“Saudi Arabian Foreign Policy: Conflict and Co-operation”
Edited by Neil Partrick, the lead contributor (published by IB Tauris, February 2016)
This book addresses all of Saudi Arabia’s key external relations as well as the domestic and energy factors that influence them. You can order the book direct from IB Tauris by clicking here.
There is a huge vacuum in the available literature on, or related to, Saudi Arabia’s foreign relations. No other published book in English provides a comprehensive account of the country’s relations across all four continents and offers a largely country focused analysis of those relations.
At the US book launch at the AGSIW (see below) in March 2016 the respected US Middle Eastern scholar Hussein Ibish said, “[I]t fills a yawning gap in the literature on the strategic equation in the Middle East and in terms of Saudi foreign policy in particular.” He added that the book is “terrific,” and concluded by saying that “[we] owe Mr Partrick a big debt of gratitude.”
"Saudi Arabian Foreign Policy"is aimed at the general reader of Middle Eastern politics, and journalists or researchers eager to improve their understanding of Saudi Arabia and its approach to foreign relations. Equally, students of IR, international politics or area studies will find this a useful guide through the maze of a complex country’s complex foreign relations.
What's in it?
It's a volume of thematic and country and sub-region specific analysis of Saudi Arabia’s contemporary foreign relations. The introductory chapters assess the bases of Saudi foreign relations and provide a guide to their relative importance.
The book draws together analysts and academics with both a strong understanding of Saudi Arabia and the country/sub-region with which it has foreign relations.
Neil Partrick is the editor, and the author of 13 of the 21 chapters. Other contributors include Mohd Abu Hussin, Mark Katz, Mohammed El-Katiri, Yon Machmudi, Robert Mason, Menno Preuschaft, Neil Quilliam, Rene Rieger and Harry Verhoeven.
The chapters are:
The Domestic Drivers of Foreign Policy
The Role of Islam in the Determination of Saudi Foreign Policy
Saudi Energy Resources and Foreign Relations
Saudi-South Asian relations
Saudi-East Asian relations
Saudi-East African relations
Michele Dunne, head of Carnegie’s Middle East Department, and ex-NSC and State (including serving on the Secretary’s Policy Planning Staff), says of the book that it is “[t]errific as a reference and also a good read.”
An online review by scholar Ben Rich was posted on the Amazon webpage and can be read by clickinghere.
On October 13 2016 The National Interest published my article “Why the US-Saudi defence and security relationship will remain firm” on its website.
The strapline is: “It may be a dysfunctional marriage, but it’s definitely not heading for a divorce”
The article opens: “There is much apocalyptical talk about the ultimate Obama legacy being the death of the United States’ oldest strategic relationship in the Middle East. On this analysis the United States is exiting the region, while capital flight and fear of Iran leads the Saudis to get into bed with Russia, China or just about anybody going.”
To read more, please follow this link to The National Interest website
On September 9 2016, Carnegie Endowment's online Sada Journal published a debate on Saudi policy in Yemen. Click here for my contribution.
Neil Partrick, the book's editor and chief contributor, spoke on a panel with the author of the book's Saudi-Russian relations chapter, Mark Katz; Hussein Ibish, senior AGSIW fellow; and Fahad Nazer, a consultant on Saudi Arabia.
Click here to view a film of the entire meeting, care of the AGSIW website.
A UK event to discuss the book's content was held on April 12th 2016 at CAABU (Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding), which is located in the Arab-British Centre in London.
I addressed the well-attended meeting (see picture above), which was chaired by CAABU director Chris Doyle. My talk about the broad themes of the book and on some country-specific Saudi relations.
Click here to read CAABU's account of the meeting.
On February 12th 2016, Sada, the Middle East analysis journal of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington DC, published this piece on Saudi Arabia's problematic allies in Yemen.
On October 2nd 2015 Sada published an opinion piece by me on the Saudi military and political role in Yemen. It was entitled "Saudi Arabia's Yemen Gambit", it is available onlinein both English and Arabic.
I had an Op-Ed published online by the Arabian Gulf States Institute in Washington (AGSIW) on 11 September 2015.
Entitled “Saudi Arabia: A War on All Fronts?”, it concerned external and internal Saudi security threats and the measures the Kingdom is taking to tackle them. It can be read by clicking here.
My paper on contemporary Saudi-Jordanian relations ("Friends in Adversity") is available via the LSE's Kuwait Gulf Studies Programme. Click here to access the PDF on the LSE website. The paper was written in June 2013.
"Turkey: Looking East and West", my article on Turkey and its relations with the EU and the Middle East, was published by Open Democracy in June 2013. Clickhereto read the article.
The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee's enquiry into the UK's relations with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain issued its findings on 22nd November 2013. It includes some quotes from my oral evidence to the committee. Click here to access the full report.
The enquiry began on January 22nd 2013. Neil Partrick appeared before the committee in the opening session alongside Jane Kinninmont of Chatham House
Clickhere or below for the broadcast version of the appearance, followed by two ex-UK ambassadors to Bahrain, Sir Roger Tomkys and Robin Lamb.
The CORRECTED text version of Neil Partrick's evidence before the committee is available on the enquiry website. Click herefor the site or here for the report.
The BBC published my article on the Saudi succession on June 18 2012
Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah took his fellow Gulf leaders by surprise at their annual summit last December when he declared that the GCC should move from co-operation to “a union in a single entity”. The results of the ensuing consultative process involving officials and academics was supposed to have enabled the state leaders at their meeting in mid-May in Riyadh to decide what this union should look like. However, the decision was postponed, seemingly until December 2012 (although the Gulf states’ foreign ministers seem set to discuss it again in September).
It is believed that at the May Riyadh meeting the GCC leaders had before them two ideas. The first was a kind of “union of the willing”, consisting of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain but possibly also including Kuwait and Qatar; the second, a proposal that new GCC consultative bodies be founded to advise on practical steps toward union in specific policy areas such as defence and economy. Nobody expected that Oman, the “UK of the GCC”, would be in the first phase of any planned union. The UAE, which has kept out of preparations for a common currency due to a dispute over the location of the proposed central bank and which still has border sensitivities with Saudi Arabia, was not expected to come on board at this stage either.
National sovereignty remains a sensitive issue for all six member countries, especially among the smaller states who fear Saudi dominance, just as in the Euro Zone where German weight feeds resentments in other member states. The GCC already has a workable customs union, despite the complications of different rules applying to two member states’ trade with the US, and the annual spectacle of trucks from Abu Dhabi being held up for days on end at the Saudi border.
However, since its inception the GCC has not been able to agree on how to move beyond ad hoc co-operation on defence and diplomacy. Although largely founded out of fear of Iran, the GCC is still unable to act effectively as a bloc to contain it. Integrated defence and diplomacy could also allow the GCC to deal more effectively with the challenges of upheaval in the Arab world Different GCC member countries sometimes take quite different approaches to regional security and seek to position themselves globally in contradistinction to each other - with the most glaring example of this difference being between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. While they have for the most part successfully presented a common front since the Arab spring, thereby enabling the GCC and the Arab League to take on more diplomatic substance, they are not in any sense bound together, other than on a case by case, bilateral, basis. In both countries there is a strong sense of the other seeking to be the preeminent Arab actor – something that any attempt by the GCC to move beyond trade to a union affecting political sovereignty will need to overcome.
The union idea attracts broad support outside of government, and not just among Saudi elites. Former Arab nationalists throughout the GCC hope that, on the right basis, the notion of Arab unity can still have a practical meaning across today’s Gulf. In Kuwait, which sees itself as the historic builder of Gulf co-operation due to its support for the nascent states of the lower Gulf – pro-Saudi Islamist opinion is in favour. Liberal opinion is more cautious, however, and the importance of safeguards for the autonomy of the Kuwaiti parliament is stressed. In Bahrain the leadership and its political allies seem the most unequivocal in their support for union, beginning perhaps with one forged with Saudi Arabia alone. Talk of a confederation of these two kingdoms, however, must surely be just that because the demographic realities of being one country in law, as well as in rhetoric, would be as uncomfortable for the Saudi leadership as for the Bahraini opposition.
In external defence terms, the GCC’s “Peninsula Shield” has never been a genuinely “joined up” force. Resistance to such a body has been long standing in the GCC, and the form of its intervention in Bahrain does nothing to alter the impression of Gulf defence matters being largely handled by a loose coalition. The increased talk about a regional missile defence shield would, if it materialises, make much more sense than sovereign missile defences on sometimes tiny patches of territory . However, this would integrate the Gulf states’ missile defence with the US and is not therefore a self-reliant, integrated, defence capability of the kind apparently being sought. Joining up defence procurement would go much further to end the established bilateralism of the six Gulf states with western military allies, but this is not a prospect looked upon with relish by Gulf leaders or, it seems, in western capitals.
All of this appears quite far off at present, and sceptics are perhaps justified in wondering exactly what further extended deliberation by advisers, as opposed to government leaders, can achieve. Saudi enthusiasts for a union argue that the UAE itself is a political model readily understood by all Gulf leaders, even if the legal and theoretical niceties of sovereignty are sometimes not.
Given all of this, the question is whether a political union, that mostly continues to elude even the EU, is something that the self-styled cooperation council of the Arabian Gulf states can really conceive of themselves agreeing to. If not, then the agreed limits, as much as the prerequisites, of a union need to be spelled out in order for this project to ever get beyond the drawing board.
Neil Partrick, June 18th 2012.
The KSA and Syria (and Russia too)
May 31, 2012.
In an Al-Watan interview a few days ago, Mikhail Bogdanov, the deputy foreign minister and special advisor to the Russian President, said that Moscow had no problem with a change at the top in Syria, but not by external military intervention. He also emphasised to the Saudi daily that Russia is on the same page as the GCC re Syria and stressed the value of intra-Syrian talks (as per the Annan Plan). I wonder if the Saudi government might be getting a bit tired of the SNC (which it has always been wary of, it seems to me) and its reluctance to talk to the Syrian regime. Perhaps the KSA might be willing to give some encouragement to the growing sense coming out of Moscow that Assad has to go, possibly along the lines of the GCC's Yemen Plan (which of course IS the GCC Syria Plan too, and in effect is what Annan is supposed to be trying to deliver). None of this means that the Annan Plan isn't in need of desperate life support, if not resuscitation. However Dr Fyodor Luykanov commented to the BBC this morning that the Russian government post Houla seems to be accepting that the game has changed and some kind of Yemen option for Syria is needed. The writer Luykanov is close to the Russian foreign ministry and thus his argument could suggest what Russian official thinking is becoming. Or it might be a bluff to stave of western and Arab pressure for more drastic solutions to deal with Moscow's ally in Damascus. However for the Saudis it does not seem to me that a role in the armed overthrow of a regime already presiding over a nascent civil war is that attractive (even if Qatar sees things differently from its geographical vantage point.)
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