Saudi Arabia’s decision to decline a UN Security Council seat is neither ordinary nor fleeting. Many may criticize the move, while others might wonder how Saudi Arabia can demand reforming the United Nations, which arose in the aftermath of World War II, while the kingdom still needs reforming itself and is far from democratic. While international parties, most notably Washington, tried to play down the decision, and others considered it a routine way of criticizing the international system, the Saudis' move was nonetheless surprising and shrewd.
The first to notice this was Russia, an old Middle East player that today is taking on a new role as the United States focuses on its internal affairs while seeking regional compromises. By quickly expressing its bewilderment at the decision, Moscow essentially recognized the significance and dimensions of it, the primary aim being to strengthening the negotiating positions of the kingdom and its Arab allies, especially in light of the looming US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the explosive situation in Sudan, harbingers of the Arab Spring, and other developments. What may end up determining the shape of the Middle East in the next phase, however, is the Geneva II conference on the Syrian crisis, especially with Russia having succeeded diplomatically, and Iran militarily, in prolonging the Syrian regime’s life.