What’s The Saudis’ Strategy?

Juan Cole is puzzled by Saudi Arabia’s rejection of a UN Security Council seat:

It is hard to know what to make of the Saudi action, which has never occurred before in the history of the UN. Perhaps King Abdullah believes that his country would get more concessions from Russia regarding Syria this way than it would without the histrionics. There are three possibilities going forward. The Saudis could rethink their reluctance, and could finally join before January 1, when their term begins. The UNSC could on the other had have a special election to replace them. Third, the UNSC could limp along with 14 members for a couple of years.

How Pillar understands the news:

A different and credible way to look at the Saudi move is as simple pique, less a matter of any calculation than of emotion and frustration at high levels, probably the level of the king. In this respect it is the result of a flawed policy-making system that does not do a good job of weeding out high-level emotion.

Maya Gebeily’s take is similar:

Somehow, I have some serious doubts that the Saudi government suddenly cares about the idea of equal representation … More likely, they’re throwing a hissy-fit about things clearly not going their way in the Middle East: rapprochement with Iran, diplomatic progress on Syria, the US dropping support for Egypt’s military, etc.

Erik Voeten floats a different theory:

Any time the council deals with a major crisis, any non-permanent member is forced to publicly take a position. This often presents a problem, especially for states  who depend on the U.S. even though the U.S. is unpopular domestically or regionally. Or, simply because the U.S. has different foreign policy interests. As the map below shows (see explanation here), Saudi Arabia often votes against the U.S. on U.N. General Assembly resolutions. But those are symbolic resolutions. It can sometimes be very convenient to remain ambiguous when things really matter. Saudi Arabia depends heavily on the U.S. for military equipment. Why upset the U.S. if there is little to gain from a seat on the Security Council? Indeed, Saudi Arabia has never before been a member of the UN Security Council!

Meanwhile, Joshua Keating argues that the Saudis would benefit little from a seat:

Other countries often covet the Council’s rotating seats both for the international prestige they confer and for the goodies—often in the foreign aid—that come with having a vote. In some cases, the benefits of council membership can even act as a kind of resource curse, encouraging irresponsible and anti-democratic behavior from governments. These factors don’t really come into play with Saudi Arabia, which isn’t exactly in need of foreign aid.