Weaving and deterrence: the Saudi-US defence agreement

A US-Saudi defence pact could have a transformative impact on the Middle East in the same way that a 1945 conversation between King Abdul Aziz and President Franklin Roosevelt did. It will not be easy.

Weaving and deterrence: the Saudi-US defence agreement

The focus of our April issue probes the intricacies, complexities, possibilities, and opportunities of a defence agreement between Saudi Arabia and the United States.

We explore the challenges, asking what is at stake and who could benefit, while also looking at the detail of what may emerge.

In any pact involving two or more entities usually requires years of analysis and work by diplomats to forge a consensus that aligns with the interests of all parties. In short, they are difficult but possible.

The negotiations between Riyadh and Washington are emblematic of such an uphill diplomatic endeavour. The word ‘weaving’ aptly captures the essence of these discussions.

It reflects a nuanced exploration into the feasibility of an agreement that incorporates history, geography, trust, alliances, conditions, and disagreements. Any pact would be a legacy that bridges the past with the future.

Whys and wherefores

Our cover story details the contours of this anticipated agreement, tailored to the specific needs and aspirations of both Saudi Arabia and the United States.

We revisit the seminal 1945 summit between King Abdul Aziz and President Franklin Roosevelt, a pivotal moment that forged the bedrock of their alliance and significantly influenced the regional and global geopolitical landscape.

Despite world and regional changes since then, the essence of that historic meeting remains key to the current discourse on the defence agreement.

We consider the feasibility of finalising a deal before the Congressional recess, after which the US presidential elections in November will dominate.

The different approaches of Biden and Trump toward an agreement are also weighed up, as are their respective strategies for managing relationships with allies and adversaries.

For a possible blueprint, we examine the intricate nature of US defence agreements with its East Asian allies South Korea and Japan. What clues could they hold? Could they provide a template for something similar with Saudi Arabia?

Crafting a new agreement that mirrors the unique interests of both nations and the particular dynamics of the region is achievable.

However, applying a ‘copy and paste’ agreement that has been tailored to another region’s distinct priorities and geopolitical context is not feasible.

A year has elapsed since the groundbreaking Riyadh-Tehran agreement, facilitated by China, a highlight in Beijing’s efforts to fortify its regional presence to promote stability, economic growth, and energy security.

Concurrently, Saudi Arabia is vigorously pursuing the expansion and diversification of its strategic options.

There is an acknowledgement that the global community still operates under an “American peace tent” with worldwide trade and security heavily reliant on Washington’s military expenditure.

Israel and Gaza

Some analysts argue that the reason Hamas attacked Israel last October was to thwart the progress of US-Saudi or US-Israel negotiations.

Saudi Arabia has made any defence pact conditional on a path to Palestinian statehood and the end to war in Gaza. We consider what the ‘day after’ may look like.

After six months of war, we interview former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian leader Jibril Rajoub.

Both want to see Benjamin Netanyahu gone. Olmert cautions that the Israeli right seeks to destabilise the Middle East’s foundations.

Meanwhile, Rajoub thinks that the world will no longer overlook Palestine after what has happened in Gaza since October. He also criticises Hamas and urges it to propose a solution to bridge the divide.

These two prominent figures ponder Palestinian displacement as well as security implications for Jordan and Egypt, the latter grappling with economic woes.

Cairo faces a crucial test and potentially needs Arab and international financial aid to stay solvent for the second time in less than a decade. Is Egypt too big to fail?

Our April issue also commemorates two significant events: the first anniversary of Sudan’s so-called ‘War of the Two Generals’, and the 21st anniversary of Saddam Hussein’s fall on 9 April 2003.

From IS to India

We look at what led up to Saddam’s removal, with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iranian leader Ali Khamenei plotting to embroil America in a “second Vietnam”.

Al Majalla reveals the confidential Syrian documents that have been shedding light on these questions and uncovering numerous other secrets besides.

Elsewhere, we profile Islamic State Khorasan Provice (ISKP), responsible for the recent terror attack on a music night near Moscow.

Attracting foreign extremists, ISKP exhibits such radicalism that it makes its arch enemy the Taliban look moderate.

On the Indian sub-continent, elections draw near. We draw the lens up to opposition leader Rahul Gandhi, a scion of India’s most illustrious political dynasty, his lineage is steeped in political history.

Though his prospects of winning the elections are slim, he continues to be a significant irritant to Narendra Modi's governance.

In the UK, the British royal family have revealed that both King Charles and Catherine, Princess of Wales (wife of the heir-to-the-throne, Prince William) are battling cancer. It marks a poignant chapter in the family's history.

Our exploration of cultural landscapes then takes us to the vibrant realm of Egyptian plastic art.

We also talk to a Norwegian author about her book The Reason for Sadness in the World, which offers a reflective journey into human emotions.

Finally, we pause at the inception of poetic modernism in Beirut, tracing the evolution of literary expression in this culturally rich city.

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