GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Title of Paper:
Saudi Foreign Policy Evolution and its Implications on Regional security and Conflicts
Paper Proposal Text :
Traditionally Saudi policy makers have followed caution in the regional overtures, adopted pragmatism, strengthened personal contacts with the rulers of foreign states and relied upon diplomacy to maintain stability and security in the Middle East. And also to block transnational ideologies to penetrate the Kingdom and destabilize its political environment (Ennis and Momani 2013). This cautionary approach has been practiced to further Saudi regional standing as well to counter regional competitors. It clearly manifests that Saudi foreign policy goals include expanding regional influence to counter threats against territorial integrity as well as containing supra-state ideologies that can threaten or question the legitimacy of the Saudi regime.
This normalcy in foreign policy making was given its first jolt by the American invasion of Iraq that created a power vacuum in the region that subsequently both Iran and Saudi Arabia tried to fill out by the use of proxy groups. This vacuum further grew with Arab Spring and both states chose to defend their allies in region while at the same time demanding others to step down. Saudi foreign policy clearly took a more active turn with an intervention in Bahrain to support the embattled Khalifa regime whose demise could have raised questions on the stability of Saudi regime. This further went on to the rhetorical support to rebels in Libya and material support for rebels fighting for ouster of the regime of Bashar-al-Assad in Syria. In the meanwhile Saudis also became vary of United States reluctance to honor is commitment towards Saudi interests in the Middle East and its engagement with Iran as a partner for regional stability and order. The failure of US to act in the wake of crossed red lines in Syria and its nuclear deal with Iran has further raised the concerns in Riyadh that has relied upon US as a guarantor of not only its national security but of its regional interests.
The Saudi answer to these challenges to their regional standing has been a robust, interventionist and more assertive foreign policy revolving around strengthening the relationship with allies as well as taking the lead in actions to secure their foreign policy goals. This policy has been functionalized and adopted more vigorously by the new Saudi Royals under the leadership of King Salman. It was the new Saudi leadership that took the initiative to intervene in Yemen under the banner of a Saudi led alliance of Arab countries. The enhanced cooperation and formation of a coherent strategy alongside Turkey and Qatar to bolster support for Syrian rebels has also been a hallmark of this policy. The key strategy to counter Iranian ambitions has been the formation of alliances with regional Sunni powers most prominently Turkey and other GCC states. This policy has not been able to achieve the desired goals mainly due to differing ideological multi-polarities and has resulted in Under-balancing as suggested by Mark Haas. Yet this “Under-balancing” does not essentially challenge the formation or correctness of these alliances. The “efficiency” of alliances can change for negative or positive with a change in perceptions and priorities of the decision makers as well as the geo-political environment. This phenomenon can be seen in the Saudi foreign policy approach after King Salman’s ascent to throne. It is essentially continuing the policy established by King Abdullah and involving the very same actors but there has been a re-interpretation of internal challenges as well as the external threats to the Kingdom. This is the reason that formation of a more coherent and structured policy by Saudi Arabia and Turkey to back Syrian rebels paid dividends on ground in Syria when rebels managed to capture the whole Idlib province in Syria. Although Assad regime has made gains after Russian air support Saudis cannot afford to lose Syria openly into an Iranian proxy block. The execution of Shia clerk Sheikh Nimr and ensuing events that led to burning of Saudi embassy in Tehran and consulate in Mashad resulted in ending of diplomatic ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia and thus a further rise in mutual antagonism. On the other hand US has not been quite supportive of Saudi efforts to balance against Iran and considers them to be disrupting regional stability and order and adding fuel to the fire of sectarianism in the region which terrorist organizations life ISIS and Al-Qaida benefit from.
Research Question:
In such circumstances it would be interesting how Saudi foreign policy evolve in the wake of Iranian threat and which strategies and tools are utilized by Saudi decision makers alongside their allies to balance against Iranian threat specifically in case of the Syrian and Yemeni conflict. How the Saudi regime deals with growing Russian intervention in Syria and negotiates American realignment in Middle East will also be an avenue of research. A key focus will be on the Saudi decision making process and the key determinants that orient foreign policy making by Saudi regime.