Proliferation Press

A webpage devoted to tracking and analyzing current events related to the proliferation of WMD/CBRN.

Saudi Arabia Round-Up: US Criticizes then Gives Arms; Economy on the Up and Up; And Why Not to be Sri Lakan 17-Year Old in Saudi Arabia

Posted by K.E. White on July 31, 2007

Short Read: Review of recent develops out of Saudi Arabia: Zalmay Khalilzad backpedals on earlier criticisms on Saudi Arabia’s role in Iraq; Gates & Rice head over to Saudi Arabia for desert-side chats; Saudi Arabia pushes ‘A+’ economic reforms. Oh and Bradford Plumer and Israel Chime In


UN Ambassador Khalilzad’s ‘before’ shot: (detailed article from Al Jazeera)

“Saudi Arabia and a number of other countries are not doing all they can to help us in Iraq,” he said on “Late Edition.” “At times, some of them are not only not helping, but they are doing things that is undermining the effort to make progress.”

And the ‘after’ shot (from Justin Bergman at AP):

Zalmay Khalilzad attempted to play down the critical remark he made Sunday on CNN’s “Late Edition,” telling reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York that Saudi Arabia is “a great ally” and friend of the United States.

This diplomatic dance only added focus to a Bush administration backed arms deal to Saudi Arabia. Jim Lobe offers this description in an excellent Asia Times article:

Under the arms-for-allies plan, the US would provide $13 billion in aid over 10 years – roughly the same amount that it has been getting for most of the past decade. While precise figures have not been released, State Department officials said Saudi Arabia and its allies in the Gulf Cooperation Council will be encouraged to buy some $20 billion in new arms, including satellite-guided bombs, missile defenses, and upgrades for their US-made fighter jets over the same period.

To dampen concerns by Israel and its supporters in Washington, the Bush administration is also proposing a 10-year, $30 billion package to preserve the Jewish state’s military superiority – or “qualitative edge” – over its Arab neighbors. That would amount to a 25% increase in US military assistance to Israel over current levels.

Lobe’s article offers a critical eye on the plan, while illustrating its chief aim: solidifying anti-Iran forces in the Middle East. Doing so through arms sales—and not regime change—is a major shift in Bush administration: returning to the realism of the Nixon, Carter and Reagan administrations. The down side? The United States is arming despotic, and perhaps fragile regimes.

Sometimes map can help. Notice that Iran is effectively surrounded by US allies:

Map of Iran

These arms deals to Saudi Arabia and Israel are giving these nations tools to covertly attack and destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities. Should Iran get on the verge of having an atomic arsenal, what better way to split anti-American rhetoric than have an Arab state strike Iran?

Would this actually happen? Doubtful–but nuclear genies pack a big punch.

And Bardford Plumer slashes the deal, revealing the ‘joke’ of helping Saudi Arabia’s military:

Indeed, Tariq Ali mentioned something similar in his recent review of two books on Saudi Arabia: “[T]he Saud clan, living in a state of permanent fear… [has] kept the size of the national army and air force to the barest minimum. [W]hat happens to the vast quantity of armaments purchased to please the West? Most of them rust peacefully in desert warehouses.” Is that true? The Saudis don’t even want the weapons in question and have no intention of using them? They just buy them “to please the West”? Do these deals make any sense to anyone who’s not a defense contractor?

But Rice and Gates are still pushing the deal in their Middle East trip.

At least money isn’t a problem for Saudi Arabia. From Forbes:

Fitch Ratings said it raised the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Outlook to positive from stable as it affirmed the country’s long-term foreign and local currency issuer default rating at ‘A+’.

High oil prices continue to strengthen the government’s domestic and external balance sheets and government is using its fiscal surplus — that touched 25 pct of GDP in 2006 — to pay down domestic debt, build external assets and invest in infrastructure, Fitch said.

And this comes on the heels of extensive economic reforms:

Economic policy has not focused only on internal domestic issues. Indeed, the Saudi government has also sought to further advance the country’s integration with the regional and global economy. The first step aimed at improving and cementing Saudi Arabia’s bilateral and multilateral trade relations on a regional level, starting with the customs union formed with the other five members of the GCC in 2003 that lowered custom duties on most products to 5%. Saudi Arabia then granted GCC citizens equal treatment as its Saudi citizens in areas such as investing in the stock market, establishing a company, private sector employment, social security benefits, government procurement, shipping, and retail, including real estate, according to NBK report.

On a broader scale, the Kingdom’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) was finalized toward the end of 2005, ending about 12 years of negotiations. WTO accession has committed the Kingdom to lowering its tariff barriers and other trade barriers and to accelerating the liberalization process of its key sectors, including telecommunications, banking, and insurance. The Kingdom had also signed 39 bilateral agreements, notably with its largest trading partners, the European Union, the United States, and China.

Looking forward, Saudi Arabia has the potential to continue to grow rapidly -driven by the strength of global energy demand, substantial public and private investment, an improving business environment benefiting from liberalization and privatization initiatives, and a rapidly growing population enjoying higher purchasing power.

If arms deals, coupled with wise policy on the part of Saudi, helps 1) reinforce American alliances and 2) lead to long-term stability in the Middle East, what’s the problem? Especially with American military resources stretched and low credibility, what other path is there?

Granted the US could push to transform its relationship with Iran, but such work will fall to the next administration. Bush’s best role: put that administration in the best place possible for talks with Iran. (Yet, in my view, the biggest boast Bush could give would be setting up a plan to pull out of Iraq.)

But one should note Saudi Arabia’s still troubled image: Note the slated execution of a minor on seemingly fluff charges.

A human rights group has urged Saudi Arabia to reconsider the death sentence given to a Sri Lankan maid accused of killing a baby in her care, saying she was a minor at the time and cannot be executed under international law.

Last month, a Saudi court sentenced Rizana Nafeek, 19, to be beheaded for killing the infant two years ago. She has appealed the conviction, which human rights groups say was based on a coerced confession. (AP)

6 Responses to “Saudi Arabia Round-Up: US Criticizes then Gives Arms; Economy on the Up and Up; And Why Not to be Sri Lakan 17-Year Old in Saudi Arabia”

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