Saudi Leaders in a Snit at UN

Saudi Arabia is upset President Obama didn’t bomb Syria and join the Saudis’ crusade to fight Shiite influence in the Mideast. It’s not enough that the U.S. tolerates Saudi support for radical Sunni jihadists. So, Saudi leaders are boycotting their own seat on the UN Security Council, notes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has just had a tantrum. A day after winning one of the rotational seats on the United Nations Security Council, the Saudis announced they would not take the seat. This move undoubtedly has annoyed and even angered many others in member states and at the United Nations, not least of all in states that campaigned unsuccessfully for one of the non-permanent seats on the council.

Diplomatic heads are shaking over this unprecedented situation. The closest thing to a precedent was a boycott of council proceedings in 1950 by the Soviet Union, which came to regret its tactic when in its absence the council authorized a U.S.-led intervention in Korea. But the Soviets had a permanent seat not to be filled by anyone else. It is unclear after the Saudi announcement whether the General Assembly will be picking a replacement member for the Security Council or there will be an empty chair.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

Some predict that the Saudis, like the Soviets, will come to regret their move, and that prediction probably is correct. Although some Saudis may have genuinely believed that an unusual move such as this would help direct attention to their favored issues, plenty of smart Saudi officials would recognize multiple flaws in the tactic.

Annoyance with Saudi Arabia probably will be a stronger international reaction than any felt need to pay more attention to the Saudis’ favorite causes. Action on the issues of high concern to Riyadh is stymied by factors other than merely insufficient attention to them. It also is not entirely clear exactly who or what is the target of the Saudis’ disapproval. Ostensibly it is the Security Council itself, but according to some interpretations the Saudis are trying to express disapproval of U.S. policies.

A different and credible way to look at the Saudi move is as simple pique, less a matter of any calculation than of emotion and frustration at high levels, probably the level of the king. In this respect it is the result of a flawed policy-making system that does not do a good job of weeding out high-level emotion. The United States probably has done a better job of weeding such stuff out. Think of a short-tempered Harry Truman and all of the angry letters that he wrote but never got sent.

An explanation involving more calculation is that the Saudis had second thoughts about how casting votes at the Security Council would force them to be more specific and open in their preferences. This is different from the sort of behind-the-scenes influence with which they are more comfortable and is better suited to the type of power they wield. That still does not explain or excuse, of course, their earlier decision to seek the council seat.

The proper posture for the United States and others to take is a more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger disapproval of what the Saudis have done, with the disapproval based on procedure rather than substance. Substantively some of the Saudis’ favorite causes and positions are consistent with U.S. interests, and others are not.

But the United Nations Security Council serves a useful function regardless of one’s position on any of the issues it addresses. Shunning it, especially in a way that screws up the long-established procedures for filling seats on the council, does not help the council do its job any better. And it would be a mistake to encourage the notion that an absence of talk and engagement about controversial issues is better than the alternative.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

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3 comments on “Saudi Leaders in a Snit at UN

  1. F. G. Sanford on said:

    If the Mafia were invited to send a representative to the Federal Reserve, it probably wouldn’t raise too many eyebrows. After all, they’re less likely to be fiscally irresponsible than J.P. Morgan-Chase. In that financial community, oversight tends to be very effective. Somebody looks over a sight and pulls the trigger. Presto! “Balance da books!” But if the Gambinos sent Paulie “O’ Peshone” while they were at war with the Bonanos and the other Five Families, there could be serious problems. Bobby “Baccala” could end up in charge. As a “man of honor”, he could have serious concerns about Paulie’s loyalty after that incident with Bobby’s sister in law.

    The same is true of the Saudi Royal Family. Old fat stuff Abdullah could drop dead any minute, leaving all those princes battling over turf. Bhandar, with his close ties to the enforcement end of the racket, is sure to be putting some holes in the competition. Those would be about 7.65 millimeters in diameter, unless I miss my guess…makes more room in the tent. Whoever get’s the job on the “steering committee” at the U.N. would have to worry about that. Whose ass to kiss now, and who would be pissed off when the old fart croaks? As the last bastion of slavery and polygamy left over from barbarian feudalism, these people get all the virgins they want right here. They don’t believe those stories about paradise either. Even if they did, they’d be lost without the Viagra and Johnnie Walker they can’t take with them when they go. The old boy’s magic carpet ride could be any day now.

    Why would anyone care if they turned down the job? Given the choice between Bhandar and the Mafia, I’d take my chances with Bobby “Baccala” any day.

  2. Ario Barzan on said:

    Hello, The Saudi regime is the world’s most dangerous and fascist regime, yet this regime gets the most support from the West, spec. U.S.. U.S. and the West tend to always talk about democracy and human rights, but have always supported dictatorships in the world. Is not it time to stop this double standard?

  3. Peter Loeb on said:

    The Saudis (aka Iraq?) have traditionally been the darlings of Washington.The
    driving force is the militaristic State of Israel.

    Since no one bothers to read the Security Resolution on Syria and Chemical
    Weapons (SCR 2128(2013)) it means what the US and media tells it means.
    This is a common practice of Washington. They know of our ignorance of the
    details.

    No one has paid any attention at all to the “draft resolution” in the General
    Assembly on the UN Status of Palestine. Available at UN website. Nothing—-
    NOTHING— was ever mentioned. Most do not know of its existence. As Orwell
    said, “Down the memory hole.” As though nothing ever happened at all. Poof!
    Peter, Boston MA USA