Saudi Vision for a Mutual Defense Treaty with Washington

Saudi Vision for a Mutual Defense Treaty with Washington

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Translated by Shatha Kalel
The visit of U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and his Deputy for Middle East Affairs Brett McGurk to Saudi Arabia, and their meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on May 19, 2024, has once again brought discussions about a mutual defense treaty between the two countries to the forefront. These talks had been halted due to events that took place on October 7, 2023, in the Gaza Strip and Palestinian territories. The U.S. administration has since reconsidered its focus on the Middle East, seeing Riyadh as a gateway to strategic depth and regional and international influence, a sentiment that was reinforced by President Joe Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia on July 15, 2023.

The discussions led by the U.S. National Security Advisor focused on finalizing the details of a historic agreement that would provide American security guarantees to Riyadh, along with assistance and scientific advice to develop Saudi Arabia’s civilian nuclear program. This follows several recent American visits to Riyadh, which have not been limited to strategic cooperation. For instance, the visit of NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, who discussed a strategic partnership with officials from the Saudi Space Agency during his five-day visit to Saudi Arabia. This was followed on May 15, 2024, by Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman and his American counterpart Jennifer Granholm signing an implementation plan for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, including a timeline for significant projects.

The United States hopes that these visits and meetings will lead to the normalization of Saudi-Israeli relations after the end of military confrontations in the Gaza Strip and a clear stance from Tel Aviv on the establishment of a Palestinian state and the complete withdrawal from areas occupied by Israeli forces after the recent events.

For Washington and Riyadh to build a strong relationship and establish a comprehensive agreement, they must create a defensive structure that serves as a nucleus for mutual benefit and a basis for addressing all regional crises. This structure must be effective, credible, and have a tangible presence in field operations and communication, facilitating the exchange of information and expertise. It should also serve as a deterrent to regional and international threats, particularly to the Arabian Gulf and Saudi Arabia. The agreement should include a political commitment to establishing effective capabilities within the existing fabric of U.S.-Saudi relations, providing all necessary assistance and resources to enhance the political standing of both nations. Military cooperation must align with the goals of both countries through the mutual defense treaty, which would be a significant event in the region’s history.

However, there are several steps needed to achieve the primary objective of the agreement. The United States must take practical measures to convince Israel of Saudi conditions for resuming relations, including the commitment to a Palestinian state and no hesitation or delay in actions taken by Tel Aviv. The agreement with the U.S. on a full mutual defense treaty could yield positive results for President Biden’s Middle East policy. The bilateral agreement could potentially become trilateral, involving Israel, but this would require multiple initiatives from all parties.

The mutual defense treaty requires the approval of two-thirds of the U.S. Senate. If achieved, it would be legally binding and signify a strong American commitment to the security and stability of the Arabian Gulf region. It would also serve as an indirect deterrent to Iranian threats and support Saudi Arabia, a strategic ally. Congressional approval would indicate a bipartisan consensus on the mutual defense treaty across all future U.S. administrations. These goals should be achieved before Congress goes on recess and before President Joe Biden becomes fully engaged in the upcoming elections, ensuring that the treaty holds historical and future significance in U.S.-Saudi relations. Observing political developments in the Middle East, including China’s ongoing efforts to enhance its political and economic presence to ensure regional stability and protect its oil interests, Saudi Arabia continues to expand its independent foreign policy options based on its vision, interests, and political decisions.

The Saudi Vision for a Mutual Defense Treaty with Washington, The Saudi vision for a mutual defense treaty is based on addressing regional issues and countering the growing regional military capabilities, particularly those of Iran. Therefore, it requires extensive areas and long-term solutions that the defense treaty can address. This comes after observing the political and military détente that occurred with the Houthis, stopping missile attacks on Riyadh and other Saudi cities following an agreement with Iran. This signifies Riyadh’s need for a capable military force through an international alliance and a bilateral agreement with Washington to enhance its role in protecting its Vision 2030.

The approval of the mutual defense treaty is considered a political achievement and a strategic goal for President Joe Biden’s administration, strengthening Saudi Arabia’s military capabilities and securing its defenses. This aligns with the strategic objectives of American tools in enhancing its field presence and effectively influencing all prevailing situations in the region by forming regional alliances and contributing to the preparation of joint air and missile defense programs that ensure the protection of Israel and the Gulf Arab states from any regional threats.

The discussions between Washington and Riyadh emphasized the strategic depth of Saudi political thinking, characterized by patience, perseverance, wisdom, and flexibility in overcoming all obstacles that confronted the treaty’s clauses and articles. This is aimed at enhancing the fundamental aspects achieved within Saudi society across all areas of life and the economic and social accomplishments that have contributed to the process of reform and reconstruction.

The Saudi leadership realizes that normalizing relations with Israel is seen by the American administration as the “crown jewel.” Therefore, it is not rushing to achieve peace without serious guarantees and political achievements that safeguard Palestinian rights, knowing that any peace in the Arab region represents a Western American desire.

A broad meeting on May 22, 2024, brought together American civilian and military leaders and those from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries at the main headquarters in Riyadh to form a working group focusing on air and missile defense, maritime security, and ensuring the safety of regional countries. This meeting followed the Iranian attack on Israel on April 13, 2024, and the American vision of the growing Russian-Iranian military cooperation and Tehran’s continued display of strength through its armed factions in several Arab capitals. The attendees decided to continue joint military exercises, meet the needs for weapons and heavy equipment, and build air and missile defense systems. The goal is to maintain security and stability and prevent any regional threats to the area.

Any upcoming mutual defense treaty will include a security and military agreement based on establishing extensive military relations with Arab countries that have diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv and conducting American exercises with Gulf Arab states in maritime security and defense against missile and drone attacks. The aim is to deter any regional intervention or threat from any country in the region by relying on central planning and comfortable means of cooperation with Saudi military forces. It involves providing American advice in all vital areas that support Saudi national security and achieve the American goal of reassuring American taxpayers that their allies can defend themselves and are not solely dependent on U.S. military capabilities. Any confrontation or war in the region would cost less for the U.S. with Saudi military and security support.

An essential foundation for any treaty approval is having a qualified defensive apparatus that goes beyond military equipment, with the U.S. positioning itself in Saudi Arabia and building a new advisory defensive structure. This would focus on supporting basic operations, establishing a security cooperation office, coordinating with security ministries, and not limiting the matter to the Saudi Ministry of Defense. It involves providing specific advice on the reality of Saudi Arabia and developing and managing its human resources across all fields.
Economic Studies Unit / North America Office
Rawabet Center for Research and Strategic Studie