Saudi Arabia and the U.S. as an example of complex interdependence

Simply put, America is reliant on continued Saudi output of oil and Saudi Arabia is reliant on American dollars. For America, Saudi Arabia is a key regional ally; the Saudis rely on American security and weapons. Decisions made against this interdependence would affect the two countries in ‘costly ways’.

Dhahran, Saudi Arabia

Dhahran, Saudi Arabia (Photo credit: Paul L McCord Jr)

Saudi Arabia is a sovereign state, but is bound in its support of an independent Palestinian state. It retains no diplomatic relations with Israel – America’s other principal ally in the region. It can do little more than make proposals on the matter – even being forced to drop its boycott of Israeli goods.
America is an important supporter of human rights and democracy, but criticisms of Saudi Arabia are rare. This is despite it not only being one of the most repressive and authoritarian regimes in the world, but also intervening in other countries such as Bahrain to control protesters against a similarly authoritarian government.
Multiple channels connect the two countries but mostly through economic and security concerns. Saudi Arabia has, since 2000, spent over $100 million on lobbying groups in the US according to the FARA database. There are also numerous non-state actors such as the US-Saudi Arabian Business Council.
Issues have had varied importance, and though oil has been a dominant force in the relations, security concerns have often been briefly prioritised for both countries. Such examples include the current Syria crisis (where Saudi Arabia supports the Sunni population), the on-going ‘War on Terror’, and Saudi need for American arms and weapons. Worth mentioning too, is the historical presence of US troops within Saudi Arabia.

Gun Deaths? A Loaded Question

As a European, it can be too easy to chide the US for its obsession of guns. The caricature of a gun-toting, murdering, ‘hick’ is one that is all too acceptable in the UK and abroad. Most often accepted as proof of this, is the ratio of gun deaths per capita versus the amount of guns, as shown below.

Gun deaths vs ownership

Gun deaths vs ownership

However, some of the largest amount of gun deaths come from suicides. So what does it look like without that? Gun homicides plotted against gun ownership is shown below.

Gun homicides vs gun ownership in the OECD.

Gun homicides vs gun ownership in the OECD.

The above chart helps calm the debate a bit, at least among OECD countries. The chart below shows a trend in gun homicides, that the most common signifier isn’t actually the rate of gun ownership, but of course gang violence and even wars.

Note: I mainly sit on the fence for this issue, but this is a repost of Mark Reid’s graphs here, which I think are important to the debate

Vladimir Putin , having been recently named possibly the most powerful person on the planet by the American Foreign Policy magazine, could well have been a puzzling choice for some. However, for many FP buffs or Russia watchers, the reality was already known. In Russia, Putin can command a lot of support through many channels lacking in other, more powerful, countries. So too can he act without restraint from the EU, a strong constitution, or a coalition in government.

However, there were alternatives to choose from, and the choice is still certainly up for debate.

Christine Lagarde , the world’s loan shark, in the unusual position of being incredibly influential in many different places around the world. It is up to her and the IMF as to how influential she will be, as an intervention in Europe or elsewhere would mean big news.

The man behind China, Xi Jinping , could have a huge effect on the world if he decides to push ahead with meaningful reform. As with Lagarde, Jinping’s influence on 2013 is mostly up to him. China isn’t in an existential state, but  with the lowest annual GDP rate in 10 years and tempers steeply rising over what would perhaps previously be considered inane, reform might be just what is needed to keep China on track. Jinping made strong words already this year, but are they simply rhetoric?

The new leader, Jinping (L) and the old, Hu Jintao (R)

The new leader, Jinping (L) and the old, Hu Jintao (R)

Barack Obama is someone nobody can leave out of a ‘most powerful/influential’ list. Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia group said “Even at a time when Washington is focused almost entirely on Washington, the elected leader of the world’s most powerful and influential country carries a lot of water.” Obama will try to keep out of anything too drastic for now, as domestic problems are key.

Around 20 years ago, Angela Merkel was an unknown player in German politics. However, in Helmut Kohl’s fourth and fifth cabinets, she would gain notoriety and influence. Being Kohl’s protégé, she has been solidly committed to the Eurozone as a simple step up from German reunification. However, her commitment is seen as overly harsh in certain countries and is having to play a delicate balance between domestic support, foreign distaste, and an unwillingness to compromise by certain country’s leaders in the same way that was done at the start of the crisis.

Merkel (L) and Kohl (R)

Merkel (L), and Kohl (R).

It must be said that none of the above have the same power that Putin does. True it is to say that some are at the head of stronger economies, militaries, and can hold much more influence across the world than Russia as a whole might. Nonetheless, none of them have such power concentrated in one representative.

Whilst the modern Russia is a democracy, and the President today has nowhere near the amount of freedom as the former Soviet Premier had, Putin has inherited a position that does not have to seek consensus in order to exert power. Andrew Rahr, research director of the German-Russian forum, had this to say of Putin:

It is not official propaganda that cultivates the image of Putin as a strong leader, at least not primarily. Following the shocks of the 1990s, Russians above all wanted social guarantees, a stable economy and a strong and independent foreign policy. Putin managed to deliver on these priorities.

Competence in Russian politics is undervalued by foreign media, and Putin has shown much competency. How does this make him the world’s most powerful player though? It doesn’t, at least on its own. High approval ratings, a strong and resurgent Russia, adept political manoeuvring, and consolidated political power and alliances all make Putin the prime candidate.

Unlike other Western politicians, Putin has a comfortable majority in the polls. Unlike the current status quo, Russia has yet much more potential to gain. Unlike leaders like Jinping, Putin has proved himself comfortable with pragmatic friendships and political alliances. Unlike those who lead the powerful countries in the West, the Russian president has historically had much more constitutional power and is not at the perils of Congress/Brussels.

Barack Obama & Vladimir Putin at Putin’s dacha

Putin, using the BRICS , has made it no secret his ideal of a new multipolar world order. Economic crisis striking the richest countries, and the comparative ease that the BRICS have shook it off, have furthered this goal somewhat. Last year, intervention in Syria was prevented, America was not pleased.

This year, it will take more than  vetoes for the new Russia to surge, but it is doable. The coming months will highlight a discussion on the urgent need of reform in the Federation, and how this affects its potential.

The most important thing is that we need to be a party that is inclusive and tolerant. We can be those things and be the party we always have been. We need to think about the environment – Teddy Roosevelt was a great environmentalist and people forget Reagan was the one who dealt with the ozone layer with the Montreal protocol. We also need to talk about healthcare honestly – Nixon almost passed universal healthcare. We need to have an talk about immigration and realize you can’t just deport people. We need a comprehensive answer. We also need to stay out of people’s bedrooms. The party that is for small government shouldn’t be over-reaching into people’s private lives.

Mainly, we need to be a party where people know what we are for, not just what we are against.


G Green :

Great analysis, it would be interesting to write something similar on American foreign policy for Russia (and what could’ve been for Romney).

Originally posted on An Africanist Perspective :

On the 14th of June this year President Obama outlined his policy for Sub-Saharan Africa . Included in the policy statement were four key strategic objectives: (1) strengthen democratic institutions; (2) spur economic growth, trade, and investment; (3) advance peace and security; and (4) promote opportunity and development.

In my view, of the four aspirational goals the one that will receive the most attention in the near future will be the third (especially security).

US strategic security interests in Africa mainly involve two key concerns: (1) China’s growing economic presence in the region and (2) the spread of Al-Qaeda linked groups in the region, stretching from Somalia to Mauritania (This is why Mali featured more prominently than the EU in the Presidential foreign policy debate). Before talking about China, here are my thoughts on the US campaign against  al-Qaeda in Africa.

While I don’t foresee any success in the creation of an African base for AFRICOM…

View original 604 more words

Mapping the 2012 Presidency

There are a lot of graphics running around this time, I thought it would be handy to sort the good from the bad. From interactive and cartographical maps, to print-out and colour-in maps there’s one for everyone it seems!

Read the rest of this entry »

From the third party debates in America, political institutions, the state of the Euro, and China’s future – a round up of links found earlier this week.