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Saudi Arabia and Security Council: Good pose, bad tactics

Can you believe that? Saudi Arabia was elected for the first time to hold one of the 10 non-permanent seats on the UN Security Council — and then rejected it a few hours later. According to the New York Times:

The Saudi Foreign Ministry released a statement rejecting the seat just hours after the kingdom’s own diplomats — both at the United Nations and in Riyadh, the Saudi capital — were celebrating their new seat, the product of two years of work to assemble a crack diplomatic team in New York. Some analysts said the sudden turnabout gave the impression of a self-destructive temper tantrum.

But one Saudi diplomat said the decision came after weeks of high-level debate about the usefulness of a seat on the Security Council, where Russia and China have repeatedly drawn Saudi anger by blocking all attempts to pressure Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad. Abdullah has voiced rising frustration with the continuing violence in Syria, a fellow Muslim-majority nation where one of his wives was born. He is said to have been deeply disappointed when President Obama decided against airstrikes on Syria’s military in September in favor of a Russian-proposed agreement to secure Syria’s chemical weapons.

According the Saudi Foreign Ministry’s press release:

[I]t is unfortunate that all international efforts that have been exerted in recent years, and in which Saudi Arabia participated very effectively, did not result in reaching reforms required to be made to enable the Security Council to regain its desired role in the serve of the issues of peace and security in the world.

Saudi Arabia believes that the manner, the mechanisms of action and double standards existing in the Security Council prevent it from performing its duties and assuming its responsibilities towards preserving international peace and security as required[.]

I blogged in my last post about the benefits (and the efforts required) of getting a seat at the UN Security Council, and am quite surprised to learn about Saudi Arabia’s decision. If it wants to change “the manner, the mechanisms of action and double standards” of the Security Council — which do exist in my opinion — it would be better for it to stay in the Security Council, voice those opinions, and try to change the processes as much as it can. The tactic of rejecting the seat would definitely give Saudi Arabia the media limelight in the very short run, but I doubt anything with the Security Council would change in the longer-run. The conclusion of a FT op-ed is sensible:

[T]he Saudi rejection of a council seat will heighten its sense of estrangement from the world community and raise new questions about decision-making in the kingdom, encouraging speculation over policy incoherence and competing centres of powers within the regime. The necessity for a more concerted and effective international effort on Syria is undeniable. But a fit of anger will not build more influence or ensure better policies.

Further reading: The UN Security Council, Council on Foreign Relations

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