Skip to main content

Going it alone: Saudi Arabia’s economic realities after oil attacks

The energy sector is Saudi Arabia's lifeline, but it is more often a honey pot of domestic spending than a resource for future development.
A damaged pipeline is seen at Saudi Aramco oil facility in Khurais, Saudi Arabia, September 20, 2019. REUTERS/Hamad l Mohammed - RC1220EF8C60

The attacks on Saudi oil facilities at Khurais and Abqaiq last month revealed devastating weaknesses of domestic defense and leadership on the Saudi side, fissures within the Saudi-US relationship and an abdication of the US security umbrella. An act of war and an attack on global energy infrastructure has been met with a muted response from global oil markets. But we should not measure the severity of the attacks in oil prices. That is the wrong metric. Oil prices reflect a short-term view based on weakening demand and oversupply; geopolitical risk seems hardly factored in.

Analysts at Standard Chartered find that September was the third consecutive month of year-on-year oil demand decline, the first time since 2009. Over the past 10 years, oil demand has risen in 113 months and fallen in just seven, but five of those seven declines have been in the last eight months. There is evidence of a growing threat to overall global growth, stymied by the US-China trade war and exacerbated by the systematic undermining of American credibility to defend the Persian Gulf region and act as the steward of an open global economy. The muted reaction to the attacks sets a precedent, increasing the risk environment in the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea corridor among allies and partnerships from NATO to Asia. It is very dangerous, as the CEO of Aramco, Amin Nasser, argued that the risk of another attack is increased by failure to respond.

Access the Middle East news and analysis you can trust

Join our community of Middle East readers to experience all of Al-Monitor, including 24/7 news, analyses, memos, reports and newsletters.


Only $100 per year.