02 June 2015
In the more assertive Saudi Arabia that’s emerging after the Arab Spring, war is no longer taboo as an instrument of policy and Washington’s approval isn’t required. Once known for cautious diplomacy, the oil-rich kingdom is turning more frequently to hard power. The shift has been under way since unrest swept across the Arab world in 2011. It accelerated after the succession of King Salman in January, and the promotion of his son as defence chief. Since then, the Saudis have started an air war in Yemen against Shiite Muslim rebels they accuse of being tools of Iran. “We are witnessing the first real attempt to see whether Saudi Arabia can become the new military and political superpower of the Arab world,” says David Ottaway, a senior scholar at the Wilson Center in Washington. “A younger generation of impatient Saudi hawks is coming to power that is fed up with the failure of the kingdom to project its military and political influence.”
The changes may not be entirely welcome to the US, the kingdom’s historic defender, just as recent American policies—especially the pursuit of a nuclear deal with Iran, Saudi Arabia’s chief regional rival—haven’t gone down well in the Gulf. Last month’s summit of Arab leaders with President Barack Obama at Camp David can’t disguise the fact that the long-time allies are drifting apart. King Salman didn’t attend, and his nephew and son— the prime movers of the new policy— headed the Saudi delegation.
… Without matching military prowess, though, it risks being “outclassed” by other regional powers, says James Dorsey, a senior fellow in international studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. He cited Turkey, Iran, Egypt and Israel. “The Saudis are exploiting a window of opportunity” to close the gap, Dorsey says. It’s a high-risk policy and, in countries like Yemen, “shortsighted because it doesn’t solve problems and may well be aggravating them,” he says.
RSIS / Online
Last updated on 03/06/2015