The House of Saud is angry with the United Nations. So angry in fact, that it has taken the historic step of turning down the opportunity of a two-year rotating seat on the Security Council. This is an unusually dramatic and public move from a state that has generally preferred to use its money and influence in more discreet ways as an instrument of international power, whether cooperating with the ‘American jihad’ in Afghanistan or more recently, supporting the Syrian rebels, or backing the Mubarak dictatorship in Egypt.
The ostensible reason for Saudi anger is the UN’s unwillingness to take action – meaning military action – in Syria, in response to the chemical weapons incident in Ghouta last August, which the Saudi governments always insisted was carried out by the government.
The Saudi Foreign Ministry has issued a statement condemning ‘ the intervention of all foreign combatants in Syria, including those fighting on behalf of the regime and in particular Hezbollah’ and accusing the UN of ‘double standards’ in its refusal to make ‘the Syrian government implement the relevant resolutions of United Nations bodies.’
Other failings cited by the foreign ministry include the UN’s failure ‘ to find a solution to the Palestinian cause for 65 years’, which has led to ‘numerous wars that have threatened world peace,’ and its inability ‘to rid the Middle East region of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons’
As a result, the beacon of peace, democracy, human rights and social justice ‘ has no other option but to turn down Security Council membership until it is reformed and given the means to accomplish its duties and assume its responsibilities in preserving the world’s peace and security.’
Noble words, or at least they would be if they didn’t come from a repressive and corrupt autocracy that routinely violates the rights of women, migrant workers, political opponents and civil society activists and its Shia minority; that supports the current military dictatorship in Egypt; that sent its own troops into Bahrain to suppress the pro-democracy uprisings there, and whose lasting contribution to international affairs has been its export of reactionary religious extremism.
The Saudi fit of pique is really aimed at the United States, rather than the UN. The House of Saud wants to topple Assad, not because it cares one way or another how his regime has treated his people, but because it sees his overthrow as an essential step towards neutralising and isolating Iran. For the last few years Saudi Arabia, like the other Gulf states, has been arming itself to the teeth with the help of British, American and French armies companies, in anticipation of a military confrontation with Iran.
The Saudis and their Gulf allies know they can’t do this by themselves. They need US military power, with or without a UN mandate. They believed they had finally got the US to take military action after Ghouta. Instead they got vacillation and diplomacy. Now, to make matters worse, there are the first signs of a potential US/Iranian rapprochement – something that bothers the Saudis as much as it bothers Netanyahu.
So it’s all gone pear-shaped for the Saudis, at least for the time being. And they’re mad at the UN and mad at the United States, and naturally they’re presenting their anger as a point of moral principle. Few people will be fooled, regardless of the references to Palestine and Israel’s nuclear arsenal.
Because none of this has anything to do with ‘preserving the world’s peace and security’ or the rights of the Palestinians. It’s about the interests of the House of Saud, about money and geopolitical power and nothing else.
Which isn’t to say that UN can’t be criticized, or that it hasn’t failed, or isn’t in need of reform.
It’s just that Saudi Arabia isn’t the country to make those criticisms, and the fact that its Gulf allies – and Egypt – have applauded its refusal to take its UN seat, only underlines what an empty and hollow gesture that decision was in the first place.