A realistic view of Saudi-UK partnership


CROWN Prince Muhammad Bin Salman’s historic visit to London was indeed a quantum leap forward in Riyadh-London relations. It marked a new stage in the development of a strategic partnership that could achieve common interests and promote regional and global security and stability. London and Riyadh share a long history and have many key issues in common that provide a solid basis for political, economic, security, and military relations. Clearly, this does not imply that the two will always have identical stands, however coordination and harmonization can bring about a convergence of views. I believe that establishment of the Saudi-British Strategic Partnership Council is an important step toward strengthening cooperation between the two countries. The Council must be set at a level that represents the various aspects of strength of the continuous political, economic, security, and military relations between Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom.

On the economic and commercial aspect, Saudi Arabia is the most important market for Britain in the Middle East. In February 2018, the volume of British investments amounted to nearly $3.3 billion, i.e. SR12.5 billion. British projects in Saudi Arabia reached a total of 374, varying in type from services, industry, real estate, scientific and technical projects and temporary licenses. Likewise, Saudi Arabia has made huge investments in Britain amounting to SR21 billion. Over the past five years, Saudi trade relations with Britain have exceeded £2.3 billion and trade exchange was estimated at £9 billion in 2016.

In light of the profound changes and the economic movement taking place in the Kingdom, Saudi Arabia is keen to implement its Vision 2030 and create promising investment opportunities. On the other hand, Britain is looking for new economic partnerships in preparation for post-Brexit, which has already had an impact on the British economy due to the migration of a number of major companies from Britain to other EU states. Hence, British companies may have a great presence in implementing and benefiting from the Saudi Vision 2030.

As for security and military cooperation, the Framework Agreement on Military and Security Cooperation was signed by the Saudi Crown Prince and the British Secretary of State for Defense in September 2017, in accordance with the Saudi Vision 2030, which focuses on developing Saudi capabilities in defense industries. The British Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Simon Collis, revealed that British Aerospace intends to develop a production line next year for Hawk inside Saudi Arabia and that preparations are being made for the establishment of a plant in Saudi Arabia to manufacture these aircraft.

During his visit to London, the Saudi Crown Prince met with the British Secretary of State for Defense. The meeting, at which memorandums of understanding were signed, aimed to activate the framework agreement in the transfer and localization of technology, industrial partnership, training, research and development and technical consultation in accordance with the Saudi Vision 2030.

In the area of security cooperation, British Prime Minister Theresa May has made several statements on the importance of Saudi Arabia as an important ally in the fight against terrorism. Riyadh and London have cooperated at the highest levels in the fields of security and counterterrorism, especially as the former has a lengthy experience in dealing with the menace.

Finally, the political aspect is of particular importance in the light of accelerated international and regional developments that require exchange of views and coordination of stands between Saudi Arabia and Britain. In recent years, it has been noted that the UK shares an almost identical political stance with Saudi Arabia, whether on the coup against legitimacy in Yemen by the Houthis, or regarding Iran's interventions in the region, or on the Syrian issue.

Dr. Ibrahim Al-othaimin is a Middle East affair specialist and security analyst based in Riyadh. He can be contacted at Ibarhim.othaimin@gmail.com

or twitter @Alothaimin