Saudi Arabia’s outreach to Moscow underlines the loss of US influence
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2017-10-12 05:32:55

Saudi Arabia’s outreach to Moscow underlines the loss of US influence

 

In a year of surprises in the Middle East, the visit to Moscow by the Saudi Arabian King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud is arguably the biggest surprise of all.

 

This visit speaks of a realignment of regional priorities and is the latest evidence of a tentative Saudi shift away from the United States. Reports suggesting that Saudi Arabia is set to buy Russia’s cutting-edge S400 air defence system are significant, as this would constitute the Kingdom’s first purchase of a non-Western weapon system in a decade.

 

The key question is whether Saudi’s tilt toward Moscow is a carefully considered move designed to expand the remit of Riyadh’s foreign policy choices or the result of repeated setbacks and defeats in the Middle East arena.

 

At a broader level, the visit reaffirms Moscow’s forceful re-entry into the Middle East more than a quarter century after the demise of the Soviet Union. By extension, it speaks to a loss of US influence and the tentative emergence of a new regional balance of power.

 

#OPEC

 

The re-emergence of multi-polarity in the Middle East holds both peril and promise. On the one hand, it is a positive development in so far as it reduces the risk of major inter-state wars or aggression by major world powers against Middle Eastern states. On the other hand, the dynamics flowing from a realignment of regional power politics reduce the prospect of democratic breakthroughs in some of the region’s most stubborn autocracies, in particular Saudi Arabia.

 

Riyadh and Moscow: unnatural partners? 

 

It is common knowledge that Saudi Arabia has been a loyal US ally for seven decades. Alongside its iron-clad alliance with Israel, the partnership with Saudi Arabia is central to America’s policy and strategic positioning in the Middle East. Absent a close partnership with Saudi Arabia, the US risks losing decisive influence over the region’s energy policy (notably the unhindered flow of oil), in addition to access to some of the region’s best intelligence.

 

From a Saudi point of view, the partnership with the US has been useful in terms of both regional and domestic policies. At the regional level, it has held the Kingdom’s enemies at bay in so far as the US essentially guarantees Saudi’s ultimate security. This came into sharp relief when the US-led coalition deterred Saddam Hussein from even considering an incursion into Saudi territory, following his invasion of Kuwait in August 1990.

 

At the domestic level, the Al-Saud dynasty compensates for its legitimacy deficit by over-relying on a foreign power for guarantees of relative stability and, ultimately, its survival. The partnership with the US effectively shields the Kingdom from accountability in terms of its abysmal record of internal repression and its equally dismal broader human rights record. The alliance works in tandem with Saudi Arabia’s strong defence relationship with Britain, as demonstrated by the Al-Yamamah arms deal, which to date still counts as the UK’s largest ever.

 

 

Notwithstanding its close defence partnership with Western powers, Saudi Arabia has in the past tried to cultivate defence relationships with non-Western states as well. For example, in the late 1980s, it purchased a conventional variant of China’s DF-3A nuclear missile. The Saudis allegedly bought up to 60 of these missiles, which they only publicly displayed in 2014 as part of deterrent measures against Iran, which maintains one of the most extensive indigenous ballistic missile programmes in the world.

 

Two decades later Saudi Arabia signed another significant arms deal with China, this time purchasing the DF-21 ballistic missiles. In view of this history, Saudi’s purchase of Russian defence systems is not unprecedented. Moreover, the Russian arms sale is balanced with Saudi’s proposed $15 billion purchase of the US THAAD anti-ballistic missile defence system.

 

pk.shafaqna.com

 

 

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