Saudi Arabia’s Quest for strategic autonomy
- For many years, the kingdom’s animosity towards Iran was the primary motivator of Saudi foreign policy. However, last month, Saudi Arabia announced a deal to normalize diplomatic relations with Iran, mediated by China.
- Furthermore, there were allegations that Russia was mediating discussions between Saudi Arabia and Syria, which could result in the latter rejoining the Arab League before the next summit. Earlier this week, a Saudi-Omani delegation traveled to Yemen to negotiate a durable truce with the Houthi rebels.
- Saudi Arabia is likewise attempting to strike a balance between the United States, its major armaments supplier, Russia, its OPEC-Plus partner, and China, the region’s rising superpower.
Points to Ponder:
- Saudi Arabia, which formerly had an aggressive foreign policy focused on increasing its regional dominance and resisting Iran, is now pursuing a more conciliatory approach.
- Previously, the Saudis funded rebel groups in Syria and launched a bombing campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, respectively.
- Recent events, however, indicate a shift in Saudi Arabia’s strategy. For example, it announced a pact to normalize diplomatic relations with Iran and dispatched a delegation to Yemen to negotiate a durable truce with the Houthi rebels.
- According to other sources, Russia is mediating discussions between Saudi Arabia and Syria, which could result in Syria rejoining the Arab League before its next meeting in May.
- These shifts are most likely the result of a mix of causes, including the failure of past strategies, the shift in US priorities away from the region, and China’s ascent as a new superpower in the region.
- Despite these changes, Saudi Arabia is not abandoning its connection with the United States, which remains the region’s top weapons supplier and security partner.
- Instead, Saudi Arabia is attempting to fill the void left by US policy shifts by strengthening relationships with Russia and China and mending connections with regional nations without fully abandoning the US.
- These developments have far-reaching consequences for the region. Saudi Arabia’s normalization negotiations with Syria, for example, or its talks with the Houthis, cannot be seen in isolation from the larger picture of the Saudi-Iran reconciliation.
- If successful, these diplomatic efforts could result in a more stable and peaceful area, with fewer proxy conflicts and better inter-country collaboration.
What do Russia-China and Saudi-Iran deals mean for India?
- The deepening of Russia-China ties could represent a challenge for India, as the country has historically had strong connections with both Russia and China and has also had a history of conflict and rivalry with China. India would have to strike a careful balance between its interests and connections with both countries.
- The effects on India could be noticed in the energy and defense sectors. China’s ambitions for higher imports may result in increased competition for energy resources, while China’s procurement of the S-400 before India may raise concerns about India’s defense capabilities’ security.
- The new front created by the Russia-China alliance and the Iran-Saudi Arabia agreement may make the G-20 consensus more difficult. India will have to strive harder to reach an agreement with all parties involved.
- The agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia could be beneficial to India because both countries are supportive of one another.
- However, the fact that China brokered and is a guarantee of the Iran-Saudi Arabia agreement may make both countries lean closer toward Beijing. This may provide significant hurdles for India, particularly considering China’s growing involvement in the region.
- With China’s expanding influence, India’s poor relationship with Iran, caused by the cancellation of oil supplies, reduced investment in Chabahar, and the I2U2, could worsen. This may make it more difficult for India to avoid Pakistan and fulfill its connectivity objectives.
- Connectivity between India via Chabahar and Russia via the INSTC could be restricted. To guarantee that its connectivity aspirations are not jeopardized, India will need to collaborate with all parties involved.