Friday, 18 October 2013

Saudi Arabia: Consolidating regional uncertainty

Saudi Arabia finds itself in strategic complexities amid US-Iran rapprochement
Photo: AP 

On Oct 18, the Saudi government rejected a rotating seat on the U.N. Security Council. The government was cited as saying that the Security Council was incapable of ending wars and resolving conflicts. However, this diplomatic maneuver illustrates the difficult position Saudi Arabia finds itself in the region.


Saudi Arabia's rejection of a seat on the U.N. Security Council highlights regional complexities that the Saudi Government is facing. Saudi Arabia has legitimate grievances in the Security Council. For one, China and Russia have vetoed resolutions that attempt to intervene in the civil war of Syria. The Saudi ambassador to the United Nations, Abdallah Y. a-Mouallimi said "allowing the ruling regime in Syria to kill and burn its people... is also irrefutable evidence and proof of the inability of the Security Council to carry out its duties and responsibilities." 

Rhetoric aside, the rejection of membership to an institution that allows rare, high-level diplomatic access on the face may be startling. However, Saudi Arabia's strategy is on two components - 1) curtailing Iranian influence and resist efforts it takes to becoming a regional hegemon. 2) Establishing regimes that are sympathetic and/or compatible with the Saudi monarchy under the paradigm of Sunni-Islam. 

For Saudi Arabia, curtailing Iranian regional influence is key. The Ayatollah regime in Iran represent and project the Shi'a sect of Islam. The civil war in Islam between Shi'a and Sunni dominations has led to a regional struggle of power for both Saudi Arabia and Iran. This rivalry dates back to 1979 after the founding of the Islamic republic. Tehran's expansion into Iraq having exploited the post-Saddam environment ensured security and projection in the Mesopotamia. Iran's relationship with Syria meant that Iranian influence spread from the mountains of Persia to the seas of the Mediterranean.

Limiting its influence

In the Summer of 2012, the Saudi government seeked to exploit Iran's overcommitment in the Syrian civil war. Saudi Arabian backed rebel groups were the crux of limiting Iranian supplied insurgencies in the region that were a threat to a Sunni-aligned Syrian regime. However, this wasn't achieved despite the efforts that are ongoing. 

The issue of a US-Iran rapprochement also presents uncertainties. Iran has seen its economy shrink by 6% last year and in order to settle internal political grievances, it is both in the US and Iranian interest to reestablish diplomatic links. For Saudi Arabia, this isolates itself on the stage. Saudi Arabia enjoyed the status quo of Iran being the antagonist of the Greater Middle East and was able to bring the US into the same mission of limiting its influence. 

On the other axis, Saudi Arabia wishes to minimize republic-based Islamic groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood. The regional rise of the Muslim Brotherhood brought a new perspective to Islamic politics and a fresh alternative. Republic-based organizations threaten the legitimacy of the Saudi royal family and in order to maintain internal stability, it must take the offense on these groups. Secondly, it must also unify internally so that it can concentrate on efforts, aforementioned, externally.  

The rejection of the U.N. Security Council seat sees that Saudi Arabia's strategic dilemmas cannot be solved through international institutions and a show of soft-power force in rejection of these international institutions will seek to give Saudi Arabia the attention by the United States that it fears it is losing. The US will seek to maintain the balance of power in the region and prevent an arms race to build up as a result of Iranian nuclear exploration where the US feels it can do more through diplomatic means through the rapprochement. 

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