By The Centre for Pakistan and Gulf Studies
Oct 23, 2013
On 17 October 2013 the General Assembly elected five nonpermanent members to the Security Council for the 2014-2015 term. The elections were held to replace five countries whose terms are ending this year: The newly elected states are: Chad and Nigeria (for the African Group), Saudi Arabia (for the Group of Asia and the Pacific Small Island Developing States), Chile (from the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States), and Lithuania (from the Eastern European Group). These states were elected in a “clean slate” election (without significant opposition and only requiring one round of voting). In an unprecedented move Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), one of the founding state of United Nations, has turned down the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) non permanent membership. Saudi Foreign ministry in their statement pointed out some of their reasons and the double standards being practiced in UNSC but there are some implicit messages as well. KSA demonstrated its resentment over the inability of UNSC to remove the Syrian regime and managing the deteriorating political situation in Middle East. The issue needs some deeper understanding as it has serious implications for the region and beyond.
This is first ever incident in the history of UN when a country has refused the membership of UNSC. It is also the first time that KSA has been nominated for this position. This move has jolted the existing foundation of international system and has stunned every one at UN and UNSC. All the member states and the Secretary General Mr Ban ki moon are expressing their great concern. It is acknowledged that KSA is an influential UN member and enjoys high respect and stature among the Muslim world. There is sense of resentment that already exists among Muslim World over the absence of permanent Muslim representation in the UNSC. This rotating position in the UNSC is a nominal position and has very limited role in the decision making. Interestingly in the past 57 years since 1966, when the number of non permanent members were enhanced to 10, only 68 countries have so far been selected for this seat. This is the first time that KSA has been elected for this position with 176 votes in its favor.
This refusal has aired anomalies in the existing international system under United Nations which has been criticized for its inherent inabilities to ensure international peace and security. There has been serious debate on much needed “reforms within UNSC” but the issue was dormant for quite some time. This incidence has allowed many states including France to once again voice their concerns and the Kingdom’s move will help promote this idea and will possibly move the ongoing debate towards an acceptable and reasonable solution.
There are some other latent problems and reservations which paved the way for Saudi refusal, and those are not between Saudi Arabia and UN, but between KSA and USA. The bilateral relations between both these states are passing through some turbulent times due to difficulties finding the mutual consensus on various issues. USA is signaling confused policy over the evolving political situation in the Middle East. Apparently US shows its opposition to Assad regime but practically it has not played its due role in resolving the crisis. Moreover in another move US is showing soft corner towards Iran regarding its nuclear weapon program which is raising serious concern in Saudi Arabia.
USA‘s current foreign policy towards Middle East has a mismatch with the Kingdom’s policies in this region. KSA very rightly and vocally stand against so called Arab Spring, as it has deteriorated the environment of peace and stability in the region. At the same time Saudi government has expressed serious concerns over the humanitarian crisis in Syria. Contrary to Saudi policy, USA supported the violent protests in many countries of Middle East, where political instability poured in against the respective governments of those countries not on humanitarian grounds but in accordance with its geopolitical politico-strategic interests. Rather Saudi Arabia is in favor of peaceful reforms and discourages violent methods in all their forms and manifestations. That is the reason the Saudi government has also been pressing for support for a resolution in the U.N. General Assembly that would denounce Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons and his government’s abuse of human rights.
Saudi Arabia was particular not happy when in an effort to take a multilateral collective action on Syria to remove the Assad’s regime a resolution was moved in UNSC to ensure the security of innocent people of Syria, but was turned down by Russia. It was likely that USA along with its allies could act against Assad‘s regime apart from UNSC framework, as it did in case of Iraq, but this could not happen due to lack of American interest and political will.
KSA argues that Assad regime used Chemical Weapons against its own population and broke the international norms and law. The world community took a serious note of this matter and demanded a punitive action against Assad’s regime, but nothing could be done practically on ground. The Russian proposal has put to halt the international pressure and gave time to the Syrian regime to regain control and defeat opposition. This knee jerk US reaction on Syria has seriously damaged the KSA’s interests in the region.
The Saudi strategic thinking in current strategic scenario revolves around a deep concern that the presence of two nuclear weapon states in Middle East—Israel and Iran—would be highly detrimental to the peace and stability in the region. Saudi Arabia has always criticized the international silence—especially of the US—over Israel’s nuclear weapon program and has been a frontline state in promoting the global non-proliferation regime and idea of Nuclear Weapon Free Zone in the Middle East. American strategic alignment along the Iranian and Israeli lines in Middle East is an unacceptable scenario for Saudi Arabia.
Another area of concern was the US Iranian relationship and concerns regarding Iranian nuclear program, being considered as threat by KSA for the peace and stability in the Middle East. The Iranian nuclear program is point of deep concern for Saudi Arabia; it will deteriorate the security and stability in Middle East and will generate a nuclear arms race in the region. Saudi position on this issue is very clear and realistic, if Iran acquires nuclear weapon, Saudi Arabia will be forced to go down the same course.
Moreover, the unresolved Palestinian issue, which always remained at the heart of the problem in Middle East, is another concern and latent factor that pushed the Saudi government towards refusal. USA has always adopted pro Israel policies and despite Kerry’s recent active diplomacy the Israeli rigidity has brought down all efforts to solve this long pending dispute. The Israel-Palestine peace talk’s process is near collapse in Middle East.USA is not ready to break the status quo in this matter and knowingly not taking any serious interest Saudi Arabia wants the resolution of the Palestine issue as it rightly perceives that this issue will not only establish peace in the region but also will reduce the intra-faith and intra-cultural differences.
This unprecedented move by Saudi Arabia has earned it respect and high moral ground not only in the Muslim countries but also all over the world. The Saudi position has been consolidated in the Muslim World as the real leader and representative of Muslim Ummah. Many in the international community share Saudi concerns but were waiting fro an opportune moment to respond. Now is the right time to air grievances and concerns regarding international system in this rapidly changing and evolving geo-political and geostrategic world situation exposing the inabilities to solve international disputes.
It may be noted that this refusal by the Saudi government has actually insolated itself from any likely US pressure demanding support on various international issues in UNSC. Thus will not be party to mostly anti Muslim and non popular US policy decisions.