Saudi Arabia & UAE are Neutral in the «New Cold War»


Sun, 16-10-2022 06:43 PM, Aden

Andrew Korybko (South24) 

International relations are in the midst of a global systemic transition that predates Russia’s military [attack] in Ukraine but was accelerated by the far-reaching strategic consequences connected to it. The US’ position as the unipolar hegemon is being challenged by the rise of global powers like Russia and China, which envisage gradually reforming the world order so that it’s more democratic, equal, and just. By contrast, the US is doing its utmost to retain its leading position, albeit acknowledging via its newly promulgated National Security Strategy that certain reforms are nevertheless inevitable. 

The competition between these key players over the course of the global systemic transition, namely whether it’ll ultimately reinforce unipolarity or result in a truly multipolar world order, can be described as the New Cold War. Although the US denies that it’s pressuring countries to choose sides in the spirit of former US President George W. Bush’s infamous “with us or against us” zero-sum paradigm, its actions belie its intent. Neutrality in the New Cold War is considered by America as akin to tacitly supporting Russia and China, but this is an inaccurate way to assess other countries’ policies. 

Saudi Arabia (KSA) and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are perfect examples of countries that are truly neutral in this global competition over the course of the global systemic transition, yet have still found themselves pressured by the US in response to their pragmatic policies. They both voted at the UN to condemn Russia’s contentious incorporation of four formerly Ukrainian regions and have previously criticized Moscow for its military operation in Ukraine. Be that as it is, they haven’t followed up by sanctioning Russia like the US demanded since those restrictions are outside the UNSC and thus illegal. 

By condemning Russia on one hand while continuing to pragmatically cooperate with it on the other, those Gulf states are indeed practicing a neutral policy towards it despite the new Cold War context. This is mutually beneficial and doesn’t occur at the expense of any third parties like their traditional American ally, yet the latter is extremely upset that they didn’t submit to its pressure to sanction Russia. Neither is interested in doing so since they rightly regard that scenario as unilaterally conceding on their objective national interests, particularly with respect to responsibly regulating the global energy market. 

Those three participate in the OPEC+ framework, which recently agreed to curtail production. Instead of respecting its allies’ right to an independent foreign policy in line with their interests that isn’t intended to harm any third party’s like its own, America abruptly turned against them by condemning the group’s consensual decision. Policymakers wrongly regarded it as a partisan move in the new Cold War that supposedly placed them on Russia’s side. In response, some elected representatives proposed abandoning their country’s traditional security commitments to KSA and the UAE. 

This overreaction is actually quite revealing since it draws attention to the politically inconvenient fact that America never truly respected them as equal partners all along. Had it done so, then it would never have responded the way that it just did. In fact, KSA and UAE’s quest to strengthen their strategic autonomy in the New Cold War through their truly neutral policies of mutually beneficial cooperation with Russia and the US without either dimension being at the expense of the other should be applauded by American policymakers instead of reproached. 

To explain, it’s unrealistic to expect rising countries like those two Gulf states to ever agree to unilaterally concede on issues that their leaders regard as being in their objective national interests. This means that policies aimed at pressuring them to that end are doomed to fail and thus risk harming bilateral relations in response. Only those who truly respect their UN-enshrined right to promulgate independent policies that aren’t implemented at anyone’s expense will bear the fruits of mutually beneficial cooperation into the indefinite future. 

This isn’t rhetorical nor theoretical, but proven by practice as evidenced by the contrast between the US and Russian approaches towards those Gulf states respectively. America wasn’t content with their votes against Russia at the UN since this wasn’t followed up with sanctions, therefore leading to them cooperating with Moscow on regulating the global energy market. That development was wrongly interpreted as an unprovoked act of hostility against US interests, thus setting into motion elected representatives’ genuinely hostile proposal to have their country cut off their security ties with them. 

Politicizing KSA and the UAE’s unrelated energy cooperation with Russia in a way that amounts to blackmailing those two by threatening to worsen their regional security situation vis a vis Iran, with whom the US hasn’t even yet clinched the new nuclear deal that it’s been trying to negotiate, is absolutely unacceptable. This approach stands in stark contrast to Russia’s, which didn’t overreact to their UN votes against it but instead continued cooperating with them wherever their interests converged. 

This attitude is attributable to America’s demands that its allies unilaterally concede on their objective national interests vis a vis Russia, which in effect amounts to it treating them as vassals instead of the equal partners that they’re supposed to be, whereas Russia applauds their neutrality in the New Cold War and arguably regards it as pioneering. To expand upon that last point, Moscow’s multipolar grand strategy envisages the rise of strategically autonomous regional leaders like KSA and the UAE, which will contribute to gradually reforming the world order so that it’s more democratic, equal, and just. 

The Kremlin doesn’t expect its partners to sacrifice their interests in order to advance its own since its policymakers know that doing so would be counterproductive, something that the US never seemingly countenanced as proven by its latest policy towards KSA and the UAE. Considering this, that declining unipolar hegemon’s policy statement on page 9 of its latest National Security Strategy about “aim[ing] to preserve the autonomy and rights of less powerful states” isn’t sincere, nor was it telling the truth on that same page when its authors wrote that “We do not seek conflict or a new Cold War.” 

The reality is that the US doesn’t respect the autonomy and rights of less powerful states since it expects them to unilaterally concede on their objective national interests by taking its side in what policymakers unofficially regard as the New Cold War. This approach ignores the fact that some less powerful states like KSA and the UAE are still strong enough to defend those selfsame interests, which isn’t intended to be done at anyone’s expense like America’s. All that they’re trying to do is avoid being caught in the zero-sum pressure of the new Cold War by remaining neutral. 

Andrew Korybko 

Moscow-based American political analyst

- Opinions expressed in this analysis reflects its author and doesn't represent the center's views

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