GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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UAE-Saudi Border Disputes
Paper Proposal Text :
UAE-Saudi Border Disputes

For nearly fifty years, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi disputed sovereignty over frontier territories that included Khor al-Udaid, Buraimi oasis, and the area south of Liwa. In 1974, the two countries apparently ended the dispute with the Treaty of Jeddah. This paper addresses developments leading up to the Treaty of Jeddah as well as its aftermath. The historical record does not support previous scholarship that places undue emphasis on Britain’s defense of Abu Dhabi’s territorial claims from 1934 through 1955, a period that was actually an anomaly in British policy toward those claims. Before and after that period, British interests outweighed concerns of British officials for looking after Abu Dhabi’s interests.
Within two years of announcing that British official withdrawal from the Arabian Gulf would be completed by late 1971, British officials decided that Britain’s proper public role in the territorial disputes would be as an “honest broker” or neutral party. However, far from being a neutral party, Britain had substantial interests at stake in the disputes. As a result, from 1970 through 1971 Britain served as a facilitator in the early stages of negotiations between Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi. British officials did not exercise their obligations to Abu Dhabi under the Exclusive Agreement of 1892 but instead focused on persuading Shaikh Zayid to accept Saudi terms for settlement of the territorial disputes.
Lacking forceful British capabilities, Shaikh Zayid initially sought to bring in other outside mediators. His position was weak, the result of Abu Dhabi’s historical reliance on British power and a lack of foreign policy experience. Saudi Arabia, in contrast, was the most powerful nation on the Arabian Peninsula. Zayid’s position worsened when the Saudis threatened to withhold diplomatic recognition of the newly formed UAE or to return to more expansive Saudi territorial claims made in 1949 unless Zayid agreed to resolve the territorial disputes.
When the UAE and Saudi Arabia entered the actual negotiations that led to the Treaty of Jeddah, Great Britain’s role was reduced to virtually nothing. The exclusion of the British from the negotiating process, combined with secrecy surrounding the actual terms of the Treaty, has resulted in an incomplete and contradictory historical record.
However, the analysis presented here reveals emirati dissatisfaction with the Treaty of Jeddah dating from 1974 onwards. Since the revival of the territorial disputes, the terms of emirati dissatisfaction have become more explicit. The current dispute is deadlocked because Saudi Arabia will allow only one Treaty article to be amended with respect to maritime boundaries and the UAE insists that another article related to the Zarrarah/Shaybah oil field be amended, as well. The analysis concludes with speculation about future conditions that might be favorable for a final and equitable resolution of the UAE-Saudi territorial disputes.