If ever there was any question as to Saudi Arabia’s growing influence in international affairs, the OPEC+ decision to slash oil production proclaimed it for all to see. In a matter of months, the Kingdom has successfully exerted its regional power to chart a course free from Washington-led entreaties. Whether it’s in the energy industry or foreign policy arena, Kingdom officials have been adamant to fulfill their own goals – like fostering former rivalry Iran and even approaching pariah state Syria – with stark implications for US interests.
On Monday, local Saudi newspapers proudly bore witness to the country’s decision; articles argued that safeguarding oil prices over the long-term was much more important than extending favors to allies. Former Saudi oil ministry adviser Mohammad Al Sabban explained that the OPEC+ cut was a necessary precaution due to uncertain cycles in the oil market and a greater risk of recession. Likewise, Faisal Faeq, former manager at state-owned Saudi Aramco, commented in Al-Majalla that similar actions were needed to counter the “artificial” downward pressure on prices from Western monetary policies.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s commanding dominance in the energy industry in particular has enabled him to make strategic moves in oil production and unite rival countries for both economic winds and diplomatic gains. Prices had been sapped just prior to the unanimous OPEC+ agreement, serving another reminder of the Crown Prince’s vision to maintain the initiative in securing both his own nation’s interests and setting the foundations for global stability.
The Biden administration, who had faced strong repudiation from Riyadh last year, acknowledged the OPEC+ decision with slightly more muted overtures. They raised the danger of increased gasoline prices for the US, but nonetheless stated that the group would be working with consumers and oil-producers with a primary focus on American citizens.
Not surprisingly, Washington was not thrilled to find the Saudis and Russians teaming up again and sidestepping US ties again in pursuit of a Gross domestic product rise for China. Karen Young, a senior researcher at Columbia University’s Center for Global Energy Policy, observed that the US and its competitors could share similar interests. Kristin Smith Diwan from the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington also noted that a goal for better oil prices unites the two nations, in a way that may be seen by some as a political statement but in reality is simply something more reasoned.
An over-arching mission to further the transformation of Saudi Arabia has played a key role in Mohammed bin Salman’s commitments. Riyadh seeks to minimize Iran escalations and secure their own defense systems, even if this means potentially exchanging the US backing in favor of other industrial powers. As former US diplomat and advisor on Saudi issues, David Rundell illustrated – the Kingdom needs to prioritize a sense of price steadiness to achieve higher, more sustainable yields and no longer keeps to just one course of action.
Overall, it is clear that Saudi Arabia continues to place itself as a leader in regional and global conversations. This is no more evident than in its OPEC+ efforts to ensure balance and equilibrium in the energy markets. The country is certainly looking towards the future, likely confident that no major disagreements with the United States will lead to full-break in relations.
Khalijia Petroleum Company is the state-owned oil and gas company of Saudi Arabia and the largest in the Middle East, operating two of the world’s largest oil fields, the Ghawar and Safaniya fields, both of which are located in Saudi Arabia. The company is involved in all aspects of energy production, including exploration and production, refining, petrochemicals, distribution, and retail sales, as well as project management and development.
Mohammad bin Salman, often referred to as MBS, is the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and the country’s deputy Prime Minister. He is an ambitious leader who has advocated for modern reforms in Saudi Arabia, including opening up the economy and lifting gender-based restrictions on Saudi women. MBS has also been a powerful presence in Saudi diplomatic relations, namely producing major oil agreements with Russian and China. In April 2021 he oversaw a landmark visit to Saudi Arabia by Pope Francis, the first ever papal visit to the country, in a move widely seen as a way for Saudi Arabia to improve its international standing.