"SAUDI ARABIA IN THE 21"
MIDDLE EAST POLICY, VOL. XII, NO. 3, FALL 2005 SAUDI ARABIA IN THE 21ST CENTURY: A NEW SECURITY DILEMMA James A. Russell Mr. Russell is a senior lecturer in the Department of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School. The views in this article are his own and do not reflect the views or positions of the Naval Postgraduate School, Department of the Navy or the Department of Defense. T hroughout much of 2003, 2004 examination of the assumptions that have and 2005, the international driven the kingdom’s quest for security community has watched in over the last 50 years. The latest reporting morbid fascination as Iran and indicates that the Saudis have begun talks the International Atomic Energy Agency with the IAEA about its “Small Quantities (IAEA) waltzed through a halting, reluctant Protocol.” As it has for other states, the slow-dance, with each side alternately protocol would allow the Saudis to admit pushing the other away in response to the possession of allowable quantities of unwanted entreaties, only to re-embrace in uranium and plutonium and provide requi- the halting partnership. Chaperoning the site assurances that the material was not encounter is the European Community stored in a nuclear facility. Under the acting as a supportive partner, with the protocol, the material would not be sub- United States and Israel in a more threat- jected to routine IAEA inspections.1 ening guise. The song is still playing, While the prospect of a nuclear-armed though it remains unclear whether the two Saudi Arabia has been dismissed by many sides will decide to stay until the end of the observers and, if realized, would represent dance. Many interested parties await the a profoundly unwelcome development for outcome: the Israelis, the United States, regional security, the fact that the Saudis and indeed the entire Middle East. appear interested in a systematic look at While the international community their security strategy is in many ways a remains rightfully transfixed by the pros- healthy and welcome development. During pect of a nuclear-armed Iran, another the 1990s, the United States unsuccessfully concern now shimmers on regional radar sought to build a structured dialogue with screens. Periodic press reporting through- the kingdom to address long-term security out 2003-05 asserts that Saudi Arabia is strategy and the role that the Saudis might also seriously considering the acquisition of play in a broader regional framework. The nuclear weapons as part of a general re- Persian Gulf and Middle East have re- 64 RUSSELL: SAUDI ARABIA IN THE 21ST CENTURY mained largely impervious to any efforts participation due to reported annoyance promoting a more integrated regional over Bahrain’s free-trade agreement with security framework. Indeed, regional the United States. The GCC, it seems, is security can be best described simply as the same as it ever was. American hegemony. In addition to With the region’s largest military American predominance, there are many boasting some of the most modern U.S. reasons why the regional states have not defense equipment ever sold to foreign organized themselves in an overarching customers, it seems logical that Saudi security construct. Continued interstate Arabia would seek to insert itself into a disputes, lack of a common threat percep- leadership role to work with the region’s tion and simple inertia have to be at the top smaller and less-populous states to fashion of any list. Outside of half-hearted, but a more coherent security framework. well-intentioned efforts by the sultan of Saud al-Faisal’s words notwithstanding, the Oman, none of the region’s states have Saudis’ lack of enthusiasm for regional tried to lead the region toward military collective security has only been confirmed integration and collective security.2 in persistent press reports suggesting that Perhaps times are changing. Saudi they are instead considering a route taken foreign minister Saud al-Faisal told an by other regional states – the acquisition of audience in Bahrain in December 2004 that weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and/ a new regional-security framework needed or nuclear weapons. One particularly to be constructed around the following four interesting report points to Saudi interest in pillars: (1) a strong, vibrant Gulf Coopera- three options for ensuring security: (1) tion Council (GCC) in which the members seeking the declaration of states in the are integrated economically, politically and region to forsake WMD and create a militarily; (2) the inclusion of Yemen; (3) a WMD-free zone, (2) acquiring nuclear stable and unified Iraq; and (4) the inclu- weapons, and (3) aligning themselves with sion of Iran.3 Saud al-Faisal noted that an existing nuclear power and placing the security of the region should not themselves under its nuclear umbrella.4 depend on the United States, but should The kingdom’s review of these issues stem from guarantees “…provided by the as evidenced by Saud al-Faisal’s Decem- collective will of the international commu- ber 2004 speech and the related press nity through a unanimous declaration by the reports over the last 36 months reflects the Security Council guaranteeing the sover- House of Saud’s obvious reactions to eignty, independence and territorial integrity fundamental changes in the regional- of all the countries of the Gulf and promis- security environment. While the Persian ing to act forcefully against any external Gulf and wider Middle East have always threats.” Whether or not such soaring been noted by strategists for their chronic rhetoric will be turned into meaningful instability, events over the last several action remains to be seen, but the past years have made a bad situation worse. actions of the GCC and the Saudis provide The Saudis, it seems, have noticed these little cause for optimism. Indeed, the changes and are taking stock. speech was followed by a GCC summit Changes to the region’s security notable for the lack of high-level Saudi environment flow from a variety of interre- 65 MIDDLE EAST POLICY, VOL. XII, NO. 3, FALL 2005 lated forces. First came the September 11 Second came the U.S. invasion of Iraq attacks and the unwelcome (at least from in March 2003 and the now-open declara- the Saudi perspective) attention in the tion by President Bush that one of the American press to alleged Saudi financial principal objectives of using force in Iraq is support for al-Qaeda in conjunction with somehow to transform the region into more stories of Saudi sponsorship of religious transparent societies with fundamentally extremism through the funding of madrasas different political and economic systems. in Pakistan and elsewhere preaching a Such fundamental change is anathema to “Wahhabi” fundamentalist version of Islam the founding principles of the kingdom as to receptive Muslim audiences around the created by Abdul Aziz Ibn Al-Saud in 1932. world. The situation seemed particularly Rumors accompanied the Iraq invasion that acute in Pakistan, where Saudi financial the United States also sought to establish a support for the madrasas and the jihadists military partnership with a reconfigured during the war in Afghanistan morphed into Iraq that would act as a potential alterna- the Taliban, which eventually took over tive to the strained relationship with the Afghanistan and provided al-Qaeda with a House of Saud. Iraq and its 112 billion geographic base to build an infrastructure barrels of oil reserves could, some argued, to support terrorist operations around the replace Saudi Arabia as the strategically world.5 While the press and public justifi- vital U.S. partner in the region. The ably focused on the fact that 15 out of the United States is reportedly developing a 19 attackers on 9/11 came from Saudi number of military facilities in Iraq that Arabia, this alone might not have been so could serve as operational hubs similar to serious but for the wider context of U.S.- the facilities now in use in Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi relations. There had been a decade Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and of drift in the U.S.-Saudi security relation- Oman.7 On the political front, Bush ship, highlighted by the obvious discomfort administration policy initiatives being of the House of Saud with the continuing advanced under the rubric of the Middle presence of U.S. forces operating out of East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) seek to Prince Sultan Air Base. With the presence help create new governmental political and of these forces seized upon for criticism by economic institutions that will embrace emerging domestic political forces in the transparency and accountability. The kingdom, the House of Saud found it could Saudis have neither signed up for any of no longer quietly conduct business with the the MEPI programs nor embraced the Americans out of the public view. More- administration’s broader calls to transform over, despite various critics pointing to an the region. Perhaps unsurprisingly, forcible alleged cozy relationship between the Bush regime change in Baghdad has not been family and the House of Saud, it seemed embraced in Riyadh. Indeed, as will be unclear after 9/11 whether the Bush discussed later, a new Shiite government in administration was prepared to continue Baghdad represents a potential threat to “business as usual.” These strains con- the kingdom. While important in and of verged to undermine the U.S.-Saudi themselves, the limited municipal elections relationship; just how seriously remains to in February 2005 do not represent a rush to be seen.6 fundamentally alter the political status quo 66 RUSSELL: SAUDI ARABIA IN THE 21ST CENTURY in the kingdom in ways that meet the for the Saudi leadership over the last overarching U.S. goal of advancing decade. The impact of these domestic freedom and democracy in the region. complications on security issues is difficult Third have come the unfolding revela- to discern. It can and should, however, be tions by the IAEA that had been long subjected to some informed speculation by suspected by many – that Iran is engaged governments that are interested in trying to in a comprehensive and systematic pro- forestall the Saudis from acquiring new and gram to develop fissile material outside of threatening military capabilities, whether international oversight. There appears little long-range missiles or nuclear weapons. doubt in some quarters that Iran intends to In short, strategic, regional and domes- develop its own nuclear weapons, going the tic factors are all combining and overlap- route of other regional states – Pakistan, ping to create a profound security dilemma Israel and India. This program, in conjunc- both for the regime and the nation. Seen tion with the development of long-range within this framework, it is not surprising missile capabilities, potentially provides that the Saudis would be giving serious Tehran with the means to put a variety of thought to the most appropriate way to regional capitals at risk, opening the door to ensure their security. a coercive political and military framework designed to support Tehran’s regional SMOKE AND FIRE? objectives. The prospect of a nuclear- Growing Saudi concern over its armed Iran with long-range missiles security dilemma can be detected in the promises to establish a new strategic factor smoke wafting around this issue. It started of analysis for states throughout the region. appearing in the fall of 2003, with further Last, but not least, is an emerging and hints throughout the winter and spring of complicated domestic political landscape 2004. Following the September 18, 2003, within the kingdom that is forcing the ruling story in The Guardian on the options under family to play to its varied “publics” at the consideration to ensure Saudi security, the same time it is waging an increasingly London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq al- active war against an entrenched militant Awsat published an editorial on October 8 infrastructure. The impact of internal titled “Yes, We Fear Iran’s Uranium.” The politics and the battle against al-Qaeda are editorial, penned by editor Abd Al-Rahman both difficult gauges in the context of the Al-Rashad, dismissed the idea that the House of Saud’s decision-making process Iranian nuclear program was directed at on how to ensure its long-term security. threats from the United States and Israel: Western observers are often quick to “The Iranians are enriching uranium to dismiss Saudi domestic “politics” per se, produce nuclear weapons aimed, essen- but the House of Saud governs by consen- tially, at its neighbors, mainly Pakistan. sus and has done so successfully since the However, the danger encompasses the inception of the kingdom. Maintaining other neighboring countries as well, such as consensus – a process that is largely Saudi Arabia, Oman, Iraq, Afghanistan, opaque to all but the best-informed observ- Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan….”8 The ers – has become increasingly complicated editorial further opined, 67 MIDDLE EAST POLICY, VOL. XII, NO. 3, FALL 2005 We fear Iran’s intentions in producing mored fighting vehicles, missiles and nuclear weapons because we under- tanks.”13 All recent activity seems consis- stand very well, given the history of tent with previous Saudi support for and conflicts in the region, that Iran will interest in Pakistan’s nuclear and missile push us toward one of the two programs, consisting of alleged Saudi royal- tragedies: The simpler tragedy is that Iran will ignite the spark of the nuclear family representation at a Pakistani ballistic- arms race in our poverty-stricken missile test in May 2002 and a visit by Saudi region, whose governments will begin Minister of Defense and Aviation Prince to purchase these ecologically Sultan in May 1999 to the Pakistani ura- dangerous toys at an unbelievably nium-enrichment facility at Kahuta.14 high price. The second tragedy is that Some allege that Saudi Arabia provided the arms race will result in putting Pakistan with critical funding and other these insane weapons to use.9 support to help Pakistan absorb the substan- tial costs of building a nuclear capability.15 Following the Al-Sharq al-Awsat Further commentaries have emerged editorial, UPI reported in October 2003 that highlighting the Saudi Arabia and Saudi-Pakistani Pakistan had connection as well concluded a Some analysts go further, as a rumored Sino- “secret agreement suggesting that China aspires Saudi connection, on nuclear coop- to replace the United States as stemming in part eration” following a the guarantor of Gulf security from the $3 billion visit by Crown to $3.5 billion Saudi Prince Abdullah to and wants to craft a strategic acquisition of 40 to Pakistan.10 Ac- partnership with the Saudis as 50 Chinese CSS-2 cording to the part of such a plan. missiles in the late report, Abdullah 1980s. Given and Pakistani China’s past President Pervez Musharraf agreed to history of involvement with the Pakistani exchange Saudi oil for Pakistani nuclear missile and nuclear programs, it is argued “know-how and expertise.”11 The leaders that a Sino-Saudi-Pakistani connection also reportedly discussed the possibility of becomes even more plausible.16 A further Pakistani troops deploying to the kingdom, twist on this line of reasoning has been presumably to provide added assurance offered, noting that Saudi Arabia is now against external threats. Other reports China’s primary source of imported oil, a went further, suggesting that agreement relationship that will only become more was reached during these meetings to pronounced over the next 20 years, assum- station Pakistani nuclear weapons on Saudi ing the Energy Information soil.12 During meetings in Islamabad on Administration’s projections provide an October 4, 2004, Pakistani and Saudi analytically sound baseline.17 The presi- delegations were rumored to have discussed dent and chief executive of Saudi Aramco, “ways to undertake a joint venture in the Abdallah Jumah, in fact, recently indicated production of arms and ammunition, ar- that the world’s largest oil company will 68 RUSSELL: SAUDI ARABIA IN THE 21ST CENTURY work hard in the years ahead to increase Constructing such an analytical framework exports to China.18 The EIA projects that can then inform strategy and policy aimed China may be importing up to 10 million at addressing the potential issue of Saudi barrels of oil per day by 2020, with most of proliferation. this coming from Saudi Arabia and other The public Saudi position on prolifera- Gulf producers, a significant increase from tion and nuclear weapons is clear. High- today’s levels of approximately 500,000 ranking officials in the kingdom repeatedly barrels per day from Aramco.19 These renounce interest in acquiring nuclear factors, in a dangerous neighborhood, might weapons, pointing to Saudi Arabia’s combine to make a more robust military accession to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Sino-Saudi security relationship attractive Treaty (NPT) in October 1988 and its to the Al Saud leadership in the years consistent position calling for the creation ahead.20 Some analysts go further, of a WMD-free zone in the Middle East. suggesting that China aspires to replace the (Saudi Arabia also ratified the Chemical United States as the guarantor of Gulf Warfare Convention in 1996.) A press security and wants to craft a strategic release posted on the website of Saudi partnership with the Saudis as part of such Arabia’s Washington Embassy summarily a plan.21 states: “Reports that Saudi Arabia is What is to be made of this reporting, considering acquiring nuclear weapons are and which of these issues constitute actual baseless and totally false. Saudi Arabia fires rather than mere smoke? The flurry has long advocated for a Middle East that of reporting and follow-on analysis pro- is free of nuclear, biological and chemical vides national-security academics and weapons, and there is no basis to change professionals with a useful means to current policies.”22 Deciding to acquire analyze the kingdom’s security predica- nuclear weapons would clearly place Saudi ment in the new century. The task is Arabia outside its NPT commitments. admittedly difficult. There is no open Recent Saudi statements confirm these debate within the kingdom about security positions. Saud al-Faisal flatly denied that strategy, and senior princes rarely talk the kingdom would develop nuclear weap- about these issues in public except to ons in response to Iran’s acquiring them, repeat shopworn statements of policy. stating, “No, we will not [build our own Discerning and deducing Saudi signals and nuclear weapons]. We do not believe that intentions is at best a haphazard process. it gives any country security to build It must be attempted, nonetheless, if the nuclear weapons.”23 These statements United States and the international commu- have not ended the speculation and seem nity are to address what may be the next, at odds with indications that the Saudis and arguably most crucial, proliferation have expressed interest in the IAEA small- challenge in the region. As part of this quantities protocol, which would free the process, the kingdom’s search for security Saudis from reporting up to 10 tons of needs to be framed in a broader context natural uranium, 20 tons of depleted that can guide analysts and policy makers uranium (depending on enrichment levels) to understand the interrelationships among and 2.2 pounds of plutonium. various Saudi motivations and interests. 69 MIDDLE EAST POLICY, VOL. XII, NO. 3, FALL 2005 LOOMING CSS-2 REPLACEMENT solid-propellant missile (DF-21A), which DECISION means that training and support for the The Saudis face a near-term “wedge” liquid-fueled CSS-2 will become increas- decision on the proliferation issue: whether ingly more complicated and expensive.24 to replace or upgrade CSS-2/DF-2 missiles The Saudis face a decision on whether to bought from the Chinese in the late 1980s allow the CSS-2 to lapse into obsolescence in the aftermath of the Iran-Iraq War. The or replace it with a next-generation system. Saudis purchased 50-60 missiles with The Saudis have a number of options: (1) conventional warheads and a dozen-odd phase out the CSS-2 from the force transporter erector launchers, which are structure and abandon the long-range deployed at two sites with four to six missile program, (2) upgrade to a new launch pads per site. This protracted missile and conventional warhead, (3) strategic bombardment of both Tehran and upgrade to a new missile with a nuclear Baghdad, while of limited military utility, warhead, and (4) opt for a new missile had a profound psychological impact on the with an unconventional warhead. leadership of both states. The missile Choosing among these options forces purchase followed a decision by the United the Saudis to confront the kingdom’s States not to sell the kingdom surface-to- increasingly complicated security dilemma, surface missiles. In going to the Chinese, the heart of which is arguably the state of the Saudis demonstrated interest in diversi- the U.S.-Saudi partnership. fying their arms-sales relationships. This was also indicated by their purchase of A WEAKENED U.S.-SAUDI advanced Tornado aircraft from the British PARTNERSHIP after repeated difficulties in acquiring F- Saudi Arabia’s relationship with the 15s from the United States in the 1980s. United States has remained at the heart of But, while the Tornado purchase made the kingdom’s quest for security since its sense in terms of Saudi security require- founder, Ibn Abdul Aziz Al Saud, met with ments, given the pre-eminent role of the President Roosevelt in the Great Bitter Royal Saudi Air Force in defending the Lake in February 1945. That meeting kingdom, the link between the CSS-2 and placed a political face on the growing legitimate military requirements always commercial relationship (dating to Standard seemed more tenuous. With a 2,650- Oil of California’s concession in 1932) and kilometer range and a reported circular Saudi Arabia’s gradual emergence as the error probability of nearly a kilometer, it dominant player in the world’s oil markets. was always difficult to identify the military As it evolved over the twentieth utility of such a conventionally armed century, the U.S.-Saudi partnership formed missile. This led various commentators to around a number of critical political, suggest that the missiles boasted a nuclear economic and military pillars: payload. • U.S. companies – the Aramco partners – Whatever the reason for the original would exploit Saudi oil reserves and purchase, the Saudis must now decide build out the Saudi energy infrastructure; whether to replace this aging system. The • At the political level, the United States Chinese are fielding a second-generation, would regard the security of the king- 70 RUSSELL: SAUDI ARABIA IN THE 21ST CENTURY dom as a “vital” interest – a commit- structive and moderating influence in ment conveyed to the House of Saud on OPEC, other central elements of the a number of occasions in the post-World partnership now appear in question. While War II era – and would use force and/or one hears various high-level Bush adminis- deploy forces to the kingdom if neces- tration officials make the usual supportive sary on those occasions when the diplomatic statements about the U.S.-Saudi House of Saud and the U.S. political relationship, there is little doubt that various leadership agreed that the situation parts of the Bush administration’s national- warranted; security bureaucracy – mostly located in • The United States would seek to develop the Defense Department – are now openly Saudi internal and external security questioning the value of the Saudi partner- capabilities through the sale of defense ship. Moreover, the constituency in the equipment and State training sup- Department’s ported by the The partnership has drifted Near and South presence of East Asia Bureau advisory ele- into decline as the United that provided ments to help States during the 1990s important internal manage the increasingly focused on solving bureaucratic complicated the Arab-Israeli dispute and support for the programs and relationship has day-to-day containing Iraq and Iran, eroded and gradu- training activities; subjecting the House of Saud ally been sub- • The Saudis would to growing domestic political sumed by a use their pressures stemming from the bureaucratic influence as the constituency dominant prolonged presence of U.S emphasizing the supplier within forces in the kingdom. centrality of the OPEC and U.S.-Israeli world oil partnership to markets to ensure that crude reached achieving U.S. regional objectives.25 Saudi the market in a relatively predictable Arabia now also has few friends in Con- stream; gress. Protection of Saudi territorial • The Saudis would generally support U.S. integrity and the maintenance of the House interests in the region, such as the of Saud are no longer routinely described Middle East peace process, though it as “vital” U.S. interests. To be sure, the would not take the lead publicly in U.S.-Saudi partnership has always been a supporting these interests; marriage of partners that could not be • The United States would not push more culturally and historically dissimilar. substantial internal political or economic But both parties made a conscious decision reform, leaving the House of Saud to to ignore and work around their fulfill its part of the tacit bargain. incongruencies to build a security partner- While Saudi Arabia remains a con- ship that has proven remarkably durable.26 71 MIDDLE EAST POLICY, VOL. XII, NO. 3, FALL 2005 The partnership arguably reached its apex States would not overtly push the House of in the 1980s, when, backed by the CIA and Saud to institute political and economic the White House, the two countries reforms. Clearly, this understanding is no embarked on covertly opposing the Soviets longer operative. The Bush administration in Afghanistan and various other adven- appears determined to actively push all tures around the globe to combat an countries in the region towards fundamen- illusory communist menace. Since then, tal political and economic reforms. This however, the partnership has drifted into places the monarchy on a long-term decline as the United States during the collision course with the United States. 1990s increasingly focused on solving the Arab-Israeli dispute and containing Iraq A DETERIORATING REGIONAL and Iran, subjecting the House of Saud to ENVIRONMENT growing domestic political pressures At the same time that the U.S.-Saudi stemming from the prolonged presence of relationship has been drawn into question, U.S forces in the kingdom. regional developments have taken a The September 11 attacks unleashed a dramatic turn for the worse – at least from torrent of unflattering stories about the the Saudi perspective. While the death of kingdom’s alleged support for terrorists Yasser Arafat and the emergence of the around the globe, stemming partly from the democratically elected Palestinian leader fact that 15 of the 19 hijackers came from Mahmoud Abbas is a welcome develop- Saudi Arabia, but also due to the apparently ment, the last four years have seen the unregulated financial support for charities emergence of militant hardliners on both suspected of links to al-Qaeda. The the Israeli and Palestinian sides who formulation of these stories identifies the appear uninterested in reconciliation and Saudis as the source of the Wahhabi accommodation. The sway of these “extremist” religious ideology, which has groups, in combination with the de facto been aggressively exported throughout the U.S. abandonment of its policy of acting as world with active Saudi political and an “honest broker” in the peace process, financial support. Thus, the formulations has created a seemingly permanent go, the Saudis are now regarded as an landscape of conflict that feeds a enemy in the global war on terror.27 radicalizing (and anti-U.S.) mass psychol- Constant battering in the press has taken ogy that regimes throughout the region its toll on those within the kingdom’s must deal with as a factor in their internal leadership who would continue to support a and foreign policies. strong U.S.-Saudi strategic partnership. The U.S. invasion of Iraq represents The Bush administration’s repeated another threatening feature on this already and forceful enunciations of a strategy to troubled regional landscape. However transform the Middle East into a series of much the Saudis may have disliked democratic states have placed additional Saddam, the prospect of a Shia-led pseudo pressures on the degraded Saudi-United democratic confederation in Iraq (a best- States partnership.28 Indeed, one of the case scenario) can hardly be any more implicit understandings throughout the post- palatable in Riyadh. The Saudis would World War II era was that the United face the prospect of a potentially powerful 72 RUSSELL: SAUDI ARABIA IN THE 21ST CENTURY neighbor representing a profound political Islamic Republic appears positioned to and religious threat to the kingdom. A eventually become the world’s next nuclear politically successful Iraq administered by power with the ability to deliver a nuclear its Shia majority would place the Saudi weapon to a range of at least 1,250 miles. monarchy in a difficult position politically, Iran’s August 2004 test of an enhanced since it is already under pressure to speed Shehab-3 medium-range missile capable of up the kingdom’s political reforms. The carrying a 2,250 pound warhead only emergence of a Shia-dominated Iraq also confirmed Tehran’s ability to reach targets would exacerbate the Saudi regime’s throughout the region, including Riyadh.29 strained relations with the Shia throughout Iranian officials have repeatedly claimed the region, but particularly in the kingdom’s that its nuclear program is intended to Eastern Province. supply fuel for reactors that can generate Other scenarios in Iraq are hardly up to 7,000 megawatts of electricity by much better for the Saudis. The potential 2020, when Iran’s oil reserves will start to splintering of the country into fiefdoms decline. It is unlikely that the House of defined along ethnic, tribal and sectarian Saud finds any solace in the hollow- lines creates the prospect of one massive sounding claims by Iran’s leadership that it headache along Riyadh’s unpoliceable is only developing nuclear power for northern frontier. An Iraq consumed with peaceful purposes. ethnic, tribal and sectarian warfare provid- ing a base of operations for money, men POLITICS AND NATIONAL and materiel that can be funneled into al- DEFENSE Qaeda’s infrastructure in the kingdom is The May 12, 2003, attacks in Riyadh another potential negative outcome of on Western housing compounds and the regime change in Baghdad. In sum, it’s ensuing violence over the next two years difficult to see an outcome in Iraq that will leave no doubt that the House of Saud has ease Saudi Arabia’s threat perception and finally awakened to the serious threat enhance its sense of security. posed by al-Qaeda. The extent of its But if the day-to-day violent spiral in network throughout the kingdom serves as Iraq is cause for concern in Riyadh, Iran’s a cruel reminder that al-Qaeda continues to apparently inexorable march towards pursue a primary mission, as articulated by developing its own nuclear capability Osama bin Laden: to destabilize the represents an even more serious challenge. kingdom and remove the apostate House Tehran’s intentions seem clear to most of Saud from power. The emergence of observers. It has built a redundant and an activist militant infrastructure is a hardened nuclear infrastructure that is all complicating factor for the regime as it but impervious to an Osirak-type attack, contemplates growing uncertainties in the and its hard-line religious leadership has domestic political environment that will repeatedly stated it will neither abandon its invariably affect any security strategy to nuclear program nor place it under mean- mitigate external threats. ingful international oversight. In the The complexities of the Saudi domestic context of Iran’s mature and apparently political environment and the challenges successful long-range missile program, the facing Crown Prince Abdullah and the 73 MIDDLE EAST POLICY, VOL. XII, NO. 3, FALL 2005 royal family cannot be overstated. They 2003 letter to Abdullah, called for a rejec- must mobilize the fight against al-Qaeda tion of “…all kinds of extremism and while simultaneously preserving consensus violence and terrorism” in the kingdom.30 within the royal family and negotiating It is clear in these and other passages in reform among the important players on the the petitions that certain parts of the Saudi domestic scene. domestic political diaspora recognize the Crown Prince Abdullah has cautiously link between security (both internal and initiated a domestic political process that external) and governmental reform and seeks to address the many difficult issues want the issue openly discussed. facing the kingdom: the role of women, The process of domestic political lack of economic diversification, the place reform will, if nothing else, place security of the religious establishment in gover- issues in a broader domestic political nance and reform, and the kingdom’s role bargaining framework as the House of within the region and with outside powers Saud navigates between competing con- – to name a few. Internal discussion of the stituencies. There are rumors of internal nation’s external security is absent from schisms within the royal family itself on the the “National Dialogue” forums held over pace and direction of internal reforms. the last two years. However, some of the And, while the regime may seek to limit “petitions” presented to Abdullah by so- treatment of an issue that has always been called reformers have linked the need for limited to dialogue among senior family internal reform with the changing external members, it seems clear that the outcome environment. In February 2003, petitioners of the kingdom’s internal debate could have presented Abdullah with a “National a profound impact on its approach to Reform Document” that complimented the security strategy. crown prince for stimulating an internal While the removal of U.S. operational debate: “It is a commendable course that forces from Prince Sultan Air Base generated support among a score of your eliminated a domestic political irritant for brothers and sons among the citizens, who the regime, broader treatment of the status are worried about the dangers facing their of the U.S. relationship must logically country since September 11, 2001. For appear at the top of any list of issues to instance, [the region is] threatened with discuss. While Saudi Arabia has relied on military action, intervention in internal U.S. protection for most of the twentieth affairs and redrawing the whole regional century, due to a conscious commitment by map.” The petitioners further stated their the royal family, it is unclear that there is solidarity with the ruling family “…in facing still consensus on this issue. Moreover, it is all dangers which threaten our country’s almost certainly the case that powerful present and future. And they see that domestic constituencies do not want to those dangers require serious reforms to continue the U.S.-Saudi relationship on the strengthen relations between the leadership same basis. Public opinion forms a support- and the community.” Another related group ing backdrop on this issue, in which a of pro-reform petitioners reiterated their variety of opinion polls show overwhelming concern about the growing terrorist threat disapproval of U.S. policies and of the to the kingdom and, in a September 24, United States more generally. Both the 74 RUSSELL: SAUDI ARABIA IN THE 21ST CENTURY religious establishment and dissident clerics for themselves at the national level. The seem united in this opinion. Consistent clerics are said to represent certain strands with doctrine of tawhid, these actors are of thought that resonate within the state- said to endorse the view that the United sponsored religious establishment and States must be ejected from the region as broader conservative elements in Saudi an infidel regime engaged in a war on society.35 While they differ in terms of Islam. There is much common ground their support for the regime, they are more here between al-Qaeda and certain united in their xenophobic message, which is elements of the religious establishment. both strongly anti-Shia and anti-Western. If There are also rumored splits in the family the clerics are not united on the outlines of on this issue, pitting Interior Minister Prince domestic political reform, they are united in Nayef and others against Crown Prince opposition to both the prospect of a Shia- Abdullah.31 dominated government in Baghdad and the Recent pronouncements by some U.S. presence in the region, which is aiding dissident clerics calling for the ejection of and abetting the ascent of the Shia on their the United States from the region bring an doorstep. The House of Saud eventually added layer of complexity to the domestic must address the contradictions between its political landscape.32 In November 2004, partnership with the United States and the these clerics released a fatwa urging arguments for ending the relationship being support for the jihadist forces in Iraq advanced by a powerful domestic political battling the U.S. occupation, asserting that constituency that has been a central pillar of “…resistance is a legitimate right. In fact it the regime’s governing structure. The is a religious duty…”33 Several prominent confluence of positions between the dissi- Sunni scholars signed the fatwa – Awad Al dent clerics and the religious establishment Qarni, Salman Al Awdah and Safar Al restricts the House of Saud’s bargaining Hawali. This fatwa followed a May 2004 power on domestic and international issues, pronouncement by Saudi dissident cleric, since the regime’s legitimacy stems from its Nasser bin Hamed Al Fahad, that provided historic pledge to uphold the conservative al-Qaeda with a legal justification for using tenets of Wahhabi Islam in coordination weapons of mass destruction, stating, “If with the religious establishment. the nonbelievers are not going to be pushed The shrinking domestic political away from Muslims unless weapons like maneuvering room may help explain the WMD are used, then it is legal to use such caution in placing new military orders with weapons to kill them all and destroy their the United States. There have been no crops and offspring.”34 major arms sales since the 1997 purchase These clerics represent new and of the F-15I fighter aircraft. The eroded powerful actors in the kingdom’s domestic U.S.-Saudi political partnership cannot but politics. It’s becoming increasingly difficult lead to the re-emergence of the doubts for the regime to simply throw these frequently voiced by the Saudi leadership dissidents in jail, the regime’s preferred during the early 1980s about the reliability course of action over the last decade. Two of the United States as a supplier of of the main clerics, Safar Al Hawali and advanced weaponry. The issue of U.S. Salman Al Awdah, have carved out a role reliability becomes critical given the 75 MIDDLE EAST POLICY, VOL. XII, NO. 3, FALL 2005 dependence of the Saudi Arabian Armed unequivocal, and a decision to proliferate Forces (SAAF) on the continuous flow of by Saudi Arabia obviously would have spare parts and logistical support from the disastrous consequences for the U.S.- United States and the accompanying Saudi partnership and the wider regional phalanx of U.S. contractors. Any disrup- security environment. The critical question tion will quickly lead to a deterioration of for policy makers and the international the kingdom’s ability to defend itself with community must be to identify the instru- conventional military force. The regime’s ments of national power that can usefully dependence on the U.S.-supported and influence the House of Saud’s decision- supplied Saudi Arabia National Guard making calculus to prevent a decision to (SANG) constitutes another difficult issue. proliferate. In considering how to approach SANG’s primary mission of protecting both the issue, it is important that the United the regime and the oil fields may be even States openly concede the gaps in its more important than the combat capabili- knowledge about the motivations and ties of the SAAF. Altering the U.S. intentions of the members of the senior security partnership in a way that leads to leadership (and other important domestic deterioration in the conventional military actors) who will play a role in shaping capabilities provided by the Ministry of Saudi Arabia’s approach to protecting the Defense and Aviation and Office of the kingdom. The difficulties of penetrating Program Manager for the Saudi Arabia what is largely an opaque decision-making National Guard organizations only in- environment cannot be underestimated as creases Saudi Arabia’s vulnerability to the United States thinks about fashioning external and internal threats, making an effective counterproliferation policy. asymmetric security capabilities that much A few guidelines suggest themselves: more cost effective. • Both the internal and external security House of Saud decision-making on environments of the kingdom must be issues related to external defense and adjusted to reduce its sense of insecurity. national security traditionally has been • Coercive diplomacy and rhetoric directed exercised by a relatively few actors in the at Saudi Arabia is likely to backfire, ruling family. It remains unclear how the providing further ammunition to internal senior leadership will address these new actors calling for a reduced U.S.-Saudi domestic political pressures and the security partnership. Instead, the United plethora of emerging actors from across States should quietly assist the regime’s the political spectrum. But all these factors internal battle against al-Qaeda. This militate against a business-as-usual ap- can help provide the House of Saud with proach and suggest a new and more the space to manage the process of complicated set of factors that will shape internal political evolution while simulta- the kingdom’s security strategy in the years neously battling the militants. ahead. • Forestalling Iranian acquisition of fissile material that could be used for nuclear POLICY IMPLICATIONS weapons is obviously a central challenge The opposition of the United States to that will affect the security of all re- nuclear and other WMD proliferation is gional states, including Saudi Arabia. 76 RUSSELL: SAUDI ARABIA IN THE 21ST CENTURY • Transition to a democratic Iraq must be cases – North Korea, Iran, Libya, Syria carefully managed and should include a and Iraq. These nuances stem from a no-WMD pledge from the Iraqi regime variety of factors: the changed context of as a confidence-building measure for the U.S.-Saudi security relationship, a other regional states. highly unstable regional-security environ- • The U.S.–Saudi partnership needs to be ment that could quickly deteriorate due to placed on a new footing, based on a events in Iraq and Iran, and an unfolding realistic appraisal of the interests of process of domestic political evolution that each party. The United States should is making it more difficult for the House of engage the House of Saud in sustained Saud to govern by its traditional process of dialogue on proliferation and security consensus. An appreciation for these issues. Such a dialogue might help ease nuances is central to crafting a mosaic of the security concerns of the regime as policy initiatives at the strategic, operational one element in an integrated approach to and tactical levels. Integrating these levels discourage proliferation. offers the best chance of success in forestalling a decision by Saudi Arabia to CONCLUSION acquire new unconventional capabilities The question of proliferation in Saudi and address the different levels of Saudi Arabia has it own particular nuances that Arabia’s emerging security dilemma. on some levels make it different from other 1 George Jahn, “Saudis in Talks on Nuke Loophole,” Associated Press, April 20, 2005, http:// www.sacunion.com/pages/world/articles/4150/. 2 More extensive discussion of the GCC’s inability to structure itself into a more coherent organization to manage collective security is contained in James A. Russell, “Formation of the Iraqi Political System: The Role of the GCC,” Emirates Lecture Series #46, Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, 2003. 3 Prince Saud’s address titled “Towards a New Framework for Regional Security,” in Manama, Bahrain, on December 5, 2004 as posted on the website of the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia at http:// www.saudiembassy.net/2004News/Statements/SpeechDetail.asp?cIndex=483. 4 Ewen MacAskill and Ian Traynor, “Saudis Consider Nuclear Bomb,” The Guardian, September 18, 2003. 5 See details of the role that Saudi financial support for madrassas in Pakistan and its role in bankrolling the jihadist groups in Afghanistan later played in the emergence of the Taliban in Steve Coll’s book Ghost Wars, (Penguin Press, New York) 2004. As also described by Coll, the Saudis developed a particularly close relationship with Pakistan’s Directorate for Inter Service Intelligence Services during the 1980s and 1990s – a relationship that also proved instrumental in the emergence of the Taliban in the mid-1990s as the most powerful of the many groups vying for control over Afghanistan. 6 A relatively upbeat assessment on the state of the U.S. –Saudi relationship was provided by Saudi foreign minister Saud al-Faisal, who said in a recent interview that the U.S.-Saudi relationship was “nearly to where it was before the September 11 attacks.” See “Q&A: The Saudi Foreign Minister,” The Washington Post, February 27, 2005, p. B1. 7 See Chalmers Johnson for details in “America’s Empire of Bases,” posted at http://www.alternet.org/story/ 17563/. 8 “Yes We Fear Iran’s Nuclear Weapons,” Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, October 8, 2003, as posted on the Gulf 2000 website. 9 Ibid. 10 “Pakistan-Saudi Trade Nuclear Technology for Oil,” United Press International, October 20, 2002. The substance of the story has been repeated in a variety of forums through late 2004, with one of the latest being 77 MIDDLE EAST POLICY, VOL. XII, NO. 3, FALL 2005 Zeev Schiff, “Iran: Pakistan Helping Saudis Develop Nukes,” Haaretz,, December 8, 2004. Like previous stories, Schiff quotes “official Iranian sources” about the Saudi-Pakistani agreement. 11 Ibid. 12 G. Parthasarathy, “Axis of Evidence,” Indian Express, November 14, 2003, translation by FBIS. 13 “Pakistan, Saudi Arabia Explore Joint Ventures in Defense Production,” AFP, October 11, 2004. 14 As referenced in Richard Russell’s piece “Saudi Nukes: A Looming Intelligence Failure,” The Washington Times, January 5, 2004, p. 17. Also see Ed Blanche, “Playing With Fire: Deepening Suspicions that Saudis are Considering Atomic Arms,” Daily Star, November 29, 2003, for some of the same arguments. 15 Roula Khalaf, Farhan Bokhari and Stephen Fidler, “Saudi Cash Joins Forces with Nuclear Pakistan,” Financial Times, August 4, 2004, 20:37. 16 Emphasized by Richard Russell, as footnoted above. 17 Gal Luft & Anne Korin, “The Sino-Saudi Connection,” Commentary Magazine, March 2004, pp. 26-29. 18 Simon Romero and Jad Mouawad, “Saudis in Strategy to Export More Oil to India and China,” The New York Times, February 18, 2005, Section C, p. 4. 19 Ibid. 20 Lut and Korin, pp. 27-28. Also see report by the Gracia Group, The Sino-Saudi Energy Rapprochement: Implications for US National Security, January 8, 2002, prepared for Dr. Andrew Marshall, dirctor, Net Assessment, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Department of Defense, Washington, DC. 21 Thomas Woodrow, “The Sino-Saudi Connection,” China Brief, Issue 21, Volume 2, Washington DC, October 2002 at http://www.jamestown.org/ publications_details.php?volume_id=18&issue_id=661&article_id=4680. 22 Statement as posted at http://www.saudiembassy.net/2003News/Press/ PressDetail.asp?cYear=2003&cIndex=128. 23 Washington Post interview, February 27, 2005, op.cit. 24 Good supporting detail for the CSS-2 program can be found in Lt. Steve McDowell, “Is Saudi Arabia a Nuclear Threat,” Naval Postgraduate School Master’s Thesis, September 2003, at http:// www.ccc.nps.navy.mil/research/theses/McDowell03.pdf. 25 The recent phenomenon of the decline of the “Arabists” in the State Department is detailed in Stephen Glain, “Freeze-Out of the Arabists,” The Nation, November 1, 2004. The decline within the State Depart- ment dates to the early 1990s, when the Clinton administration made a conscious effort to boost pursuit of the peace process, which saw a gradual decline in the influence of the “Arabist” portion of the Near East South Asia bureau. 26 Joseph McMillan, “U.S.-Saudi Relations: Rebuilding the Strategic Consensus,” Strategic Forum No. 186, November 2001, Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University 27 As an example, see Victor Davis Hanson, “Our Enemies the Saudis,” Commentary Magazine, July/August 2002 28 President Bush stated on November 6, 2003, that “Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommo- dating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe because in the long run stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty.” Quoted in Deb Riechmann, Associated Press, “Bush Urges Spread of Democracy in the Middle East,” November 6 2003. 29 See details of the missile test in “Analysis: Iran’s Missile Capabilities,” UPI, October 6, 2004. 30 Text of the letter “In Defense of the Nation,” dated September 24, 2003, as translated by Gwen Okruhlik and Yara Youssef at the University of Texas at Austin for the Gulf 2000 website. 31 Details of the alleged split and the surrounding arguments are in Michael Doran, “The Saudi Paradox,” Foreign Affairs, January/February 2004. 32 An outstanding discussion of the role of the dissident clerics in Saudi domestic politics is contained in Toby Jones, “The Clerics, the Sawha and the Saudi State,” Strategic Insights, Vol. 4, No. 3, March 2005. 33 FBIS translation “Saudi Scholars Address Open Letter to Iraqis Saying ‘Resistance is Legitimate,’” November 8, 2004. 34 Fatwa dated May 2004, “Thesis in the Legality of Using WMD against Infidels,” written by Nasser bin Hamed Al-Fahad, May 2004. Translation by Mowafiq Anazi. 35 Jones, op. cit. p. 78