As we in the western world wrestle with the cultural theatrics that come with a modern brand of political correctness. From internet trolls to gender and racial tolerance; issues which are a far-cry from the cultural norms of Saudi Arabia, which has been accused of numerous basic human rights abuses and of funding international terrorism. So why does the UK, the birthplace of parliamentary democracy and a self-proclaimed cradle for modern liberal values overtly engage in the sale of arms and support to the Saudi regime. Realism is a theory of international politics which insists that states act in a rational manner and only to further their own self-interests, as opposed to liberal theory; which posits that states ally themselves in accordance to shared values (known as norms).
In a realists’ world, the UK aligns itself with the House of Saud because the relationship is a beneficial one – in the sense that the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia helps to expand the UK economy. The fact that such weapons are being used with complete disregard for Yemeni civilian life, does not seem to be a concern for the British government, as it should be according to subscribers of Liberal Theory (human rights being a supposed UK norm). In its 2016/2017 report, Amnesty International outlines the ways in which the Saudi state has also tightened its restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. It continues to detain, arrest and prosecute writers and online commentators based on vague charges. It also pursues those who attempt to defend human rights within its borders: including founders of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA) and the Union for Human Rights (Amnesty International, 2017).
Though there is no conclusive evidence that the ruling class in Saudi Arabia is actively involved in the support of ISIL, there are sources which give credence to such allegations. In the famous leaked Emails which plagued Mrs. Clinton’s 2017 bid for the presidency, John Podesta wrote that the Saudis were “providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region.” (Wikileaks, 2015) Published diplomatic cables from the US State Department serve to reinforce Podesta’s claim: “Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide” (Wikileaks, 2009).
But all of this is disregarded by our government, because to address it would be counter-productive to the UK’s plans in the region. Which are representative of the West’s grander plan for the Middle-East; with the Saudi trade partnership and the mutual exchange of oil and arms at its centre. Besides the economic benefits of such a partnership, the UK is willing to ignore Saudi funding of ISIL because the alliance provides the West with a somewhat reliable ally in opposition to Iran, the Taliban and other actors the UK deems as a threat to her interests.
So a few people have their rights infringed upon, and some people may lose their lives because of terrorism, or paradoxically find themselves imprisoned on vague anti-terrorist charges. The fact is, in a realist world system, these things clearly don’t count for much.
Amnesty International, “Saudi Arabia 2016/2017” (2017): Accessible: https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/middle-east-and-north-africa/saudi-arabia/report-saudi-arabia/ (Accessed 17/09/2017)
WikiLeaks, “Congrats!, John Podesta Email Chain” (2015): Accessible: https://wikileaks.org/podesta-emails/emailid/3774 (Accessed 17/09/2017)
WikiLeaks, “Terrorist Finance: Action Request for Senior Level Engagement on Terrorism Finance” (2009) Accessible: https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/09STATE131801_a.html (Accessed 17/09/2017)
Article by Peter Chubb
Photograph – Dan Glazebrook