What leverage does the Biden administration have over Riyadh?
#35: With Cinzia Bianco, Bruce Riedel, Emma Ashford
Thank you for reading The Hundred, a newsletter in which 3 experts answer 1 question in 100 words. We made some small changes this week: From now on, the subtitle will include the contributors. We’ve also moved the further reading section to the bottom of the newsletter.
“There is no question that Biden holds substantial leverage vis-à-vis Saudi Arabia. To name one item, Saudi defence capabilities depend entirely on access to MADE IN USA spare parts and exports. To name another one, US courts have recently asked the administration to decide whether Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman is entitled to immunity in numerous legal proceedings open against him. However, the more difficult question that Biden has to answer is what leverage can be deployed that does not hurt US interests in the aftermath and is able to deliver a behavioural change in Riyadh at the same time.”
“The United States has enormous leverage with Saudi Arabia because of its dependence on American military equipment and spare parts. Seventy five percent of the Saudi arsenal is American made. If the US cuts off spare parts and technical support for the Saudis the effect will be devastating especially for the Royal Saudi Air Force which will be grounded. If Washington persuades London to join an embargo the impact will be even worse for Riyadh. With the cease fire in Yemen over the cost to the Saudis will be enormous.”
“Biden may order releases from the strategic petroleum reserve, but that is not going to have global impact. Saudi Arabia has customers around the world and its strongest economic ties are increasingly with China, and even with Russia through OPEC+. Yet the Saudis are still extremely reliant on the United States in security terms: we sell them most of their weapons, provide support to their military, and have troops in the region. The most effective leverage that Biden has, therefore, is in this category: withdrawing some of that military support so long as KSA continues to work against U.S. interests.”
If you want to learn more about this topic, here’s a list of further reading:
Biden Vows ‘Consequences’ for Saudi Arabia After Oil Production Cut. New York Times, Peter Baker
The blow-up with Saudi Arabia reveals a new American strategic weakness. The Economist, NA
Joe Biden’s limited room for manoeuvre on Saudi Arabia. Financial Times, Andrew England et al.
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