Amidst the ongoing geo-political churning in the Arab World, Saudi Arabia hosted the Security and Development Summit in Jeddah on July 16, 2022. Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud invited six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members and three Arab countries, Egypt, Iraq, and Jordan (read GCC Plus). United States (US) President Joe Biden also participated in the Summit to further develop upon the achievements of the previous Summits, which were held in 2016 and 2017 in Riyadh. Saudi Arabia took the initiative to convene the Third Summit to tackle regional challenges ranging from security and sustainable energy to economic recovery. In addition, the role of China and Russia in the region and issues relating to the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons was also noted at the Summit. It was not a coincidence that Saudis organised this Summit when President Biden was on a three-day visit (14-16 July 2022) to the two most important countries in the region (Saudi Arabia and Israel). The US at the Summit emphasised on the strengthening of Arab-US relations and the opening of new horizons of strategic cooperation to address issues related to security and the economy in the Arab region. The Jeddah Summit was symbolically crucial because of the participation of the Arab and Gulf States in strengthening regional cooperation, aided by the participation of the US. Therefore, the Summit’s theme was ‘security and development,’ which showed the region’s current need to achieve security, stability, and post-pandemic economic recovery.
Issues at the Summit
The Summit focused on both traditional and non-traditional security issues. The former related to Iran’s nuclear program, combating terrorism, and political stability of the region, while the latter related to the issues of sustainable development, climate change, renewable energy, and food security.
Traditional Security Issues
Saudi Arabia understood that the US-GCC Plus would play a crucial role in providing security and stability in the region. Notably, King Saud invited Egypt, Iraq, and Jordan because these countries represent longstanding political interests, such as combating terrorism, political stability, and territorial integrity in the Arab region, which are essential for the GCC countries.
The US-GCC Plus has common interests in lessening Iran’s influence in the region.[i] One of the Summit’s most critical outcomes was that the leaders renewed their call on Iran to fully cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to keep the region free from weapons of mass destruction. The other outcome was the concern that GCC Plus countries expressed regarding the attack on Saudi and UAE’s oil facilities as a severe threat to regional security by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels.[ii] The countries decided to take a unified position calling on the Houthis to return to peace talks under the United Nations mediation.
Given the security threats posed by Iran and Houthis rebels to the Gulf region, the US participation at the Summit was meant to reinvigorate the assurances that lost momentum after President Donald Trump walked away from the Iran nuclear deal of 2015. Resultantly, Tehran, on its part, has been allegedly actively involved in enhancing its nuclear program. The US supported the GCC Plus on regional security, keeping in mind Washington’s vital security and political ties with these countries. President Biden ensured that the US is still committed to its historical relationship with the region, which binds the Arab World to Washington. It also meant that the US provided a new and recognisable basis for restoring confidence in preparation for discussing issues such as the Iran nuclear deal. President Biden said the “US is likely to remain pro-active in the region. We will not walk away and leave a vacuum to be filled by China, Russia, or Iran.”[iii] The participation of the US at the Summit highlighted the importance it placed on its strategic partnerships and reaffirmed the US’ “enduring commitment” to the security and “territorial defence” of its regional partners.
The prevailing security threats from terrorism and sectarian groups in the region prompted the US and Gulf counties to announce the establishment of the Combined Task Force 153 and Task Force 59.[iv] The two Task Forces were established to strengthen the joint defence cooperation, improve naval defence and tackle maritime security threats through the coordination between the US Central Command and the Gulf countries. These security initiatives will help detect naval threats and develop naval defenses by employing state-of-the-art systems and technologies.
Non-traditional Security Issues
The Summit focused on several non-traditional issues of global importance, such as sustainable development, climate change, and renewable energy.[v] The countries at the Summit lauded the “Saudi Green Initiative” (2016) and “Middle East Green Initiative” (2021), which Saudi Arabia announced. Iraq, Jordan, and Egypt sought to boost trade links with the GCC countries to establish a stable, secure, and development-oriented Arab region. In this context, the leaders commended the finalisation of the agreements for connecting electrical grids between the GCC countries, Iraq, Jordan, and Egypt.
The Summit also showed concerns regarding water security and the distribution of water resources in an equitable manner. Notably, President Fatah al-Sisi of Egypt, at the Summit, stressed the vital need to reach a binding legal agreement on filling and operating the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) to strengthen water security of Egypt. As a result, Saudi Arabia-led GCC countries supported Egypt’s water security and ensured to forge a diplomatic resolution among all parties, including Ethiopia and Sudan, regarding the issue of GERD.[vi]
The US committed 1 billion dollars as humanitarian and food aid to the region amid rising food insecurity due to the ongoing Ukrainian crisis. The initiative was meant to support the Arab Coordination Group (ACG) of the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, which previously announced the $10 billion Food Security Package in June 2022.[vii]
The global economic recovery was another critical issue at the Summit. The Covid-19 pandemic battered the world economy and hugely affected the Arab World’s economic and developmental prospects. The countries discussed the need to bolster the regional and global supply chains, increase the trade volumes and promote the international developmental and trade regimes. They also focused on the persistent efforts made by OPEC+ (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries)[viii] toward stabilising the global oil market to serve the interests of consumers and producers and support economic growth.
The Summit concluded with a joint statement. An analysis of the outcomes and discussions reflected the following points:
The invitation extended by Saudi Arabia to countries outside the GCC sent a clear signal to Iran that Saudi Arabia plays a role of a regional leader. It also shows that Saudi Arabia can lead the Arab countries in the region on critical issues that challenge security and stability. The Summit took place when the strategic partnership between the US and the region became more visible and essential in the face of the many challenges the region faces, from the failure of the Iranian nuclear deal negotiation to the Yemen conflict and the Ukrainian crisis. Overall, the Summit opened new avenues for cooperation at the regional level among the Arab countries. At the same time, the non-inclusion of Iran in the Summit showed that the region is still divided along sectarian lines that will challenge the strengthening of regional cooperation.
*Dr. Arshad, Research Fellow, Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal.
[i]Gregory Aftandilian, “Iraq-Jordan-Egypt Entente moves ahead despite the GCC’s Shadow”, Washington DC: Arab Center, (July 10, 2022), accessed https://arabcenterdc.org/resource/iraq-jordan-egypt-entente-moves-ahead-despite-the-gccs-shadow/, (July 19, 2022).
[ii]“Jeddah Summit calls on Iran to cooperate with nuclear watchdog,” The National News, (July 17, 2022), accessed
https://www.thenationalnews.com/gulf-news/saudi-arabia/2022/07/16/jeddah-summit-calls-on-iran-to-co-operate-with-nuclear-watchdog/, (August 5, 2022)
[iii]“Remarks by President Biden on his Meetings in Saudi Arabia,” The White House, accessed https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2022/07/15/remarks-by-president-biden-on-his-meetings-in-saudi-arabia/, (August 3, 2022).
[iv] “Jeddah Security and Development Summit 2022,” Diplomacy and Beyond, (July 18, 2022), accessed https://diplomacybeyond.com/jeddah-security-and-development-summit-2022/, (August 19, 2022)
[v]“Final Statement of Jeddah Security and Development Summit Issued,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Saudi Arabia, (July 16, 2022), accessed https://www.mofa.gov.sa/en/ministry/officialvisits/saudi-us-summit/news/Pages/Final-Statement-of-Jeddah-Security-and-Development-Summit-Issued.aspx, (July 22, 2022).
[vi]“Jeddah Security and Development Summit supports Egypt’s Water rights,” Egypt Today, (July 16, 2022), accessed https://www.egypttoday.com/Article/1/117635/Jeddah-Security-and-Development-Summit-Supports-Egypt%E2%80%99s-water-rights, (July 19, 2022).
[vii]“Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development,” accessed https://www.arabfund.org/Default.aspx?pageId=610&mid=370, (August 1, 2022)
[viii] It is a combination of the 13-member Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and an informal group of non-OPEC members led by Russia.