From the CIAO Atlas Map of Middle East 

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CIAO DATE: 08/02

U.S.-Saudi Relations: Rebuilding the Strategic Consensus

Joseph McMillan

Institute for National Strategic Studies
National Defense University

November 2001


The United States inevitably will look to Saudi Arabia to play a critical role in any effective campaign against global terrorism. For Saudi Arabia to fulfill expectations, the United States must revitalize a strategic relationship that was under serious strain before the attacks on September 11.

Managing this relationship has always presented unusual challenges. In particular, the Saudi Kingdom's unique history and status in the Islamic world create risks that close military cooperation with the United States could damage the House of Saud's political and religious legitimacy.

These challenges were met in 1990 by a common understanding of the threat, shared strategic objectives, and careful accommodation of each other's sensitivities. However, the factors that made the Desert Storm coalition work have deteriorated, while the political environment has evolved to make military cooperation more difficult.

Restoring the relationship will require: addressing grievances that have grown over a decade of American presence in Saudi Arabia; prioritizing what Washington needs from Riyadh; reaching an understanding on the strategic basis of the bilateral relationship and the future of the region; structuring decisions to avoid forcing the Saudi regime to take sides against America; overhauling U.S. military presence in the Kingdom to ensure improved coordination; renewing diplomatic efforts on the Israeli-Palestinian front; and articulating a positive American vision for the region–one that is open to political and economic change.