Saudi Arabia in the 1980s: Foreign Policy, Security, and Oil

By William B. Quandt | Go to book overview

Part Three
The American Connection

For most of the past generation the United States and Saudi Arabia have engaged in a mutually beneficial relationship. American companies discovered, developed, and marketed Saudi oil, bringing untold wealth to the population of the kingdom and especially to its ruling family. In the process the companies themselves profited greatly, and until the 1970s, at least, consumers also enjoyed oil at modest prices.

Saudi and American interests also converged in the common desire to check the spread of Soviet and radical influences in the Middle East. While differences have frequently emerged over tactics, this shared objective has been a strong element of the U.S.-Saudi dialogue and has led to some attempts at coordinated action.

Finally, Washington and Riyadh have both professed an interest in regional stability. But on this issue policies have often diverged, particularly over the intractable Palestinian problem.

In view of the apparent similarity of interests between the United States and Saudi Arabia, one might expect the relationship to be relatively free of trouble. In fact, however, there has been a persistent undercurrent of tension, occasional sharp disagreements, and periodic crises of confidence.

As the two countries enter the 1980s they will find an increasingly difficult agenda of issues confronting them. Middle East political problems will be extraordinarily complex as a result of the Iranian revolution, inter-Arab disputes, the Palestinian controversy, and Soviet ambitions and power. Questions of oil supplies and prices will assume unprecedented importance. And the security requirements of both countries will add strain to the relationship.

Neither the United States nor Saudi Arabia is particularly well preared for the scope and complexity of their relationship in the 1980s.

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