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Saudi Arabia Foreign Policy

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Submitted By Gachiri
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Analyzing the foreign policy of Saudi Arabia, this paper aims to show the ways in which Saudi foreign policy is unique and then go on to highlight the fact that Saudi policy is characterized by moderation and centrism. Its stance on issues pertaining to security and international relations will be demonstrated to be unique for a Middle Eastern state due a number of inter-linked issues; Saudi Arabia's geographical location as the ‘Heart of Islam', its significant oil reserves, and geo-political security issues. Having highlighted the special conditions in which Saudi foreign policy operates, it will then be argued that Saudi policy is dominated by themes of peaceful diplomacy and centrism, meaning that the Saudi approach to international affairs and security is one of pragmatic real politk rather than the more ideological approach adopted by other states in the region. In making such an argument, we will examine Saudi policy in relation to a number of key issues: the Israel-Palestine conflict and Iranian nuclear disarmament.

Saudi Arabia holds a unique position in the Middle East. It is the ‘Heart of Islam' as it is home of to two of the holiest places is Islam, Mecca and Medina. Its oil reserves mean that it is the World's leading exporter of petrol. Furthermore, in the tinderbox-like atmosphere of the Middle East, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia plays a crucial role of peace-maker in the region and is the closet Middle Eastern ally of the United States. The Saudis have significant influences in numerous spheres of influence which means that there are often competing, even conflicting, forces that have a vested interested in the direction of Saud foreign policy. The first of these spheres, or ‘circles' can be termed the ‘Gulf Circle' consisting of the Arab Gulf states in the immediate vicinity of Saudi Arabia. The Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf seeks to harmonize policy n a supra-national level, especially in regards to issues of security and defence. The Arab Circle consists of states that share the common interest of Arab solidarity. Saudi foreign policy with respect to the Arab Circle has focused on solving disputes and reconciling differences between Arab nations. The third sphere of influence can be termed the Islamic Circle, the foreign policy aim of which is to promote Muslim solidarity and unity. Finally, Saudi Arabia can also be considered a key player on the international arena. Its preeminence amongst the Arab, Gulf and Islamic nations means that it is a leader in the region. This significance is even greater when the Saudi's key role as the number one exporter of oil is factored in. The White House is closer to the House of Saud than most other regimes in the Middle East and so as such the Saudis are a key ally in a region which, for religious, cultural and historical reasons, is greatly hostile to America. It is an ironic dichotomy that, on the one hand Saudi Arabia can be considered as being the de facto home of Islam, whilst on the other it is also a key ally of the United States. Saudi Arabia is also an important ally on the United Kingdom, not only in terms of diplomacy and oil, but also with regards to trade and commerce.

By examining Saudi foreign policy in relation to various key issues it becomes apparent that a number of conclusions can be drawn, namely, that Saudi foreign policy is characterized by pragmatism and moderation. Saudi Arabia sees its role as that of a peace-maker in the region. This is clearly reflected in its position over the Israel-Palestine issue. Unlike many of its Arab neighbours, Saudi Arabia has no territorial dispute with Israel and so is more predisposed to mediating between the two sides. It was the Saudis who were the instigators of the Arab League initiative, which states that peace with Israel is a "strategic choice" that can be achieved (Black, I., 2008a). The Saudi foreign minister, Saud al-Faisal has stated that "the security of Israel can best be served by the establishment of a viable Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel, which would make the Palestinian state a responsible and accountable member of the world community" (Black, I., 2008a). As recently as 2007 the Saudis hosted a summit for Arab nations which devised a peace plan that was backed by twenty-two Arab countries. It included the historic offer of diplomatic recognition of Israel as part of the establishment of a Palestinian state within the 1967 boundaries (Black, I., 2008b). Saudi Arabia supports the two-state solution and has made diplomatic efforts to assist in the peace process. Compare this with the position of its fellow Gulf and Islamic Circle member Iran, which displays a vehemently hostile, even aggressive, stance towards the state of Israel. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has even described Israel as a "disgraceful blot" that should be "wiped off the face of the earth" and “anybody who recognises Israel will burn in the fire of the Islamic nation's fury, [while] any [Islamic leader] who recognises the Zionist regime means he is acknowledging the surrender and defeat of the Islamic world." (MacAskill, E. & McGreal, C., 2005). In another example of the Saudis as peace broker and mediator in the region, it was the Saudis who mediated between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas when relations broke down. King Abdullah invited between Ismail Haniyeh, the prime minister and leader of the Islamist movement Hamas, and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president to the holy city of Mecca in order to encourage them to form a national unity government and put an end to the divisions which he branded "a shameful stain on the history of the honorable national Palestinian struggle to end occupation" (Black, I., 2007).

Just as the Saudi position over the Israel-Palestine issue can be argued to be centrist and pragmatic, the same can be said of its stance vis-à-vis the matter of Iranian nuclear disarmament. Although many of Iran's neighbours in the Gulf are apprehensive over Iran's nuclear capabilities, fearing that they would be caught in the crossfire in the event of a missile war between Ira ad Israel, Saudi Arabia has adopted a more conciliatory tone, seeking to engage with Iran over the matter rather than issue bellicose statements and adopting a more hardline approach (Black, I., 2008c). Rather than isolate Ahmadinejad, King Abdullah publicly invited him to the pilgrimage to Mecca (Black, I., 2008c). Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal has attempted to mediate between the Iranians and the Americans in order to bring an end to the dispute. (Beeston, R. 2007). A further example of the desire of Saudi foreign policy to act as a conciliatory force is evident in the agreement brokered by Saudi Arabia between Sudan and Chad on the issue of Darfur (The Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, 2007). The respective Presidents of Chad and Sudan were personally invited to talks in Saudi Arabia by King Abdullah in order to attempt to stabilize the Darfur region of Sudan and prevent the violence from escalating (The Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, 2007).

To conclude, Saudi Arabia's importance as the ‘Heart of Islam', its oil wealth and its strategic geo-political significance lends its foreign policy a unique perspective. By analyzing the Saudi position on two key foreign policy and security issues - namely, the Israel-Palestine situation, and the matter of Iranian nuclear disarmament - we have shown that Saudi foreign policy is moderate and centrist. Saudi Arabia chooses pragmatism over ideology and seeks to mediate between antagonistic parties within its spheres of influence.

Bibliography:

Bashir A. & Wright, S. (1992) ‘Saudi Arabia: Foreign Policy After the Gulf War' Middle East Policy, 1

Beeston, R. (2006) ‘Saudis warn Iran that its nuclear plan risks disaster' The Times January 16, 2006

Beeston. R.(2007) ‘Saudi offers deal to end Iran nuclear stand-off' The Times November 01 2007

Black, I. (2007) ‘Saudis put their status on the line in bid to end Palestinian crisis' The Guardian February 7 2007

Black, I. (2008a) ‘Realism from Riyadh' The Guardian May 10 2008

Black, I. (2008b) ‘A long way from Riyadh to Rafah' The Guardian March 27 2007

Black, I. (2008c) ‘Arabs fear fallout of nuclear conflict' The Guardian July 10 2008

Cordesman, A.H.. & Obaid N. (2005) National Security in Saudi Arabia: Threats, Responses, and Challenges, Praeger Security International

MacAskill, E. & McGreal, C. (2005) ‘Israel should be wiped off map, says Iran's president' The Guardian, October 27 2005

Seznec, J-F. (2005) ‘Business as Usual: The Saudi-US Relationship' Harvard International Review 26

The Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia (2007) ‘Saudi Arabia Brokers Agreement Between Sudan and Chad on Darfur' [internet]

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