 U.S. Energy Information Administration, "How Much Petroleum Does the United States Import and From Where?" http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=727&t=6, accessed May 24, 2014.
8 Christopher M. Blanchard, "Saudi Arabia: Background and U.S. Relations," CRS Report for Congress, February 12, 2014, 9.
9 Brian Swint, "U.S. Will Be Energy Self-Sufficient by 2035 on Shale, BP Says," Bloomberg, January 15, 2014, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-01-15/u-s-will-be-energy-self-sufficient-by-2035-on-shale-bp-says.html, accessed May 24, 2014.
10 Grant Smith, "U.S. Seen as Biggest Oil Producer after Overtaking Saudi Arabia," Bloomberg, July 4, 2014, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-07-04/u-s-seen-as-biggest-oil-producer-after-overtaking-saudi.html, accessed July 6, 2014.
11 Chen Aizhu and Judy Hua, "China Seen Raising Saudi Oil Imports 11 pct in 2013 — Trade," Reuters, December 7, 2012, http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/12/07/china-oil-saudi-idUSL4N09F1NL20121207, accessed May 24, 2014; and Chen Aizhu and Judy Hua, "Saudi to Keep 2014 China Crude Contract Volumes Steady — Trade," Reuters, January 14, 2014, http://uk.reuters.com/article/2014/01/14/china-saudi-oil-idUKL3N0KN14Z20140114, accessed May 24, 2014.
12 "China Overtakes U.S. as Biggest Importer of Oil," BBC News, October 10, 2013, http://www.bbc.com/news/business-24475934, accessed May 24, 2014.
13 Anthony DiPaola, "Saudi Arabia to Target Solar Power in $100 Billion Energy Plan," Bloomberg, March 31, 2011, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-03-31/saudi-arabia-to-target-solar-power-in-100-billion-energy-plan.html, accessed May 24, 2014.
14 Christopher M. Blanchard, "Saudi Arabia: Background and U.S. Relations," CRS Report for Congress, February 12, 2014, 5.
15 "U.S. to Cut Military and Economic Aid to Egypt in Shift of Policy after ‘Coup,'" Associated Press, October 9, 2013.
16 "Fragmented Iraq: Implications for Saudi National Security — Obaid," SUSRIS, October 16, 2006.
17 Joseph McMillan, "Saudi Arabia and Iraq: Oil, Religion, and an Enduring Rivalry," United States Institute of Peace, January 2006, 12, http://www.usip.org/sites/default/files/resources/McMillan_Saudi%20Arabia%20and%20Iraq_SR%20157.pdf, accessed March 27, 2014.
19 "Iraq Loses Control of Fallujah to Al-Qaeda-Linked Group," Al Jazeera America, January 4, 2014.
20 Hasan Lakkis and Kareem Shaheenl, "Cabinet Approves Saudi Grant," Daily Star, August 15, 2014, http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Lebanon-News/2014/Aug-15/267326-cabinet-approves-saudi-grant.ashx#axzz3Aju4gpQx, accessed August 18, 2014.
21 "Saudi Arabia Deploys 30,000 Soldiers to Border with Iraq — al-Arabiya TV," Reuters, July 3, 2014, http://uk.reuters.com/article/2014/07/03/uk-saudi-iraq-border-idUKKBN0F80J320140703, accessed July 7, 2014; and Hugh Tomlinson, "Pakistan Troops to Defend Jittery Saudis," Times, August 2, 2014, http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/world/middleeast/iraq/article4164627.ece, accessed August 18, 2014.
22 Bryan Bender, "U.S. Wants More from Saudis in Fight against Extremists," Boston Globe, September 5, 2014, http://www.bostonglobe.com/news/nation/2014/09/04/amid-talk-more-military-force-confront-islamic-state-some-see-religious-retreat-theologians/7Y0JD78VbNf5a8RlctbmIK/story.html, accessed September 11, 2014.
23 "Diplomacy and Romance: A Conversation with Prince Turki Al-Faisal," SUSRIS, December 16, 2013.
24 Robert. F. Worth, "Saudis Back Syrian Rebels Despite Risks," January 7, 2014, New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/08/world/middleeast/saudis-back-syria-rebels-despite-a-lack-of-control.html?_r=0, accessed April 9, 2014.
25 Stephane Lacroix, "Saudi Islamists and the Arab Spring," Research Paper, Kuwait Programme on Development, Governance and Globalisation in the Gulf States, 36, LSE, May 2014, 4, http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/56725/1/Lacroix_Saudi-Islamists-and-theArab-Spring_2014.pdf, accessed May 24, 2014.
26 Fareed Zakaria, "Zakaria: The Saudis Are Mad? Tough!," Time, November 11, 2013, http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2156259,00.html, accessed March 14, 2014.
27 Anne Gearan, "Obama Administration Has Resumed Non-Lethal Aid to Syrian Rebels," Washington Post, January 30, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/obama-administration-has-resumed-non-lethal-aid-to-syrian-rebels/2014/01/29/a697cc12-8933-11e3-916e-e01534b1e132_story.html, accessed April 9, 2014.
28 "Diplomacy and Romance: A Conversation with Prince Turki Al-Faisal," SUSRIS, December 16, 2013.
29 Bruce Riedel, "Saudi Arabia Plans to Pitch Obama for Regime Change in Syria," Al Monitor, January 5, 2014, http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/02/saudi-arabia-barack-obama-syria-fighters.html, accessed May 24, 2014.
30 Jeff Mason and Steve Holland, "Obama Seeks to Reassure Saudi Arabia over Iran, Syria," Reuters, March 28, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/28/us-obama-saudi-idUSBREA2R15O20140328, accessed May 24, 2014.
31 Amena Bakr and Warren Strobel, "Saudi Arabia Warns of Shift Away from U.S. over Syria, Iran," October 22, 2013, http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/10/22/us-saudi-usa-idUSBRE99L0K120131022, accessed April 9, 2014.
32 Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, "Saudi Arabia Will Go It Alone," New York Times, December 17, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/18/opinion/saudi-arabia-will-go-it-alone.html?_r=0, accessed March 14, 2014.
33 Ahmed Al Omran, "Saudi Arabia Spy Chief Steps Down," Wall Street Journal, April 15, 2014, http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303663604579503730739421584, accessed May 24, 2014.
34 "Saudi Withdrawal Stuns UN Security Council," October 19, 2013, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2013/10/saudi-arabia-rejects-un-security-council-seat-20131018126284479.html, accessed August 18, 2014.
35 David Lerman, "Global Defense Spending to Grow after Years of Decline," Bloomberg, February 4, 2014, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-02-03/global-defense-spending-to-grow-after-years-of-decline.html, accessed August 18, 2014; and Karen DeYoung, "Saudi Arabia Gives $100 Million to UN Counterterrorism Center," Washington Post, August 13, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/saudi-arabia-gives-100-million-to-un-counterterrorism-center/2014/08/13/710c97ee-230c-11e4-86ca-6f03cbd15c1a_story.html, accessed August 18, 2014.
36 Al Monitor, "The Saudi Challenge to U.S. Syria Policy," January 5, 2014, http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/01/saudichallenge-us-syria.html, accessed April 9, 2014.
37 F. Gregory Gause III, "Beyond Sectarianism: The New Middle East Cold War," Brookings Doha Center Analysis Paper, Number 11, July 2014, 1.
38 Ewan MacAskill and Chris McGreal, "Israel Should Be Wiped Off Map, Says Iran's President," Guardian, October 27, 2005, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2005/oct/27/israel.iran, last accessed July 5, 2014.
39 "Diplomacy and Romance: A Conversation with Prince Turki Al-Faisal," SUSRIS, December 16, 2013.
40 See Prince Turki Al Faisal, A Political Plan for a Weapons of Mass Destruction-Free Zone (WMDFZ) in the Middle East, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, July 2013.
41 F. Gregory Gause III, and Ian S. Lustick, "America and the Regional Powers in a Transforming Middle East," Middle East Policy 19, no. 2 (Summer 2012).
42 Anthony H. Cordesman and Robert M. Shelala II, The Gulf Military Balance, Volume III: The Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula, Center for Strategic and International Studies, May 29, 2013, 6.
43 "Iran Says No Written Invitation, But Visit to Saudi Arabia on Agenda: IRNA," Reuters, May 14, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/05/14/us-saudi-iran-idUSBREA4D05B20140514, accessed May 24, 2014.
44 Kurt Campbell and Brian Andrews, "Explaining the U.S. ‘Pivot' to Asia," Chatham House, August 2013, http://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/default/files/public/Research/Americas/0813pp_pivottoasia.pdf, accessed April 9, 2014.
45 See Robert Mason, "Realizing the Indo-Saudi ‘Strategic Partnership': An Analysis of the Leading Drivers," in India and the Gulf: What Next?, Ranjit Gupta et al, eds., Gulf Research Centre Cambridge, June 2013.
46 Wael Mahdi, "Sinopec, Aramco Sign Saudi Refinery Deal, Plan Plant in China," Bloomberg Businessweek, January 16, 2012, http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-01-16/sinopec-aramco-sign-saudi-refinery-deal-plan-plant-in-china.html, accessed April 9, 2014.
47 Summer Said, "Saudi Arabia, China Sign Nuclear Cooperation Pact," Wall Street Journal, January 16, 2012, http://online.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052970204468004577164742025285…, last accessed October 31, 2014.
48 Richard LeBaron, "The Jordan-Morocco Solution for GCC Defence Masks Bigger Issues," Atlantic Council, April 18, 2014, http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/menasource/the-jordan-morocco-solution-for-gcc-defense-masks-bigger-issues, accessed May 24, 2014.
49 Barbara Slavin, "Saudi Tiff with Washington Latest of Many," Voice of America, October 24, 2013, http://www.voanews.com/content/us-saudi-relations-on-downswing/1776426.html, accessed April 9, 2014.
50 "Diplomacy and Romance: A Conversation with Prince Turki al-Faisal," SUSRIS, December 16, 2013.
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