Why Saudi And Iranian Diplomatic Deal Is A Big Deal For Multipolar World Order – OpEd


Something astonishing happened on March 10 in Beijing. After years of vindictive antagonism, mistrust and bloody proxy wars in the West Asia, Iran and Saudi Arabia finally reached an agreement to re-establish diplomatic relations and to reopen the embassies. According to a tripartite joint statement of the countries released by China’s Foreign Ministry, the previously undisclosed talks between the two were held from March 6-10 by top security officials from Saudi Arabia and Iran in Beijing.

The most important takeaway of this news is, it is China who brokered this deal between these two countries, finally ending the cold-war in the West Asia which started in 2015, when Yemen entered into a dreadful civil war. One can even trace back the origin of the Iran-Saudi rivalry to 2011, when Saudi Arabia accused Iran of inciting protests in the Arab countries during the Arab Spring. It is also important to understand the ideological roots of the conflict between these two countries. Sunni Saudi and Shia Iran always used religious rhetoric to defend themselves when it comes to the geopolitical tensions. 

Melting the Ice

But what happened on March 10th is another successful example of how diplomacy and win-win situation can re-establish peace and open new doors to economic and political stability. China again proved that they are excellent when it comes to difficult international assignments.

First of all let us check the chronology of current conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia;

  • In 2011, Iran was accused by Saudi Arabia for instigating protests against Bahrain royal family during the Arab Spring. Iran denied the Saudi’s accusation. 
  • In 2015 Saudi Arabia and Iran backed different groups in Yemen, when Yemen fell into a civil war. Iran supported Houthi rebels and Saudi with the support of other nine Arab countries made a coalition and intervened in Yemeni civil war. The Arab coalition was supported by United States, United Kingdom and Germany. Allegedly, Al-Qaeda and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) also supported the Arab coalition.
  • In 2016 Saudi Arabia executed prominent Shia cleric Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, which started protests in Iran. Protesters set fire to the Saudi Embassy in Tehran which made the tension between two countries to new heights. Nimr was also a staunch critic of Saudi Arabian government. 
  • In 2019, Saudi Arabia state-run oil firm ARAMCO was attacked by Houthi drones which caused the global instability in oil market. 

These are the main events which altered the animosity between two countries. So, what happened now? How China became a bridge between these two countries? For that it is also important to understand how these countries are viewing China and its current relevance in the world stage.

Ali Shamkhani, Secretary of Iran’s National Security Council, who led the Iranian delegation said “China has provided favourable conditions for reaching the agreement. This is a vivid demonstration of the basic policies and concepts of China’s diplomacy which includes the major initiative of building a community with a shared future for mankind”. Musaad bin Mohammed Al-Aiban, Saudi National Security Adviser said “I strongly believe that under the guidance of the aforementioned diplomatic policies and concepts China will constantly play and important role in promoting international and regional peace and stability.” 

Here both parties are unanimously agreeing the importance of China in the world stage, which is not the good news for US and Israel. US considers themselves as the imperative power in the West Asia and literally was the de-facto power of the West Asia for decades. The Petrodollar, thanks to 1970’s oil crisis, and resource backup by Arab monarchies to US in return of security, made US to achieve its goals in the West Asia. 

End of Unipolarity and Liberal Democracy

World is not in a unipolar moment anymore. The two great powers i.e., Russia and China, and major power like India are becoming more and more powerful enough to influence and set the terms and conditions in the global politics; especially after the pandemic and current Russia-Ukraine conflict. 

Let us check some of the circumstances which made countries to rethink about changing their foreign policy with the West and the Rest;

  • The failure of neo-conservative policies of US in the West Asia, Northern Africa and in Afghanistan exposed US and the West are not enough capable to lead the global politics.
  • The weaponization of US dollar. By imposing the sanctions on the countries who do not follow the US diktat developed mistrust among other nations to keep US dollar as their foreign reserve. It is also worth noting that, in 2022 the Central Banks bought 1,136 tonnes of gold which is the most of any year in records going back to 1950. Massive US debt also rising concerns over the future of US economy and US dollar.
  • BRICS and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation playing crucial role in current global politics. Countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, Argentina, Algeria, Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and other emerging economies expressed their desire to be part of BRICS. Iran, Argentina and Algeria have applied to join BRICS in 2022. 
  • Win-Win over Zero-Sum game. Countries, especially emerging economies are realising it is time to abandon the cold-war mentality and to focus of national development through peaceful ways rather than sowing mistrust and animosity among others. The ‘mutual respect’ and ‘non-intervention’ should be the key points to mention here; where US and West failed to do so.
  • Decline of Liberal Democracy. From the realist viewpoint, the current powerful force in the world is nationalism. Which means in order to impose the liberal democracy (and institutions) over other countries, then it will face nationalist reaction, which eventually lead to civil unrest. The military operations to impose liberal democracy will destroy the political and economical stability of that country. 

Stability; the lifeblood of society

What I will argue here is, the people want economic and political stability rather than the jargons of Liberal Democracy. To ensure the civil order, the government will always desire and try to ensure the economic and political stability in the country. And here it is significant to understand how China successfully brokered this deal between Saudi and Iran. 

By side-lining the cultural-ideological-geopolitical differences, China brought together these two countries on common factor, which is stability. In order to join in SCO and BRICS, China might be insisted Saudi and Iran to reduce its tensions, bring peace to West Asia and to resume diplomatic relations. Both parties may also be convinced by the reality that the global order is shifting from West to East and in order to prepare for multipolar world order, it is important to align with countries such as Russia, China and India. 

Prospects for India

As a country which maintains warm relations with both Saudi Arabia and Iran, peace in West Asia will be a huge opportunity for India to develop its further diplomatic missions in the region. India can also play vital role in re-establishing peace in the region by providing the assistance to the war-torn energy rich country such as Yemen, for ensuring the energy security of India in the future. India should apply its 4-plank energy security strategy in this scenario not only to protect its national interest, but also to continue cordial relations with Arab countries.

Edwin Joy Mariya recently graduated from Newcastle University UK in MA International Relations. Previously graduated from Central University of Punjab India in MA Political Science.

Edwin Joy Mariya

Edwin Joy Mariya recently graduated from Newcastle University UK in MA International Relations. Previously graduated from Central University of Punjab India in MA Political Science.

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