GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Title of Paper:
US-Saudi Relations: Continuity and Change
Paper Proposal Text :
US-Saudi Relations: Continuity and Change

Executive Summary
The paper examines key changes in Saudi-US relations within a comprehensive strategic context, outlines implications and explores all alternative policy options (domestic, regional, and international) available to Saudi Arabia.

Main Argument
Saudi Arabia has three main foreign policy objectives; (1) maintaining a strategic partnership with the United States, which is fundamental to its security; (2) maximizing its global and regional political influence through its financial and Islamic \'soft power\'; and (3) maximizing the economic and geopolitical benefits from being the most important oil producer in the world, de facto leader of OPEC and the “central Bank” of the world\'s oil market.

Through the history of the relationship between the two countries when these three goals clashed, Riyadh always chose to maintain its relations with Washington even at the expense of the other two goals. However, this current unwritten security architecture “oil-for-security” between Riyadh and Washington has become strain, more complex and sometimes contradictory due to the emergence of several international, regional, and domestic factors.

At the International level, the significant of so-called “shale revolution” may give America for the first time in history the chance to abandon oil imports from the Middle East once and for all. Regionally, a détente between the US and Iran, something could leave Saudi Arabia feeling more vulnerable, especially if the lifting of sanctions on Iran makes that country more strategically confident and regionally assertive. Finally, as Saudi leaders take popular sentiments into account, it will become more difficult for the governments to disregard the reactions of domestic audiences on important economic and security issues in order to satisfy the policy demands of Washington.

Key Question
Ultimately, a close relationship with the United States may no longer be sustainable, or it might come at a cost of losing significant domestic support. Either way, the payoff from cooperating with the United States may decrease, making alternative policy choices more attractive. All this raises a more important question: Is US-Saudi relationship deeply strain to an irrevocable degree? If so, will Saudi Arabia go it alone?