Saudi Arabia in Unprecedented Withdrawal from UN Security Council over Syria, Palestine

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.

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32 Responses

  1. Being the world’s biggest oil exporter and being one of the most repressive nations on Earth are the Saudi’s only claim to fame. With a population of only 30 million, half are not permitted by law to drive or even leave their house without male permission. Religious freedom is specifically prohibited and gays can be executed. The Arab Spring has not touched the foreign imposed royal family who continue to siphon off incredible riches. Indeed, the Saudi military, armed to the teeth by the US and universally regarded as a laughable military force, finds its role in shooting protestors in Bahrain. The Saudis can not even pump their own oil out of the ground, relying on millions of foreigners to do the work for them. Meanwhile they sponsor violent extremists and terrorists.

    The Saudis are on the same track as the nation of Nauru. Why should anyone care what this theocracy does – beyond pumping oil out of their rapidly diminishing natural resources?

  2. You aren’t obliged to abide by the vote, so much, if you have no part in making it. Perhaps they see themselves as having another role?

    Perhaps now the U.S. is obliged to coo like a dove, while the Saudi division plays the part of the hawk? How to delegate a war:

    link to!

    • Perhaps it’s time to set aside the assumption that whatever the House of Saud does is part of a strategy being coordinated with the United States, and acknowledge that the two countries have been pursuing increasingly disparate foreign policies since the end of the Bush administration.

  3. This must be an attack of pique. I predict the Saudis will get over their anger at the US and Russia for not supporting their rape of Syria and the US for talking to Iran, just as they long ago got over Israel disembowling Palestine.

  4. Not playing politics as usua, much like that other oil-producing, similarly progressive state, Texas.

    • Republicans and bible thumpers in Texas are a lot like the Saudis.In Riyadh they give ya 40 lashes for toking on a bong, but Austin, Texas has the highest per capita marijuana consumption of any city in the United States and it runs a close second to Amsterdam in major metropolitan areas on planet Earth.

      Peace, man.

  5. They may not be playing politics as usual, but I’m rather at a loss as to what this was supposed to accomplish. Do they seriously think the US is going to invade Syria for them now? Or stop negotiations with Iran? Even in terms of publicity it seems to be generating more confusion about erratic Saudi behavior than outrage against Assad.

  6. I’ve never understood the “take my ball and go home” theory of politics.

    Step 1: Sideline yourself.

    Step 2: ???

    Step3: Major policy accomplishments.

    • But consider all that the rulers of Saudi Arabia did to have so much weight to throw around. They …. (?)

      Now consider all that happened in the past that Saudis had nothing to do with.
      1. A shallow sea eons ago gave rise to oil bearing deposits now.
      2. Later, Muhammad lived, died, and established Islam 1,400 years ago.
      3. Some people in Scotland designed steam engines, then some guys in Belgium and Germany designed internal combustion engines, then a bunch of other people came up with applications for them and the need for petroleum extended far beyond lamp fuel.

      So, if Saudis look bunch a bunch of children who take their ball and go home, perhaps that is what they are doing.

  7. I fear something similar happened not to the United Nations, but to League of Nations. Germany, Japan, ring any bells?

  8. if the Saud family (al-Saud) defines their identity in terms of maintaining custody of the land of the two holy mosques, and if the country and all its inhabitants as the personal property of the monarch, and
    if all power is in the hands of one clan that is less than 2% of the total population,
    why do we have any diplomatic relations with them at all ?

    I undersand buying oil from them;
    I don’t understand treasting them like the legit rulers of a country.

    • We have diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia for the same reason we have diplomatic relations with many countries whose governments may not meet your standard of legitimacy, Brian, if what you mean by “legitimacy” is a government freely chosen by the people. During the Cold War we maintained diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union, East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia, all of which were Communist governments imposed upon their people.

      Today, we maintain relations with all of the Gulf Cooperation Countries, Vietnam, Laos, The People’s Republic of China, Burma (Myanmar) Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and a dozen African countries, none of which have representative governments chosen by their people. We maintain diplomatic relations with these countries because they are part of the international system, as are we.

      Although they may not have governments that meet ideal standards of legitimacy, they are the governments in place with which we must deal, if we are to deal with them at all. To isolate ourselves by refusing to recognize them diplomatically would be to cut off our nose to spite our face out of a sense of moral superiority, and we would not accomplish a thing.

      • Diplomatic recognition is one thing, Bill. An alliance and a close military relationship are quite another.

        There are many good reasons to ramp up renewable energy infrastructure. Being able to have relations with the House of Saud that resemble our relations with Turkmenistan is certainly one of them.

        • The question posed was: Why do we have diplomatic relations with them (Saudi Arabia) at all. Alliances and close military relationships were not inherent in the question, and thus did not need to be addressed in my response. I don’t use the opportunity to respond to a question by using it as a means to flog my pet positions on issues irrelevant to the question.

    • “I don’t understand treating them like the legit rulers of a country.”

      In addition to U.S. dependency on Saudi oil reserves and production … Saudi Arabia has 10 trillion U.S. dollars invested in American real estate, banking interests, and Fortune 500 companies that the U.S. is heavily reliant upon.

      The cessation of the Saudi royal family as dictatorial rulers of that nation could lead to instability of these economic and financial relationships that the U.S. does neither want or need.

      • “The cessation of the Saudi royal family as dictatorial rulers of that nation could lead to instability of these economic and financial relationships that the U.S. does neither want or need.”

        Nor does the wider international community. It is not in anyone’s interest for the Saudi royal family to be sidetracked.

        • well, it’s kinda in the interests of the million or more Bengalis serving there as de facto slaves, isn’t it ?

        • “Well, it’s kinda in the interests of the milliion or more Bangalis serving there as de facto slaves, isn’t it?”

          Not only Bangalis, Brian, but Filipinos, Indonesians, and others serving as indentured servants and near “de facto slaves,” as you put it. The flaw in your argument is assuming that the situation exists because of the royal family. It does not. Saudi Arabs are probably the most arrogant of all in the Arab world. It has nothing to do with the royal family. It is a result of an attitude that they are the heartbeat of the Arab World and the keepers and protectors of Islam’s two most holy sites. That attitude, and their sense of superiority toward other “lesser beings,” would exist without the royal family.

  9. “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.”

    It is a very strange way for Saudi Arabia to “throw its weight around.” By lobbying hard for the UNSC seat and then abandoning it, the Saudis have irritated the countries who supported and went to bat for them. They have also demonstrated a certain fecklessness that may come back to haunt them when they want support for other issues.

    Finally, regarding Syria, it is not “gridlock” that the Saudis object to. They object to the fact that the US and the EU are not supporting their Islamist proxies among the anti-Assad rebels. There is a theory floating around that the real reason the Saudis pulled the rug on their UNSC seat is to demonstrate pique at the US, both for its Syria policy and its movement to talk to Iran. It seems to me that this action can only hurt Saudi Arabia’s reputation. Who knows what faction within the ruling clique pushed it. King Abdullah would have had to approve it.

  10. Saudi Arabia has become more active, even aggressive in the foreign policy domain during recent years. Just off the top of my head:

    –Direct military interventions in Yemen and Bahrain.

    –Heavy proxy involvement in the Syrian Civil War.

    –Increased arming of radical Sunni factions in Lebanon.

    –Role in recent change of gov’t in Qatar.

    –Big expenditures in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya.

    Of course, they just point their finger at Iran the whole time…

  11. This seat had been impliedly reserved for an Arab nation.

    If Saudi Arabia does not accept this seat, it will likely go to another Arab country whose views are somewhat consonant with Saudi Arabia.

  12. We’re supposed to believe that all of a sudden they care enough about Palestine to take some action. What a joke.

  13. They will find it hard not to accept the seat.

    The other Arab nations are urging them to do so and the Arab League is also.

    They won’t however.
    The U.S. is publicly pushing them to accept it, but I believe they are refusing it at the suggestion of the U.S., so that they can enact policy in the region without the encumbrance of the Security Council.

    They want two things:

    (1) Theological, and therefore, political, dominance in the region
    (2) Dominance of the oil factor in the region, for resale to the West.

    Both mean a requirement for subjugation of Iran.

    Although, for mine, Iran is, by far, the more ethical of the two regimes.

  14. To be clear, the urging of acceptance by the U.S., is public.
    The urging to refuse by the U.S. is very much under the table.

    The apparent large findings of oil in the U.S., may well serve that market well, but there is still plenty of potential elsewhere.
    The U.K., for example, is seriously looking at fracking as the North Sea fields are in the process of drying up.

    This was their particular motivation for accessing Iran again, where B.P. actually began in Pahlavi’s era. Iran, at over 4.2 million barrels/day, is the world’s fourth largest producer.

  15. Saudi’s need to stay in the shadows as far as World events go. They are currently the largest State sponsored terrorist regime on the planet.

    Any attention to their actions is negative.

    • “… the largest State sponsored terrorist regime on the planet” could be taken a couple of different ways.

      When was the last time the Saudi military invaded a country, declaring that their aim was to terrorize the invaded population ?

      To clarify, “shock and awe” means “terror.”

      • When was the last time the Saudi military invaded a country, declaring that their aim was to terrorize the invaded population ?

        Erm, a couple of years ago, Bahrain. And if they didn’t terrorize; then I don’t know what you’d call it.

  16. Maybe they’ve cut a deal behind the scenes and are actually making room for someone else to take their place on the Security Council in exchange for I know not what. Are there any countries that cone to mind that are strong contenders or who might benefit the most from occupying that seat and what interests might they share in common with Saudi Arabia?

    • I can’t think of any. The most common theory is that it will probably go to some other Gulf state and they don’t have that sort of leverage. But in any case, if a deal of that sort were to be made then the logical time for it to have been struck is before the election, not after. It’s probably just a failed publicity stunt or maybe just a fit of pique.

  17. Applying pressure on Israel and the racist and discriminatory group Jewish National Fund who are having a conference in Denver Colorado this coming weekend by having a counter conference and protest. We will be protesting Colorado Governors’s luncheon that he is hosting for some of the JNF attendee’s. We are asking Governor Hickenlooper why he would as the top official of Colorado support such a racist group?

    Come join our protest and come hear Rabbi Weiss who will be speaking at a Mosque on Thursday evening about how the Jewish State is in total contradiction to Jewish religious beliefs. How there is no separation between synagogue and state in the so called democratic state of Israel.

    Please share with others
    Rabbi Weiss will speak at Denver Mosque

    Thursday, October 24th​​
    Schedule of events
    link to

  18. What has Saudi Arabia done for the benefit of humanity so far? Nothing, zilch, nada. All they do is export oil and terrorism minded people. They also export madrassas,to Pakistan for example. The oil they export is not even extracted by the Saudis. With their trillions in riches, they could have bought up the entire US Congress away from AIPAC and actually done something about Palestine. Instead, they pout like spoiled brats which they are. Give me a break.

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