GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Title of Paper:
Regional Disorder and New Geo-economic Order: What Saudi Security Strategies within the Arab Gulf Moment?
Paper Proposal Text :
The proposed paper will examine the impact of the Arab revolts on Saudi security issues. It will show that they are pressuring the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) into adopting a new strategic stance. However, the recent events within the Arab world are not sufficient to explain KSA’s growing assertiveness. The paper will also link these current dynamics to broader geo-economic factors. Finally, the paper will offer an outlook on the regional and global implications of the Saudi strategies towards its security challenges.

The idea explored in this paper is that the evolving environment faced by KSA represents new risks as well as a window of opportunity to take the regional lead. This will provide us with a grid of analysis for Saudi initiatives. The extent of the impact of these dynamics on regional balances and broader issues will have to be analysed and assessed.

Regional turmoil: new security pressures upon Saudi Arabia

The Arab uprisings from Maghreb to Mashrek may deeply modify global security issues and related risks in the whole Middle-East and North Africa (MENA) region. From the Saudi perspective, they represent specific pressures and security issues.

At the national level, the regime faces revived risks of people uprisings on social grounds or religious-based revolts. These could be fuelled by regional examples and/or instrumentalised by Iran, as suspected during Bahrain’s troubles in 2011-2012.

At the regional level, indecisiveness about the future stance of new governments adds complexity to Saudi security challenges. For instance, the moves of Egypt’s post-Mubarak leaders to improve relations with Iran and overtures to Hamas come as sources of concern to the kingdom. In addition, the growing political unrest and instability allows terrorist groups to further develop in the region.

These issues push KSA to reconsider its regional position and policy preferences to ensure its security and stability. Now, while the regional turmoil represents new security challenges for the kingdom, it also opens a window of opportunity. Today, the traditional regional actors – namely, Egypt, Syria and Iraq –, are isolated. In this relative void of power, growing assertiveness on the part of KSA is to be noted. These dynamics are also encouraged by specific geo-economic trends.

Security and geo-economics in the Gulf region: evolving challenges

The Gulf security challenges and the strategies developed to address them are impacted by the Western economic downturn, the rise of new international economic actors and local economic policies.

As a result of the recession, Western countries operate major cutbacks in their security budgets and develop efforts to become as independent as possible from foreign sources of supply. For instance, the United States (US), rationalising its defence spending, revaluates its military presence in the Gulf. In addition, its aim of energy self-sufficiency further questions the relevance of its role in the “oil for security” pact with the Gulf monarchies. These dynamics raise important security challenges for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and particularly for KSA.

In the meantime, austerity in Western security budgets pushes major defence suppliers to look for opportunities and, in this regard, the Gulf is an amazing magnet. While most MENA countries presented slower economic growth in 2011-2012 as a result of the uprisings, the GCC countries are clear exceptions to this regional trend. Today, they have the financial means to enhance their international status by rescuing struggling economies, at the regional and global levels, using their sovereign wealth funds.
This can be a ‘bargaining chip’ in the organization of their defence and security procurement strategies, in a context where they appear to gain autonomy vis-à-vis the West and to adopt new strategic lines.

Global geo-economic trends meet with the regional turmoil in this regard: they both represent new security issues and a window of opportunity for KSA.

Saudi prospects within the Arab Gulf Moment: regional and global implications

The aforementioned background explains what has been called the ‘Arab Gulf Moment’. KSA’s growing assertiveness has to be understood in this context. It is now trying to make the most of it through various initiatives, such as turning the GCC into a ‘single entity’.

This new impulsion can both appear as a defensive move and a hegemonic move on the part of KSA as a leader in the revived GCC. Indeed, the latter can be seen as an axis of counter-revolution, an idea which is echoed in the proposition that it be extended to the Moroccan and Jordanian Sunni monarchies. However, it can also be seen as the assertion of a new regional hegemon, as the sending of troops to Bahrain illustrates, sending a powerful message to Iran.

Now, it is essential to underline the fact that these Saudi initiatives represent new challenges for the region and its balances. For instance, one must not overlook the potential crises which could arise from the rivalry for regional influence between KSA and Qatar as well as with the United Arab Emirates (UAE). In addition, it has to be noted that the kingdom’s initiatives have widened the region’s sectarian divide between the Sunnis and the Shi’ites, hence giving way to possible revived regional conflicts. Finally, the current geopolitical and geo-economic context might also lead KSA and the other GCC countries to undertake a different approach combined with their developing an integrated regional system: recreating relationships with major powers other than the US to increase their security.

Therefore, as will be put forward in this paper, we can see that the kingdom’s strategies to address its new security issues are likely to impact not only its neighbours and the region but also global issues.