Saudi Flip Flops--and We Don’t Mean Sandals!
October 28, 2013
In less than 24 hours the Saudis did an unexpected about face on the UN Security Council.
The Islamic Saudi Kingdom has been campaigning to secure a seat on the United Nations Security Council for several years. They have been training diplomats, and recently His Majesty King Abdullah was praised by Secretary of State John Kerry for a donation on behalf of the Kingdom for $100 million to the United Nations Counterterrorism Task Force. It requires a 2/3 vote of member support to be elected. Although it is a secret ballot, there is intense campaigning for membership.
Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam and home to Islam’s holiest shrines in Mecca and Medina. The Saudi state was founded in 1932 after a 30 year campaign to unify the Arabian Peninsula by Abd al-Rahman Al Saud. His male descendent is the current ruler. King Abdallah bin Abd al Aziz ascended to the throne in 2005. Saudi Arabia borders the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, and Yemen.
The UN Security Council is charged with maintenance of international peace and security, preventing crimes against humanity and genocide. It can authorize military action, impose sanctions, and set up peacekeeping operations. There are 15 members of the Security Council. Five permanent members have veto power; they are China, France, Russia, The United Kingdom and The United States. Ten non permanent members are elected for two year terms, five members each year.
Saudi Arabia easily won the sought after seat on the UN Security council, along with Chad, Chile, Lithuania, and Nigeria, on October 17th. Immediately following the vote the Saudi UN Ambassador Abdullah al-Mouallimi issued a statement that this was a reflection of longstanding policy and support of moderation in resolving disputes by peaceful means.
Shocking many in the international community, in less than 24 hours, Saudi rejected the seat; claiming a failure of the international community to end the war in Syria and other Middle East Issues. The Kingdom condemned the double standards of the Council and demanded reforms. It was frustrated that the US backed away from launching strikes against Assad. Saudi claims Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces attack rebels areas and practice genocide. Resolutions against Assad have been vetoed by China and Russia. Two weeks before the vote Prince Saud al-Faisal cancelled his speech at the UN General Assembly as a response to international inaction on Middle East issues.
The Saudi Foreign Minister issued a statement : “Allowing the ruling regime in Syria to kill its people and burn them with chemical weapons in front of the entire world without any deterrent or punishment is clear proof and evidence of the UN Security Council’s inability to perform its duties or shoulder its responsibilities.” Riyad also said that the UN Security Council had failed to transform the Middle East into a zone free of weapons of mass destruction, or to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in over 6 decades; and had instead perpetuated conflicts and grievances.
Iran’s nuclear weapon capabilities, the Shi’ite revolutionary government, Washington’s muddled Middle Eastern diplomacy, the current crises in Egypt, and President Obama’s naïve diplomatic reach to Hassan Rouhani are declared Saudi complaints.
The Saudi Kingdom is a powerful force in maintaining stability in the Middle East and North Africa. The Gulf Cooperation Council and the monarchs of Jordan, Bahrain, and Morocco, have a joint defense treaty which creates a stable political environment and secures their vital common interests. Saudi King Abdullah is a proven leader. When Arab countries, such as Bahrain and and Yemen, were being threatened by Iranian theocratic revolutionary movements, Western leaders did nothing. King Abdullah spearheaded solutions to end civil unrest.
The King may consider similar actions in Syria. The war is in its third year. Saudi television shows millions of displaced Syrians, and images of the civil war which has killed more than 100,000. King Abdullah’s Shura Council member Abdullah al-Askar said “People are being killed every day, every hour. And the Muslim world is very angry because we do not see any action or any strong stance from the Security Council towards the situation.”
Russia said that it hopes the Asian countries will swiftly select another candidate in place of Saudi Arabia, and is surprised and puzzled at the decision. French UN Ambassador Gerard Araud said “We understand Saudi’s concerns and frustrations”. A US Official would not comment on Saudi’s decision; but praised the Security Council’s work.
Meanwhile UN Secretary General Ban Ki–moon said he has not received official notification from Saudi Arabia rejecting its seat on the Council. And perhaps they could be persuaded to change their stance.
What happens next is a mystery. The General Assembly could declare that the seat belongs to the Saudis and meet with only 14 members. In 1950 the Soviets boycotted over the China vote for six months; and the Security Council met with one empty seat.
The dog and pony show that is the United Nations may have one less pony for this year’s circus.