By Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi
15 February 2014
With major political changes sweeping the Middle East and the balance of power shifting, there has been a raging debate lately about Saudi-American differences, particularly the Kingdom’s dissatisfaction with the US administration’s position on sensitive issues that have far-reaching consequences for the region.
The planned visit by U.S. President Barack Obama to these shores at the end of March indicates that relations between the two countries need reinforcement.
Washington is clearly aware of Riyadh’s disappointment at America’s lack of interest and unclear vision in the Middle East. The pending issues, which show the divide in thinking between the countries, include the United States’ failure to resolve the Syrian crisis.
In addition, the new puppy love romance between Washington and Tehran raises important questions on the direction of America’s policy in the region.
Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal recently confirmed that strategic relations continue to exist between the two nations but admitted the existence of “natural” disagreements.
Exercising political realism, Riyadh is working to create a balance between the various powers in the region. An important aspect of this approach requires a readiness to face all scenarios.
In his book “Theory of International Politics,” the American politician and founder of the new realism theory, Kenneth Waltz, argues that countries should prepare themselves militarily, economically and politically for any eventuality in the world. They should never allow themselves to get into a position where they have to depend on the mercy of others.
It is therefore of great significance that Saudi Arabia has shown a renewed interest in the Orient. Of particular importance are the planned visits of Crown Prince Salman, deputy premier and minister of defence, to Pakistan, India and Japan later this month. The defence minister’s deputy, Prince Salman bin Sultan, had also visited Pakistan last week, demonstrating the importance of the region to Riyadh.
As a sovereign power, it is in Saudi Arabia’s interests to continually expand its strategic relations in the region and make decisions based on its national interests. This is what all great powers do, they sway with the world’s changing demands.
It is clear that recent changes in the oil business will have a say in future Saudi-American relations. The growing oil shale industry in the U.S. and the availability of neighboring importers means a new status quo in the oil markets. While analysts do not expect the U.S. to drift completely away from quality Saudi oil, this new reality means that Far Eastern countries are becoming Riyadh’s largest importers.
Ali al-Naimi, the oil minister, says that the assumption that the dependence of the U.S. on Saudi oil will end, is frivolous. The Saudi movement to the East is therefore a strategy based on its needs.
When Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah toured countries in the Near East in an acclaimed visit in 2006, Saudi businesses made major investments, opening the door for strong economic relations.
Saudis want to ensure their ties with countries are based on mutually beneficial economic interests. This is why the crown prince is accompanied by a senior delegation of businessmen. Saudi Arabia seeks to build strategic relationships, not only short-term political deals.
Saudis also value the importance of cultural interaction. The country’s foreign scholarship program is a prime example. Tens of thousands of Saudis are now studying in Asia, demonstrating a shift in focus from the West to the East.
This move by the Saudi government is the right decision because it takes into account new realties on the ground and is the essence of political realism. In any case, warmer relations with nations in the East do not undermine its strategic relationships in the West and with the U.S. in particular. It simply opens new horizons and options.
Policy decisions based on mutating interests and power shifts are inevitably successful. A smart and wise player is always ready for all eventualities, and has the appropriate cards ready at the right time.
Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi is currently the editor-in-chief of Arab News and Sayidaty. A prominent journalist who worked with Asharq al-Awsat in London and Arab News in KSA, Al-Harthi later moved on to establish Al-Eqtisadiah newspaper in KSA, in which he rose to the position of Editorial Manager. He was appointed editor-in-chief for Arajol magazine in 1997. He won the Gulf Excellence award in 1992.