The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

The rules-based order will endure, despite ‘shifting sands’

Russia and China recently have attempted to act as chief mediators on the international stage. Russia reportedly facilitated meetings between Saudi Arabia and Syria to restore ties and reopen their respective consular services, and China played peacemaker between Saudi Arabia and Iran. More recently, Saudi Arabia’s Cabinet approved a decision to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) as a dialogue partner. The SCO was created to counter U.S. economic hegemony and includes longtime adversaries and partners of our country. These recent developments have been described by some as evidence of the decline of the U.S.-led rules-based order.

Despite the clamoring of pundits to bemoan America’s decline, Moscow and Beijing’s attempts at diplomatic relevance ring hollow as the U.S. shores up the post-World War II international order by reinvigorating existing strategic alliances that underpin various security architectures.

As such, the U.S. values its alliance with Japan and South Korea in the Asia-Pacific to serve as a counterweight to an increasingly belligerent China. Correspondingly, America’s role in NATO is pivotal to the West’s efforts to face off an aggressive Russia that threatens the security of Europe and the Balkans. In the Middle East, the Biden administration’s position toward Saudi Arabia has evolved from perceiving Riyadh as solely an energy supplier to recognizing the kingdom as a strategic partner to advance regional stability and the campaign against counter-extremism. The Saudis and other Gulf Arab countries seek to diversify their strategic relations with Iran while also maintaining economic and diplomatic ties with Russia and China and a more comprehensive partnership with the U.S. on advanced technologies, green energy, and defensive weapons. The former is not particularly deep or sustainable.

In contrast to America’s values-based approach to allies and partners, engagement with Russia and China offers only a transactional and interest-based relationship that rests on economic ties both countries share equally with such aggressors as Iran and Iran’s proxies. This enables Russia and China to pursue comprehensive strategic partnerships with rivals such as Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Iran alike.  

Riyadh’s decision to restore diplomatic relations with Tehran via China is an attempt to reduce regional tensions with an aggressive neighbor committed to militant Islam and regional hegemony. In the near term, Tehran will likely seek to avoid actions that threaten this new relationship. However, absent an Iranian decision to radically redefine its foreign policy and abolish the Revolutionary Guards, this rapprochement is likely to collapse in the wake of fresh Iranian violence. 

America’s security commitment to the region must be paramount. U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) remains the foundation of the region’s security architecture that protects trade and energy arteries critical to global economic stability. The Biden administration should ensure that CENTCOM remains well-resourced and focused on building regional partnerships. Furthermore, economic ties must be strengthened. American firms view the region with enthusiasm. The Biden administration must be more vocal in its support for trade and expedite approvals for technology sharing on 5G and 6G communications, green energy, and space. Furthermore, increased cabinet-level visits to the region would demonstrate the U.S.’s commitment to the region. While this will not offset the inevitable commercial relationships between the Gulf States and China, it will assert America’s ability to compete in this strategic region.

Despite the pivot to the Asia Pacific remaining a key pillar in the Biden administration’s global strategy, the administration remains actively engaged in the Middle East. This is in direct contrast to previous administrations’ reluctance to lead on the international stage — whether it be President Obama’s strategy to “lead from behind” or President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. As opposed to Russia and China, the Biden administration has robustly and routinely engaged with regional partners regarding climate change and green technologies. In the vacuum left by the U.S., an opportunistic and resource-hungry China entered, seeking to develop its Belt and Road Initiative that would provide it access to international markets and a larger presence on the global stage.

In turn, the Biden administration has proposed to work with Saudi Arabia to develop 5G and 6G. By doing so, the U.S. aims to set a wedge between Saudi Arabia and China’s ambition to create digital infrastructure in the Middle East as part of its Belt and Road Initiative. Chinese President Xi Jinping and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met on the heels of this, in December 2022, which was followed by their announcing a 25-year bilateral partnership covering energy, security, infrastructure, and communications. Yet, neither this nor any subsequent diplomatic posturing on the part of Beijing can reverse the strategic setback it suffered at the hands of the U.S.

Despite Russia’s mediating between the Saudi Kingdom and Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, the Biden administration has been successful in pushing back on Russia’s efforts to win the unqualified support of Arab states. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have each made significant humanitarian contributions to Ukraine. Regional engagement with Ukraine recently reached a new high with the February 2023 meeting of Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv. The Saudi foreign minister became the most senior Arab official to visit Kyiv since the Russian invasion and he brought an aid package that included $300 million in oil products and $100 million in humanitarian aid and medical supplies, materials for displaced Ukrainians to take shelter along with electronic generators. The Emirates has provided over $100 million in aid, including thousands of generators for Ukrainians suffering because of Moscow’s barbaric attacks on Ukraine’s power sector. Washington should applaud this generosity and encourage other regional actors to follow the same path.

Despite the region’s “shifting sands” of ever-changing relationships, the Sunni-Shiite tensions are over a thousand years old and Iran’s advancement toward nuclear status has every U.S. partner in the Middle East on alert. The traditional security architecture underpinned by U.S.-Saudi strategic ties will remain intact. As a result, future Chinese transactional neutrality is likely to be cosmetic, devoid of any significant strategic substance. 

The U.S. and its allies can best sustain the rules-based order established after WWII through robust engagement with allies and partners in which we show that we understand and support their core economic and security interests in the same way that we expect they will do the same for American interests.

Harley Lippman is a board member of the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Partnership for Peace Fund.

Tags Biden foreign policy China Joe Biden Middle East Mohammed bin Salman Russia Saudi Arabia US-Saudi relations

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Regular the hill posts

People – Image widget – Person – Main Area Top

File - A Chevrolet Bolt is displayed at the Philadelphia Auto Show, Jan. 27, 2023, in Philadelphia. Electric vehicles are far less reliable than gasoline-powered cars, trucks and SUVs, mainly because most automakers are still learning how to build a completely new power system, according to this year's auto reliability survey by Consumer Reports.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
File - A Chevrolet Bolt is displayed at the Philadelphia Auto Show, Jan. 27, 2023, in Philadelphia. Electric vehicles are far less reliable than gasoline-powered cars, trucks and SUVs, mainly because most automakers are still learning how to build a completely new power system, according to this year's auto reliability survey by Consumer Reports.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

QAT WC-2613

People – Image – Person

In this photo released by the Governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev telegram channel, a rescuer gestures as he helps people during an evacuation after storm and flooding in Sevastopol, Crimea, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. A storm in the Black Sea took down power grids and left almost half a million people without power after it flooded roads, ripped up trees and damaged buildings in Crimea, Russian state news agency Tass said. (Governor of Sevastopol Mikhail Razvozhayev's telegram channel via AP)
In this photo released by the Governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev telegram channel, a rescuer gestures as he helps people during an evacuation after storm and flooding in Sevastopol, Crimea, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. A storm in the Black Sea took down power grids and left almost half a million people without power after it flooded roads, ripped up trees and damaged buildings in Crimea, Russian state news agency Tass said. (Governor of Sevastopol Mikhail Razvozhayev's telegram channel via AP)

People - Video Bin - Person

The White House is pushing 'Bidenomics,' but what does it mean?

The White House is pushing 'Bidenomics,' but what ...
DC Bureau: AI Legal Immunity (raquel)
KXAN: special session
DC Bureau: Biden economic display (basil)
KTXL: ca budget folo
WHTM: good gov bills
More Videos

Main area middle

See all Hill.TV See all Video

main area bottom custom html

MAIN Area bottom

People – Custom HTML – Person

MAIN AREA BOTTOM

People - Article Bin - 7 Headline List with Featured Image - Person

Main area bottom

Top Stories

See All

Most Popular

Load more