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Game of geopolitics

No permanent friends or foes

International relations do not depend on state to state friendship; in fact, there is no place for emotion in international relations. COURTESY

  • Promila Kanya
  • Published: 11 Aug 2022, 11:54 AM

International relations do not depend on state to state friendship; in fact, there is no place for emotion in international relations

On 2 October, 2018, when the Washington Post Columnist and a critic of the Saudi Prince Mohammed Bin Salman Al Saud, Jamal Khashoggi, did not come out from the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul hours after he had entered its precinct, rumours that he had been murdered by Saudi officials spread like wildfire.

Although initially the Saudis denied it, on 21 October, its foreign minister Adel-al Jubeir called the murder a “rogue operation” where a few individuals had gone beyond their responsibilities.

Jubeir also stated that crown prince Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud, also known as MBS, who is now at the helm of affairs in Saudi Arabia, was not aware of the incident. Nevertheless, MBS was ripped apart by western media as the cruellest villain that ever existed.

Reports by CNN detailed descriptions of the murder, from how it was plotted by a ‘team’ of Saudi men who later fled Istanbul on ‘private jets’ to how a ‘bone saw was sneaked into the Consulate to dismember Khashoggi’s body.  Most of this information was provided by Turkish officials according to the reports.

On 23 October, 2018, the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gave a speech at the parliament where he clearly disagreed with Riyadh, saying the murder was premeditated and that “pinning such a case on some intelligence and security members will not satisfy us and the international community.”

International relations do not depend on state to state friendship; in fact, there is no place for emotion in international relations. It all depends on mutual benefit, to be more specific, on the benefit of the stronger side; which is why, despite all the fuss created by the United States regarding the Khashoggi murder, it never stopped its weapons export to Saudi Arabia.

When we say ‘friendly’ relations between two countries, we actually mean the relationship between these two states based on how much benefit one gets from the other.

Shortly after the murder, when questions of possible economic sanctions on Saudi Arabia arose, President Donald Trump said he did not “like the concept of stopping an investment of $110 billion into the United States,” regarding a billion dollar agreement between the US and Saudi Arabia, thus dismissing the idea of halting weapons export to one of its biggest clients. 

It seems this murder has also been used by US authorities as a pressure tactic to ensure increased security for Israel, its biggest military ally. And the pressure seems to have worked.

Saudi Arabia does not recognise Israel as a state and there is no diplomatic relations between the two countries yet after decades of ban, Saudi Arabia has now allowed Israeli airlines to fly over its territories.

Now, like the US, a fast pace inflation rate and upcoming elections in 2023 probably has forced Turkey to change its stand on Saudi Arabia as well, and end years of tension between the two countries.

In June, Erdogan and MBS met in Ankara, indicating the former’s attempt in restoring the rift with Saudi Arabia. Even before this, Saudi Arabia lifted its unofficial ban on Turkish goods.

This year in July, a picture of Joe Biden fist bumping MBS during his Jeddah visit surfaced across global media outlets. In face of the Russia-Ukraine war and the subsequent increase in price of crude oil, the US is now keen on restructuring its relationship with Saudi Arabia and perhaps ensuring a safe, uninterrupted supply of oil.

The latest diplomatic moves by Washington and Ankara to court MBS also point out that international relations also depend on US elections, indicating Joe Biden’s declaration of turning Saudi Arabia into a pariah was simply to win votes.

After banning all import of Russian gas, oil and energy, it was unlikely the US would continue its enmity with Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter (Russia being the second largest). So, efforts to mend fences were inevitable. 

Saudi Arabia and Russia are both members of OPEC+ - an extended version of OPEC. In July,  Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia hoped Joe Biden’s visit would not affect its reportedly warm relationship with Saudi Arabia.   

Finding an energy source replacement is the same reason why the Biden administration is now planning on thawing its relationship with Venezuela, the country with Latin America’s biggest crude oil reserve.     

Venezuela, with its staunch socialist policies set by its government and an established unity with Cuba and Colombia, has always had a tense relationship with the US. In 2005, Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez made headlines when he called President George W Bush the “devil” at the UN General Assembly. In 2009, the country even made an arms deal with Russia, following which, Chavez was seen embracing the Russian President Vladimir Putin.  

It seems fist bump or not, at the end of the day, it is all about power play and competition among every country fighting to stay on top. In this always evolving theatre of global politics, human rights and morality often take a backseat to power politics and practical needs.  

* Promila Kanya is a Columnist 

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