Saudi Arabia Rejects U.N. Security Council Seat in Protest Move – NYTimes.com

What if you threw a Security Council party and someone important didn’t want to come? This past week saw a shocker that comes as a slap to the UN’s only organ with an enforcement mechanism:

Saudi Arabia stunned the United Nations and even some of its own diplomats on Friday by rejecting a highly coveted seat on the Security Council, a decision that underscored the depth of Saudi anger over what the monarchy sees as weak and conciliatory Western stances toward Syria and Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional rival.

The Saudi decision, which could have been made only with King Abdullah’s approval, came a day after it had won a Security Council seat for the first time, and it appeared to be unprecedented.

via Saudi Arabia Rejects U.N. Security Council Seat in Protest Move – NYTimes.com.

Why would they do this? Wouldn’t it be easier to influence the SC from within? As noted by Erik Voeten in the Monkey Cage, “as a non-permanent member, Saudi Arabia would have little power to affect votes” with the P5’s veto standing in the way.

 

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10 thoughts on “Saudi Arabia Rejects U.N. Security Council Seat in Protest Move – NYTimes.com

  1. I decided to read the rest of this article and was astonished when I saw that Saudi Arabia had been waiting more than two years for this seat. Although I think it is highly immature to decline such a prominent position that would bring a larger voice to this kingdom, I agree with their decision to disagree on how the US and Russia have decided to handle the situation in Syria. It is still nerve wracking to me that a proper form of inspection has not been done under US supervision, and I think they are missing out on a lot of things. I am suspicious about Syria and I believe that there are still issues that have not come out to the light yet with respect to chemical weapons.

  2. Taylor Shippen says:

    I stand with Russia on this one; Saudi Arabia’s rejection of a UN seat is indeed puzzling. The NY times article states that some Saudis may have seen the lack of ambiguity that accompanies a Security Council post as threatening to their current position, and that they may have decided to sacrifice the short-term gain of a UN security council seat in order to maintain their current positions in the region.

    However, I disagree with the assumption that Saudi Arabia’s rejection will only hurt them in the short-term. As one of the region’s most powerful players, Saudi Arabia is forfeiting an opportunity to take a greater leadership role in its own region. Yes, a seat on the security council may not give them much more power because of the permanent five members, but given the five’s constant gridlock, the UN can’t do much anyway. A seat on the council could have been viewed as symbolic acceptance of Saudi Arabia as one of the most important regional players in the middle east. In the face of a moderating Iran and decreasing support for the rebels in Syria, I would have thought securing at least a symbolic place at the negotiating table would have been a higher priority than creating a media sensation by spurning the very seat their diplomats have been trying to win.

    On a more personal level, if I were a diplomat representing Saudi Arabia right now, I would feel utterly betrayed. Two years of work is a high price to pay for a geopolitical stunt. I certainly would be less inclined to throw myself as earnestly into my work when those I represent destroy what I have worked so hard to accomplish. Yes, in the short run the controversy will fade, it is just one back stab among many. But the toll that will take on Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic corps moral and credibility is steep. I don’t know all the reasons why King Abdullah thinks that his country will be better off without a seat at the UN table. But I do know this, Abdullah’s back channel negotiating skills better be rock solid, because he just spurned the front door.

  3. trawson7 says:

    I too am a little bewildering as to why Saudi Arabia chose this move. I understand their frustration; there are lots of things to worry about still with Assad and Syria, and yet the United States and the entire international community for the most part has taken a huge step back from the conflict. That’s a scary thought in general, but it’s especially frightening if you’re Saudi Arabia and so close to the war. In that sense, I understand why they would want to retaliate somehow, but why is rejecting a Security Council seat their best option?

    I cannot help but wonder if this rejection is more symbolic than anything. Saudi Arabia probably could wield at least a little more influence in the Middle East with a Security Council seat. However, as Saudi Arabia is upset that the United States and the United Nations have taken a step back and were collectively unwilling to intervene before that, I think this move on Saudi Arabia’s part should probably be seen as a rejection of the United Nations and the international system in general. The United Nations exists to maintain a certain security throughout the world, and yet we are standing by as Assad kills thousands in inhumane ways. In that respect, I completely understand why Saudi Arabia wouldn’t want anything to do with the Security Council. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.

  4. ianhesterly says:

    This is a good move by Saudi Arabia to bring attention to how ineffective the UNSC is. It’s ironic that the world criticizes the U.S. for having a government shutdown over healthcare and not being able to compromise, and meanwhile the UN stands by as Assad kills his own people with chemical weapons without consequence, simply because Russia and China are allied with Syria and will veto any measures against Assad. The Security Council has lost a lot of credibility, and this move only furthers that. It honestly doesn’t even make a difference if Saudi Arabia is on the council or not. The issues most important to them have gone nowhere in the UN thanks to Russia’s veto power. Nothing is getting done in Syria unless Russia agrees with it, and that isn’t going to change regardless of whether Saudi Arabia is on the SC or not (and the same goes for the situation in Iran). Instead of being appointed to a worthless, ineffective, figurehead position, they used the opportunity to embarrass the UN and the SC, hopefully to enact some change. Does anybody really think that Lithuania or Chad will be determining international action over the next two years? There is no downside to Saudi Arabia turning this down, because nothing they wanted done would have been achieved even if they did accept the seat at the council.

  5. ryannewell says:

    It is interesting to me that Saudi Arabia has rejected a position that would allow them to influence the situation in Syria and Egypt, because of the way the situation in Syria and Egypt has been handled. It would seem that a spot on the Security Council, albeit a spot with little power, would be appealing to a nation that has so much at stake in the security concerns in the middle east. Furthermore, the fact that Saudi Arabia was lobbying for the spot right up until the vote is even more puzzling. I don’t think that they would lobby so hard for the position just so they could reject it to make a point. Like Taylor said, Saudi diplomats are probably pretty unhappy for the sudden about face in policy. It almost seems to me that Saudi officials came across something at the very last second or were offered a reason not to take the position.

  6. eebashaw says:

    The fact that Saudi Arabia rejected a seat on the security council is fascinating to me. I think it is a good point that Saudi Arabia really would not have much influence over decisions with Syria and Israel as there really is the veto block that would stand in the way. Hence why it was not the United Nations that took action against chemical weapons in Syria if we might recall, but it is certainly not a vote of confidence for situations in the Middle East if you ask me, or for diplomacy in general. Saudi Arabia essentially demonstrated an absolute lack of confidence in the surrounding world to handle situations like Iran and Syria diplomatically. That being said, Saudi Arabia certainly has its own agenda as a huge competitor to these countries in the Middle East in terms of oil and gas production.
    I would bet with the people above me that Saudi diplomats are not very happy with this political decision because they worked hard to have this opportunity and just like that it was shut down.

  7. This decision makes no sense to me. I understand that there may feelings of frustration, but choosing not to take part is a guaranteed way to not get what you want. This decision further baffles me given the close relationship between Saudi Arabia and the West, particularly the United States. While I doubt the Saudis have much hope of changing American sentiment, there is at least the possibility that some kind of understanding could be brokered between these groups if they were on the Security Council together. Regardless of their objections, the Security Council is arguably the world’s most powerful group in which Saudi Arabia can take part. To sit on the bench is only hampering their ability to affect and take part in the highest level of global considerations.

  8. I think Saudi Arabia’s decision actually makes a lot of sense. So much of the international system is based in theatre and symbolism. That is why President Obama canceled his trip to Russia several months ago and Brazil refused to attend a recent state dinner at the White House. Ianhesterly hit the nail right on the head in his comment, “instead of being appointed to a worthless, ineffective, figurehead position, they used the opportunity to embarrass the UN and the SC, hopefully to enact some change”. The Security Council is a broken entity. Its structure is formed around early 20th century politics and is extremely ineffective in getting things done. I never thought I would find myself praising Saudi Arabia, but their move to turn down a seat on the Security Council was a brilliant way to shed light on the system’s many flaws that need to be addressed.

  9. Megs says:

    I agree with the statement made in the article, it seems like the decision was made overnight. I can see the validity of the arguments both for and against accepting the seat, but what I find odd is the fact that not all officials knew about the decision. Especially when you add in their efforts over the past while to gain a seat on the SC, it doesn’t seem resourceful to throw that work out the window. It could be that with current issues they decided it would better facilitate the expression of their opinions, but at the same time, when will they get the chance for a seat again? I feel it may not have been as well executed as could be hoped.

  10. dbudeiri says:

    I would surely say that there must be some hidden reasons for this last-minute shocking decision. It’s widely known that Arab league countries would surely expect something big from an Arab country with a security council seat. However, with Saudi Arabia’s current allies and future benefits, I don’t think that it’s for her own good to take the risk of putting itself in such a hard situation especially with the current situation in the middle east. And if we think of when will S.A. get the chance for a seat again, I’d say that if it were for that reason, they wouldn’t have to worry as the situation in the middle east doesn’t seem to improve anytime soon.

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