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Student essay: Energy and geopolitical alliances

Posted by Arjendu on June 4, 2016

Andrew Bernstein: Geopolitical alliances/US and Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is always referred to as the United States’ unlikely ally in the Middle East. However, examining the history of American-Saudi relations clearly demonstrates that the relationship grew out of economic and energy dependence rather than any alignment of value systems or democratic leadership. Saudi Arabia’s massive oil reserves were discovered in the early 1940s. Almost immediately, in 1943, Franklin D. Roosevelt declared the defense of Saudi Arabia one of the United State’s greatest interests, and sent military missions to train the Saudi army and construct joint military facilities. In 1945, Roosevelt and Abd al Aziz sealed an official alliance between the two powerhouse countries (http://countrystudies.us/saudi-arabia/59.htm). Saudi Arabia has the world’s largest oil reserves, and exports the most oil in the world, comprising a fourth of the world’s total. Additionally, Saudi Arabia is the fourth largest exporter of natural gas. Oil (petroleum) and natural gas are the top two sources of American energy consumption, accounting for over half of the total per year. Thus, Saudi Arabia, due to its geopolitical location and the worldwide dependency on fossil fuels, dictates much of the United States’ policy in the Middle East (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_in_Saudi_Arabia).

With oil revenue accounting for over 75% of its GDP, Saudi Arabia has consistently been one of the 10 richest countries over the last century, both overall and per capita (http://www.worldsrichestcountries.com/). The United States has allied with Saudi Arabia against Iran and Iraq, and when Iraq invaded Kuwait, the US sent 400,000 troops to protect Saudi Arabia (http://countrystudies.us/saudi-arabia/59.htm). Despite our military’s defense of Saudi Arabia, the alliance has become increasingly strained as their way of life is no different than the other Middle Eastern countries whose treatment of women and stringency of law justifies our military action. “Saudi Arabia is an authoritarian regime that discriminates against women, doesn’t permit religious freedom, and prevents freedom of the press. It has been exporting a fundamentalist Wahhabist ideology for years that demonizes Shia, Jews, Christians, and the West” (http://www.cnn.com/2016/04/20/opinions/us-saudi-bad-marriage-opinion-miller/). The relationship consists entirely of our accessibility to Saudi Arabia’s oil resources in return for military assistance and anything else they might want from us. That relationship is dangerous, and scary, because it places us largely at their mercy. Without their oil, our economy would be severely damaged. Negative consequences from this partnership have already been seen. We have sold 10 billion dollars of arms to Saudi Arabia for their war in Yemen, which has led to a massive Al-Qaeda resurgence in the region, a direct threat to American safety. When a Senator called our compliance with the Saudi Arabians “feckless” (Sen. Chris Murphy, D-CT), Saudi Arabians threatened economic consequences and Congress immediately backed off (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/16/world/middleeast/saudi-arabia-warns-ofeconomic-fallout-if-congress-passes-9-11-bill.html).

09/11 represented a major event in American-Saudi relations, as the terrorists used Saudi Arabian passports and the majority were of Saudi descent. However, our government has largely refused to attach any blame to Saudi Arabia as they proclaimed their innocence. However, we have strategically attempted to move away from our oil dependency from Saudi Arabia in the last 15 years. By 2013, Saudi Arabia was the source of 17% of our oil, down 25% from 2003, while Canada became our greatest oil source, up 70% from their exports to the US in 2003 (http://www.energytrendsinsider.com/2014/06/23/where-the-us-got-its-oil-from-in-2013/). By 2015, Saudi Arabia provided 11% of our oil, down another 33% in just two years (http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=727&t=6). In the past few weeks, a bill unanimously passed in Senate allowing families of 09/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia, again because most of the perpetrators were Saudis (http://www.ibtimes.com/can-911-victims-families-sue-saudi-arabia-senate-bill-passes-amid-white-house-2370240). Quickly, Saudi Arabia promised to sell off all their American assets and stop importing oil, cutting off the alliance and destabilizing the United States economy. Despite the widespread support of the Democratic Party, President Obama condemned and vetoed the bill immediately.

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