Keynote Remarks to the 31st Annual Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference

Keynote speech by HRH Prince Turki Al Faisal Al Saud delivered at the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations’ 31st Annual Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference on November 3, 2022, in Washington, D.C.

The esteemed Foreign Affairs Magazine has accurately described our time in its special centennial issue of September/October 2022 by: ” The age of Uncertainty”. Indeed, our world is in a state of uncertainty and therefore in a state of strategic vacuum and strategic confusion. Such international strategic confusion is caused by the conduct, policies, and hypocrisy of great powers at the helm of the supposedly Rule-Based International Order. The relative world peace and security that the world “enjoyed” since the end of the second World War, multilateralism, interdependent world economy, globalism, and human achievements during peace time are all seriously threatened by this state of uncertainty. Our world is by its nature a multipolar world as reflected in structuring the UN Security Council veto power. However, bipolar and unipolar worlds were reflections of the balance of power in all aspects of power at the time. Our world today is not the world of 1945, therefore, thinking of a new approach, free of the mentality of the Cold War, is needed to manage our transforming multipolar world in an orderly and peaceful fashion to escape what Graham Allison calls: “Thucydides’s Trap” in his book: “Destined for War” discussing the future of America and China relations.

I, as many in this world, have been, for many years, calling for the need to reform the UN System, particularly, restructuring the UN Security council to reflect the aspirations of the world community and to express the structural changes transforming our world. Many reform initiatives were presented and all calls for reforming the UN Security council to be fair, inclusive, and equitable fell on deaf ears of the five permanent members. For the first time, many world leaders, including President Biden in his latest speech at the UN General Assembly called for such reform. This call does reflect a change in mind by the United States to save what is regarded as a liberal rule-based international order. This “Liberal Order” cannot be sustained as liberal if it is not fair, inclusive, equitable and reflective of our international reality. Continued uncertainty is leading to uncertain behavior by irresponsible powers and leaders that may lead to catastrophic consequences.

The disastrous deplorable war on Ukraine is only one case at hand that shows how fragile is our world and how much we all need to hang on to the principles of international rules and laws. It is my hope that this war comes to an end soon with the preservation of Ukraine’s independence, integrity, and sovereignty. However, more escalation, more world polarization, wider confrontations, a return to the dictate of geopolitics, power politics, spheres of influence, and the return of the long-forgotten practice of conquest are the prescription for continued uncertainty. No country will be safe and secure in this state of “anarchy”; therefore, the principles of self-help, and self-survival may become the order of international politics if great powers of today fail their responsibilities in preserving world peace and security. It is only through international wisdom, cooperation, and leadership, can the world avoid the potential disasters that face us at this juncture.

No region in our world has felt the impact of the state of international uncertainty more than the greater Middle East region. Indeed, the Middle East itself has been in a state of uncertainty for the last two decades. Who is to blame for this continued situation is an open question. However, while countries and leaders of the region bear a responsibility, the rest of the world bears the biggest share of this responsibility because the region was for the last eight decades part of the international and regional security architecture. American withdrawal from Afghanistan an end to an era. Doubtlessly such development with the outstanding perceived uncertainty regarding American presence and role deepened the state of regional doubts about the US commitments in the region. Naturally, allies and friends of the US in the region started to rethink and reconsider their future away from the Western dominant paradigm that dominated the geopolitics of the region during the last few decades. Had Ukraine not happened, the world, and particularly countries in the Middle East, would have continued struggling to find an answer to this question.

Vladimir Putin, president of a great power, a permanent member of UN Security Council, was the first one to answer this question by invading Ukraine disregarding international law despite all his claims. Ukraine was the first victim of that perception of the international strategic vacuum and the lack of world leadership and the weakness of international alliances. President Putin is not the only one trying to take advantage of such a situation to impose his will on the world stage and to change the international status quo. It seems that this war, by the alarm it created across Europe, the United States, and their allies, reinvigorated and put to rest growing doubts about American global leadership and its commitments to its allies.

Is this sustainable? I hope so. But we in the Middle East, and especially in the Gulf region, want to see such commitment to our region’s peace and security. The war in Ukraine is highlighting the permanence of the strategic importance of the Gulf region to the whole world in term of energy security and the stability of world economy. Therefore, preserving its peace and stability is an international necessity. This may be a catalyst for the Americans and the Europeans to reconsider their indecision toward conflicts in the region and in standing up for the outstanding threats to the security and stability of the region. This cannot be realized without real and serious commitment to regional security and the security of their important partners with the full respect of their sovereignty and their national choices.

It is heartening to see how our friend the United States came foreward to share with us the concern about the recent credible threat of an imminent Iranian attack on Saudi Arabia. That is not surprising and it demonstrates what President Biden repeated frequently that America stands with the Kingdom to defend it from any attack.

The visit of Joe Biden a few months ago to Saudi Arabia and his meeting with Arab leaders was an opportunity to eliminate all doubts about American commitments to peace and security in our region and to reset the US relationship with its allies and friends by converging their strategic national interests. This trust must be reestablished. We still believe in the importance of this relationship. This is a constant amid all uncertainties.

The latest difference of views between our two countries is no reason to turn our backs to each other. While facts refute false claims, OPEC+’s decision was a consensus decision by all members of the group, and it was to rebalance the oil market, as the decline in oil prices has shown. and to sustain balance in the global energy markets. Also, there is no short oil supply in the oil market. As to the Kingdom’s stance on the aggression on Ukraine, the Kingdom voted for the two UN General Assembly resolutions condemning Russia’s invasion and the Russian decision to grab Ukrainian regions. Also, it is offering generous humanitarian aid to Ukraine and offering its good office to mediate when possible, between the two countries as materialized lately on the exchange of war prisoners.

Saudi Arabia is engaged in building its geo-economic development not only for its own sake but for the interest of its region and the world. We hope that the United States will continue to be part of our future success as it was in our past success. Saudi economic strategic partnership with other countries was never at the expense of our relationship with the United States. Therefore, let us work together when our national interests converge and manage our differences when we disagree through serious official dialogue as we have done for eight decades.

In conclusion, I reiterate what I have mentioned many times on this podium. We in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are attentive to the sense of responsibility and noble intentions and, as emphasized by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman Bin Abdul-Aziz on all occasions, we will cooperate and collaborate with all who mean well in order to deal with all the challenges facing us. The aim is to bring security, stability and peace to our countries and our people to attend to our future. Crown Prince Muhammad described the relationship between us as 90% agreement and 10% to be discussed. The Kingdom welcomed President Biden and reached agreements on many issues. Read the joint communique that came out of the visit. It reflects the strength and depth of the partnership which is critical not only for the region but for the whole world.

I am also encouraged by administration officials who have described Saudi Arabia as a partner in meeting challenges. Saudi Arabia and the United States have shed blood together in the fight against terrorism and aggression. They should look upon that as a springboard to go forward to meet the challenges facing humanity. I will tell you a story. I remember in the midst of the oil embargo during the Ramadan war in 1973, when a message came from Mr. Kissinger to the late King Faisal, God rest his soul, through the CIA station chief in the Kingdom. The message was brief but crystal clear. It said: “Your Majesty, if the oil embargo continues, the United States will seek to find ways to redress it.” End quote. The threat could not have been clearer. I had the duty to deliver that message to my late father as he was preparing to go to bed. The embargo continued for a few more months, until the U.S. took effective action to effect the Israeli retreats on the Suez front and on the Golan Heights. A few weeks later, the late King Fahad, who was then Second Deputy Minister, led a large delegation of Saudi officials to Washington to sign an agreement of cooperation on many issues with the United States. The man who signed the agreement on the American side was the same Henry Kissinger, who a few months before had threatened to invade Saudi Arabia.

The present difference of views between our two countries can be resolved as before.

Author: HRH Prince Turki Al Faisal

HRH Prince Turki Al Faisal is chairman of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies and a co-founder of the King Faisal Foundation. He served as ambassador of Saudi Arabia to the United States from September 13, 2005 until February 2, 2007. He also serves as a member of the board of trustees of the Oxford Center for Islamic Studies and has been co-chair of the C100 Group, an affiliate of the World Economic Forum, since 2003. Prince Turki was appointed an advisor in the Royal Court in 1973. From 1977 to 2001, he served as director general of the General Intelligence Directorate, the Kingdom’s main foreign intelligence service. In 2002, he was appointed ambassador to the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.