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Foreign policy and strategic alliances in an uncertain world
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In the context of political transitions taking place at the domestic, regional and international levels, this book maps a series of key Saudi and United Arab Emirates (UAE) bilateral relations incorporating the Middle East, the US, Europe, China, Russia, the Horn of Africa, India, Pakistan, Japan, Republic of Korea, Indonesia and Malaysia. It argues that established modes of analysis such as riyal politik and the Islamisation of Saudi foreign policy are somewhat redundant in a changing economic climate and amid evidence of uncertain returns, whilst political consolidation amounting to Sultanism tells only part of the story. The book underscores the role of youth, background, and western affinity in leadership, as well as liberalisation, hyper-nationalism, secularisation, ‘Push East’ pressure and broader economic statecraft as being the new touchstones of Saudi and UAE foreign policy. This volume also sheds light on aspects of offensive realism, dependency theory, alliance patterns, ‘challenger states’ and political legitimacy in a region dominated by competition, securitisation and proxy warfare.

Abstract only
Robert Mason

This introductory chapter briefly lays out the aim of the book, which is to explore the foreign and security policies of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the two largest economies in the Middle East, in the context of leadership, political succession, transition and consolidation, as well as socio-economic change and other challenges taking place. It then summarises the structure of the chapters to follow.

in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates
Robert Mason

This chapter surveys the most relevant aspects of international relations theory and foreign policy analysis literature to provide a firm conceptual basis on which to peg conceptual insights from the subsequent chapters. Works on riyal politik, economic statecraft, rentier state theory, offensive realism, dependency theory, alliance patterns, and political legitimacy are all included. The chapter also dwells on middle-power and small-state literature as pertaining to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the Middle East as a regional system and conceptual developments concerning the study of the region since the Arab uprisings. A list of the key questions directing this study are also included.

in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates
State formation, political consolidation and reform
Robert Mason

This chapter sets the tone for further discussion on Saudi foreign policy by reflecting on Saudi statehood, survival and regional relations in historical context. It then moves on to assess contemporary transitions affecting sectarianism, secularism and liberalism. This is followed by coverage on dissent and repression and the ‘anti-corruption drive’ in the kingdom, encompassing the Ritz Carlton episode in 2017. The chapter then turns to the Saudi economy, role of sovereign wealth funds and climate change policies within that, and defence and national security issues, including counterterrorism issues. The conclusion analyses which domestic factors are likely to have a major bearing on Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy and international relations well into the twenty-first century.

in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates
State consolidation, security and ambition
Robert Mason

After an introductory note about United Arab Emirates (UAE) national history, this chapter outlines the major domestic themes affecting UAE foreign policy, including the government’s struggle with Islamism, especially violent Islamism in the form of Al Qaeda and ISIS. The evolution of relations with conservative groups is also surveyed, notably Al Islah and the wider Muslim Brotherhood. The chapter goes on to discuss national security issues, particularly recent revelations about the UAE’s cyber-surveillance strategy and human rights writ large. The chapter then transitions to questions concerning state-led capitalism and diversification, including energy policy and the role of sovereign wealth funds. A review of UAE hard and soft power sources follows, with reference to economic statecraft. The chapter shows how the UAE has developed under Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed and charts significant power shifts in intra-Emirati politics, from the 2008–9 financial crisis up to a new visa regime implemented post-COVID-19. The conclusion sums up the conceptual issues most applicable in this case.

in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates
Abstract only
A supreme ontological threat
Robert Mason

Saudi and United Arab Emirates (UAE) relations with Iran are central to their respective threat perceptions and their wider regional and international calculations. This chapter outlines key shaping factors that drive these ’states’ contemporary interactions and provides some additional context for their (dis)engagement, notably due to Hajj incidents and to US policy ranging from rising sectarian tensions after the US intervention in Iraq in 2003, to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which failed to address Iranian missile developments and Iranian relations with militia groups. However, shifting calculations concerning US Middle East policy under successive administrations, especially on Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen, has created a new landscape for diplomatic engagement. The UAE, with its own historical contentions with Iran, doubled down on efforts to engage Iran with health diplomacy during COVID-19, and both Saudi Arabia and the UAE used the election of President Ebrahim Raisi as an opportunity to elevate contact and diplomacy further. The chapter, coupled with the following one on regional relations, underscores the main dynamics of Saudi–Iranian contestation and expression.

in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates
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Counter-revolutionaries united?
Robert Mason

This omnibus chapter outlines the orientation of Saudi and United Arab Emirates policy and regionalism within the Gulf Cooperation Council, where sources of contrast and rivalry persist between these and other protagonists. The chapter utilises a limited number of case studies to illustrate the dominant paradigms of diplomatic and economic intervention through traditional riyal politik and broader economic statecraft, as well as through proxy warfare and military intervention. Special attention is given to the cases of Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Syria, Libya, and Yemen.

in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates
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Partisan politics, carte blanche and policy variation
Robert Mason

The panoply of contemporary US–Arab Gulf relations is covered in this chapter. Across the Obama, Trump and Biden administrations, a comprehensive picture is built up about the extent to which US policy, including a carte blanche and transactional approach pursued by the Trump administration, and uncertain relations into the Biden administration, has conditioned Saudi and United Arab Emirates (UAE) foreign policy. The main structural issues in US policy towards the Middle East and the GCC states are laid out, including over energy relations, the Global War on Terror; tensions over the JCPOA (and renegotiation) with Iran, congressional disdain over 9/11 (i.e. Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act) and the war in Yemen. These have been joined by some human rights criticism, a question over US security guarantees during the 2019 attacks on Khurais and Abqaiq, over arms exports such as the F-35 to the UAE, over discrepancies between US and UAE Syria policy; and the ebb and flow of personal relations. The 2022 war in Ukraine is shown to be a potential inversion point to Saudi and UAE relations with the US, highlighting the importance to these GCC states and their continued relevance in the global economy.

in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates
Bilateralism versus alliances
Robert Mason

Under shifting macro-economic conditions, namely rising energy imports, a reorientation of Chinese foreign policy under President Xi Jinping, and the expansive Belt and Road Initiative, China–United Arab Emirates and Saudi relations are burgeoning. Having concluded comprehensive strategic partnerships encompassing political, military, energy and security dimensions, these relations are well matched, especially in areas such as fintech, smart city technology, artificial intelligence and COVID-19 vaccine cooperation. However, conditioned by Beijing’s reticence over Middle East entanglements and prioritisation of the Indo-Pacific region, US policy priorities and aversion to over-dependence, this chapter finds that whilst bilateral relations are vital, they remain somewhat uncertain.

in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates
Conditionality and unity
Robert Mason

Focusing on the relations between the UK, France, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, this chapter begins with a brief summary of British and French colonial-era influences in the Arabian Peninsula. It then turns to the British withdrawal ‘East of Suez‘ and subsequent engagement during the Cold War. In the contemporary era, the chapter highlights convergences and divergences in UK and French foreign policies. These states have had a bearing on these Gulf states through the 1990–91 Gulf War, the Middle East peace process, their diplomacy with Iran, participation in US-led intervention in Afghanistan from 2001, divergent approaches to Iraq in 2003 and through strong French support for the NATO intervention in Libya in 2011. After the UK return to ‘East of Suez‘ in 2014 and a French defence cooperation agreement with the UAE in 2019, there is evidence to suggest a continuation of colonial-era policies. The footprint of Saudi and UAE economic interests in Europe (including in the UK premier league) and dependence on arms exports draws attention to the rich weave of long-term and diversifying economic relations. With counterterrorism and intelligence cooperation of paramount concern, other factors such as wider social–legal–political environments are shown to cause consternation in these monarchies, retaliation at times and reinforce a ‘Push East’ effect.

in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates