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Strategic competition and re-evaluating US-Saudi ties

Strategic competition and re-evaluating US-Saudi ties

As published by the Middle East Institute by Mick Mulroy

Non-Resident Senior Fellow and Co-Director of the Yemen Steering Initiative

From a security perspective, the decision by OPEC+ to reduce oil production by 2 million bpd was a mistake. Whether intended or not, it was a gift to Russia.
The desire to re-evaluate the U.S.-Saudi relationship is understandable, but dramatically changing it would not be in the interest of the U.S. or the region.
From a security perspective, the decision by OPEC+ to reduce oil production by 2 million barrels per day was a mistake. Whether intended or not, it was a gift to Russia, which will undoubtedly use the increase in revenue to fight its unprovoked and unlawful war in Ukraine. It comes at a time when the Russians were having significant difficulties keeping up with their losses in weapons systems, vehicles, and ammunition on the battlefield. This latest production cut provides them a lifeline.

If fuel prices rise as expected, that will also increase the cost of food, which is already elevated due to the war in Ukraine and Russia’s earlier blockade of Ukrainian grain exports. That will have a disproportionate impact on developing countries, some of which, like Somalia and its neighbors in the greater East Africa region, are currently experiencing a serious drought and widespread famine. The OPEC+ decision to decrease production in order to drive up the price of oil should be re-evaluated, taking into account the impact it has on the war in Ukraine and on the overall global cost of food, especially in areas already pushed to the brink.

For these reasons, the desire to re-evaluate the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. is understandable. However, this strategic relationship goes back to 1933 for a reason: It is very important to the security of both countries. Dramatically changing the nature of this relationship would not be in the interest of the United States or the region.

Suppose we choose to stop or suspend weapons sales to Saudi Arabia. In that case, we will be replaced by China and Russia, the two countries we correctly identified as our top two strategic competitors in our National Security Strategy. Our influence with Saudi Arabia may not be what it should, but if we essentially abandon them and their legitimate security concerns, especially in regard to Iran, we will not have any influence over them. We would essentially concede the strategic competition to our adversaries, who will gladly fill our place.

OPEC+, led by Saudi Arabia, should reverse its decision to reduce oil production. It is critical that all nations stand against Russia’s flagrant violation of the international rules-based order, an order they all benefit from themselves. The United States should always be evaluating its relationships to make them more effective for our purposes. But abandoning the relationship with Saudi Arabia and leaving it to China and Russia will not be in our interest and will do nothing to positively influence future Saudi decisions to be more in line with our national security objectives and values.

Follow on Twitter: @MickMulroy

Photo by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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