Since the early twentieth century, Saudi Arabia has had a close relationship with the United States. From the development of the Saudi oil fields, to the First Gulf War, this relationship has been an uneasy cooperation—each side received something out of the alliance while nervously watching the other.
So now we have the first open break between the two powers culminating in the Saudi’s refusing a seat on the U.N Security Council due to anger with U.S. Middle Eastern policies.
Saudi Arabia holds the world’s second largest oil reserves and the sixth largest natural gas fields. In addition to being located in the most volatile part of the world, these energy assets make the country a strategic interest for any global power.
The discovery of vast hydrocarbon reserves in the United States and the ability to harvest them through hydraulic fracturing techniques has radically altered the relationship between the two countries. Ironically, even though the Obama administration has reduced drilling on Federal lands in the US and attempted to curtail hydrocarbon use overall, it is fracking which has allowed the United States to nearly gain energy independence, become a net energy exporter again, and reduced our need to buy oil from the Middle East. This shift in the balance of power with the Saudis has made the Kingdom extremely nervous.
American policy adds to the Saudi’s concerns. Their oil fields, located in the eastern part of the country, are the home to the country’s Shia minority. As the guardians of the holy Muslim sites, the royal family walks a fine line between satisfying the Sunni Ulema, fighting terrorism, and keeping the Shia population in check. Hence, their concern with America’s recent overtures to Iran.
The Obama administration seems Hell bent to secure a deal with the Shia Islamist state regarding its development of nuclear weapons. The Saudis, along with the Israelis and other Gulf states, cannot tolerate a nuclear armed Iran. There are rumors that Saudi Arabia has paid Pakistan for the development of its own nuclear deterrent and is one month away from operational capability if they saw fit.
In addition, they are furious with the U.S. refusal to arm Sunni rebels fighting the Iranian backed Syrian regime. The uneasy trust between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia has been broken. This opens up the playing field for other global powers such a China or Russia to make inroads where the U.S. once enjoyed hegemony. It also opens up the world to a possible nuclear arms race in the Middle East. In fact, this is already happening in Egypt, another broken U.S. relationship, who just closed a major arms deal with Russia in a slap in the face to the Obama Administration’s decision to cut military aid. China would like nothing better than to gain access to a secure source of Saudi oil and strategic American built bases as well.
There have been calls from many quarters for the U.S. to mend fences with Iran in order prevent conflict and counter the Sunni influence in the region. It seems obvious that for this to happen, Iran needs to show real progress in addressing the world’s fear that they intend on acquiring the bomb and have plans to use this threat to destroy Israel and/or the interests of the United States.
It is foolish for America to offend and promote distrust with another ally in a long list of broken long-standing relationships. These include Poland, United Kingdom, Israel, Egypt, etc. One wonders whether the results of American diplomacy stems from extreme incompetence or is evidence of a much darker agenda.