Paper - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

A Saudi Arabian Defense Doctrine

| May 27, 2014

Mapping the expanded force structure the Kingdom needs to lead the Arab world, stabilize the region, and meet its global responsibilities

Far from being a fragile state, Saudi Arabia has in recent years consolidated its place as Arab leader, regional stabilizer, and critical bulwark against terrorism and a nuclear Iran. The Kingdom’s growing security responsibilities require rapid and substantial military investments. Nawaf Obaid, visiting fellow at the Belfer Center, outlines a comprehensive Saudi Arabian Defense Doctrine and explains why the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) is likely to double down on defense and national security capabilities in the next five years.


Which threats worry the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia most?

Three main threats concern the Kingdom: regional instability, a revanchist and/or nuclear Iran, and terrorism. In terms of regional stability, KSA can and should take a leadership role in helping all so-called Arab Spring nations chart a path to civil order. In terms of Iran, KSA is greatly concerned with its disruptive and intrusive activities in other states as well as its nuclear ambitions. In terms of terrorism, KSA is committed to collaborating on the prevention of terrorist attacks anywhere in the world.


What’s the biggest misconception about KSA’s role in the Middle East?

The biggest misconception about KSA is that it is a passive, U.S.-dependent state that is not ready to expand upon and deploy its resources to assume an independent leadership role in bringing about peace and security among its neighbors. In fact, due to gradual Western disengagement from the Middle East, the Saudis realize they must – and fully intend to – take on various diplomatic and security initiatives of their own accord in order to serve as the primary stabilizing force in the region.


How big is the gap between KSA’s strategic objectives and its strategic capabilities?

KSA’s objectives and capabilities are still not well aligned. As it expands it regional and global role, the need for military investments will accelerate. This can be seen in themore than $150 billion currently dedicated to a revitalized Saudi defense system over the next five years, of which $100 billion is already engaged in partnerships with U.S. defense companies. This Defense Doctrine makes the case for major increases in military resources, including personnel growth of about 30% for the army, 35% for the national guard, 30% for the air defense and strategic missile forces, and 50% for the navy and the air force.


What implications does the defense doctrine have for KSA’s relations with Western allies?

While it can certainly be said that KSA is going its own way more than perhaps any time in its history – a fact accentuated by its recent choice to reject a UN Security Council Seat – this does not mean that its relations with Western allies are worsening. Saudi independence is good for KSA and for the West. Saudis are gradually taking on security responsibilities in the region previously assumed by the West, but the principles remain the same: stability, order, and peace. With its indigenous knowledge of the region, and role as the cradle of Islam, KSA is arguably better suited than the West to succeed in this mission.


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For Academic Citation: Obaid, Nawaf. “A Saudi Arabian Defense Doctrine.” Paper, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, May 27, 2014.