In early June, an uncomfortable tension arose in the international community, as Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, announced that Saudi Arabia’s armed forces would not remain on a list of armies accused of violating the rights of children in 2015. Saudi Arabia has been the subject of criticism from human rights organizations for indiscriminately striking nonmilitary targets in Yemen and killing innocent civilians, including children. The Secretary General’s announcement arrived shortly after Saudi officials threatened to defund humanitarian programs (1). This decision, discussed in a meeting last month between Ban Ki-moon and Mohammed bin Salman, Deputy Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, underscores the increasingly problematic relationship between the United States, a member of the UN Security Council, and Arab allies, like Saudi Arabia, responsible for human rights violations.
The Obama Administration’s support for its Arab allies not only undermines regional security, but also threatens human security. The recent Saudi execution of a prominent Shiite cleric, Nimr al-Nimr, illustrates the growing dissonance between the United States’ strategy in the Middle East and the result of its efforts to contain regional terrorism and counter Iranian influence. Saudi executions reached a record high when in early 2016, authorities carried out 47 death sentences, including that of Nimr al-Nimr. The 47 sentences marked the largest mass execution in the country since 1980 (2). In customary fashion, the United States remained silent upon news of this atrocity, choosing instead to fan the flames of regional insecurity by allowing Saudi Arabia to act with impunity. Hostilities between Saudi Arabia and Iran have increased in the aftermath of these executions. To protest the execution of the al-Nimr, Iranians set fire to the Saudi embassy in Tehran, and in response, Saudi Arabia, along with Sunni-led allies, like Bahrain, severed diplomatic ties with Iran. As a result, efforts to end the wars in Syria and Yemen and to contain the Islamic State and other regional terrorist groups have come to a halt. Just before the January executions, Saudi and Iranian foreign ministers met together in a series of talks organized by the United States and Russia to establish a plan for peace in Syria Now, as diplomatic ties have deteriorated, hopes of an immediate settlement to regional, armed conflicts have diminished.
As recent events indicate, a regional strategy that emphasizes human security would best serve the United States and its European allies. When it has so forcefully inserted itself into the region, the U.S. has no choice but to interact with volatile regimes. However, the U.S. does have a choice as to how it responds to human rights abuses, like the Saudi executions, which undermine efforts to establish peace. Adopting a new lens that prioritizes human security will not only address the root causes of radicalization and destabilization but also create a sustainable peace.
(1) Sengupta, Somini. “Saudis Question U.N. Leader Over Report on Rights Violators.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 22 June 2016. Web. 27 June 2016.
(2) Robins-Early, Nick. “Saudi Arabia’s Rights Abuses Have Only Gotten Worse Since Obama’s Last Visit.” The World Post. The Huffington Post, 20 April 2016. Web. 27 June 2016.
(3) “Saudi Arabia’s Barbaric Executions.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 04 Jan. 2016. Web. 27 June 2016.
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