Saudi Arabia and the U.S: A lose-lose relationship?

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Saudi Arabia and the U.S: A lose-lose relationship?

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Ethan Clark ’20 Caroline White ’21

Ties between the Saudi Kingdom and the United States have stood since World War II, when the Saudi Kingdom remained neutral, but allowed American and Allied use of its airspace for the war. Since then, the Saudis have entered an alliance with the U.S that includes arms deals, oil agreements that give U.S priority in the market, and counter-terrorism efforts. An ally in the turbulent region is of utmost importance to the U.S. However, recent events have strained this beneficial relationship, and there as been talk of breaking ties with the Middle Eastern superpower. However, it is in the best interest of the United States to maintain this compact. The Saudi-American relations have become increasingly complex and need to be subdivided into smaller categories.


The American Arms Deal:

Saudi Arabia remains the largest importer of American Arms, with over 60% of their total arms imports coming from the United States. Revenue from this deal in the fiscal year of 2017 peaked at $55.6 billion and for the past five years around one-fifth of American arms deals have been to the Saudi kingdom alone. President Trump has denied any plan to pull from this deal, as a massive economic hole would open in the place of our biggest importer.

“I don’t like the concept of stopping an investment of $110 billion into the United States,” said the president in October, referencing the last two fiscal years. These calls come amid tensions with the Saudi Crown after the recent alleged murder of Saudi-born dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi as well as the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, which is linked to the Saudi-led coalition which uses American weapons. Companies such as Boeing, Raytheon, and Lockheed-Martin all participate in these billion dollar contracts with their military tech and equipment. Scrapping such contracts would cause economic recession in the military economic sector as well as a loss of jobs within the listed companies and others.


The War in Yemen:

Currently, Yemen has the highest level of humanitarian need in the world. According to the United Nations, 79% of the population is in need of humanitarian assistance or protection. The conflict began in 2011 after President Ali Abdullah Saleh was forced to hand his power over to Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. This exchange of power was meant to stabilize the country of Yemen, however, President Hadi failed to do so. The Houthis, a Muslim rebel group, saw President Hadi’s weakness as an opportunity to attempt to seize power, successfully capturing some areas of Yemen. Since then, the violence has dramatically increased, with Saudi Arabia fighting to restore Hadi’s power. As of November 2018, 22.2 million people in Yemen were in need of humanitarian assistance. The Saudis have also used U.S. arms to kill children in Yemen. Many Americans may feel that this alone is enough to stop supplying Saudi Arabia with weapons. However, it’s important to realize that the United States cannot control how any countries we export arms to uses those arms. With that in mind, the fact that Saudis are using U.S. weapons to kill Yemeni civilians is not enough to pull out of the American Arms Deal with Saudi Arabia.



Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia and Dubai have grown exponentially economically due to the increased demand on oil in the modern world. Both now rank among the richest countries with a GDP of $1.7B and $694B respectively. Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Quarter of the its southern peninsula holds the world’s second largest oil reserve, affording the countries of the region a great leverage on the markets. Saudi exports in petroleum and oil rank first among all other countries and American imports come primarily from the Arabian peninsula. If the United States were to abandon support for the Saudi government by pulling from the arms deals or official condemnation for actions of the government, Saudi oil producers may raise prices or refuse business with the United States. Without a cheap trade ally, gas and oil prices would skyrocket and economic crisis among the energy markets would ensue.


Counter Terrorism:

Although it may seem contradictory, the United States and Saudi Arabia are partners when it comes to counter terrorism. In fact the United States Department of State, in its annual report on the global state of terrorism, commended Saudi Arabia’s efforts and success in counter terrorism. As Saudi is a key member in the international efforts to take down ISIS, it is important that the United States remains on good terms with the country.


How should the U.S handle this?

Although the U.S-Saudi relations have been strained for the past few years the cohesion the two countries share cannot be understated. Yemen will always stain Saudi Arabia’s reputation and to some, America’s, yet the ability of controlling where the weapons bought by the Saudis go borders on impossible for the American government. Profits from such a weapon’s deal also determines factors of the American economy. On that subject any acts of aggression, be it diplomatic or not, would be detrimental to U.S interests in the Saudi oil relations, hiking up gas prices across our country.

Our relationship with the Middle Eastern power after 911 has also become a priority to our intentions in the region, with backing from the Saudis and use of their airspace, military bases, and airstrips the attacks against Al Qaeda, ISIS, and the Taliban have been given more access due to Saudi cooperation. If we were to disrupt this long brokered trust then American presence in the unstable region could disappear entirely.