Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Security Council

Article Summary
Following Saudi Arabia’s unprecedented rejection of a seat on the UN Security Council, some believe that Riyadh may be pushing for Kuwait to take its place.

There is talk in the UN circles about Kuwait’s desire to occupy the nonpermanent seat in the Security Council that Saudi Arabia rejected in mid-October. The Saudi rejection of the UN seat constituted an unprecedented incident in UN history, casting a shadow of doubt regarding the measures that should be taken in such a case. Until now, the speculations stand unconfirmed. However, if they prove to be true, they would be confirming the hypothesis that the Saudi rejection was accurately calculated according to the cost-benefit of the membership.

On that note, a headline in As-Safir last week (on Oct. 21) stated, “Saudi Arabia Opposes the US.” The reason behind this is that the UN membership would incur huge political burdens and costs on Saudi Arabia, which opposes America’s perception of the new Middle East, without allowing it to build an influential bloc in the voting process within the Security Council. Moreover, it would be beneficial for Riyadh’s calculations if Kuwait occupied its seat in the UN, since the historical partnership between the two Gulf countries dates back more than 100 years. Therefore, they have the tightest ties among the Gulf countries. Furthermore, Kuwait has smooth experience in dealing with regional and sectarian balances, which makes it worthy of Riyadh’s trust, whether in the coming diplomatic UN battles or in the definite upcoming regional understandings.

Kuwait is located in the northeastern corner of the Arabian Peninsula, and it shares long land borders with Iraq and Saudi Arabia, and maritime borders with Iran. Geography has imposed on Kuwait, a small country with a surface area of 17,820 square kilometers [6,880 square miles], neighboring major regional countries like Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Iran. Consequently, throughout history, it has faced a destiny of existential dangers that do not have final and radical solutions.

To demonstrate this hypothesis, it is enough to retrace the incidents that occurred in 1990, when Iraq occupied Kuwait and declared it its 19th province. Kuwait was not liberated until a major international and regional alliance was achieved in 1991. Although wealth is considered a blessing most of the time, Kuwait’s oil reserves, which are the fifth-largest reserves in the world, have constantly made it bait for regional and international forces. Furthermore, Kuwait has a relatively small population compared to its neighbors. Thus, its security objectively depends on the competence of its rulers in managing the balances of regional and international forces in favor of their country’s continuity.

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What proves this point is that Kuwait has survived four wars on its land and in its immediate neighborhood (the Iran-Iraq war from 1980-1988, the invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and its liberation in 1991, and the US invasion of Iraq in 2003).

With Kuwait being at a Sunni-Shiite sectarian crossroad, Kuwaiti internal politics have to be governed by geographic, regional and sectarian balances all the time. Moreover, the Shiite-Sunni balances require Kuwait to be more lenient in managing its internal balances to deeply root the understanding with all the components of Kuwaiti society, including Shiites who are clearly represented in the parliament. In the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, Kuwait shone in the Gulf skies since it was considered the most liberal among the Gulf countries. It was the most developed constitutional monarchy, and it had the strongest parliament in the Gulf — one that encompasses the ethnic, sectarian and ideological categories and classes in society. Moreover, Kuwait produced renowned Arab journalists and was considered a rare outlet in the Gulf region. 

However, the effects of the Iraqi invasion are reflected in the destruction of infrastructure, which forced Kuwait to focus on reconstruction, downplaying the political and media spotlights to a great extent.

Afterwards, Dubai stole the Gulf spotlight with its economic openness to the world, before being contested by Doha over the past seven years, financially, politically and at the media level. It's no secret that competition with Dubai was an impetus for Doha's great ambitions in the Gulf, in contrast to the wishes of Saudi Arabia and other countries within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

On that basis, there has been a relatively close rapprochement in Qatari-Saudi relations regarding the Syrian file, but the gap that separates both sides remain difficult to bridge, despite this urgent convergence in views.

In this context, Kuwait has emerged once again as a need to preserve balances within the GCC, which makes it role even more important from a Saudi perspective.

Moreover, given the geographical, historical facts and interests, an alliance ought to be forged between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, which at the same time would soften the relations with their two large neighbors, Iraq and Iran.

This priority scale comes at Riyadh’s convenience, because it wishes to build an indirect bridge with Tehran through Kuwait, despite the current tension in relations.

In light of strained US-Saudi relations due to the conflicting views on the balances in Middle East, there is an additional need for Kuwait to be part of the equation, given its excellent relations with Washington for security reasons.

Thus, Kuwait is likely to be the candidate for the non-permanent seat the Security Council instead of Saudi Arabia, which is very convenient for Riyadh. However, in order for Kuwait to secure this seat, it has to enjoy the full support of the Asia-Pacific bloc, as well as two-thirds of the votes of the member states of the UN General Assembly, totaling 193 members.

The anticipated role of Kuwait is likely to make changes in the Gulf balances at the Arab level, against Doha and with the support and encouragement of Saudi Arabia. At the Iranian level, Kuwait’s role is likely to alleviate sectarian tension and open the door for an understanding between the two shores of the Gulf.

Saudi Arabia refused to take up the seat at the Security Council for many carefully considered reasons and to show the divergence in views with the US regarding its visions for the Middle East’s balances, namely the Syrian crisis and the American-Iranian dialogue.

However, Riyadh prefers that an allied country secures this seat so that it can have an indirect effect on the course of actions. It would be best if this allied country has experience in dealing smoothly and directly with Iran and Shiites, which is the case of Kuwait.

Regardless of whether or not the speculations about Kuwait’s desire to take over the permanent seat at the Security Council without the Saudi support prove to be correct, there is a need in the Gulf for Kuwait to be more effectively involved in regional affairs.

It should be noted that Kuwait has previously served as a non-permanent member in the Security Council from 1978-1979. It is also worth noting that by taking up the seat at the Security Council, Kuwait would gained influence at the political and media level in the Gulf.

Therefore, for all the foregoing reasons and in line with historical precedents, it appears that a more effective role regarding the current Gulf balances awaits Kuwait. Perhaps, its nonpermanent membership at the Security Council will be one of the highlights of the new role.

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Found in: un security council, saudi arabia foreign policy, saudi arabia, regional politics in the middle east, kuwaiti politics, external influence
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