National Security in Saudi Arabia: Threats, Responses, and Challenges

National Security in Saudi Arabia: Threats, Responses, and Challenges

National Security in Saudi Arabia: Threats, Responses, and Challenges

National Security in Saudi Arabia: Threats, Responses, and Challenges


With continuing instability in Iraq, the threat of a nuclear Iran, and the ever-present reality of further terrorist attacks within its own borders, Saudi Arabia has been forced to make some hard decisions. The current structure of the Saudi security apparatus is only one pathway to improved security. Economic and demographic threats may well be the hardest hurdles to overcome. What has been accomplished since 2001 and what are the real prospects and implications of further reform? To what extent should the kingdom continue to rely on the US to protect its interests?

Cordesman and Obaid argue that it is time to put an end to client and tutorial relations. Saudi Arabia must emerge as a true partner. This will require the creation of effective Saudi forces for both defense and counterterrorism. Saudi Arabia has embarked on a process of political, economic, and social reforms that reflects a growing understanding by the governing members of the royal family, Saudi technocrats, and Saudi businessmen that Saudi Arabia must reform and diversify its economy and must create vast numbers of new jobs for its young and growing population. There is a similar understanding that economic reform must be combined with some level of political and social reform if Saudi Arabia is to remain stable in the face of change. With Gulf security, the war on terrorism, and the security of some sixty percent of the world's oil reserves at stake, the real question is how quickly Saudi Arabia can change and adapt its overall approach to security, and how successful it will be in the process.


Both Saudi Arabia's security situation and its security apparatus are undergoing major changes. Saudi Arabia does not currently face a major threat from Iraq, but it must deal with potential conventional threats from Yemen and Iran as well as the growing risk that Iran will become a nuclear power. This confronts Saudi Arabia with hard strategic choices as to whether to ignore Iran's efforts to proliferate, to seek U.S. military assistance in deterring Iran and possibly in some form of missile defense, or to acquire more modern missiles and its own weapons of mass destruction.

The Kingdom's most urgent security threats, however, no longer consist of hostile military forces; these threats have been replaced by the threat of Islamic extremism and terrorism. Saudi Arabia faces a direct internal threat from Islamic extremists, many affiliated with al Qaeda and similar extremist groups, and it must pay far more attention to internal security than in the past. At the same time, the Saudi government must deal with the reality that this threat is also regional, extends throughout the Islamic world, and has cells throughout the rest of the globe. the religious legitimacy of Saudi Arabia and its neighbors and allies is being challenged, and the scale of this threat may also take on new scope and meaning if instability continues in Iraq, if Iraq comes under a hostile regime, and/or Iraq becomes a new source of terrorist attacks on the Kingdom.

Changing nature of alliances

Saudi Arabia must also make major adjustments in its alliances. the events of 9/11, the backlash from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, differences over how to deal with terrorism, and differences over the Iraq War have all combined to complicate Saudi Arabia's security relations with the United States, and to force the Kingdom to distance itself from Washington in some ways.

At the same time, the al Qaeda terrorist attacks on Saudi Arabia in May 2003 made it brutally clear that Saudi Arabia was a full participant in the same war on Islamic terrorism that the United States was fighting and gave Saudi Arabia even stronger incentives to cooperate with the United States in . . .

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