Are Saudi Arabia and the UAE No Longer U.S. Partners?

April 16, 2022 Topic: Arab Gulf Region: Middle East Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: Saudi ArabiaUAEIranJCPOAEnergyOPEC+Ukraine Crisis

Are Saudi Arabia and the UAE No Longer U.S. Partners?

An arms-length relationship would better reflect the decline in both confluence of interests and strategic importance to the United States.

The notion that the Gulf could simply rearm based on Chinese or Russian systems is a bluff. The Saudis will not be able to afford to do so quickly, despite this year’s oil windfall, and China has never sought out the role of a primary weapons systems supplier in the region, especially with its most-sensitive technologies. Both countries already have some Chinese systems, and as long as the United States is not trusting them with cutting-edge technology itself, some additional procurement should not be alarming. China also has wisely chosen to play both sides in the Gulf, as well as avoiding direct military involvement in the region. If the Saudis and Emiratis are disappointed in U.S. moves to reach an accommodation with Iran on the nuclear issue, they will hardly find a better partner in Beijing. Russia, despite what had been growing influence in the region, will be a much-diminished power after Vladimir Putin’s mistake in Ukraine. Given the continuing dependence of both countries on legacy U.S. systems—including maintenance contracts for platforms like the F-15, where the Saudis lack the technical competence to maintain them—the United States will continue to have very strong leverage over them in any in extremis situations.

To conclude, there is no need to put out a press release and announce a change in policy. Instead, the United States should simply ignore their demands and allow them to pursue their interests, while counseling them that reaching a modus vivendi with their regional foes will be necessary in an era where nothing close to absolute security is achievable.

Greg Priddy is Principal at Spout Run Advisory, a geopolitical risk consultancy based near Washington, DC. He has previously held positions at Eurasia Group and the U.S. Department of Energy. You can follow him on Twitter: @GregPriddy1

Image: Reuters.