For decades, Saudi diplomacy has built vital foreign relations that have helped the Kingdom maintain its role in both the regional and international stage. This accomplishment was no easy feat, as Saudi Arabia has faced a number of challenges that sought to undermine its diplomatic capabilities, and limit the Kingdom’s international influence. Nevertheless, Saudi Arabia overcame these elements by maintaining asustained action to strengthen external ties and an intense presence on the global theater of operations. Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic activities have been varied, and it was through this multiplicity of methods that enabled Saudi Arabia to adopt a progressive and moderate foreign policy, in which it avoids interfering in other states’ internal governance. Saudi Arabia has also become a bridge of communications between states that share their interests and states that oppose its policies; as such it often acts as a mediator between conflicting state actors. Moreover, Saudi Arabia has complied with and utilized the proper legal and diplomatic means of resolving international conflicts, especially when it deals with elements that threaten the national security of Middle Eastern states.
These ideals have been embodied in Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic approach through its long history, in which it relied on various peaceful tools and traditional and customary mechanisms of action, in accordance with international norms and laws. Saudi Foreign Minister, Adel Al Jubier, made these ideals apparent in his statement at the US State Department which declared that the King Salman, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman and he were overseeing a massive shift in their state’s foreign policy to ensure that the state maintains its balanced relations with various world powers, while simultaneously working within international law to resolve international conflicts between other states.
Rather than relying on either isolationism or heated conflict, Saudi diplomacy uses “peaceful confrontation”. It does this through exhausting all the practical diplomatic means of conflict resolution, while respecting International Law and the diplomatic bodies of other state actors. As such, Saudi Arabia is no longer waiting to perform its roles and have its actions assessed by regional and international actors; rather it has actively been imposing said proper diplomatic policies on all regional and international players. It should be noted that even if the Saudi Foreign Affairs Department has expanded the problems of the region to Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, it did so in countering the threats that Iran imposes on the region.
THE ROLE OF SAUDI DIPLOMACY IN INTERNATIONAL CONFLICT RESOLUTION
Recently, Saudi Arabia has successfully resolved one of the most complex political conflicts, namely the one between Ethiopia and Eritrea. It should be noted that many regional and international players have tried and failed to resolve this political rift, yet a Saudi initiative led by King Salman Bin Abd El Aziz and Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman was able to bring the long winding conflict to a standstill. This peace initiative was based on the essence of Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy goals which in turn is based on supporting peace, evading violence as a means of conflict resolution and end clashes that might be present between or among states. The first priority of Saudi peace initiatives is the Horn of Africa region, which is an area of strategic interest among many international powers and is of strategic interest to Saudi Arabia, in particular. This is because by maintaining a stronghold in the Horn of Africa guarantees another arena in which Saudi Arabia can further deter the influence of another certain regional power.
Saudi Arabia did not establish peace in the Horn of Africa by launching separate peace initiatives in the conflicting countries; rather the peace effort was the culmination of vigorous and arduous efforts initiated by the Kingdom years ago. These efforts were based on firm convictions that the sovereignty of peace between geographically close nations and the spread of security and safety were essential prerequisites for development and prosperity. This is especially true for a region that has suffered and continues to suffer from the negative effects of the pragmatic and imperialist visions of the great powers, which only take a narrow approach when it comes to these countriesby focusing mainly on their own self-interest.
Saudi Arabia’s relations with this region started at the dawn of the civil and tribal conflicts in Somalia, a state which has received Saudi politicaland economic aid for the past two decades, a state that the Kingdom worked tirelessly to end the cycle of ceaseless fighting there. These efforts eventually paid off in 2007, when Somalia’s fighting tribes and parties came together in Jeddah and signed a peace treaty in a ceremony presided over by the late King Abd Allah Bin Abd El Aziz.
On the eve of the 88thanniversary of the founding of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Jedda became a landmark that hosted an important development for the Horn of Africa, as Eritrea and Ethiopia signed a treaty in that city. This was a vital first step in ensuring security for countries situated at the Red Sea and the two states that have been mired in conflicts since 1998. It is evident that such progresses in the Horn of Africa has clarified Saudi Arabia’s goals for pragmatic dialogue and has clarified that Saudi Arabia uses and will continue to use diplomatic means rather than violent confrontation to resolve regional and international conflicts. This treaty signing also led to a historic reconciliation between Djibouti President Ismail Omar Jila and his Eritrean counterpart Isaias Afewerki, as both aimed for a final solution to the border conflict.
Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic efforts in the Horn of Africa did not stop there, on August 9, 2018 Saudi Foreign Minister, Adel El Jebeir, visited both Adis Ababa and Asmara and met with both the countries’ leaders. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia’s Minister for African Affairs, Ahmed Qutan, visited Djibouti in July 30, 2018 where he met their president Omar Ismail Jila and gave him a letter from the Custodian of the Holy Mosques, King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz. Such efforts have given joy to the people living in the Horn of Africa as the restoration of normal relations among these countries in now within touching distance.
Saudi Arabia not only achieved political stability and security in the Horn of Africa, it also gave the region the opportunity to develop economically. As a result, the Red Sea region as a whole now produces 3.3 million barrels of oil daily. In the past, great powers attempted to achieve such stability in the region by setting up military bases. Alas, all that did was help the great powers’ self-interests, while the conflict would spillover to other countries. But all that changed once Saudi “peaceful confrontation” came to the region and ended the two decade long Ethiopian-Eritrean conflict and the ten year long Eritrean-Djiboutian conflict.
PEACE……A TRUE SAUDI IDEAL
Working to achieve peace with and between countries reflects an old Saudi ideal that rejects policies of exclusion and isolation, which are practised by other neighboring countries. This is why Saudi embassies and consulates all around the world have had an instrumental role in helping to resolve conflicts that the host country might be facing. Saudi ambassadors all over the world take this approach that both support and reject Saudi Arabia’s policies and ideals. Given all these factors, it should not come as a surprise that most Saudi ambassadors and diplomats get praised by the host country when they end their service.
Many Saudi embassies have led initiatives which sought to unite Islamic and Arab policies on a number of international issues. Furthermore, Saudi diplomacy has also established initiatives of “bridges” that aimed to achieve reconciliation between political leaders and parties. These “bridges” are based on principles of mutual respect and acceptance and the achievement of common interests through the values of dialogue and coexistence. These activities reflect Saudi values of peaceful foreign policy, rather than exclusion and exploitation, and this is an approach that Saudi Arabia always took even when dealing with malicious individuals, groups and states that want to disrupt its internal stability and its role in the regional and international stage.
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, Mohamed Bin Salman, represents a new era of Saudi diplomacy that seeks to build new political and economic bridges around the world. According to the 2018 Asda’a Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey, young Arabs think that in comparison to other Arab leaders, Mohamed Bin Salman will have the biggest influence on the region in the coming ten years.
Dia El Din Said, Saudi ambassador to Djibouti, has expanded on some of the Crown Prince’s diplomatic achievements. For one thing, he played a part in the reconciliation ceremonies of Ethiopia and Eritrea and Eritrea and Djibouti that took place in Jeddah. He has also constantly been following up on the relations among those states. Additionally, Mohamed Bin Salman is also the mastermind behind the “Saudi Vision 2030” plan, which aims to diversify the country’s economy as to make it a leader in the global stage. Moreover, Dia El Din Said claimed that the Crown Prince has the leadership qualities of his father, King Salman, and the founder of Saudi Arabia King Abd El Aziz. Such potential from the Crown Prince promises a bright future for the Kingdom as a big player in international affairs.
Saudi Arabia's foreign policy has historically been based on specific principles: good-neighborliness, non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, strengthening Gulf Arab and Islamic relations to serve common interests, pursuing non-aligned policies and playing key roles within regional and international organizations.
The regional vacuum that the region has suffered over the past years has forced Saudi Arabia to intervene to solve many of the region's crises and problems. This has burdened Saudi diplomacy with many afflictions, which had to be dealt with professionally and efficiently. This is where the "key fulcrums" for the Kingdom's activities in its regional and international environment come into play. These key fulcrums include:
Institutional proliferation: Saudi diplomacy has spread through its various missions to strengthen its presence on the international scene and to increase its political and economic capabilities.
The role of diplomacy in Saudi foreign policy has greatly increased in recent years. As such, Saudi Arabia has increased the number of embassies and consulates the world. Some of the countries that have received new Saudi embassies are ones that have been under difficult political pressures, such as the former Soviet states. Therefore, it can be said that Saudi foreign policy has had a recent focus on either launching diplomatic relations for the first time or reactivating them more intensively, directly and effectively.
The Kingdom's foreign policy enabled it to become the centre of influence in the Islamic world, the focal point in the international energy industry and the world's largest oil producer, one of the most important emerging economies, and also the largest market in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia’s new role as a regional and international leader resulted in its emergence as an important player in the establishment of new economic and investment markets. This in turn increased the Kingdom’s presence in South America, Scandinavia, Africa and Eastern Europe.
Diversification of international alliances:Saudi Arabia, led by King Salman bin Abdul Aziz, adopted strategies to diversify alliance patterns as a strategic choice, leading to an eastward direction. The Kingdom launched a new phase of relations with Russia, China, Japan and many other Asian countries. The developments of Saudi Arabia's smooth-moving diplomatic moves can be seen in the diversity of relations with the major powers and not only in a central strategic ally. This approach has brought to the Kingdom stable foreign relations with many European countries. For instance, relations with Moscow have shifted from weak economic and political ties to a strategic relation backed by dozens of deals and many economic partnerships across diverse projects.
Mikhail Bogdanov, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister and representative to the Arab League, has recently said that he is continuing his effort to organize a future visit by Vladimir Putin to Saudi Arabia. Such efforts were initiated after King Salman invited him to Saudi Arabia so that the relationship between both states can reach its `z. This invitation also came after the Saudi King’s first visit to Moscow, a visit that the Russian government described as a “historic development” that pushed Saudi-Russian relations to a higher level. It was during this visit that both countries signed an array of important agreements. Putin would also go on to say that he looks forward to his visit to Riyadh where he can continue his dialogue with the Saudi King on “enforcing their signed agreements and opening new aspects for Saudi-Russian cooperation”.
Moreover, on 30 May, 2017, the Saudi Foreign Minister and Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman met with Vladimir Putin and both parties agreed to ease energy relations and to cooperate on the Syrian issue. During the visit, Mohamed Bin Salman said: “There are many issues that bring us together, we both also know how to quickly resolve issues that we disagree on.”
The Kingdom is taking various steps to strengthen its foreign relations and its international alliances, recognizing that these approaches are paramount to ensuring the kingdom's status in the international arena. As relations with Moscow have witnessed positive developments, Saudi-Chinese relations have also experienced great growth since 2016 when both states signed a comprehensive strategic partnership. The Saudi diplomatic effort, in addition to the development of relations with the major powers, also strengthened the international role of the Kingdom intensifying its efforts to resolve conflicts. This role was consistent with the UN Charter, in which the Kingdom uses its proactive diplomacy to prevent these crises from escalating into military conflicts resulting in disasters. . That is why the Kingdom has participated in the tasks of international organizations and has cooperated with states that believe in collective action in the pursuit of international peace and security.
It can be safely and undoubtly said that Saudi Arabia's regional and international policy is based on certain principles such as good-neighborliness, non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, cooperative relations with friendly countries and actively playing a role in the framework of regional and international organizations.
One of the key reasons why Saudi Arabia has such a progressive and humitarian approah to diplomacy is because it was one of the founding members of the United Nations in 1945. Additionally the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has a deep belief that world peace is one of the objectives of its foreign policy as it consistently calls for a more transparent basis for justice in dealing with states, as it sees this as the only way to stabalize the world. The Kingdom affirms that it fights extremism and terrorism in all its forms and promotes international peace and security through its leading position in both the Islamic and Arab worlds.
The balance between work and accomplishments:Saudi diplomacy is working continuously to avoid confrontation and reduce disagreements with other forces that take different approaches to foreign policy issues, which evidently raises tensions and unrest with such states. In this context, Saudi diplomacy seeks to play a concrete and active role in the Syrian issue, which has caused some escalations with other powers. This is based on the fact that the Syrian issue, despite its importance, has been ignored by various Arab countries for years until all the foreign powers and some regional parties, including Iran, Israel, Turkey, militias and other countries started getting involved in Syria. The reason behind their massive involvements was due to the decline of the American role in the region during the reign of former US President Barack Obama, and President Donald Trump’s initial plan to withdraw US troops from there before the White House reconsidered its policy on the Syrian crisis.
Saudi Arabia is still resuming its diplomatic role in the Syrian issue, and it does so in international summits and negotiating tables not just as a representative of the Arab region, but as an actor that is effected by what has been happening in Syria. It should be noted that through Saudi Arabia’s calculated and silent diplomacy these past few months have caused a major shift in a number of hot topic issues in the region, including the Syrian issue.
Re-aligning the Arab Forces:While the Kingdom seeks to re-establish the Syrian state as a unified state in which all its citizens live with guaranteed and just rights, the Saudi diplomacy aims to reorient Arab relations towards Iraq as to counter Iranian policies in the region. Therefore, Saudi diplomacy seeks a new phase of bilateral relations, based on comprehensive coordination in many issues between Riyadh and Baghdad.
This is also a time in which the Kingdom is seeking to strengthen interregional Arab relations and Arab-international relations to face the threats posed by Iranian policies in the region. It is these Iranian policies that have had negative impacts on Yemen, Syria and Lebanon. Riyadh foreign policy in the region can be considered the antithesis of the Obama’s administration’s Middle East policy. Riyadh had a leading role in alerting Washington to the disasters of the Iranian nuclear deal. Saudi Arabia also refused to participate in Barack Obama's vision of establishing what the White House called a "new geopolitical equilibrium" in the Gulf region. Saudi Arabia has formulated a different policy with the Iranian state. This policy resulted in the confrontation of the Houthi rebellion in Yemen and the ensuing confrontations in the region, which included Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. This is because Saudi Arabia did not leave the playing field for Iran, lest Arab national security would have been in a dire situation.
Countering extremism and militancy:Saudi Arabia succeeded in confronting the forces of extremism and militancy through different forms and approaches. Such approaches included focusing on absorbing and containing the extremist ideologies while promoting moderate religious thought. On the foreign arena, the Kingdom's diplomacy launched alliances to counter the forces of extremism . On the level of the Kingdom's relations with international powers, Saudi diplomacy succeeded in hosting three successive international summits: the Saudi-American, Gulf-American and Arab-Islamic-American Summits, respectively. In the presence of a large number of leaders and heads of participating countries, the Kingdom has proved to the world its role as a leader in the Arab and Islamic worlds, and its dedication for the consolidation of world peace.
Saudi foreign policy has also taken a more proactive approach to prosecute and dismantle terrorist networks and cells. Saudi Arabia has formed a coalition of Muslim countries bent on fighting terrorist groups in the region. Furthermore, Riyadh was designated as the coalition’s center of operations to coordinate and support military missions to combat terrorism and to develop the programs and mechanisms necessary to support these efforts. All these efforts enhance the capacity and efficiency of Saudi security and diplomacy forces which help support both regional and international security.
Diplomatic Dignity:Although Saudi Arabia tries its best to form the best possible relations with regional and international neighbors, there are times in which certain states can be unfriendly towards the Kingdom, and unfortunatly Saudi Arabia has faced many hostile policies from different regional and international forces. Saudi relations with Germany, Canada and Turkey have suffered from tensions ranging from disciplined tensions to direct political and media confrontations. However, the Kingdom has proven to be balanced in the face of threats and pressure, with Riyadh and Berlin relations reverting to normalcy and Saudi-Canadian tensions decreasing thanks to Saudi Arabia's reciprocity policies.
The previous tensions with Germany can be summed up as this: Riyadh recalled its ambassador to Germany in November 2017 in protest against a statement made by then German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel in which he discussed Saudi Arabia's policies towards Lebanon and its Prime Minister Saad Hariri. However, the inaccuracy of these statements prompted current German Foreign Minister Haiku Maas to hold a meeting with his Saudi counterpart Adel al-Jubeir on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York. In this meeting Maas highlighted that "Our relations have seen differences over the past months, resulting from a misunderstanding that strongly contradicts the strong and strategic relations that bind us, and we deeply regret it”.
For his part, Al-Jubeir pointed to "the leading role of the two countries in international security and economy" and called on his German counterpart to visit the Kingdom "as soon as possible" to give new impetus to bilateral cooperation between the two countries.
Saudi policies have also helped in restoring relations with Spain after the latter tried to intervene in Saudi politics. Saudi Arabia has also been known to support the progression of developing countries through its donor institutions, particularly the Saudi Fund for Development, which contributes to financing development projects and infrastructure development in many countries around the world.
Saudi Arabia's diplomacy reflects the Kingdom's growing capabilities and the nature of its principles. This comes at a difficult time, given the magnitude of the challenges facing the region, which makes the task of forging relations with various regional and international actors a difficult yet necessary task. While the Kingdom is taking a serious and honest approach, it seeks to continue its efforts especially since its rapidly growing economy and political apparatus has helped make it a world leader in diplomacy. Therefore Saudi must, and will, continue to use its growing power in a responsible manner that reflects its own values as to help the world become a more peaceful and stable place for generations to come. The peace treaty between Ethiopia and Eritrea, and Eritrea and Djibouti, respectively are examples of the values, ideals and goals that this diplomacy carries.