Saudi-US relations

After Khashoggi

The dynamics of the diplomatic ties between the United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) have changed noticeably over time, as evidenced by a perceptible decline in their mutual dependence. This attenuation can be attributed to a number of historical vicissitudes, including but not limited to the seismic American shale revolution, the rise of Iran as a regional power, Russia’s incursion into Ukraine, and the burgeoning economic development on the parts of both the United States and Saudi Arabia, concomitant with a burgeoning spirit of self-sufficiency.

It is crucial to stress that, despite not being completely severed, the linkage has undergone a significant bending as a result of mutual mistrust, albeit sporadically lessened by unavoidable geopolitical realities. The divergence in priorities is glaringly apparent inside the walls of high-stakes diplomatic gatherings, supporting the theory that their prioritizations have changed from when they were previously amicable.

Nonetheless, their responsibilities for the political management of their respective domains are at the heart of this complex relationship. In the current environment, the Biden administration has strategically sought to maximize the normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, thereby strengthening the link between Washington and Riyadh. This is done in recognition of the needs of national security. The United States offered the Saudi rulers security assurances in exchange for them promising unrestricted access to the kingdom’s enormous oil reserves. Conflicts that were once resolved through diplomatic ruse now threaten to undermine the diplomatic system.

In parallel, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) has overseen a metamorphosis in the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia. MBS has taken proactive measures to realign to the changing regional and global paradigm. Notably, the year 2022 saw a critical turning point in the bilateral dynamic, marked by a rupture resulting from MBS’s peculiar political perspective. The prominent place held by Saudi Arabia in a variety of ongoing stories in the world of politics, as well as its effects in the world of sports, in the year 2023 unmistakably attests to the dissipation of any residual effects from the tragic death and dismemberment of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October 2018. It had a long-lasting impact on the crown prince’s ability to operate across international borders and run state affairs in Western capitals.

Similarly, the KSA has also come under heavy criticism for its systemic discrimination against Muslim minority communities, the arbitrary arrest and lengthy detention of human rights activists, the punitive actions taken against people who have non-heteronormative sexual orientations, and the denial of women’s equality within its social structure. Furthermore, a litany of aerial bombardments that have been ongoing since 2015 and have tragically killed thousands of innocent civilians have led to widespread condemnation of the Saudi-led coalition’s military intervention in Yemen. It is argued that these airstrikes may be classified as war crimes and violations of accepted international legal norms, as stated by various humanitarian organizations. Therefore, MBS and his entourage have diligently worked to repair his image as a statesman after 2021, especially on the regional stage, in an effort to restore a reputation that had been marred by the errors of his initial rise to power in Saudi Arabia.

It is frequently a mistake to undervalue or ignore how closely sovereign states’ domestic priorities and current political exigencies mirror those of their international obligations. This axiom applies to Saudi Arabia in particular. Regardless of how it may appear from the outside, the Kingdom’s domestic policy considerations always come first.

Nevertheless, there are definite signs that Washington-Riyadh relations will gradually improve, including a reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Iran that was facilitated by China and statements made by the Biden administration. Although positive, this diplomatic realignment is not without its ambiguities, which are heightened by the 1945 agreement’s continued transactional nature, which was based on the notion of exchanging oil for security and contributed to a climate of mistrust and tension between the two sides. In this regard, Saudi Arabia must demonstrate unwavering resolve and take concrete action to address the legitimate concerns expressed by the US, including those relating to human rights, petroleum production policy, diplomatic outreach to Beijing, and the protracted Yemeni conflict.

It is undeniable that the foundational edifice of economic and security cooperation that both countries have maintained over the ensuing decades has supported the tenacity of their diplomatic ties. The United States has consistently maintained a significant presence, both in terms of physical deployments and advisory contributions, within the Kingdom’s military apparatus. Of all foreign countries, Saudi Arabia is notable for being the largest purchaser of American military hardware.

It is frequently a mistake to undervalue or ignore how closely sovereign states’ domestic priorities and current political exigencies mirror those of their international obligations. This axiom applies to Saudi Arabia in particular. Regardless of how it may appear from the outside, the Kingdom’s domestic policy considerations always come first. The rapid development of a vibrant and diverse economic environment is a key goal of Saudi leadership in order to maintain the country’s prosperity and dominance in the region, even in a post-oil era when hydrocarbons will no longer be the world’s primary energy source.

Nadir Ali
Nadir Ali
Nadir Ali is a Public Relations Officer (PRO) at Safe City Islamabad, Pakistan. He can be reached at [email protected].

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