The relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia has been a long, important, and impactful one. The two countries have engaged in much trade, military cooperation, intelligence sharing, and other cooperative bilateral relations. The US-Saudi relationship is important for both countries, and both countries bring much to the relationship and get much out of it. That said, the United States seems to get more out of the relationship, a result of the different comparative strengths of the two countries and the different domestic factors affecting them.
The United States should and does care much about Saudi Arabia, because Saudi Arabia is in an incredibly important position to serve American strategic interests. Perhaps the most obvious of these is that the Kingdom is one of the largest oil producing countries in the world. The United States relies heavily upon oil for its economy and military, and fostering a close relationship with Saudi Arabia has therefore allowed it easy and secure access to its most needed resource. Though the United States is beginning diversify its energy production sector and increase the domestic extraction of oil, maintaining that steady supply will still be of great importance for the considerable future. Occupying most the Arabian Peninsula, Saudi Arabia is also strategically positioned in a very important part of the world. It can and has served as a staging point for American involvement in and interaction with the region. Connected to the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, it commands control of two of the most important shipping and trading routes in the world. Fostering a close relationship with Saudi Arabia has thus allowed the United States to ensure and maintain the steady flow of shipping through these sea lanes, while also providing the United States with a partner to combat the rampant piracy plaguing these waters. Saudi Arabia is a key hegemon in the Middle East, and because of its power and influence it would be strategically rational for the United States to foster a close relationship with it. Doing so provides the United States with a powerful ally that is able to conduct offshore balancing, furthering American interests in the region, while Saudi Arabia’s relationship with the United States would further increase the Kingdom’s own military strength and regional hegemony. Finally, in this post-September 11th environment, Saudi Arabia has invested considerable energy and resources in fighting extremism and terrorism in both the region and internationally. American cooperation with these efforts can play an important role in preventing further terrorist activity, reducing extremist and fundamentalist attitudes, and eliminating existing terrorist organizations.
As a result of these factors, the United States gets much out of its relationship with Saudi Arabia. Because of Saudi Arabia’s influence and clout in the Middle East, the United States has increased its own influence in the entire region through its strategic partnership and close relationship with the Kingdom. Cooperation with the Saudi intelligence and anti-terrorism agencies has helped the United States fight the “war on terror” and combat extremism throughout the region. Indeed, US-Saudi cooperation in anti-terrorism activities has done much to considerably reduce the amount of international terrorism, as can be seen by the limited amount of terrorist activity targeting the United State’s homeland. Resources vital to the American economy such as oil are easily accessible because of the US-Saudi trade relationship, allowing the American economy and military to continue to effectively operate and grow.
The United States has contributed much to its relationship with Saudi Arabia, serving as an important strategic ally, a key partner in trade, and a major source of financial and business investment. Our contribution to the strategic and military alliance with Saudi Arabia is made clearly evident by a number of things: the United States supplies the Kingdom with large amounts of military equipment, has deployed military advisers to train the Saudi military and security forces, played a pivotal role in preventing Saddam Hussein from attacking the Kingdom during the 1990 crisis in the Gulf, and has, since September 11th, closely interacted with and provided key support to Saudi Arabia in intelligence gathering and counter-terrorism activities. As a trade partner, the United States has done much to contribute to the growth of the Saudi economy. Though much of Saudi’s oil is now shipped to other regions of the world, the United States has long been one of the major purchasers of this resource so vital to continued Saudi prosperity. American investment in Saudi Arabia has also been important in Saudi Arabia’s growth. Since the time of Aramco’s creation and operation in Saudi Arabia, American businesses and businessmen have invested and operated heavily in the Kingdom. This investment has brought much money into the country, allowing the Saudi government to engage in the major construction projects and ambitious development programs that are now taking place all over the country.
Though both countries get much out of their relationship, it seems that the United States benefits more from it than Saudi Arabia. The United States uses its close ties with the Kingdom to advance its interests abroad, using the Kingdom as a staging point for direct intervention in the region, as a tool to combat international terrorism, and as a source of vitally needed resources. While these aspects of the relationship also benefit Saudi Arabia, the gain does indeed seem to disproportionately strengthen the United States. Saudi Arabia has never based troops in the United States to intervene in North American geopolitics, for example, nor has it ever been received money as a major supplier of arms to the American military. The American relationship with Saudi Arabia has not placed dramatic limitations on the other relationships the United States can pursue and what it can do internationally, nor has it created much domestic criticism or backlash in the United States. Meanwhile, the Kingdom is often criticized domestically and by Muslims abroad as being a pawn in America’s imperialist policies and the monarchy a product of American meddling in the region. There is some truth to those criticisms, as the monarchy’s legitimacy is only weakly justified and is largely propped up through American support and assistance. The Kingdom can be seen as a tool used for advancing America’s interests and visions for the Middle East, with the United States influencing Saudi Arabia to act according to its wishes. As a result, its relationship with the United States is much more of a burden to it than the United State’s relationship with Saudi Arabia is a burden to America. That said, the Kingdom does owe much of its success and strength to its relationship with the United States, and that reality cannot be understated. Without American support, investment, and equipment, Saudi Arabia would hardly be the economic, political, and military hegemon it is today. As the Kingdom begins to rapidly develop and modernize, much of the driving force behind that development can be traced back to American influence and assistance.
This can largely be attributed to the nature of the international environment and the comparative strength of Saudi Arabia and the United States. While Saudi Arabia can be considered the key player in its region, the United States is a global hegemon, and therefore obtains more out of the relationship. Its relationship with Saudi Arabia is simply another part of America’s larger global foreign policy, whereas Saudi Arabia’s relationship with the United States is a key factor in its growth and regional hegemony. While Saudi Arabia relies heavily upon the United States for trade, investment, and military support, the United States need not necessarily rely as heavily upon Saudi Arabia for the same. Domestic realities can also be considered attributing factors. As previously mentioned, the Saudi monarchy holds onto a tenuous legitimacy, which is only bolstered by the benefits it receives from its relationship with the United States. The nature of Saudi Arabian politics, then, has allowed the monarchy and the Kingdom to be the target of frequent criticism, and indeed that criticism has often turned into radicalized action such as Al Qaeda’s terrorist activity within Saudi borders. These factors have led to what seems to be an uneven net gain in the relationship which disproportionately benefits the United States with numerous benefits and very few drawbacks while providing the Kingdom with considerable benefits but also significant problems.