Saudi Arabia mysteriously withdrew, after having campaigned for and won a seat on the UN Security Council. They said it was over Western inaction on Syria and the the Palestinians.
The UN Security Council consists of 5 permanent members (China, Russia, US, Britain and France), essentially the victors in WW II. These 5 get a veto. It also has 10 rotating members who are much less powerful and cannot veto resolutions.
Saudi Arabia had campaigned for a seat on the UNSC as a rotating member, and just won one (along with Chile, Nigeria, Chad and Lithuania). It is a two-year term, and the rotating members do have some influence on world affairs (they declined e.g. to authorize Bush’s Iraq War). I received a press release from the Saudi government celebrating this achievement.
Then all of a sudden on Friday, Saudi Arabia resigned its seat. It said that it did so over UNSC inaction on Syria and on the lack of progress in resolving the problem of Palestinians’ statelessness. Some observers also suggested that it was an implicit protest against the possibility that the US and Iran will make up.
It is hard to know what to make of the Saudi action, which has never occurred before in the history of the UN. Perhaps King Abdullah believes that his country would get more concessions from Russia regarding Syria this way than it would without the histrionics.
There are three possibilities going forward. The Saudis could rethink their reluctance, and could finally join before January 1, when their term begins. The UNSC could on the other had have a special election to replace them. Third, the UNSC could limp along with 14 members for a couple of years.
Saudi Arabia is the world’s biggest oil exporter and it has hundreds of billions of dollars in currency reserves. It could be that the kingdom is throwing its weight around more now, and this resignation is meant to draw attention to the Syria gridlock.
Stay tuned. Saudi Arabia is not playing politics as usual.